Penny Dreadful Season Finale Review: Grand Guignol

Curses, demons, and monsters ultimately prevail on the Penny Dreadful season finale. These are their favorite things.

SPOILER ADVISORY: You know the drill, it should be making its way through your skull and into your brain right now.

HBO coined the paraphrase “Dude, she’s just not that into you” in its long running comedy Sex In The City. Monsters of all kinds face rejection in this episode of Penny Dreadful. That is the sad state of the human comedy when it’s played out at the Grand Gruignol. You might think that, ultimately, monsters would find a home at the birthplace of monsters, but showbiz is a bitch as is everyone in it.

Ah, the fleeting joys of paradise. I get very upset by the cruelty toward Caliban. Monsters can be more touching in their misery than people because they are ultimately more human than mere mortals. Monsters, immortal creatures who never fulfill their everlasting destinies, live in the shadows of man outside of his mercy. Much like the fallen angels of Paradise Lost must endure eternity without the grace of God, their pain is amplified. Rory Kinnear, playing one of the most sentient of Frankenstein’s monsters, allows Caliban to reach his inner Sisyphus. He feels the heat of the actress’s passion, but gets too close and gets burned, because.

Dude, she’s just not that into you. Sorry Caliban, scream queen actresses can be temperamental. Caliban didn’t help his case by stalking and jumping the young ingénue, but what do you expect? His dream date is a soon-to-be formerly dead person. Strangulation, dismemberment and organ harvesting are foreplay. That is called really, really rough trade in some parts of London. But not for old Vic Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway). He knows how to pimp a corpse. Of course, even then, dude, she’s not going to be that into you. The old actor who runs the Grand Guignol understands, but what does he know? He’s got bats in his belfry and he’s clueless.

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The vampires who lurk in the shadows of the Grand Guignol playhouse may be dismissed as a pack of rats by Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton), but they treat each other better than their human counterparts. I’ve said before that Malcolm is a sociopath. He is charming and vicious. He has no empathy. Just because he chooses a living daughter over a dead one doesn’t redeem him from himself. Vanessa may, next season, find herself in a more frightening cage under his protection and what he might mistake as love.

Dorian Gray is getting a taste of something he thinks is love. But not everyone has a future, For Dorian, it’s at least not with Miss Ives (Eva Green). That’s just the first hint that she throws. I guess Dorian Gray wasn’t all that. He really should have known. She ran out in the middle of sex. Not during the non-tobacco after-sex cigarette. No photo finish for fickle Vanessa. Get the hint, dude, she’s not into you. Gray will be back next season, though. He doesn’t seem like the type that takes the hint. He’s more the type who will sleep with all her friends, like his creator, Oscar Wilde. But don’t call the cops.

Fucking Pinkertons, they got what’s coming to them. They called themselves hunters all the way through, and they got eaten by their prey. Good for Ethan. Killing the hunter is a good way to stay away from the remorseful wolfman of Larry Talbot. “There’s a full moon and I don’t want to kill” Larry Talbot. Ethan could go that way. He’s a very sensitive guy. He gets attached to people very easily. Josh Hartnett scrunched up his face in all the right places when he found out Brona (Billie Piper) died. There is subtle spiritual camera work in the death of Brona. We see as the soul leaves the body and looks down on itself.

I believe Mrs. Evelyn Poole, aka Madame Kali (Helen McCrory), is the biggest clue to next season. Probably as Sir Malcolm’s next conquest, but definitely in the larger world of Penny Dreadful. Now that the monster squad’s gotten rid of those pesky vampires, they will explore the larger mystery tradition. Helena Blavatsky, who started Theosophy, died the year that Penny Dreadful’s first season is set. She opened the doors to allow the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which the poet William Butler Yeats belonged to, and Ordo Templi Orientis to dictate Twentieth Century mystical thought.

[related article – Penny Dreadful: A Twisted Reflection of the Dracula Story]

Malcolm could easily pass as a Thelema devotee. He certainly does what he wills and that’s the end of that. I could see Penny Dreadful bringing in Aleister Crowley as a young man in his twenties. Crowley was born the year Eliphas Levi died, and I think the writers of Penny Dreadful keep an eye on such things. Poole will turn out to be more than just a party psychic. Whatever dastardly doings the dreadful demon squad gets into next year, they will benefit from a secret mystical organization. A lot of these groups had illustrious artists, writers and industrialists. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle belonged to a psychical society that cost him Houdini’s friendship.

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Vanessa Ives tokes up before doing psychic battle. Marijuana is a performance enhancing drug, especially in cases like this. It had been explored for years in underground spiritualism. Crowley burned more than herb, and it cost him. By the way, how come none of the League of Penny Dreadful monster squad got killed? They are outnumbered by vampires who are stronger than them. You think that they’d at least lose one member. I understand that the master was planning on inviting them all to dinner everlasting, but during the battle, before Mal did the big guy, one of them should have been an appetizer. This is cable. Showtime is competing with HBO.

Malcolm goes into battle thinking he can save his damned daughter. Poor, long-suffering Mina, not to worry, daddy’s here and he won’t abandon you like he did your brother. Otherwise, he’ll pop a cap from one of those newfangled automatics into your head. What Malcolm doesn’t get is that, dude, your daughter, she’s leaving home, she’s just not that into you. Neither will your new daughter be.

Dave Crow’s predictions about the finale were much closer than mine, nonetheless I stand firm. If Penny Dreadful teaches us anything, it’s that fate, regardless of its inevitability, can be circumvented in heinous ways. I hold out hope for dancing wolfmen. But I was right about one thing: Vanessa chose to embrace her demons.

“Emanuel. Oh come Emanuel.” The episode ends with Vanessa going to that church the little girl thought she was afraid of a few episodes ago. Vanessa has reason to be afraid. Curses, demons, and monsters live in her. That church is apparently the home to a guy with a turned around collar who does off-the-grid exorcisms. The priest is knowledgeable, experienced, and unfathomably open-minded. He believes being touched by the devil is like being backhanded by god, a divine thing. When the priest asks if Vanessa Ives is ready to be forgiven and come back on Sundays, she pauses. Well, Jesus, I guess she’s just not that into you.

“Grand Guignol” was written by John Logan and directed by James Hawes. 

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4 out of 5