[Review] - Penny Dreadful Season 1 Finale, Episode 8, "Grand Guignol"

Courtesy of Neal Street Productions
And so ladies and gentlemen, both discerning and earnest in your applications and endeavours, we have come at last to the end of this inaugural volume of macabrey. Settle your more delicate of dispositions, for the house lights have come up and reveal it all to have been an illusion most captivating but entirely ethereal. May the haunts so elegantly enumerated, and which threatened to enter your own imaginings, be so ably disposed as one might wipe the filth from a shoe. These preternatural occurrences and blasphemous theatrics have justly been vanquished by the strength of good character, the like of which threatens to be banished from a civil world today. Before we adjourn to our own comforts, let us recount so savoury these conclusions and allow the more wanton of us ponder the grave implications for some future performance.  

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that take the happiness they can.

So, last week I mentioned the issue of a tricky conclusion faced by Penny Dreadful. They had set up so much, yet the pace set by the previous seven episodes suggested something less than entirely conclusive occurring this episode. And I was right by halves. Or, in the case of Ms. Croft, entirely correct in my assessment so many weeks ago. There were many conclusions here, though not as definitive a collection as you might think. The immediate quests are concluded, but so much of the larger issue remains unassailed. So, in actuality, it did exactly what a finale of this type needed to do. Unaware at the time if another season would follow or not, this episode contained and concluded as much of the season as was necessary without making it feel overly simple and without leaving any immediate questions unanswered. And it suggested enough about the future to give us a hint of where things will be headed next year.

The backbone of the season has been the search for Mina, and I will readily admit that the actual search for Mina seemed to take up far less time than the talking about looking for her did. And she and the creature's residence at the theatre was convenient. As is the apparently endless supply of enthralled women serving at the Master's command. In fact, if I had to pick a weakness for the show, it was this part of this storyline. the action itself was the shortcoming. Thank gods everything else about the show is so much more interesting than gun fights.

And the dispatching of Mina, hinted at by others but finally embraced by Sir Malcolm, was quickly done. Part of me feels too quickly, that an episode like last week's devoted to discovering Mina's seduction might have been in order. But another part of me feels that this was the way to go. We, after all, don't care about Mina any more than Ives or Sir. Malcolm do. We, like they, care about the idea of Mina. the purpose the hunt for her gave. Mina is immaterial if she isn't in peril, and to reveal her to be completely in control robs her of her soul interesting facet. Like Dorian, we would have lost interest.

Those last moments of Mina's gave us some interesting information though. Firstly, the various hieroglyphicly adorned beasties that have been dispatched have been simply agents of the Master, not the thing himself. Count or not, Dracula is still out there, and suggestive enough that Mina had embraced him fully. That too is a change, remaining the corollary to Ives in every way. One is light, one is dark; one is innocent, the other experienced; one fights for control over a darkness that threatens to consume her while the other embraces a darkness that wants her as little more than a tool to ensnare the actual object of it's affections. Sir Malcolm's season long behaviour is mirrored by that of the Master: both used the women they had to try to catch the other.

In the end though, Sir Malcolm was able to recognise that the daughter he knew but neglected was gone, and the daughter he never asked for but came to rely on was the better option. Now, to that matter: Sir Malcolm's declaration of Ives as his daughter can be interpreted one of two ways. Firstly, as a symbolic term of affection, that the bond formed while searching for Mina was stronger than the bond between himself as Mina. Or, considering that his past includes snogging Mrs. Ives out int he hedge maze, that there is a real chance that Ives is Sir Malcolm's by blood (certainly explains why he was able to give her so much of his blood during the transfusions). Either works, as both play into Sir Malcolm's awakening of how much of a bastard he's been, and determining his course of action.

Frankenstein and his creation got to have a sit down chat, and as it turns out, if you talk out your issues rather than just go around snapping the necks of actors and characters that might be of use down the road, you get to know each other better. It has not helped his case that Caliban's entire performance has been drenched in blood, and that Frankenstein, overcome with horror and grief has been unwilling to see his creation as anything other than monstrous. Considering how innocent Proteus turned out, maybe it shouldn't have been so hard for Frankenstein to consider that his first born might have a tortured soul inside. The good doctor finally felt pity and affection for his son, and decided to aid him by making him the bride he desired. And good fortune delivered Ms. Croft into his hand, at the expense of Chandler's sobriety and self control. I expected Croft to come to a bad end, either at the hand of Chandler of Caliban, and that her body would end up on Frankenstein's slab.

Again, I was right by half, as it was Frankenstein himself who did her in (Chandler won't be pleased about any of this when he finds out). What her role will be next year, as the daughter and bride of Frankenstein is introduced to the world, is yet to be seen. More important is the evolution of Victor, who has discovered his confidence and his own demonic nature. Everyone on the show has a monster inside of them, some of them literally, and some like Victor and Malcolm, the monster is their own humanity. Victor has spent so much of this season shaking that when it came time for steady hands he placed them over a pillow and held down. You can see easily how he excuses this behaviour; he'll claim mercy should he ever need to. But it is more selfish than anything, because the body will fee his ego. He will continue to explore his talents until he looses control over them, and then the true monster will reveal himself.

Chandler finally wolfed out over two Pinkertons come to haul him back state side. I have... issues with this interpretation. Like Frankenstein's drug addiction, it has been so down played that it seems very tacked on. I know that there has been considerable (and not entirely subtle) foreshadowing about Chandler's nature, but many many months have passed since the first episode, and there has been little suggestion that Chandler has had a difficult time containing the beast in all that time. Last week's episode along suggests to have taken place over several months, as evidenced by Dorian's vacation. If they were all couped up in Malcolm's house all that time, where did the wolf go? I applaud avoiding the most cliched of werewolf plots, but at the expense of (*cough*) believability? Perhaps a better word would be consistency.

I've enjoyed this season immensely, and I hope that the Victorian gothica returns next year with just as strong a plate of characters as we've been gifted this season. There is much in the public domain to plunder for inspiration, and a longer season might afford Logan's tendency towards extreme pacing a bit better than it did here (I submit that, had this season been ten episodes rather than eight, much of my complaints above and previously might have been rendered moot). This intensely character based storytelling is what good TV is entirely about now, and this was a fine addition to the modern crop. I can't wait to see what future the past has waiting for us.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


  1. Good review, as always (but you might need a typo secretary soon!).

    1. I figure at this point, childish spelling mistakes are part of my charm. My incredibly annoying, easily remedied charm.