Penny Dreadful: “Gran Guignol”

TV Reviews
Penny Dreadful: “Gran Guignol”

Having only just finished Penny Dreadful’s season finale, “Gran Guignol”, I’m trying to figure out my final impressions of the show. There were a handful of bits which, I think, were meant to be “big reveals.” (Major spoilers ahead—proceed with caution!) All of these moments were plot twists which we’d predicted early in the season. Ethan Chandler is, indeed a werewolf; Brona Croft is the bride of Frankenstein and Mina has been playing Malcolm and Vanessa all along.

There was even a hint that Malcolm may be Vanessa’s true father which would make sense given what we saw in “Closer Than Sisters”.

While none of these revelations were particularly surprising, I still enjoyed the season finale. What makes Penny Dreadful special isn’t the plot (of which there is an overabundance) so much as it is the cast, and the entire ensemble feels incredibly special. They always bring their A game and they all seem to enjoy being on the show. Though they’re playing with tropes and cliches in a world that’s not entirely unpredictable, the cast is committed and specific enough that one forgives the show’s weaknesses.

For example, when Frankenstein’s monster Caliban is thrown out of his home in the theater, he returns to his creator’s house. As Caliban muses about the suffering he’s endured, Victor slowly withdraws a gun. Towards the end of Caliban’s speech, he says “Do it, pull the trigger!” but by this point, Victor has already realized the pair might have more in common than originally thought. While a lesser show might have rushed this moment or tacked it on for sentimentality, Victor’s poetic nature was established strongly in the first episode and has been a major story point throughout. The fact that Caliban’s monologue touched Victor deeply enough to change his intention seemed completely natural and totally effortless.

What the season finale did most effectively is set up a really compelling hook for season two. While we could predict the plot turns early on in the show’s run, the fact that Logan waited until the season finale to implement them has me (at least) really excited for Penny Dreadful’s future.

I never thought the Search For Mina! storyline was particularly compelling, and now that she’s out of the way, I’m very eager to see how the show handles Dracula. The vampires that Malcolm and has been hunting turned out to just be minions, not the big boss at all.
The most compelling scene in the whole episode came right at the end. Mina has been killed. Vanessa and Malcolm have been reunited and it seems, for now at least, that there might be a moment of peace. Vanessa sits on a park bench looking at a church. She enters and finds it empty, save for a gaggle of choir boys practicing a hymn. She approaches the priest and asks about an exorcism. He cautions against it and she pushes. “Being cursed,” he says “means you’ve been touched by the back hand of God. It’s a little like being sacred.” He puts the question to her: “Are you really willing to be normal?”

What’s so great about this moment is that there are a ton of forces at work. On the one hand, since the devil appears to her frequently in the guise of familiars, my first reaction is that he’d possessed the priest to caution her against exorcism. This is particularly terrifying, because if he’s able to infiltrate the warriors of God, then he must be really powerful in this world. The question posed, is Vanessa willing to give up feeling special, foreshadows themes for the second season. I imagine there’ll be a lot of back and forth next season within Vanessa as she tries to decide whether or not she’s willing to give up her elevated position. Not only does she have powers, but she’s also sort of safe. If the devil is on the verge of taking over the world, and wants you as his number two, one can expect that you’ll be safe from most of the unpleasantness which may befall the general public.

Though “Gran Guignol” wasn’t nearly as shocking as “Red Wedding”, or True Detective, the way Penny Dreadful unravels its story is really elegant and fun to watch. I’m stoked for next season.

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