Penny Dreadful: “Grand Guignol” Review

This week marks the season 1 finale of Penny Dreadful, and we get lots of answers. We still didn’t see Dorian’s portrait, but we know what Ethan is, Caliban has a bride, and we found Mina. I’ve mixed feelings about the episode; it felt like a series of “and now for the moment(s) you’ve all been waiting for” spliced together, the stories not as neatly tied together as they’ve been most of the season.

We start out at Sir Malcolm’s mansion, where he and Vanessa are discussing the rescue of Mina. They agree on going to the Guignol that night, and Murray leaves.

Dorian Grey knocks at the door, and Vanessa’s ambivalence is clear. She rejects him, soundly PD8.6and coldly, and Dorian is shocked. Later, when she meets him in the greenhouse, she rejects him again. She cannot be with Dorian, as he unleashes whatever is within her. She says as much, but Dorian, who only knows that she was ill during her possession, clearly doesn’t understand. As she walks away, we see him wipe away a tear. Carney does a nice job of looking bemused at his own sadness here, and Dorian’s complete inexperience with rejection is obvious.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen Ethan sitting at Brona’s bedside. She’s obviously not going to make it, and we’ve all known that for a while. When Ethan leaves to fetch the doctor, though, we get a few new folks. Surprise, Ethan is being hunted! Two Americans wait outside of the inn.

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Sir Malcolm, during this time, is buying a gun. Murray buys a large, semiautomatic weapon with powerful bullets. While there, he meets Madame Kali in the shop. She asks after Vanessa, naturally, given that the last time she saw Vanessa, she was upstaged during the seance. Malcolm lies, claiming that he doesn’t see much of her. It’s clear from his past exploits and the way he carries himself around her that his admonition of wanting to “see more” of Madame Kali is a double entendre. Wonder if this means that we’ll see Madame Kali next season? The scene seems superfluous otherwise.

Meanwhile, Caliban is working in the theater, and nothing is going well. He’s trying to hoist  an actor using a system of pulleys, but they get stuck. Simon, who we know has been seeing Maud, screams at Caliban, calling him monstrous and refusing to work with him any longer. Maud and Vincent stand by while Simon screams, and though Vincent makes a disparaging remark about Simon, it is only after he’s walked off. Rory Kinnear once again manages to get under my skin, his absolute sadness and awkwardness reading as raw emotion when Caliban turns to stare into the empty theater.

A bit later, Maud comes to Caliban’s room, where he is reading. She gives him an orange as an apology and mentions the copy of Paradise Lost that he gave her (I was right!). She quotes from book 10, and included in the quotes is the famous: “Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay to mold me man? Did I solicit thee from darkness to promote me?” This is also the download (16)epigraph from Frankenstein, so my nerd-happy-level skyrocketed right about the time this happened. Anyway, then Maud switches to talking about Simon, attempting the “he didn’t mean it” apology tactic but moving on in the face of Caliban’s “yes he does” retort. She asks if Caliban loves anyone, but responds “love is for others.” She’s saddened by his answer, clearly, and she kisses him on the forehead before returning to her dressing room. Caliban is overcome by this show of affection. (Side note: this is how, in the novel version of Phantom of the Opera, Christine manages to liberate herself and the others trapped by the Phantom.)

Caliban, like most of us, wants more, though, and it’s clear that he hopes he can be beautiful enough for Maud to accept him. He wouldn’t need Victor to make him a bride if he found his own. He puts on stage makeup, brushes his hair, and goes to see Maud, orange in hand to repay her favor. He sneaks up on her, though, and she only becomes aware of his presence by seeing his reflection. Bad start. She giggles at his appearance, and he’s taken aback by her response, especially when she says “you shouldn’t be in here.” Caliban replies that Simon comes back there often, but this frightens Maud, who now knows that he’s been spying on her. He keeps on, asking her to share the orange, but she asks him to leave. He covers her mouth when she moves to scream, pushing her against a wall. I think my fingernails left impressions in my palms during this scene. He comes to his senses though, rushing out of the room and leaving Maud, gasping and terrified, in her room. Vincent, of course, must fire him, and the two share a bittersweet farewell.

Back at the Murray mansion, Vanessa confronts Sir Malcolm about the shipyard. Murray responds harshly to Vanessa, admitting that he only kept her alive as a way of connecting with Mina when Vanessa questions him about why she wasn’t allowed to be part of the excursion to the shipyard.

Caliban has returned to Frankenstein. He has nowhere else to go, no one else to turn to—but Victor is still understandably upset about the murder of Van Helsing. Caliban sits in front of PD8Frankenstein, broken. He begins to talk about what he did in the theater and how unfit he is to be anyone’s mate. Victor raises a gun, quietly moving into position to kill his creation. I wondered if he was really learning how to kill Caliban in that basement shootout with Ethan. Caliban continues to talk, finally coming to “why did you allow me to feel” and, aware of the pistol behind his head, begging for death. Victor can’t do it, though, and there’s a knock at the door just then.

Ethan has come to fetch Victor Frankenstein for help with Brona. Victor leaves Caliban and goes with Ethan, but he finds that he cannot save Brona. We’ve known that almost from her first appearance, though. Victor asks Ethan to fetch a pail of water, and while he is gone, Victor smothers Brona. When Ethan returns, he is heartbroken. Victor allows him to say his goodbyes
but promises that he’ll take care of the body. Uh-huh. Ethan goes to drown his sorrows in drink, where he is confronted by the two men hunting him but manages to best them.

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By this time, it’s evening, and Ethan goes to meet Vanessa, Murray, Sembene, and Victor at the theater. They enter quietly, and after a bit of searching, their light falls on the vampire we’ve been seeing most of the season. A trap door on the stage opens, landing Ethan in a pit of female vampires. While the vampire leaps around, avoiding Vanessa and Malcolm, Ethan, Vincent, and Sembene fight the other vampires. There are too many though. Just in time, however, Vanessa manages to do that stopping-vampires-in-their-tracks thing and Murray has stabbed the vampire, killing him and vanquishing his progeny.

And then Mina appears. She gasps “Vanessa” as she runs from behind a curtain, and everyone is smiling. For a moment. Then Mina’s eyes change to black as she says, in a cold voice “father.” She uses Vanessa as a shield, hand around her throat, but it becomes clear pretty PD8.7quickly that her end-game is getting out of the theater with Vanessa. So we haven’t met the illustrious Master after all. Good. Malcolm pleads with Mina, but only briefly. It’s clear that she doesn’t want to be saved. And so he shoots her. Finally, Sir Malcolm Murray gets something right. I can’t help feeling, though, that this is a anticlimactic way to end the arc of an entire season. It took maybe 15 minutes or so, and Mina’s appearance was brief.

And now story-lines really start closing for the season. We see a shot of Vanessa and Murray at home. They’ve claimed one another as family now, and they are acting it. Murray admits that he’s not going to Africa. Caliban and Victor are in the basement laboratory. Victor draws back the cover from Brona’s body, and Caliban is awash in emotion. We also see Ethan in a bar. The men hunting him have caught up to him, and though he presses to leave him be, they continue trying to take him home (yes, home. To his father, evidently.) But then Ethan turns into a werewolf, like we’ve been waiting for all season, and eats them up. Damn, damn, and double damn. Oh well, at least it looked cool. And then Vanessa walks into a church, listening to hymns, looking for a priest. She finds him and the two talk, mainly about Vanessa wanting an exorcism. The priest assures her that it will be difficult, if it is even possible. He asks “do you really want to be normal.” We see Vanessa, hear her intake of breath, and then there’s a sadly predictable cut. We’ll have to wait for next season, folks.

I’m hoping that we see not only that, but a lot more of Sembene, the most underused character on the show, and of Dorian, the second most underused character on the show. And maybe that we’ll see the Master, and that we’ll see Dorian’s portrait.

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7 thoughts on “Penny Dreadful: “Grand Guignol” Review

  1. Excellent post. The writing in this episode left me perplexed. It felt like certain scenes didn’t have the groundwork laid for us to follow.

    Like Murray and Vanessa. All along we’ve been told and retold that Murray is only interested in Vanessa because he needs her to find Mina. Then he kills his daughter, or what once was his daughter, and declares that Vanessa is his daughter. What was the pivotal moment beforehand that showed us Murray was changing? Or rather, finally recognizing that his obsessions (Africa and Mina) would have to be let go. Perhaps it was when Sembeme – I love that name – told him he must have a plan. I don’t know.

    Ethan. Why was he attracted to Brona? Who is his father? Is he, like Ethan? Did he inherit the werewolf gene? Or is it a curse from the Indians?

    Victor. You noted about him learning to shoot. Yes, I think he did that so he could kill his creation, Caliban. When Caliban came to him, it struck something deep in Victory, his own lonely childhood. He could finally relate to his creation. I can’t forgive Victor for what he will do to Brona though.

    And so, we must wait until next year…

    Thanks for your posting.

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    • I was rather perplexed by it, too. It seemed like, in spots, that they had been anticipating this being a one-season show and went back to write in a scene or two that would lead into next season. It all felt too neatly tied up.

      And I agree about not seeing the impetus for Murray’s change. I think it was a mistake to have him utter the “I already have a daughter” line—it should’ve been something different. That line could’ve come later, when he realized that he shot Mina and now thinks of Vanessa as his daughter.

      I’m also curious about what’s going to happen with Ethan, who at least looks cool as a werewolf. I think that his father knows full-well what he is, and that’s why he is hunting him.

      As for Brona….It’s the one thing that I’ve seen coming the whole season that I haven’t minded turning out to be true. It does make me hate Frankenstein a little, though not so much that I completely dislike his character now.

      Glad you stopped by to chat about the show!

      Like

  2. My wife teaches Paradise Lost and her nerd alarm went bonkers in this episode, as well she predicted the quote and corrected it. Apparently they had gotten a word wrong. I want Caliban to be recruited to fight vampires and monsters etc. I think his strength would be a much needed asset. And why couldn’t Ethan turn Brona? Maybe if she had become a Werewolf she may have been cured and on their way forming a pack. And how is Victor going to keep Ethan from seeing a reanimated Brona? Aaawkwaaaard. Great summary.

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    • So funny! I don’t think I noticed that they quoted it incorrectly, but my ears perked right up, and I immediately thought of both Paradise Lost and Frankenstein. I was pretty sure that the book Caliban gave Maud was PL, because I thought I recognized that illustration, and then when Maud started quoting from it in the finale, I remembered the Frankenstein connection. I like the bookworminess of this show.

      It *would* be neat if Caliban were recruited for the fight. Wonder how that would affect what’s going to happen with Brona the Bride? Speaking of, I can only really think of 2 reasons he might not have turned her. He might not have wanted to extend the curse to her and/or it might not have had an affect on her illness, as werewolves are only super-human at the full moon, for the most part. The other is that in this universe, werewolves might be born, not made. This could be why he and his father split and why his father is hunting him. Maybe we’ll see next season.

      Glad you enjoyed, and thanks for stopping by to chat about it!

      Like

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