July 2, 2020

Penny Dreadful – Grand Guignol (S01E08)

Penny Dreadful.As is usually the case with Penny Dreadful, I had a few questions that I was hoping would get answered in this final episode of the season:

1) Will we get to see Dorian’s painting?

2) Will the horrible murders from the beginning of the season be addressed/revisited?

3) What the hell is Ethan Chandler?

4) Will we find out Brona’s fate?

5) What about Mina’s fate?

Some of my questions were answered, some weren’t. And now I have some new questions. I start out by saying that this review will be a bit longer than the other episodes, but I hope you’ll stick with me, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Note: There are potential spoilers throughout this review, so you may want to stop here and return after watching the show. If you haven’t watched the previous episodes or read my previous recaps/reviews, you can do so here.

The opening scene of episode 8, “Grand Guignol,” has Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) looking better, but still not quite herself. She looks pale and worn out, but certainly better. She chats with Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) about finding Mina at the Grand Guignol theatre – the same one in which Caliban (Rory Kinnear) works. Sir Malcolm tells Vanessa that, if he must, he will end Mina’s suffering. He won’t let her suffer as he did his son, Peter.

When their conversation ends, Sembene (Danny Sapani) tells Vanessa that she has a visitor, and we all know who it is – Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney). It was odd to see the usually smooth and confident Dorian reduced to begging for scraps from the woman he desires. And yet, I was thrilled to see Vanessa put him in his place, because I simply think he isn’t the man for her.

Last week, we saw Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) essentially perform an exorcism on Vanessa, and the fact that the gunslinger knew Latin and perhaps saved Vanessa’s life threw me for a loop. And I was thrown for a loop once again when we see him sitting by Brona’s bed heartbroken and scared, praying over her in – you guessed it – Latin. So many questions! Here’s one: Since he saved Vanessa with his Latin and Brona’s medal of St. Jude (the patron saint of lost causes), why can’t he save Brona Croft (Billie Piper)?

That being said, I wasn’t surprised to then see Malcolm walk into a shop that sells guns (Do they have a specific name for them in Victorian London?) and look for something… unique. A “new” automatic gun is exactly what he needs. I even enjoy the scene where, as he is leaving the shop, he runs into Evelyn Poole, also known as Madame Kali (Helen McCrory), the psychic from the second episode, “Séance.” It was a lighthearted, flirtatious scene, though I think perhaps it is a sign of things to come in season 2. I’m expecting to see more of Evelyn.

Penny Dreadful.I have been very curious as to what will happen with Caliban – The Creature. This type of Frankenstein’s “monster” is a new one for me. Caliban isn’t a faceless void, but rather an intelligent, if angry (rightfully so?), soul searching for meaning in his existence. His answer to that question is a mate, someone to share his journey with. When we first see him this episode, he is having issues with the pulley system at the theatre during a rehearsal. The young actress he is smitten with, along with the young man she is involved with, are going through their lines when the harness around the actor gets stuck, leaving him dangling in midair. The jerk of an actor didn’t like that and came down hard on the sad Caliban. When Caliban apologizes, Vincent Brand (Alun Armstrong) brushes it off, making light of the situation.

“Show business. All bitches!”

Afterward, perhaps feeling guilty for her boyfriend’s rudeness, the actress brings Caliban an orange – a gesture of apology. She tries to engage him in conversation. In the end, sensing he is embarrassed, she tells him he does not have to turn his face from her, and she gives him a kiss on the forehead. The hopefulness in his eyes is heartbreaking. Kudos to Rory Kinnear for bringing a humanity to this character. It’s a fine line to straddle, and he does so deftly.

The next scene with Vanessa and Malcolm the Douche is hard to watch. Malcolm has no qualms using a bedridden and near death Vanessa to find his daughter, and essentially tells her so. Vanessa questions him about the plague ship and why he didn’t tell her so that she could accompany them. His answer is to remind her that she is expendable, and, in fact, he might even hope he gets the chance to dispose of her when she has served her purpose. What a guy! Well, at least until the day comes, he needs Vanessa for her connection to Mina.

In a scene just as hard to watch, maybe even more so, we see Caliban trying to make himself look presentable. He applies blush, lipstick, combs his hair, and then goes to visit the young actress. She laughs at him, telling him to take that crap off, and yet it’s painfully obvious to see that Caliban has misread her intentions. Her gesture of friendship has been read into, and the realization that he might have been wrong is all over his face. He tries to kiss her, to show her how he feels, and she spurns his advances. He does get rough with her, though he stops short of hurting her, but because of this, he is fired. The kind Vincent seems genuinely sad to have to let Caliban go.

Hey, what’s that in the theatre rafters? We’ll see later!

Penny Dreadful.Ugh! I thought Vanessa made her point crystal clear to Dorian earlier, but she agrees to meet him at the botanic garden again. It is here that she utters the most poignant line of the night. Throughout the season, I got the impression that Dorian was also, like Caliban, searching for meaning, that he wanted to feel something, anything. Clearly, he found that purpose in the enigmatic Ms. Ives. And though Vanessa admits that they have an undeniable chemistry, she can not allow herself to be involved with him. Dorian is pouting, and Vanessa asks him if he is OK. He admits he doesn’t like how he is feeling, and Vanessa kisses him goodbye, telling him that this feeling must be new to him.

“I don’t know what I’m feeling,” he says, confused.

“It’s rejection,” she fills in.

And for the first time in the entire series, we got something more than smarminess from Dorian – a tear. Of course, I hardly think this is the last we will see of him.

Cut to Frankie’s house. Caliban has no where to go, and though he killed the kind Van Helsing and almost raped the young woman he was infatuated with, Kinnear once again blew me away and injected true heartbreak in this next scene. Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) is creeping up behind him with a gun as he is talking and pouring his heart out. My thought is, he doesn’t know what is going on behind him, but the intuitive Caliban knows exactly what is going on, and he tells Frankie to pull the trigger – that it would be a blessing.

“I would rather be the corpse I was, than the man I am,” Caliban says.

Frankie lowers his gun and places his hand on Caliban’s shoulder, in what is truly a fatherly gesture. And for just a moment, my heart broke for the poor creature.

Penny Dreadful.And then they are interrupted by Ethan, coming to beg for help from the doctor. Brona is slipping away, and Ethan needs to fight for her in the best way he can. And here a chill ran down my spine. All along, The Husband and I have suspected that the sickly prostitute with the heart of gold would become Caliban’s mate, and I felt my fears were going to come true. Brona does not look good. Weak, coughing up blood, and pale, her end is obviously near. And though we didn’t get many scenes with the two of them, I liked the chemistry Josh Hartnett had with Billie Piper. Frankie sends Ethan away to get fresh water. For a second, I was relieved – sure I was wrong. And then he tells her of an opportunity to find rebirth, and then… he smothers Brona! To see her lack of fight, you got the sense that he was perhaps doing her a favor, her time had come, and yet to see the doctor take her last moments away from her. Wow!

Ethan returns to see his beloved dead and is crushed. To drown his sorrows, Ethan goes to a bar. Two shady looking characters come in – not federal marshals, but maybe bounty hunters. We saw them camped outside Ethan and Brona’s quarters earlier in the episode, so we’re pretty sure they are up to no good. While we still aren’t given a definitive answer as to what Ethan is, he dispatches the men quickly and efficiently, and then once again calmly grabbing his things and walking out of the bar. What is he?!

While I didn’t have my eyes on the clock, it was obvious this episode was running out of time, and because of that, things started to move more quickly.

Though I didn’t see them plan it, Ethan meets Vanessa in an alleyway. And then along comes Sir Douche (Malcolm), The Quiet One (Sembene), and Frankie. The posse is assembled, and they make their way to the Guignol – the theatre – where Vanessa believes Mina and the Master are resting.

Penny Dreadful.Things move very quickly here. Vanessa and Douche are on the catwalk, with Sembene, Frankie, and Ethan below. Unfortunately, Ethan falls through a trapdoor and is attacked by more sexy lady vamps. Sembene and Frankie head down to help him. They do their best, with Douche and Vanessa trying to rid the world of the Master.

Suddenly, things are looking dire for the three gentlemen, surrounded by sexy lady vamps, scratching and screaming. Sir Douche is above on the stage fighting with the Master, and when he finally kills him, the sexy lady vamps simply drop. Whew! That was tense… and close.

Wait! What’s this? Mina is still alive and kicking. Though I didn’t grasp it right away, it would seem that if she is still alive and kicking, there is something else out there, something greater than the creature her father just killed.

And then we have what should have been the most poignant line of the night:

Mina grabs Vanessa. Perhaps hoping to take her to the true Master (Dracula maybe?), but Sir Not Quite As Douchey shoots Mina, allowing Vanessa to escape. Realizing his daughter can’t be saved, he stands over her.

“I’m your daughter.” Mina holds up her hand, pleading with evil eyes.

Sir Even Less Douchey is unmoved, and he shoots her, saying, “I already have a daughter.”

His angst is easy to see. I had hoped he heard Ethan in the last episode. The gunslinger begged Malcolm to open his eyes and see Vanessa – to see that he had a daughter, one that needed him. And though I was happy to see that he seemed to have a change of heart, it came about quickly. I wish we had seen some of his thought process and how he found this change of heart.

I thought that was it, and we would be left with no answer to what Ethan was. But we’re not done yet…

Back at home, Malcolm seems to have put things to rest. He sets off to put away his maps and notes. He turns to Vanessa and suggests a Christmas tree, and then he breaks down, and it was an utterly human moment from Sir Malcolm – one I’m very happy we got to see.

At Frankenstein’s place, Frankie shows Brona to Caliban who seems pleased with the doctor’s choice.

Penny Dreadful.And then we have Ethan back at the bar. Ethan looks broken, staring out the window. Is that the glare of the full moon?  The two idgits from earlier come back into the bar. They just want to take him home. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen. The duo call Ethan a monkey, and clearly Ethan doesn’t like being called a monkey. He gets pissed, and with his head down, Ethan growls his rebuttal:

“No. No monkey.”

We hear cracking of bones and shifting of hands. And we finally see what Ethan is – a werewolf! The Husband and I wondered about this in an earlier episode in which Ethan seemed to hypnotize a wolf, but when not much else was said, we figured it was a red herring. Nope, he’s a damn werewolf.

Penny Dreadful.Well, there’s lots of screaming in the bar, and then we cut to Vanessa outside the church she stared at in episode 4, “Demimonde.” How does she feel now, knowing she has a home, a place to belong? She marches into the church, while we get a few flashes of Frankie getting ready to chop up Brona, and we see a disheveled Ethan roaming the docks. Vanessa, sporting a horrible hairdo, asks to speak to the priest (Henry Goodman). She wants to know about… an exorcism. But before he can answer her, before he says anything more, the priest wants to know something.

“Do you really want to be normal?”

BOOM! DONE!

And though I had hoped for a bit more development in this finale, I was surprisingly satisfied. I was thrilled that some of my questions were answered, but there are so many places this show could go now.

1) Frankie is truly creating a Frankenhooker for Caliban, but if this storyline stays true to the movie (The Bride of Frankenstein [1935]), Brona will have something to say about being chosen as a mate for Caliban. This exploration could also bring some real richness to the storyline. And we can only hope Brona gets the bride’s hairdo.

2) The werewolf was not a part of Victorian England. Dracula and Frankenstein, yes, but this is something new. And this could allow for something really unique. Hartnett has been a real surprise for me. Gone is the pretty boy, and he really seemed to embrace his role here, bringing a quiet intensity I didn’t think he could pull off. And now he could really do something here. He could create his own mythology, or rather the writers could.

Penny Dreadful leaves a lot up to supposition, but it has done such an amazing job of creating a mood surrounding the series that I was willing (and still am) to overlook all these details that the writers leave up in the air. The actors seem simply made for their parts, and though I’m not a fan of Reeve Carney as Gray, I did see something in him last night that leads me to think perhaps he too will grow into this role.

I have always been fascinated by the macabre, and this show brings that about with a style and substance I haven’t seen in a long time.

I will wait – albeit impatiently – for Season 2.

Thoughts? We’d love to hear them!

 

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Xina

Hello, fellow horror fans! I grew up watching horror, and my love for the genre is still going strong! Slasher films are sort of my secret-well, probably not so secret-obsession, but I'm up for anything-zombies, creature features, B movies, D movies-you name it, I'll give it a shot. Sometimes to the annoyance of my husband. I'm on twitter @Xina143, send me a tweet and tell me what I should watch next!"

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