‘Grand Guignol’ – This review contains major spoilers!
In the last few episodes of Penny Dreadful we’ve seen a more dormant display of storytelling and narrative twists, but it’s safe to say it’s all been worth it as the finale was an eruption of all the theatrics we’ve been waiting for. Grand Guignol is a fitting name for an episode that delivered the horrors and entertaining climaxes of each arc in John Logan’s dark and twisted fantasy.
Much the same as in the last couple of weeks, the finale follows on only moments after the end of its preceding episode. Vanessa emerges from her room after her possession with newfound information about Mina’s whereabouts. After Malcolm and Ethan attacked the vampire nest on the quarantined ship last week, she predicts that they have moved to the light-tight rafters of the theatre.
Malcolm plans his last assault on The Master that night and just as he leaves, Dorian comes to enchant Vanessa once again now that she’s recovered from the devil’s more severe bewitchment. Vanessa, however, rejects Mr Gray’s advances and explains that they can no longer be intimate with one another due to the risks involved.
As well as Dorian’s heartache, Ethan is also in despair as he prays for Brona, who’s on her deathbed and losing her fight against tuberculosis. Helpless, Ethan seeks the medical help of Doctor Frankenstein, whilst two American bounty hunters are searching for him in order to take him back to America.
Ironically, the only character who doesn’t feel any anguish here is Caliban, who, since befriending Maude last week, is hopeful that he will find the love he’s been harassing his maker for. However, the naive monster charmingly applies makeup to mask his shaming appearance, only to be rejected by his colleague, which of course casts doubt on his hope for a mate.
The monster seeks sympathy from his creator and returns to Victor when his forceful advances on Maude lose him his job at the theatre. Just as Victor is ready to put-down his creation with a gun he pulled from behind his back, Caliban’s heartbreaking speech about his sorrowful afterlife finally makes the doctor realise that perhaps it is he who is the cruel one. The lines, “Oh my creator, why did you not make me of steel and stone? Why did you allow me to feel?”, are the most touching words of the whole season, maybe even of any Frankenstein rendition.
The realisation that he’s to blame for his creation’s wrongdoings compels Victor to withdraw his weapon just as Ethan enters the scene to summon the doctor’s help. When Victor arrives at Brona’s bedside he sees that there’s nothing he can do to help at this stage of her consumption. He gently breaks it to Ethan that it won’t be long before she passes, and he offers Brona a sedative to ease her death. Victor comforts her with the idea of an alternative afterlife that exists between heaven and hell, the former of which she feels she has been too sinful to obtain. When Ethan is out of the room, the doctor then proceeds to suffocate Brona to put an end to her suffering.
Distraught after the death of his love, Ethan meets Malcolm and his crew of London guardians at the theatre where they plan to attack the vampires one last time. After a similar fight scene to that of last week’s episode on the ship, the humans come out victorious, or at least partly so. The baldheaded vampire known as The Master is now dead, but so is Malcolm’s daughter, whose soul had perished long before. All that stands in her place is a pair of dark eyes, a set of sharp teeth and a hunger for blood. Malcolm realises he has to do what he promised at the beginning of the episode and put Mina’s suffering to an end by shooting down the vampire that has taken over.
On the night of the full moon, the bounty hunters once again track down Ethan. Obviously not feeling his best after the passing of Brona, his two American counterparts anger him to the point where he’s gripping the table. A few regrettable quips later and the men are ripped apart by the beast we’ve all expected Ethan to be. Yep, Ethan is a werewolf. And not a pathetic CGI wolf without any humanlike characteristics either. The brief moment we see him, Mr Chandler is in fact a terrifyingly hairy wolf-man reminiscent of the American werewolf in London.
To top it all off, we also see poor Brona lying on an operating table about to have an incision cut into her by Victor, who has obviously agreed to make Caliban his corpse bride after all – perhaps the afterlife he described to Brona earlier?
The finale wraps up with the creepiest character of them all – Vanessa. Attending the church she seemed so afraid to enter in an earlier episode, she approaches the Father and asks about a hush-hush exorcism, given that the priest in last week’s episode quashed any hope of a permitted one. She is warned that exorcisms can go terribly wrong and is asked whether she would really want to go through with one after the Father tells her of a particular case that ended horrifically. The episode ends as she pauses to think of her answer.
The final episode of season 1 did everything the fans wanted it to do. We got to see Malcolm get the closure he needed, Vanessa on the verge of getting the exorcism she thinks she needs, Caliban finally so close to the life he wanted, and Ethan turn into the big bad wolf. Giving very little away is where the brilliance of this series lies and if Logan manages to keep the writing at such a high standard, I’m confident that Penny Dreadful will continue to get better and better.