While HBO aired the Game of Thrones season 6 premiere over the weekend, Showtime quietly released the first episode of the third season of its original series Penny Dreadful.
For those who have grown tired of Game of Thrones' endless violence (particularly against women), incest, rape culture and excessive female nudity, Penny Dreadful is a breath of intellectual fresh air, although that air is beautifully tainted with the kind of horror that only Victorian England can bring.
What's beautiful about the first episode of Penny Dreadful's new season is that it still has its own way of shocking viewers without demeaning them: not only does it have strong female characters, but the show's writing makes it creepy even when no monsters appear on the screen. Even the big bad revealed at the end of the episode is never seen, but his presence is greatly felt nonetheless.
Please note that the following contains minor spoilers for the first episode of Penny Dreadful.
However, fear not: because the first episode is available online for free on Showtime's website.
In "The Day That Tennyson Died," Vanessa Ives has become a shell of herself and is now a shut-in, thanks to events that happened last season. All seems lost until an old friend convinces Vanessa to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Seward, whose name suggests that she's probably more of an expert on vampires than humans.
Meanwhile, Ethan Chandler is a prisoner in America after admitting to committing multiple murders (even though he has a good excuse: he's a werewolf). Sir Malcolm is in Africa, a place he once loved that has now become tainted by white men and slavery. However, a Native American approaches Sir Malcolm there and tells him that Ethan needs him. It seems that the great man once more has a purpose.
There are also new versions of darkness coming to London. One of those is an old friend of Dr. Frankenstein's, Dr. Jekyll, and it's obvious that he will soon create more mayhem now that he's returned to London. Meanwhile, Frankenstein's Creature finds himself trapped on a boat where starving men discuss cannibalism. Faced with the despicable nature of humanity, the creature decides that he must return to London, too.
It's the final few minutes of the episode, though, that will leave viewers haunted long after they watch it: a man stumbles into a dark alley and meets a new evil that's stalking the streets of the city. What's beautiful about this scene is that it slowly pulls back a curtain on who the new monster in London is, and once that evil speaks its name, viewers will cheer and then fear for the citizens of London. That's all without the monster actually appearing onscreen.
Penny Dreadful doesn't need the shock and awe that shows such as Game of Thrones often rely on. Instead, it's a smart and frightening tale told slowly by candlelight that holds a light up to the monster that lives within all of us.
Season three of Penny Dreadful premieres on Showtime on May 1.