The stage is set and the players assembled for the final act of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. Who will emerge from the ‘Grand Guignol’ theatre alive?
Let’s bitch it out…
Unsurprisingly the sole real casualty in the finale is Mina (Olivia Llewellyn), who is revealed to be yet another vampire bride. We learn late in the hour that her goal was to lure Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) for the Master, which is hardly a revelation considering we knew this when Fenton led the vampire to the house a few episodes back. As for Mina’s death, it’s been telegraphed for several weeks as well – just last episode Sembene (Danny Sapani) questioned Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) if he was prepared to sacrifice Mina if it came to it, which pretty much put a giant red target on her.
The death (to save Vanessa’s life no less) is just one of many forecast, predictable developments that’s been hinted at that the finale pays off. My issue is that there’s a fine line between getting confirmation of long-held suspicions and simply seeing the expected play out and ‘Grand Guignol’, for me at least, veers too heavily into the latter category. It doesn’t necessarily make it a bad episode, but it’s not especially satisfying either.
And so the finale reveals that Brona (Billie Piper) will become the Creature’s (Rory Kinnear) partner and that Ethan (Josh Hartnett) is a werewolf. They’re monumental developments, or they should be, but we’ve held suspicions that this would come to pass since the second episode and it’s as though writer/creator John Logan knows this because each development is treated with such a cavalier nonchalance that they barely resonate. It’s the equivalent of a narrative shrug, which kind of sums up the finale – things happen, but none of it lands. Even the big action climax, featuring a plethora of Pop Starlet brides attacking Ethan, Sembene and Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) fails to elevate the heart rate – mostly because we saw variations of this fight scene in 1×06 ‘What Death Can Bring Together’ and in 1×01 ‘Night Work’ and it was much more interesting in both of the earlier iterations.
Not all of the finale is worthy of complaint, however; there are a handful of interesting, potentially promising developments including Vanessa’s final chat with the priest about the perils of exorcism and whether it’s better to be special or normal (this could be the show’s message in a nutshell). Vanessa’s dismissal of Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) is also satisfying, if only because it finally gives Carney something else to do besides play smug seductor (though it remains to be seen if Carney can handle more). Seeing Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) forgive and accept Vanessa is a nice development after a season of going back and forth between hating and using her. And while I came to dislike the Creature’s propensity for eloquent soliloquies nearly as much as his tendency to casually murder people, his revelation that he is a monster with a soul is an affecting moment that will hopefully move him in new directions next season.
In the end, Penny Dreadful strikes me as a better idea than its final output proved to be. I’ll lay a great deal of blame on Logan’s feet since the show often looked sumptuous and was well-acted and directed. It was the slow plotting and curious lack of urgency than ultimately let the series down, which doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm for a larger second season next year. Perhaps with a year’s experience under his belt, Logan will take some time to reflect on the process and learn from his mistakes. As it is, Penny Dreadful was a nice diversion – entertaining and enjoyable – though far from the top tier drama that it could have been had someone kept a closer eye on the writer’s room. Ah well – onwards and upwards to season two!
- It may sound a bit strange but one of my fixations is what hair styles reveal about characters. I found it particularly informative that Vanessa’s trademark up-do is more more nest-like in the finale, almost as though she’s in somewhat of a compromise between her fully in-control self and her possessed state (when she’s understandably quite disheveled). I’ll be interested to see if this hair style persists in S2 since it’s clear that Ethan’s actions last week did not expel the demon, but merely allowed Vanessa to regain control.
- Re: the final scene with the priest. Did anyone else think that he would be revealed as a demon or a hallucination considering he seems to be advocating for remaining possessed? Some message boards are suggesting his line about no one surviving the exorcism is a clue (ie: how could he make such a statement if he was actually present at the exorcism, unless he’s the devil). I’m not sure about that, but I’m interested to see what others think.
- Sir Malcolm( when Vanessa asks if killing his daughter will bring him peace): “Don’t be naïve. It doesn’t suit you.”
Your turn: what are your thoughts on S1? Is Eva Green your season MVP for her work or were you more impressed with someone else? Did anything in the finale surprise you or did it mostly fulfill your expectations? Which S2 storyline are you most excited for? Sound off below and thanks for reading!
Penny Dreadful has finished airing its first season. It has been renewed for a 10 episode second season which will likely debut next Spring/Summer.