This review contains spoilers.
2.10 And They Were Enemies
The finale of Penny Dreadful finds everyone confronting their own personal demons whilst Vanessa takes on the Devil, speaking through the doll version of herself. Frankenstein’s guilt about his creations and what they might inflict on the world threatens to consume him as Sir Malcolm is compounded with apparitions of his family. Caliban remains trapped at the hands of the Putneys who are determined to use him in their own personal freak show without realising quite what they hold within their cell and Lily’s alliance with Dorian deepens. Finally, Chandler’s wolf side is made known to Vanessa.
The confrontation with the Devil and the nightcomers lasts a small part of the episode as the consequences of the battle become the focus of the remaining narrative. It leads to a more melancholic finale than might have been expected, but it is fitting for the way in which the season neatly wraps up its narrative whilst also setting up the confirmed third season. Though it errs on the quieter side, it is not without those superb dramatic moments that we’ve come to expect from the constant tension of the show, none more evident than Caliban’s escape from the Putneys or Lily’s tormenting of Frankenstein.
The title, And They Were Enemies, speaks to the show’s running themes of internal conflicts and personal demons. It’s fitting that Vanessa must confront an extremely creepy version of herself in the battle for her soul because it forces her to confront the evil she has committed and all she has lost along the way. The scene of Vanessa achieving a kind of domestic bliss with Ethan is one of the episode’s strongest moments, a brief, heartbreaking glimpse at what Vanessa’s life might have been without vampires, Devils and other assorted evil things. However, it’s also a moment of self-affirmation. She realises that can never be her life and simply accepts that, allowing her to unleash her full power on her unsuspecting beloved.
Sir Malcolm and Frankenstein’s respective visions offer something similar to that of Vanessa, only without the resultant acceptance which she could achieve, particularly for Frankenstein who is later confronted with Lily and Dorian. The temptation scene is elegantly constructed, a warmer colour palette for the Murrays’ corrupted, decaying domesticity contrasting sharply with the cold, stark created family of Frankenstein. As well as being visually stunning, the dialogue flows through the scene, overlapping the similar guilt of Sir Malcolm and Frankenstein in the petitions to get them to commit suicide. The parallels have been continually drawn between the two characters, but rarely has a scene demonstrated it so well.
The episode also allows for some characteristic Penny Dreadful visual flourishes beyond the nightcomers confrontation. Any scene taking place in Dorian’s ballroom is instantly interesting, but here it is transformed into a beautiful, romantic vision, complete with the cream costumes of Dorian and Lily, lit by candlelight. The subversion of this idyll in the blood pouring out of their respective wounds and spoiling their clothes is masterfully done, made all the more morbid by their play at being a charming husband and wife pairing. It’s in these little moments like this that the production design is really highlighted and it has been one of the strongest aspects of this season.
Of course, Penny Dreadful is nothing without its cast, all of whom perform beautifully in the finale, especially the supporting characters. David Haig is a particular highlight as the money-grabbing Dickensian Putney as well as Douglas Hodge as Chandler’s dogged inspector. Even a brief appearance of Alex Price as Proteus is welcome, reminding us of the tragedy of his particular character and the guilt it still induces. The elevation of Simon Russell Beale to a series regular has proved to be a masterstroke, even firing off one more characteristic Lyle zinger as he dispatched a nightcomer.
It is, of course, once again Eva Green who steals the show, capable of showing an unbreakable strength whilst also revealing a heartbreaking vulnerability. It is still largely Vanessa’s story and Green not only shoulders the responsibility brilliantly, but is also a generous performer with her fellow cast members. The scene with Rory Kinnear’s Caliban is a study in restraint from both actors, their characters’ quiet tragedy allowed to come to the fore. Josh Hartnett once again gives a tragic performance as Chandler realises he can no longer run from either his past or his recent crimes. The final meeting between Vanessa and Ethan is a sad contrast to the domestic bliss of her vision, the cold light of the window giving it a harsher look.
The first season had a huge job to do in establishing this world and the unnatural beings who reside within it, but was successful in providing a solid foundation from which John Logan could continue to build his story. The second season has gone from strength to strength, utilising its excellent cast to continue its story of humanity and monstrosity, becoming less reliant on its literary counterparts and carving out its own identity. And They Were Enemies may not have been the most action-packed of finales but it demonstrated everything that has made this season of Penny Dreadful so exhilarating.
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