Penny Dreadful episode 8 review: Grand Guignol

Review Becky Lea 9 Jul 2014 - 07:09

Penny Dreadful's finale rounds off a masterful first season. Here's Becky's review of Grand Guignol...

This review contains spoilers. 

1.8 Grand Guignol

Grand Guignol draws the first season of Penny Dreadful to a close as Vanessa finally learns the location of childhood friend, Mina. Murray reveals the extent to which he would go in order to get his daughter back and sets about gathering their allies for the final confrontation. Elsewhere, Frankenstein and his Creature are forced back together and Chandler’s past begins to catch up with him as Brona’s illness finally takes its course.

The constant presence of death has been one of the chief concerns for the characters of Penny Dreadful, whether it be facing its ominous approach or attempting to find ways of defeating it. In Grand Guignol, death comes to the fore once again not as a finality, but an opportunity for rebirth. With this focus, the finale is more fittingly an atmospheric conclusion for some characters, whilst offering others new opportunities to reconcile themselves with the darker world they are residing in. Each character has their moment in the spotlight, but rather than allowing them to shine, John Logan keeps them in that same murky grey that characterises their morality.

To do this, the episode focuses on the various relationships that have been formed as a result of Mina's disappearance, fracturing some and cementing others. The central pairing of Murray and Vanessa is put under the most strain as he finally admits to her that he has been using her to get to his daughter and will use whatever means necessary. That moment of realisation that Mina is now lost and Vanessa is to be saved is beautifully played by Timothy Dalton. Murray's inability to identify what matters most to him has been one of his foremost conflicts and finally learning that lesson, many years too late, is particularly tragic. The affirmation of his surrogate father-daughter relationship with Vanessa is a hopeful moment to end their relationship with, a second chance to get fatherhood right.

He is not the only one. Frankenstein's Creature returns to his creator, following his expulsion from the Grand Guignol Theatre for attacking the ingenue, Maud. Though the focus has drifted from their relationship, it proves once again to be one of the more fascinating pairings in the series. Their scene together is hauntingly written, particularly the Creature's monologue which allows Frankenstein to empathise with his creation for the first time. Rory Kinnear gives another fantastic performance as the Creature, finally forced to acknowledge that he will never be accepted, even in the theatre.

By taking this more sombre tone in the build-up to the theatre-based fight for Mina, the episode continues the careful, quiet atmosphere that has characterised much of the season, making the short, sharp shocks more effective. The climactic fight with the vampires in the theatre is thrillingly staged and director James Hawes makes inspired use of the grand architecture, the different levels and low lighting. Like the ship sequence in an earlier episode, the slow build of tension before the fight is perfectly pitched. The vampires’ screeching piercing the action combined with the frenzied gunshots and swirling torches produce something both chaotic and enthralling.

The two following twists may have been predicted by some a while ago, but they were revealed in excellent fashion. The shot of the moonlight before Chandler's transformation was beautifully done, a quick confirmation of what many people had thought about the gun-toting American going into this finale. So too was the transformation itself; it's a tease, a brief glimpse of what he has been running from and why he has such an affinity with Vanessa's torments. It was also nicely simple with the cracking of the knuckles and make-up effects for his facial features suggesting just enough. Josh Hartnett has been quietly effective throughout the season and hopefully this revelation will lead into seeing more of Chandler’s story.

The other reveal, that it is Brona who is to be the Creature’s mate, has also been long mooted by the show’s audience and so it proved. Brona’s death was perhaps the most haunting moment of the episode as Frankenstein resorted to euthanasia, giving Brona a calm speech about the place between life and death. Having seen Frankenstein develop from the hubristic intellectual into a man more ready to acknowledge the consequences of his actions has been an excellent interpretation of the character, following certain beats of his original story whilst remaking it into something new. This latest development is taken from the story itself though Frankenstein agrees to make a female companion under considerable duress rather than as a result of an emotional connection to his Creature. This change makes the character’s journey into the second season a particularly tantalising prospect.

The final scene with Vanessa in the church is an excellent way of bringing the narratives of Chandler, Frankenstein and herself together. As she confronts the idea that she could finally be free of her gifts, she is asked the question: “do you really want to be normal?” It is that very question that the three characters have been wrestling with throughout the season, suppressing their darker sides for the sake of others yet it is a battle that all three of them are clearly capable of losing when isolated from the rest of the group.

Penny Dreadful has been one of those shows that promised so much from its initial announcement that it seemed impossible that it could live up to those expectations. With a careful understanding of its gothic source material and an endlessly intriguing cast of characters, the first season was something really quite special. The final episode provided an emotionally satisfying conclusion to the main narratives whilst also offering teases and glimpses into the show’s future. It’s a masterful production and one I particularly cannot wait to see the next instalment of.

Read Becky's review of the previous episode, Possession, here.

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We've said before and we're gonna say it again .............. Eva Green ............. awards season ............... all of the acting awards. If she gets ignored just because this is genre telly then that proves the whole awards thing is rigged.
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The only misstep for me this episode was the scene between Vanessa and Dorian. Bless him, the actor playing Grey does louche and spoilt but not very good with the emotional heft.
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All in all though this has been my telly highlight of the year. Of course there is GoT but that already had my hooked. For a new series to come out of the blocks so strong and really get it's bloody talons into me is rare. Cannot wait till the next series.

Exceptionally well constructed and genuinely disturbing at times. My only complaint is that they held back the Wolfman reveal far too long, given how obvious it had become much earlier on. Eva Green is an incredible actress, and deserves all the accolades she gets.
Should season two introduce more literary characters, or add a few historical ones into the mix? Not sure, but they could really mess with our heads if they introduce the Shelley's and Byron. But why hold back? The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Moriarty, Doctor Jekyll, The Mummy (already hinted at in this season), The Invisible Man, they're all out of copyright, thankfully.

The finale pretty much made up for what I otherwise thought was a very plodding and predictable first series. It thought it started out very strong but the middle episodes had me dozing off occasionally and I don't think the series as a whole has quite lived up to the promise. Yet. I thought the Mina search was poorly handled - there didn't seem to be much middle ground between "Mina's missing" in Episode 1 to "I know where she is!" in the finale. The show seemed to be far more interested in watching Eva Green being possessed and writhing around. She was good, but I certainly don't see it as this amazing performance that most of the other commenters here do.

But regardless, there was a lot of it I did enjoy. Tim Dalton was brilliant, Hartnett has really surprised me and the Treadaway/Kinnear pairing has had me hooked every scene they share. I even enjoyed Dorian Grey's role as a "devil on the shoulder" figure to all those around him. The set design and cinematography is all great and I think now we have the characters established Season 2 should be a blinder.

Let's just hope that The Bride drops the awful Oi-rish accent now Brona's a gonner.

Mmmmmmmm don't agree with your first paragraph there i'm afraid but wholeheartedly agree with the second. For me the set design is just utterly fantastic (especially the gun shop for some reason).
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Oh and ' Brona's a gonner'......... that made me laugh really quite loudly.

I absolutely agree. Eva Green was exceptional. The show full stop was exceptional. Over too soon but one of the highlights of the year so far. A grown up drama done with intelligence and reverence, and no silly little teen actors running around with perfect teeth and air brushed looks.

A good end to the season but I would say that this show has succeeded due to some great acting and ideas, rather than the quality of the writing, which has been very slow to positively clunky on occassion. Even this final episode contained some overlong moments (the rejection scene with Dorian Gray was far too protracted) and I feel that if season two is to be 10 episodes (which I read was to be the case), they really do need to start tightening up on pacing if they want to keep audiences interested. Overall, though, a very good series. Highlights for me were Josh Hartnett (never previously thought he was much cop in anything except maybe The Faculty), the fantastic Tomothy Dalton (was there ever a more commanding voice?) and a star turn from Eva Green (I can't imagine any other actress out there being willing to put herself through some of the stuff she did here). Other than pacing (as noted already), I wasn't that thrilled by Dorian Gray (a bit too one-note), Billy Piper's accent was off-putting (though her actual performance was very good) and I was sad to see David Warner's Van Helsing killed off so soon. Curious to know where they go with season 2. Mina's dead but presumably the Master she referred to was not the vampire they killed in the theatre. Does that mean a certain Count could be turning up in the future? Heck, there's a whole bunch of extraordinary gentlemen (unsubtle nod intended) that could turn up, and that prospect is very exciting (as long as they keep the team we already have - not sure I'd be so keen without them). One final thought - nice to see a British channel (albeit a subscription one) putting some money into drama like this. I hope Sky continues to produce and promote interesting shows like this (and The Tunnel last year), which (some exceptions aside) are now sorely missing from the terrestrial channels.

It's a pretty well made show in most respects. What makes it outstanding is quite simply the extraordinary acting of Eva Green.

and bewbs....

Slow show but quite mesmerising at times. Gorgeous looking too (and I don't just mean Eva).
Looking forward to seeing Mr. Hyde perhaps in season 2, and maybe Saucy Jack himself..

Perhaps the same cause, but it produced rather different symptoms in me. I was rather pleased with how the pace and tone reflected my experiences of gothic novels (if not the eponymous pamphlets to quite the same extent).

Many more recent pseudo-gothic films have exaggerated pace and action of their literary sources and, whilst this series is certainly slower than these other adaptations, I find it rather more successful in capturing the mood of the texts.

I do agree that it is excellent at capturing that wonderful Gothic/Victorian atmosphere and it's also given me what I think are my favourite interpretations of both Frankenstein and his creature (and I hate the Shelley novel). In fact I think all the characters are very good. I just don't think that the writing has quite held up in a lot of parts and because the things PD does well, it does really well; it really shows up the flaws in comparison.

To be fair I don't really think Dorian could be played in any other way. He traded his soul for eternal youth and beauty. He's seduced and slept his way through probably hundreds, in essence he's a robot, vain, brave in his conquests because he knows he will live forever. He looked like a little boy, intrigued by this beguiling female, courting her like she was his first. He forgotten the emotion that is rousing inside him..
Hopefully the second season we'll see more range from him. I doubt he's a ham actor. Once their relationship is fleshed out some more then we might see him come into his own.

It seems I am the only one who just got fed up of Eva Green being possessed. So much over-acting. The finale left me a bit underwhelmed. All that hunting for Mina, and then bang, and it's over.

Completely agree with you. Season 1 definitely sagged in the middle for me and I felt that the Mina / vampire plot was really quite underwritten (at worst, tedious - especially the episode where we are told Vanessa and Mina's back story) especially given the rich source material and the brilliant use of the Frankenstein plot to explore the themes of that book so adroitly.

One of my major gripes was the ease with which the vampires are overcome. Even though they look great, they didn't come across as powerful enough to merit all the hysteria. Maybe season 2 can fix this when we are introduced to the Master (if he is indeed CD). I also found Eva Green's (over) acting and attempts at a cut glass English accent to be grating at times. I am English and the accent didn't convince me - she actually sounded French at times and her and Timothy Dalton's dialogue is really quite hammy much of the time.

Having said that the show is promising (it looks incredible and the Frankenstein plot line is the best reimagining of that story I have yet seen) and I will most definitely watch season 2 but I can't help but think that Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series would have worked better as the vehicle with which to explore these ideas.

You hate the Shelley novel??? It's only held up as the ultimate 'mother' of science fiction novels and imitated and used since *1816* when it was first conceived by a teenaged Mary. If you can do any better...prove it, maybe we'll all read your novel in 2212... :-p

I think my biggest problem with it is that everyone talks about it as if the monster was this misunderstood, sympathetic soul who just wants to be loved. I don't think those people have ever read it. The monster is a cold blooded murderer with no redeeming features at all. The book is very long, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but when it repeats itself with the same droning, lamenting monologues about how awful their situations are I started to lose interest. I found the act where the monster talks about how he lived in a family's barn for months (or was it years?) and learned their ways was absurd - so not only have an entire family not noticed a near-eight foot behemoth "hiding" in their household and reading all their books, but we're expected to believe he's picked up perfect and florid dialogue along with it? The ending left me really unsatisfied too. Just in general, I found it very boring and overly long, nothing at all like I had been expecting.

Which is why it's odd that I like Penny Dreadful's spin on the characters. They're very close to the novel, but perhaps seeing them less often makes all the difference.

I can appreciate it for what it was at the time, but I just didn't like it personally. I had read Dracula about two or three months before and found it much scarier, better written and more interesting. And at no point did I suggest that I could do better.

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