The first season of Penny Dreadful comes to a scattered and not-quite satisfying conclusion in “Grand Guignol,” an oddly bloodless finale. The search for Mina comes to an end, and several subplots that never quite tied into that quest are paid off, some more predictably than others. Yes, Chandler is a werewolf—a revelation that was foreshadowed so heavily over the course of the season, many viewers came to believe it had to be a red herring. As some predicted, Brona Croft dies (although she has a little help) and is set to be reborn as the Bride of Frankenstein. The rest of the characters survive to see another season, although some of them may have already outlived their usefulness.
Chief among the latter is Dorian Gray, who has little to do in the finale besides experience his first taste of rejection. He’s not alone in that; Frankenstein’s Creature could sympathize, as could Mina if any part of her still remained in the body enslaved to the Master. Gray ended up playing a much smaller role in the season than I would have expected early on. Yes, he’s responsible for awakening the demon within Vanessa, but that makes him more a function of the plot than a fully fleshed-out character. Perhaps bigger things are in store for him next year, but for now he’s just the guy who banged half the characters and occasionally stared at his special painting.
The Creature’s arc may have reached a predictable conclusion (for now, that is), but it took an interesting path to get there. After spending the past few weeks threatening Frankenstein and snapping the occasional neck, the Creature has a moment of clarity after being fired from the Grand Guignol for attacking the lead actress. (Even after all he’s done, it was hard not to feel a little sympathy for the poor thing as he tried to present the actress with an orange, his face badly made-up. Maybe skip the lipstick next time.) Realizing he’s become the monster he looked like all along, he returns to the lab and urges Frankenstein to kill him. In doing so, he awakens fatherly feelings in his creator, who hastens Brona’s demise in order to make her the Creature’s mate. Billie Piper didn’t have much to do this season besides cough and get naked, so I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of monster she makes next season. (Maybe the reanimated version of Brona won’t have that accent.)
Chandler, who has had daddy issues all along, spends the episode dodging a pair of Pinkertons sent by his father to drag him back to the states. Presumably Big Daddy knows Chandler’s secret (and perhaps it’s a family tradition), but it doesn’t appear he shared that information with his hired hands, as they make the mistake of trying to apprehend Chandler under a full moon. It’s hard to react to this development with anything but a shrug and a sigh of relief that this silly guessing game is finally over. Is it possible that even one Penny Dreadful viewer was shocked to see Chandler wolf out? (And barely, at that. Showtime must have run out of money before we could get the full transformation, so that will have to wait until season two.)
That leaves the episode’s big set piece, the raid on the vampire’s nest in the theater. This doesn’t play out much differently than the plague ship raid a couple of weeks ago (although I did laugh when Chandler fell through the trap door), except that this time Sir Malcolm catches up to the vampire and stakes him. (I’m assuming for now this is just some junior vampire and Dracula is still out there somewhere.) When Mina makes her appearance, Sir Malcolm, who had earlier told Vanessa he would sacrifice her to save his daughter, does the opposite. This should have been a more emotionally-charged moment than it turned out to be, given how much weight was given to Sir Malcolm’s search throughout the season, but instead it’s a bit too abrupt and tidy. The line “I already have a daughter” is meant to be powerful but doesn’t quite feel earned.
The season ends on a rather subdued note with Vanessa’s visit to the priest. Her demon’s absence is only temporary (or at least she believes that to be the case), and her request for an exorcism is met with a curious response. “Do you really want to be normal?” is an appropriate question to go out on. What would a “normal” version of Penny Dreadful look like? With the quest for Mina out of the way, what remains to bind this team of misfits together? Will the series become a monster-of-the-week show, or will Showtime allow it to continue along its moody, offbeat path? "Grand Guignol” was something of a disappointment, but the same can’t be said for Penny Dreadful as a whole. Whether the spell it cast can be sustained is a question for another day.
- Another odd scene: Sir Malcolm’s flirty encounter with the “medium” from the seance at the gun shop. A set-up for future developments, perhaps?
- How did the finale work for everyone? Still on board for season two?