Penny Dreadful (Showtime) Season Finale 2014 Review “Grand Guignol”

The overarching plot of Penny Dreadful‘s premiere season was a perfunctory bit of theatrics used to drive along the much more fascinating individual vignettes of the characters. The search for Mina was never as fascinating as the people who were doing the searching. Most shows would have been blind to the idea that their plot was not as interesting as their characters and continued to service shock value over genuine human emotion. Penny Dreadful is not most shows.

The grand finale took place, appropriately in the theater, the Grand Guignol, known for its horror shows. Vanessa’s vision led her and her comrades to the theater where the vampires had nested after their home on the ship was upset by Sir Malcolm and the boys. All season long the theater has been a prominent setting. In fact, outside of Sir Malcolm’s home, there was no other place we visited more frequently. The theater served as a home for Caliban, a setting for the romantic rendezvous’ of Dorian, Ethan, Brona and Vanessa, and as the place where the final act of our grand play unfolded.

After the horrors of last week, Sir Malcolm faced the truth Ethan tried so hard to make him see: he already has a daughter. It took coming face to face with the monster Mina had become for him to realize how much he loved and valued Vanessa. With Vanessa’s life on the line, Sir Malcolm did the one thing Vanessa did not believe him capable of and killed Mina. His sacrifice kept Vanessa out of the hands of Dracula– for now. “The Master” has yet to be revealed, and his lingering lack of an appearance is just one of several stories left with question marks at their end.

“Grand Guignol” was a beginning, not an end. Once Mina was taken care of, the episode continued onwards. After giving Brona the gift of a quick death by holding a pillow over her face, Victor brought her body home to Caliban. In one of several exquisitely written moments, Victor listened as his creation begged to know why Victor made him to feel and Victor, who fights so hard against feeling anything, finally understood the gravity of what he had done to Caliban by leaving him to navigate humanity on his own. If Ethan knew his friend was planning to resurrect Brona with the express purpose of creating a companion for Caliban, their newfound closeness would surely be severed, but in this moment, Victor seems to believe he is giving a gift to both Brona and Caliban.

As for Ethan– well, his father made the mistake of sending two men after his son and Ethan finally revealed his inner beast in a scene I wish I could describe with a more sophisticated word than cool. It was cool though, even though we did not get a full, bone-snapping werewolf transformation, we got just enough to satisfy the horror junkies in the audience, as well as an impressive blood splatter and a full moon.

The hour, and indeed the season, belonged to Vanessa though. Dorian, who believed there were no more new experiences left for him, felt something fresh in the sting of rejection. He seemed shocked to find tears in his eyes when Vanessa walked away from him. The mysterious Ms. Ives tends to have that effect on people, including the audience. If there was a dry eye in any house when Vanessa embraced Malcolm, I would be shocked. That goes double for when she finally entered the church in hopes of finding a priest who would relieve her of the demon always scratching at her soul.

When she inquired about an exorcism, the priest countered with a question of his own; one that summed up the beautiful, mad world of Penny Dreadful perfectly: “Do you really want to be normal?” And with that the credits rolled on the most impressive first season of television I have seen in years.

Follow me on Twitter @sljbowman