Penny Dreadful season 3: Showrunner John Logan previews what's to come
Penny Dreadful showrunner John Logan could tell you about the new season — or he could draw you a map.
“In the first episode, we’re in London, Africa, America, and the Arctic. That’ll tell you about season 3,” Logan says with a laugh.
After a season 2 finale that sent Ethan (Josh Hartnett) home to his father, Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) to Africa to bury Sembene (Danny Sapani), and the Creature (Rory Kinnear) into self-imposed isolation — leaving Vanessa (Eva Green) isolated by default — Penny Dreadful is set to cover more ground than ever in its third season. In advance of the gothic drama’s May 1 return, EW spoke with Logan, who also writes every episode of the series, to get the scoop on its “scattered” family and the new players who could pull them back together.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How do you take the show into so many new territories — you even get to do a bit of a Western movie this season — and keep it feeling like Penny Dreadful?
JOHN LOGAN: I never wanted to just do the same show year after year, and I felt it was necessary to find some exciting variations for the characters, for the audience, and certainly even for myself as a writer. I’ve always just loved Westerns, and I’ve always known, from the beginning of the series, that I wanted to take Ethan back home for a final reckoning with his demonic father, who Brian Cox plays later in the season, brilliantly. So it was always sort of my plan, and at the end of last season when we broke the family up and scattered them to the winds, I thought it would be really exciting to see how they all functioned separately and were drawn together. Tonally, the way that the Penny Dreadful vibe is, it was easy for me to weave it through different geographies, because it was still the same characters.
Let’s start with Vanessa. What’s her journey going to look like this season?
Vanessa was sort of shattered at the end of last season. People will ask me, “What is Penny Dreadful about?” And I’ll say, “It’s about a woman’s journey to faith.” It’s about Vanessa’s relationship with God — that’s the most important relationship in the piece. And last season she took the crucifix off her wall and burned it. She’s lost her faith, essentially. And even this season, she’s lost. She’s a mess. And from the wasteland of non-belief, she has to find a way back into some faith — faith in herself, faith in God, faith in her friends. And she does this in two ways: She starts seeing an alienist, which is an early version of a psychotherapist, of course, played by Patti LuPone, who’s our Dr. Seward. And she begins a romantic relationship with a man named Dr. Sweet, who Christian Camargo plays, who’s a zoologist. So she attempts to heal her mind and her heart simultaneously. It’s a very active season for Vanessa. She’s taking real steps to make herself better.
Might there be a bit of a love triangle when Ethan comes back into the picture?
There might. [Laughs] He says enigmatically. Yes, of course. The pull between Ethan and Vanessa is so strong. She genuinely falls in love with Dr. Sweet, and why wouldn’t she? It’s a challenging situation for her.
And what can you tell us about Patti LuPone’s new character, Dr. Seward?
One of the things that’s also fun this season is that we weave back into the Dracula story. In season 1 we had Mina Harker, Sir Malcolm’s daughter, and this season we weave back into Dracula sort of elliptically. And one of the ways we do it is by introducing two very famous characters from Dracula: Dr. Seward and Renfield. Vanessa gets involved with both of them. And for us, the joy of having Patti LuPone back is terrific. She did such a good job for us last season, and it creates sort of a supernatural resonance with Vanessa, because she seems to be a reincarnation of a woman who was very important in her past.
The premiere does acknowledge the resemblance between the Cut-Wife and Dr. Seward, but could we be building toward a bigger connection between their characters than there first appears to be?
Certainly could be!
Between Dr. Seward and the addition of Dr. Jekyll, it looks like we’re going to be dealing with mental health and brain chemistry a lot this season. Was that a theme that you intentionally wanted to dig into this year?
I wanted to introduce Dr. Jekyll because I wanted to bring in another character from the gothic Victorian horror canon to the story … Originally I wanted to use Dr. Moreau, from the H.G. Wells novel [The Island of Doctor Moreau], but the rights weren’t available. And I love Robert Louis Stevenson, so the idea of doing Dr. Jekyll was very exciting. So much of Penny Dreadful has to do with duality: with the good and the bad and the dark and the light, and there’s no character more effective in dramatizing that than Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, obviously. So bringing in Dr. Jekyll as an old school friend of Dr. Frankenstein [Harry Treadaway] I thought was really exciting. My version of Dr. Jekyll — he’s half Indian, half British, so he’s torn the social and racial divide to begin with. He’s a very tense character at the best of times. Shazad Latif, who plays him, is tremendous. It was great to sit down and write the lines, “Dr. Jekyll.” “Dr. Frankenstein.” In one scene later in the season, we have a lineup of Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Frankenstein, and Dorian Gray, and I thought, “Well, for people who love horror and literature, that’s really fun.”
How will Lily play into all of this?
I just had dinner with Billie Piper two nights ago, as a matter of fact, so Lily is much on my mind. When Lily ended last season, it was in quite a dominant and powerful position, and she continues that this season in a sort of unholy marriage with Dorian Gray: these two immortal beings who have real plans for domination, and, in Lily’s case, revenge upon mankind for the ailments that have been heaped upon her her entire life. And Lily’s story is surprisingly social. It has to do with the empowerment of women. Her version of that, being as warped and demented and power-mad as she is, is an extremely violent version of it, but in I think it’s the second or third episode, we see a suffragette rally, and there’s a lot of talk about the place of women in this society, which is one of the reasons why I wrote this show in the first place. I built it around these strong female characters, like Vanessa Ives or Lily or even the Cut-Wife last year, Dr. Seward this season. And Lily has this acolyte she brings into her world played by Jessica Barden, whose character’s name is Justine. So it’s a surprisingly social mission that she’s on. It has to do with the male-female relationship in Victorian London, but in a uniquely horrific way.
Going back to the Old West, we left Ethan taken into custody and bound for New Mexico Territory. What can we expect for him?
It’s a real reckoning for Ethan this season. I always planned the character in the third season to go back and try to grapple with his demons, and his demons have to do with the past. They have to do with his father, the way he was raised, what happened to him in the past that made him this dark character, how he became a werewolf — all of those things are the issues that have been sort of looming over the character. I kept saying to Josh, “Trust me. Season 3, we’re going to get there!” Because he kept wanting to know, “What’s the background? What’s the backstory?” You know, like any actor wants to get into the character. So we really do dial down on Ethan. Season 1 and season 2, we had episodes that went into Vanessa’s past in great detail — and we do indeed in season 3 as well, in my favorite episode, which is episode 4 of this season — but we also go deeply into Ethan’s past … I think it was great for Josh to have to play and to get to explore all of that.
And we’ve got Wes Studi in the picture now as Kaeteney. What can you say about his character?
I’ve been a fan of Wes Studi for a million years — certainly since he did all of that work with my friend Michael Mann in The Last of the Mohicans. I think Wes is an amazing actor. We learned in previous seasons that Ethan has a strong connection to the Native American community. He speaks Chiricahua Apache. He really understands a lot about this, so a lot of this season has to do with Native American spiritualism and Ethan’s past in the Southwest with this particular Native American, who Wes Studi plays. He’s an incredibly strong and fascinating character. Wes is great on the set and fantastic to work with from first to last.
What is Kaeteney’s relationship with Sir Malcolm?
There is a very unique connection between Sir Malcolm and Kaeteney. It was also — part of me just thought it would be irresistible to put Tim Dalton and Wes Studi in scenes together. It’s like two mountains in a scene together, because they’re both craggy, strong men who’ve seen and done everything, so they develop a very unique friendship through the season. In a way they’re sort of a buddy story. They go on a very particular quest that’s very challenging for the two of them together.
The Creature has a revelation in the premiere, and I’m very excited about where that might lead. Can you tease anything about what he’ll be up to?
I always make it no secret when I talk about Penny Dreadful that my personal two favorite characters to write are Vanessa and the Creature … so it’s always very important to me how he functions throughout a season. This season, he’s got a very personal story. He’s not connected with the other characters. He has a couple of scenes with Vanessa. He doesn’t interact with Dr. Frankenstein. It’s not about revenge for the past. It’s about a very personal journey he goes on into his past, because he begins to remember things about his life. He wants to find out who he is, and it takes him on a uniquely domestic journey that in a way is absolutely shattering for him. It’s a very difficult season for a lot of the characters. They’re really slammed against emotional walls left, right, and center.
Penny Dreadful returns May 1 at 10 p.m. on Showtime. Watch the full season premiere below.