PENNY DREADFUL Season One Finale Recap: “Grand Guignol”

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What a wonderfully weird show Penny Dreadful turned out to be.  It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who enjoyed it, it was a surprisingly delightful eight episodes of Victorian oddities.  The production was also never afraid to change pace or throw in a single-character episode here and there, and at the end of the season, there was a definite realization that very little happened in terms of plot.  And yet, the show was always rich and engaging because of its commitment to character.

“Grand Guignol” took its time as a finale, as the show did all season, allowing plenty of room for development and storytelling that helped enrich the final moments.  Yet, nothing was entirely satisfying, which set up plenty for a second season to capitalize on. Hit the jump for why we have to take the happiness we can.

penny-dreadful-eva-green-posterPenny Dreadful spent most of the season laying the groundwork for the finale’s reveals (the show has always been about the how rather than the what).  One of the series’ greatest perceived problems (that I too had an issue with at first) was the reliance on long-established characters from the Victorian literary canon.  But Penny Dreadful proved throughout the season that it was not beholden to the characters as we knew them — Frankenstein, in particular, was given new dimension, but no change was greater than that of Mina Harker (nee Murray).

After a season of chasing her, and on the heels of Sir Malcolm telling Vanessa plainly that he would easily sacrifice her to ensure Mina’s safety, Malcolm killed the vampire he believed had enslaved his daughter, only to find it did not free her at all.  Worse, that she did not wish to be freed.  Vanessa at least desired repentance (I’ll get to that more in a minute).  Malcolm saw a lost cause, and ended it.  He embraced Vanessa as a daughter in that moment, choosing her and their alliance over Mina.

This development was hard to accept at first on many levels — it didn’t feel like enough time was given to Mina and Malcolm’s relationship, and we never learned how or why Mina went over to the dark side to begin with.  But then there’s the consideration that in giving up Vanessa to her and the Master, Malcolm would have lost them both.  He could therefore save Vanessa and at least have her, which was his choice (and likely a pre-determined one, surely, after Sembene’s warning and suggestion to him).  The next thing you know, they’re buying Christmas trees and wanting “the boys” the decorate them.  Sir Malcolm’s new weird family triumphs.

That theme resonated in other areas as well: Victor happened upon his body for the Creature’s Bride in the form of Brona, which is going to make things very, very awkward with Ethan.  He also showed the Creature some actual compassion when he gingerly placed his hand on his shoulder.  It was small moment that meant so much after the Creature’s expulsion from the theater.  Like Sir Malcolm’s group of misfits, the Creature reluctantly went back to his Creator (Penny Dreadful is nothing if not a show built on Daddy Issues), where he was reluctantly accepted.  The two working together on Brona’s corpse was like the new alliance between Sir Malcolm and Vanessa.  “We take the happiness we can get,” as Maude put it.

penny-dreadful-grand-guignol-llewellyn-greenFor Ethan, there doesn’t seem to be much in the form of happiness there (but he has double Daddy Issues, so that surely is part of it).  As the season came to a close, it’s Ethan, the brash American, who remains the biggest mystery.  He finally revealed himself to be the werewolf we all knew him to be, which was Penny Dreadful‘s most obvious moment (although it made everyone feel smart, so what’s the harm in that?), but there are still so, so many questions (like about his tryst with Dorian and his incantation over Vanessa, etc). He’ll be back with the gang soon enough, though.  Where else do misfits go?

Vanessa, having fully recovered from her weeks under Satan’s control, once again sought the help of the church to rid her of this demon possession forever.  She rebuffs Dorian, and considers herself better than Malcolm for actually desiring change to be a better person.  But the priest asks her the question the show has traded in from the beginning: you’re a weirdo and an outcast, yes, and you’re probably set for a life of misery … but would you rather be normal?  We don’t get Vanessa’s answer, but in terms of Penny Dreadful: no way in hell.

Episode Rating: A

Season Rating: A.  A great series opener. It had some hiccups, but was fun and engrossing overall.

Musings and Miscellanea:

– “Don’t be naive, it doesn’t suit you” – Malcolm.

– Malcolm’s flirtations with Madam Kali (a.k.a. Evelyn Paul from Brighton) was an odd interlude.  Does it pave the way for Vanessa to be triggered by his sexual escapades again?

penny-dreadful-grand-guignol-reeve-carney– I never quite bought this version of Dorian Gray as an irresistible sex god.  Vanessa teaching him rejection was an important lesson, especially since everyone in the episode confronted their worst fear (and that would definitely be his).  Overall though, he fell flat for me.

– Victorrrrrrrr. I didn’t know you had that in you to smother Brona and then make her The Bride.  What a sicko!

– Plague Ship 2: Guignol Revenge.  Didn’t the screeching vampire women look like Sarah Jessica Parker in Hocus Pocus?  I think it was the hair.  Speaking of, didn’t Vanessa resemble Edward Scissorhands when she entered the church?  That hairdo …

– “Showbusiness, all bitches” – Vincent.

– A nice progression of Maude being kind to and flirting with the Creature, but him going Full Monster on her at the end to finish off that relationship.  Sad to see Vincent go though, he was a good spirit.

– “This shattered visage really reflections the abomination that is my heart. Oh creator, why didn’t you make me of steal and stone, why did you allow me to feel? I’d rather be the corpse I was than the man I am. Go ahead and pull the trigger. It would be a blessing.” – The Creature.  Always so dramatic!

– “Remember us better than we are” – Vincent.  Love that line.

– Thanks for reading, see you next year in the demi-monde!




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  • Elle

    Please proofread this article.

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  • randommale7

    Definitely agree about Dorian. As insane as this series is it’s also rather exquisite, kind of like Hannibal in that sense. The focus on character was something that a admired with this series.

  • http://instragram.com/jaxlynnicole Jaclyn L.

    This was a great ending to a beautiful show. I’m sad this first season was so short… waiting for a year for the next one will be super annoying. I only half agree about Dorian. I feel like the first few episodes portrayed him perfectly, it was only the last episode where we saw him reduced to a boy in a love. Hopefully, Vanessa’s rejection will show us the Dorian we’ve been expecting AND that damn portrait…

  • Johnny_Mook

    So, those brutal murders in the first two episode openings are the handywork of the american werewolf in London and Ethan is aware of it. This kinda blows my mind.

  • Yurine

    Dorian Gray was the weakest thing about this show. He was basically ‘have sex, get bored, look at painting, see what Vanessas been up to” rinse and repeat. I hope he is developed more next season.

  • CJ

    Solid ending to a solid season, but you definitely feel the crunch of only eight episodes. Do I remember correctly they they are extending the season next year?

    And like most people I picked the two big ‘surprises’ very early on. I knew Bronna would be the Bride and Ethan would be a werewolf.

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