Penny Dreadful Season Finale Review: A Family Affair

By Price Peterson

Jun 30, 2014

Penny Dreadful S01E08: "Grand Guignol"

There's just something about Penny Dreadful that makes me want to elevate my language into the more poetic, elegant English of Victorian literature: Aye, gorblimey guvnuh that Eva Green is a right brilliant totty, cheers jolly good. Just kidding, I don't know what any of that means, I can barely speak American let alone anything approaching the frequently next-level vocabulary of Penny Dreadful. Regardless, no discussion about this instant classic series can start anywhere other than how amazing Eva Green is. Eva Green is perfect basically. Her intense, frightening, eerily cool, tour-de-force performance was the centerpiece of Penny Dreadful and is what held together an otherwise unwieldy monster like the tightest of stitches. I'm not saying we should give Eva Green all of the awards for her work here, but if she doesn't win them then awards are MEANINGLESS.

Because Eva Green is a national treasure. For what nation, you ask? The nation of TV. In which I am currently a political prisoner, long story.

Penny Dreadful wrapped up its eight-episode introduction with "Grand Guignol" and I do mean "introduction" rather than season in that it was about as audaciously open-ended as viewers can be reasonably expected to put up with. It didn't even bother explaining the killings that opened the first two episodes! The entirely too brief season felt at best like a particularly riveting prologue to the madness that will surely follow, and I don't mean that as a bad thing, necessarily. The slow-burn pleasures of Penny Dreadful meant it was less a cheap-o, rip-roarin' yarn like the title suggests and more a macabre tone poem. To be fair, at least one major plotline was tied up in the finale—Mina's fate—but for the most part this season was more about revealing the dark corners of the characters' backstories. Where I assumed Penny Dreadful's disparate elements would congeal into something approaching a league of monster-hunters, it ended up more an examination of a found family. Well, a particularly dysfunctional one, at least. But family for sure.

When it comes to expectations, it could be argued that "Grand Guignol"'s lack of surprise was one of its biggest surprises. For example, did anybody not see Ethan's wolfman twist coming from a mile away? Ever since he communed with wolves at the London zoo it was telegraphed so explicitly that he had lupine abilities that you'd be forgiven for discounting it out of hand for being TOO obvious. Same with Brona's consumption happening to coincide with The Creature's demand for a female counterpart. There was absolutely nothing surprising about seeing her corpse lying prone on Frankenstein's table, but the circumstances of his decision to murder her certainly were. And while Mina's eventual death was also telegraphed by frequent discussions about whether she was beyond redemption or not (and then Vanessa's epistolary promise to her that she loved her enough to murder her), it was Sir Malcolm's cold-blooded decision to murder Mina in order to save Vanessa that packed a punch. A classic The Good Son ending! I certainly wish that stand-off had seemed more epic, but in another sense I'm just glad that Vanessa and Sir Malcolm have cemented their dysfunctional father-daughter bond. Plus, when he intones that "I already have a daughter," it had the nice double-meaning in that she might literally be his daughter. (Sir Malcolm loved to get busy in the hedge maze with Vanessa's mom.) But yeah, it's all mere suggestion at this point; a talking point for a future season, as are most of Penny Dreadful's plotlines.

It's a comfort to know that Penny Dreadful has already been renewed for a second season, if only due to the sheer number of loose ends and storylines still to be explored. Like I mentioned, who exactly was the ripper-killer from the opening episodes? Is Vanessa really a reincarnation of an Egyptian goddess? Is the demon within her dormant, and is IT what's responsible for her clairvoyance? (The priest in the final scene heavily implied that she's better off keeping the demon inside her lest she become too basic.) Why is Ethan fluent in Latin? What does his full wolfman getup look like? Will Dracula look even scarier than his scary vampire henchmen and their scary vampire wraiths that look like Sheri Moon Zombie? Will we ever see Dorian Grey's painting? Will Dorian Grey finish seducing all the rest of the characters? What's Sembene's deal? Did he accidentally fall asleep on a waffle iron? And why the sudden reintroduction of the psychic woman from the earlier séance scene? Why was she buying a pistol? Will we ever see Proteus again? And most importantly, will Undead Brona still talk like that? Guys, I got questions!

But, you know, maybe Penny Dreadful isn't really about answers. From its set design and production and elegiac music, this thing isn't like anything else on TV. It's, more than anything, an escape. It's an exercise in mood and emotion, no matter how confusing. I'm constantly complaining about TV shows spoon-feeding us exposition, but Penny Dreadful's lack of information bordered on impenetrable at times. It's saying something when we didn't even fully know Vanessa's relationship to Sir Malcolm until Episode 6's hourlong flashback episode. But that's why Penny Dreadful was such a success: It engaged our brains and haunted our hearts and kept us wondering—or nightmarin'!—all along. And, you know, Eva Green. Because OMG Eva Green.

Seriously, Eva Green.

Great first season. More of an appetizer than a meal, but what an appetizer. I truly miss it already.

What question(s) do YOU most want answered in Season 2?

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  • Haloprogram Mar 04, 2015

    Proteus is dead. Just a really late FYI.

    The finalé to me was great and it really opened up a bunch of questions, doors if you will. I'm happy to say I will eagerly anticipate season 2 even though season 1 had it's ups and downs. One thing no one can take from this is the fact that the acting was tremendous.

    On the question of the Ripper killings, I was under the assumption that that might've been the work of Ethan's wolfy persona but I would prefer to see Jack the Ripper make a debut in season 2.

  • snarine Jul 15, 2014

    It's pretty clear that we are meant to believe that Ethan as the werewolf committed the murders in the first two episodes. There is a lot of evidence that he did, not the least being that during his absinthe-fueled flashback he sees scenes from the murders that, presumably, only the killer could have seen. However, I still think there is a slight possibility that the killer (or at least one of the killers) is Mr. Hyde. I note here that the inspector said the murderer took various body parts from the victims. Admittedly, the werewolf may simply have eaten these, but it is possible that the killer had uses for those parts. If so, then's it probably not the werewolf. Right now, though, the weight of the evidence is that Ethan committed the murders.

  • Ankh49 Jul 09, 2014

    Ok. here's the deal. I like Penny Dreadful but I'm not sure why. I'm all for a show taking it's time and building up the characters but for me PD took it a bit too far. I think it's too much to ask for character development and some build up but also to have some action and a pay off of some kind at the end of the season - True Detective spent roughly 2 thirds of the season in flashback and it only had a six episode run. But I still felt satisfied at the end. Fargo is another great example. Maybe it's a bit unfair to compare these shows to Pd as they have a finite 1 season arc whereas Pd is in it for the long haul. someone other people below have commented on how unsatisfying the action sequences were and I find myself agreeing as the villains went down too easily and it never feels like the heroes are in any real peril. I love the cast but it does feel like most of them are underused, and Eva does save the show. I'm surprised to find myself writing this because as I say I really do like the show - I've been eagerly waiting for it ever since the concept was first mentioned on this site before it went into production. but I feel a bit let down. Let's hope that, now all the backstory is out of the way and the characters established, that we get a bit more 'bang for our buck.' For starters they really need to sort out a decent villain, someone really menacing, and put the characters into more peril.

  • Ankh49 Jul 09, 2014

    Either these writers are really cocky or they got Vanessa to do a reading for the future of the show - Billie Piper has been in full monster garb in a the promo shots for the show but she doesn't die until the last episode of the season?

    I'm torn with regards to Ethan's character. On one hand he is kind and loving but on the other hand from what I can see he has made no attempt whatsoever to restrain himself during the full moon. He's let his inner wolf run wild ripping apart families and now a pub full of innocent bystanders. What a douche.

  • DavidMaynard1 Jul 07, 2014

    My question is "When are the vampires on the show going to at least harm one of the members of the group when they attack them?" Seems like whenever they get attacked by vampires everyone escapes without even a scratch, nevermind a bite.

  • pichikin Jul 05, 2014

    I thought it was pretty obvious that Ethan, who the finale confirmed is a werewolf, is probably the one responsible for killing the mother and daughter in the opening scenes of the first episode.

    I hope they do more with Dorian Gray's character next season. He's been horribly misused/underused so far. He's pretty much amounted to nothing more than a booty call for our "main" characters. It's such a waste since the character has huge potential and the actor is fantastic.

    I think Victor's "murder" of Brona was a mercy killing. He knew she didn't have long to live anyway so he saw fit to end her suffering. On the other hand, he obviously intended to use her as a "subject". Maybe another reason was that he didn't want the disease to cause further damage to her body. I don't know. I think Victor is one of the most complex and, therefore, unpredictable characters on the show. He's definitely one of my favorites.

    I don't know if Sir Malcolm was redeemed in my eyes even after the big emotional climax where he finally decided to let go of Mina and accept Vanessa as a daughter. He's been such a douche. It's so hard to like him. They've taken the character past a certain point and there might be no turning back now. Maybe the writers/producers thought that Timothy Dalton's charisma could carry Sir Malcolm through but, sadly, I don't think it's working out.

  • WildPict Jul 04, 2014

    I really liked the finale! Dorian getting dumped by Vanessa was sad, and she really should've explained the issue more thoroughly. And seeing Ethan wolf out on the Pinkerton guys was classic. I felt that this episode really tightened the entire season. My main critique is Mina. I feel she was the weakest part of the entire story, and wish they had done more with that plot line.

  • beeMikeB Jul 04, 2014

    * This show's 'found family' is like the Scoobies in Buffy the Vampire Slayer if all the characters were terrible people who are mostly together because of how terrible they are. And if say Giles was paying the other members a lot more than they would otherwise get doing something else.

    * Dracula being alive still is a good thing for the show; without that, it seems the world would be better off with all these people dead.

    * Just how tough if Caliban supposed to be? Victor Frankenstein knows what this group was dealing with. If they can kill vampires, if Vanessa Ives is that scary that even vampires are intimidated by her, surely they can kill Caliban. Riddle Caliban with bullets and then decapitate him. There's no indication he's tougher than a vampire.

    * Vanessa's attracted to a soulless immortal and she's attracted to a werewolf. She's essentially the mistress of the Devil and she's The One for Dorian Gray and for Ethan Hunt. Yea for romance!

    * It's interesting to think of this entire season as an introductory season. Kinda like an extra long Battlestar Galatica miniseries.

    * There are still problems in what we don't know about these people.

    We don't know Sir Malcolm Murray's background. He is only rich because he's an explorer? Why were the Ives' rich? This is set in Victorian London and class was a HUGE issue. Mina Murry was going to marry some officer and she was excited about going to live in India.

    Sir Malcolm, Vanessa, and Dorian are portrayed as being the top of society. But it's possible none are even members of The Ton (the top ten thousand people in the United Kingdom). They simply have money.

    We still don't know much about Ethan.

  • DavidMaynard1 Jul 07, 2014

    I always assumed Sir Malcolm was Allan Quatermain but given a different name so as not to seem like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

  • MikeKalaf Jul 03, 2014

    Pretty sure that the killings that happened in the first two episodes are due to Ethan (Josh Hartnett). Outside the house the opening killing occurred at, the woman seemed to recognise him and he shied away. I was sure he would be a werewolf (so many signs!), but the revelation in the final the final piece in the puzzle that locked the opening deaths into place (for me at least!)

  • Invictu Jul 03, 2014

    All I want to know is…where is Mr. Hyde???

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