Penny Dreadful Premiere Recap: Dracula Stakes a Claim to Vanessa

Early on in Penny Dreadful’s third season premiere, Sir Malcolm, Ethan, the Creature and Vanessa appeared to be locked in a competition to see which of them could be the biggest Debbie Downer. Not that you could blame them, really.

Having just laid Sembene to rest, Sir Malcolm was in Zanzibar and eager to be “quit of the filthy place”; Ethan was being escorted across the New Mexico Territory by Rusk and what seemed like an inordinate number of marshals — even for the extradition of a werewolf; the Creature was stuck on a ship that was frozen in place in the Arctic; and, while the rest of London mourned the passing of Alfred Lord Tennyson, Vanessa was (barely) living in squalor at Sir Malcolm’s. But then, at last, Miss Ives let in a little light — Mr. Lyle, who took one look at what had become of the formerly grand mansion and quipped as only he could, “I love what you’ve done with the place.”

From there, things perked up considerably. So read on, why don’t you? We’ll review the highlights of “The Day Tennyson Died” in all their poetic glory, then you can grade the episode in our poll and hit the comments to discuss whether Dracula’s introduction made your blood run cold.

‘BE WHO YOU ARE’ | After saving Sir Malcolm from a mugging, Kaetenay (Wes Studi) revealed not only that he’d been stalking the explorer since London but that Murray couldn’t die until he’d served his purpose. Which was? “To fight the great demons of earth and sky.” (Which, you had to admit, sounded at least as cool as, “In every generation, there is a chosen one.”) For the moment, however, what the American Indian wanted — no, make that “demanded” — was for Sir Malcolm to accompany him to the States to help “he who is almost my son” — Ethan.

‘GOOD LUCK’ | Certainly, Ethan was in no position to refuse a hand. Besides Rusk and his fellow lawmen, the train carrying the prisoner to his day in court also had aboard it Hecate and a group of gunslingers employed by the wolfman’s father to, er, liberate him. When the inevitable shootout went down, Rusk miraculously emerged unscathed (making the cup of tea for which he’d scampered off the most significant beverage of his life!) as did Hecate (who hilariously presented herself as a “defenseless female”). Afterwards, Ethan — soulful as ever — was troubled by all the blood that his dad had had spilled in order to stage a family reunion.

‘HASTEN THE END’ | Meanwhile, on the S.S. Going Nowhere, the few frostbitten crew members who were still alive debated resorting to cannibalism. When it appeared that they were going to put a dying child out of his misery — for dinner — the Creature intervened. But while singing the youngster a lullaby, the erstwhile Caliban saw flashes of memory (of his own son in a similarly sad state?). Off that, as tenderly as he could, Frankenstein’s “monster” broke the lad’s neck himself, wished his fellow passengers luck and started off for “home.” On foot!

‘IS IT LOVE OR WORK?’ | Back in London, Victor was paid a visit by an old classmate, Dr. Henry Jekyll (Shazad Latif). After filling his friend’s head with “dreadful, gorgeous secrets” about Lily, Frankenstein disclosed the real reason that he’d reached out after five years: He wanted Henry to help him destroy the former Brona Croft. Since Jekyll was no longer driven by murderous rage — in fact, “taming the beast within” was the focus of his work now — he instead offered to “domesticate” Lily so that Victor could do what he truly desired: love her.

‘LIFE, FOR ALL ITS ANGUISH, IS OURS’ | Finally, Mr. Lyle couldn’t stand seeing Vanessa reduced to rooming with spiders and flies. “Shall we not at least try to bring you back to the mammalian community?” he asked. Since the answer could only be yes, he suggested that she pay a visit to the shrink who’d helped him embrace the fabulousness by which he’d once been so troubled. Miss Ives also might want to reacquaint herself with her hairbrush, the imp added, earning a hard-won smile and a hug for his efforts.

Upon meeting Dr. Seward (Patti LuPone), Vanessa was stunned: The woman was a dead ringer for the Cut-Wife and, it turned out, a descendant of the late Joan Clayton. (Or was she somehow actually Joan Clayton?) She even had the Cut-Wife’s brusque manner down pat. When Vanessa said that she kept scratching her hand because of an itch, Seward shot back, “Then perhaps you should invest in some hand cream and save yourself the expense of seeing me.”

Still, Vanessa was ready to commit to therapy — even after Seward challenged her to break her cycle of depression by spending that afternoon doing something entirely new. Vanessa’s choice of an activity? A visit to the London Natural History Museum, where she wound up making the acquaintance of sensitive zoologist Alexander Sweet (Christian Camargo). They bonded first over scorpions, but she — and we — were really won over when he confessed that his favorite exhibits were “mostly the unloved ones… all the broken and shunned creatures.

“Someone’s got to care for them,” he added. “Who shall it be if not us?” (Though Vanessa held it together during their interaction, those lines, delivered with such sincerity, reduced me to a puddle. Anyone else?)

Returning home, Vanessa began opening windows and doing some overdue cleaning (which Eva Green somehow managed to make look classy). She even wrote to Sir Malcolm, copping to the “unhealthy lethargy” that had overtaken her, and then recited a bit of Tennyson to the stars. “Let all be well,” the verse concluded on an optimistic note. “Be well.”

‘GIVE ME YOUR THROAT’ | As the episode drew to a close, we followed — at first inexplicably — as Seward’s male secretary pocketed the doctor’s schillings to hire a prostitute. After he and his lady of the evening were attacked by a shadowy figure, the john awakened to find himself surrounded by extremely pale, menacing types — including a man and a boy who’d earlier tailed Vanessa through London. (After selling her a flower to commemorate Tennyson’s passing, the youngster had creepily said, “Savor this day… my beloved.”)

Though the gang practically drooled at the prospect of a captive who was so “pink with blood,” the arrival of their master kept them from harming him. “Have no fear, child,” intoned the baddie, who only wanted to know about Miss Ives. When the man insisted that he didn’t know anything about Dr. Seward’s new patient, the villain informed him that he would find out and report back. To ensure his obedience, the monster asked for the throat of his guest, whose name turned out to be Renfield. And his unseen “host”? Dracula!

So, what did you think of the Season 3 premiere? How torturous was it not to get to see Dracula during that spectacularly spooky sequence? Vote in the poll below, then hit the comments!