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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Penny Dreadful: “Demimonde” Review

Dorian’s back, we meet Van Helsing, and Ethan Chandler is fighting his inner darkness. As the fourth episode of the season, this feels like a middle-of-the-season, pulling-together-plots-and-themes episode. It’s a bit puzzling given last week’s almost-intimate focus on Victor Frankenstein and Caliban, but I suppose that Ethan and Dorian do get the most screen time. (Ahem—spoilers below.)

So we open with Dorian, mid-orgy. And for the first time in the show’s history, we don’t see a woman die in the first 15 minutes. We do see Dorian, disenchanted and languishing, bored by the company he keeps. We see him go to the infamous portrait, stopping to brood in front of it, camera cutting away just as we would glimpse it. I have to admit shouting “bitches” at the TV after the cutaway, though in retrospect I’m enjoying the build-up to a reveal.

Cut to Vanessa staring at a church and a creepy little girl named Lucy (at least a passing reference to Stoker’s novel). She and Lucy are talking about heaven, hell, and dead-but-not-dead mothers. Vanessa spots Dorian leaving the church and follows him into a greenhouse. The two get a bit flirty, of course, and there’s lots of witty banter about being beautiful but dangerous. All the best things are, really.

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Back at Malcolm Murray’s place, Victor Frankenstein is busily working on analyzing the blood of the creature with none other than…Van Helsing (David Warner)! Van Helsing is an expert hematologist, and Murray has hired him to analyze the blood of the vampire. It becomes apparent fairly quickly, even for those who (like Victor) don’t know Van Helsing’s background, that he knows what this is about. Murray hasn’t told him this is a vampire, but he knows. One of the rare property’s of the blood is called “Hannah’s Wink”–it’s an anti-coagulant that he named after discovering it, and it’s used to help in the consumption of blood. Glad to see Warner here, and I hope we see more of him as Van Helsing.

Penny Dreadful - Episode 1.06 - What Death Can Join Together - Promotional Photos (10)

Victor then notices Caliban watching through the window, and he goes outside to confront him. Caliban reminds him that making a bride is supposed to be top priority; Victor treats Caliban predictably poorly. And Caliban, predictably, almost snaps Victor’s neck. Kinnear and Treadaway do a remarkable job acting the scene, though, and they’re difficult to look away from.

After a brief scene between Ethan and Brona, in which Brona reveals part of her past (a sad affair, and an honest moment in the show), we return to the Murray home, to the basement and Fenton. Alexander turns in a fabulous performance, truly chilling.The group is ready to perform the transfusion, but Ethan flatly refuses (werewolf?). Fenton screams that they’re monsters, and the camera pans across the company’s face…Again we’re playing who-is-the-monster. As they wait to see if the transfusion will work, Murray and Frankenstein discuss the murder spree (and how the victims weren’t drained of blood–not vampires, then). Ethan overreacts to the conversation, throwing the newspaper into the fire (werewolf?). The transfusion, of course, doesn’t work–I think it’s probably just feeding Fenton–and we get another chilling moment as he reacts to Vanessa.

Penny Dreadful - Episode 1.04 - Demimonde - Promotional Photos (16)

Now we get to The Guiginol again, and it’s a delight of a scene. Ethan has taken Brona, Dorian sits on one side of the balcony and Vanessa sits on the other, Sembene stands just out of sight (can he get more lines, please?), and Caliban runs about backstage, changing sets, creating sound effects, and creating the illusion of the theater. The evening’s first play is “The Transformed Beast”—a slasher play involving a bright full moon and a beloved-turned-werewolf (Ethan?). Caliban looks so joyful while he’s backstage—and I’m still wondering about that Phantom of the Opera connection. The audience’s reactions are fun mirrors to our own as we watch the show, and the backstage look provides a fun bit of metacommentary. I love a play-within-a-play.

At the mansion, Frankenstein and Murray’s conversations are interrupted by noises from upstairs. They find that Fenton has escaped (and he creepily spider-crawls after them in great fashion). His master is in the house, is in Vanessa’s room. But his master is that big scary looking vampire. I don’t think he’s Dracula, or if he is, then I’m not sure Mina is with Dracula. I’ve a difficult time imagining that that creature could spirit her willingly away, and I’m thinking her vampire probably looks somewhat more human. Maybe.

This one, if you've forgotten.

This one, if you’ve forgotten.

During the play’s intermission, Dorian, Vanessa, Brona, and Ethan collide. Brona becomes upset and leaves, and she and Ethan get into a large argument. Brona runs down the street, coughing blood into her handkerchief and looking more like the bride of Frankenstein every moment. Ethan runs into Dorian, and the two go to an underground gambling ring. Ethan looks more and more uncomfortable as a dog is pushed into the ring with a hundred or so rats to kill, men cheering and blood splattering. Ethan moves to the bar, where he’s hassled into a fight.

And in the final moments of the episode, we get another bombshell. Ethan and Dorian go back to Dorian’s home. They patch Ethan’s wounds, and then the two decide to have some absinthe. They talk a bit about art, about Vanessa. We get more close-ups of Hartnett’s knitted brows as we run through flashbacks of his time in London–the good and the gory. And then, suddenly, he’s kissing Dorian. They remove one another’s shirts, and then we end.

God, this show. THIS SHOW! Looks like next week we’ll get some more of Vanessa’s backstory, which is something I’m quite excited to see.