Penny Dreadful: “Grand Guignol” Review
Before the Penny Dreadful season finale aired, I was still on the fence about whether I’d call the show “good,” or merely “okay with some bright spots.” Having seen it, I’m content to say it’s a better than average program. I’ll be back for Season Two. In “Grand Guignol,” suspicions were confirmed and loose ends tied up. The moon went full, a plan progressed, and a certain someone made herself known. A minor character suggested a bigger role for herself next season, and Ser Malcolm admitted something we only suspected. It’s the Penny Dreadful season finale, and I’ll comment in a spoilery fashion after the jump.
There were two things I had to have in order to make the Penny Dreadful season finale work: Mina had to be found, and we had to settle the fact that Ethan was a werewolf. For me, the thing I liked the least about the season was its predictability. I saw Brona as Caliban’s bride during his first full episode. The werewolf thing could be seen from space, and I think we all knew Ser Malcolm’s “secret” about his real relationship with Vanessa.
“Grand Guignol” began were last week’s episode ended, with Vanessa and Malcolm discussing that they now know where Mina is. Just to clear the air, Vanessa insists that Ser Malcolm tell her everything he’s been hiding. He explains that he would leave Vanessa to die if it meant saving Mina, and that he almost hopes he has a reason to kill her—he hates Van that much. He hasn’t exactly kept that hidden. Enter Dorian Grey.
Is it really still a presumption to call someone by their first name if you’ve already done the giggity? Apparently, because he’s still calling her “Miss Ives.” He’s anxious to make a date, brags about his trip to Italy to buy manuscripts. They discuss whether or not everyone has a future (they don’t) and whether or not she is free to take a meal with him (she isn’t). He tells her he’s going to wait for her at that same garden they met at before. Will she show up? Duh, yes.
Brona Croft is nearing the end. Ethan is praying over her in rapid Latin. No atheists in consumption-tinged foxholes, I guess. As he leaves to find Victor Frankenstien, we see that he’s being followed by two unsavory characters most likely sent by Chandler Sr. Victor agrees to help and comes at once. Across town, Ser Malcolm heads off to his local gun dealer to pick up a fancy-pants weapon with an automatic firing mechanism, and 25mm cartridges, which the dealer says will stop an elephant. Riiiight. On his way out, Ser Malcolm encounters “Madame Kali” from the séance in Episode Two. Her real name is…Evelyn Paul. If she’s supposed to be the famed gothic artist, they are taking some liberties with the time frame. But that would be neat. She makes romantic overtures toward Malcolm, and it’s clear that we’ll be seeing her again next season.
We knew from the episode title that the Penny Dreadful season finale would include something crazy at the “Grand Guignol.” When Caliban has a hard time getting the fly ropes right, that prick Simon treats him horribly. He calls his girlfriend, the fetching and kindly Maud, like a dog–and tells Caliban that no one can stand to look at him. Maude later apologizes for Simon and brings Caliban a yummy orange. Unlike the Godfather movies, these oranges don’t symbolize death. Yay!
It’s ridiculous when Caliban dresses himself up in theatre makeup and heads to Maud’s dressing room. When she realizes that Caliban has spied on her, she tells him to leave. That’s when he gets grabby with her. He’s way out of line, and ends up getting fired. Watch for his boss to say he’d rather fire Maud, except that the crowds like her. Sorry theatre guy, but Maud is allowed to be pissed when someone grabs her and kisses her against her will. Caliban packs up his many books and goes to the only other place he knows, Chez Frankenstein. Before we leave the theatre though, we see the head vampire sleeping in the eaves.
Vanessa does decide to meet Dorian Gray, where he finally asks if he may call her by her first name. The bloom is fading, Vanessa notices. The two walk, and Vanessa explains that she doesn’t like who she is with him. She has dark urges and perceptions she needs to resist. Dorian is inexperienced with rejection, so he’s not sure what to make of it. To my mind, the Dorian Gray character has been an excuse for nudity and wanton excess without actually moving the plot forward. He slept with three major characters and we still no basically nothing about him that wasn’t in the novel from whence he came. Is this goodbye, Mister Gray?
Victor isn’t pleased to see his debut creation at his place. He plans to kill Caliban with the gun Ethan taught him to shoot. Victor can’t forgive Caliban for killing Van Helsing. I can’t forgive him for killing Proteus. He knows he has a malignant heart, a poisonous soul. He’s cursed with thinking other men don’t have the problems he has—they do. Victor appears touched by Caliban’s pain. There’s some great writing that’s very well delivered in this scene: Oh, my creator! Why did you not make me from steel and stone? Why did you allow me to feel? I would rather be the corpse I was, than the man I am. But Victor can’t kill him—and that’s when Ethan arrives to beseech him to help Brona.
We all knew this was coming, that Brona would die and Victor would use her to create a bride for Caliban. We might not have guessed that Victor would hurry things along with a pillow, or that Ethan would not be with his love when she died. Watch for Brona to call god a “fucker” before she dies. Ethan does not take Brona’s death very well. When we next see him, predictably, he is drinking. Enter the two guys that were looking for him. They were indeed sent by his father, and they’re Pinkertons, so they mean business. Ethan wastes no time opening a can of 19th century whoopass, and the Pinkertons slink off without their prize. FYI, here’s the scoop on cherry phosphate.
Vanessa meets Ethan in the street. Side note, she says she’s not smoking tobacco. Was she kidding? Or is it something else? Marijuana? Salvia? Anyway, Ethan, Malcolm, Vanessa, Victor, and Sembene head to the Grand Guignol for the showdown. The fighting is robust, and even Victor gets a few rounds off. Also, vampires love blondes, apparently. They nearly get the better of the men until Ser Malcolm takes out the head guy. No wooden stakes in sight, BTW. The death of the Master scatters the rest and saves Team Good Guys. Still, I’m bummed we know almost nothing about Sembene after a whole season. What’s up with that, Showtime?
When we see Mina, she speaks to Vanessa first. Vanessa is the only one she touches. The look of relief and happiness on Malcolm’s face is amazing. Timothy Dalton has so much fun. Mina is sweet at first, but it’s soon clear that she’s corrupted. Mina wanted Van–for the Master. When she makes to bite Vanessa, Ser Malcolm shoots her in the shoulder. She falls, pleading with him, I’m your daughter! He shoots her anyway, saying emphatically that he “already has a daughter.” Is he admitting that Vanessa is his daughter? Or is he just denying that the demon is Mina? I think it’s the first one, but fans are divided. Either way, Mina is dead. Sad times. Depending on what you read, Mina Harker has a long life after the events of Dracula. But then, so did Abrahim Van Helsing. What the hell is Ser Malcolm going to do now?
Back at Chez Frankenstein, Caliban is thrilled to see that Victor is helping him. He’s taken aback by Brona’s beauty. I predict that Brona will not only NOT love Caliban, but she’ll eventually remember that she loves someone else. Speaking of which… Ethan sits alone at the Mariner’s Inn where London Bridge is–going up. The hapless Pinkertons come back for him, this time with guns. “The fun’s over,” they say. But we know it’s just beginning. A cut to a shaking hand is a telltale sign of wolfery. Here’s the thing, it’s a full moon, they show it. So Ethan is as wolfy as a guy like him gets. This means that I was not entirely correct. I said he was a werewolf, when in fact, he’s a Wolfman. World of difference, and also explains that when he woke up outside in Episode One, he still had clothes on.
Cut to Vanessa in a church with a choir of kids setting the tone. Vanessa approaches the priest. Before long he’s clear that what she’s there for is an exorcism. He tells her of the last time he attended an unsanctioned exorcism (Rome approves them very rarely, and it’s technically forbidden to do an exorcism without church approval). The boy died, and god was nowhere to be found. He wants no part in another exorcism. He explains that being touched by a demon is a kind of holiness, a link to greater forces. He asks Vanessa if she wants to forsake that gift, if she really wants to become average, normal? And…the scene ends just as she opens her mouth to answer.
So that’s the Penny Dreadful season finale. “Grand Guignol” gave us some excellent closure but left enough open that there’s reason to return next season. It was an uneven season on the whole, but I found lots to enjoy. Watch for my Penny Dreadful character retrospective coming later this week. Check back for my reviews of CBS’s Under the Dome, as well as Friday’s Pics every week.
See you’s then!