The following story contains major spoilers about Sunday’s Penny Dreadful — proceed at your own peril.
What could be worse than Penny Dreadful creator John Logan killing off leading lady Eva Green? Logan killing off the show altogether.
Read it and weep: The Showtime drama will not be returning for a fourth season, meaning that Sunday’s Season 3 finale — which concluded with the death of Green’s long-suffering, demonically tortured heroine — was actually the series finale.
In the following Q&A with TVLine, Logan and Showtime president David Nevins reveal why and when they made the call to bring down the curtain, defend their decision not to give viewers more of a heads-up that the end was nigh, and answer this doozy of a question: Was there a contingency plan in place to continue the series without Vanessa Ives?
TVLINE | When did you make the decision that this would, in fact, be the final season?
DAVID NEVINS | I will let John handle that because it was, ultimately, his decision. It was a creative decision about the trajectory of this character.
JOHN LOGAN | [The decision] was made a while ago. The show, to me, has always been about Vanessa Ives and her struggle with faith. I knew, sooner or later, it would get to a point of apotheosis, where she would either accept her God or deny her God. Midway through [Season 2] – so, two years ago — as I was planning a third season, I realized, “Oh, I see exactly where this is heading. She’s going to have that moment, and the only way she can truly have it is at the moment of her death.” So, in my mind, I began shaping the third season thinking about all the characters and how I could lead them to a place that felt like a fitting conclusion. And it was very difficult to do as a writer. I’m deeply attached to these characters. I feel like I created them, even the ones I didn’t, like Victor Frankenstein and the Creature; they’re real parts of me. That’s particularly the case with Vanessa Ives. I felt like it was the graceful, perfect way to end her story and therefore the story of all the characters.
TVLINE | So you knew going into Season 3 that this was the final season?
NEVINS | That’s when I found out. I always knew this was not going to be a six- or seven-year show, but it was working really well for us. It was getting richer and deeper with each season. But when John came in to lay out Season 3, he said, “I think I have to end the season with the death of Vanessa Ives.” Then I went through a period of like, “Do I try to talk John out of it? And is there a show beyond her?” It just felt like the creative elements of this show are dependent on John Logan writing [for the character of] Vanessa Ives, and Eva Green playing Vanessa Ives. And I didn’t want to make the show without the creative elements that made it great. So after trying to talk John out of it for a little while, I said, “It’s OK. We can do it this way.” Then the question is, do we sort of warn the audience that this is the end? But, given the trajectory, that would have been really unfair, because people want to be surprised.
TVLINE | So you never considered promoting this as “the final season of Penny Dreadful“?
NEVINS | I considered it. But it seemed like the wrong way to do it. It wasn’t in the spirit of Penny Dreadful. I’m sensitive about it, because I think the show has a really passionate fan base. And [they’re] going to be very emotional.
TVLINE | John, did you consider doing a fourth season without Eva? Because it certainly seemed like Perdita Weeks’ Catriona was being groomed as her successor.
LOGAN | To me, the show was always going to achieve closure with the death of Vanessa. And all the storylines this season were meant to be leaving characters at a place of appropriate and beautiful stasis. So, in the last episode, Dorian Gray is left alone staring at his portrait; Sir Malcolm finds the family he lost with Ethan; Ethan finds the surrogate father he lost with Sir Malcolm; the Creature realizes that he can’t be part of the human family or the human community and he’s left kneeling on a grave, which is, poetically, where he belongs. So it was apparent that this season was leading toward the ending… And along the way, what makes a show interesting is vibrant characters. I loved [Weeks’ character] Catriona.
TVLINE | So Mr. Lyle going off to Egypt wasn’t setting up the arrival of the Mummy in a potential Season 4?
LOGAN | [Laughs] No, that was really just to give that character a beautiful ending for a homosexual man in 1892. I love these characters so much. I wanted to give them all fitting endings.
TVLINE | I think fans are going to be bummed that Vanessa was so scarce a presence in these last two episodes. Since you knew going in that this would be the end, why not give us more Eva Green?
LOGAN | It’s akin to the decision of not announcing [Season 3 as the final season]. I believe in the coup de théâtre. I believe audiences want to be surprised. They want to have their breath taken away. I wanted to do a major reveal when you saw Vanessa as the Mother of Evil, per se, when she’s living with Dracula and you see what she’s become. Because she is responsible for this horrible plague that’s killing London. I thought less of her was better to make her appearances much more powerful. And she becomes the Maltese Falcon — that thing they’re all striving toward. It was purely a dramatic decision.
TVLINE | Maybe I’m just having a tough time letting go, but I feel like there is still so much life left in this franchise. I love Eva Green, but I could see the show potentially carrying on without her. John, why weren’t you more eager to keep the show going?
LOGAN | Because Eva Green is my muse for this show. And Vanessa Ives is my muse for this show. Her story had to end exactly as it ended for me. Would I have loved to keep telling her story for 10 years? Yes. But that would’ve been an act of bad faith. Vanessa’s struggle had to end, and it had to end in peace. That’s what the series was about for me. And as much as I love the other characters and the other actors and running this show, the central ticking clock of it was always Vanessa Ives.
TVLINE | When did you tell Eva that this was the end?
LOGAN | Eva and I talked every day on the set. First thing I would do is go sit in her trailer, and we would talk, sometimes for 10 minutes and sometimes for three hours. So she was aware of every permutation of my thought [process].
NEVINS | I can tell you that she knew before I did. [Laughs]
LOGAN | And I continue to have that relationship with her. Of all the Dreadfuls, she is the one I’m most kin to. From the first episode that I wrote, when I begged her to do the show for six months, she has been embedded in my DNA.
TVLINE | Was her reaction, “No, I want to keep going” or was it, “Thank God, I’m exhausted from playing this character”?
LOGAN | It was closer to the latter. [Laughs] Eva’s a true heavyweight. She’d go into the ring as often as I would send her in. But she knew as well as I did that it was the right ending for the character. She just wanted a beautiful ending.
NEVINS | I think her performance will go down in history as one of the magnificent performances on television. Ultimately, the thought of trying to continue this iteration of Penny Dreadful without Eva seemed definitely wrong to John and fairly quickly seemed wrong to me, too. I think this is a part that, during the six months of the year that she’s doing it, takes a huge toll on Eva. She lives in it. She is haunted by the devil, and it’s not an easy way to get through life. So it was a relief to her soul that it was going to come to an end. But I think it’s great that we got 27 episodes.
TVLINE | Did Eva’s exhaustion influence the decision to end the series?
LOGAN | No. She has always been incredibly respectful of me and the character.
NEVINS | I think it’s pretty clear that Eva would crawl across broken glass for John Logan.
TVLINE | John, favorite moment from the series?
LOGAN | My personal favorite episode is Eva and Patti LuPone, when they’re off in the cottage in the second season. My relationship with Eva is such that being on the set with her when she was creating this incredible character with that kind of commitment was one of the most flattering and amazing experiences of my life.
TVLINE | What do you think the reaction will be when fans see the “The End” card?
NEVINS | I think they’ll be emotional. And maybe even devastated. But I hope, when they get past that, they’re going to feel satisfied. I think John has done a brilliant job of creating closure. Nobody can say he didn’t end the story on his terms.