‘Penny Dreadful’ 1.08 Recap: “There Cannot Be a Happy End”

Eight episodes is too short a season for ‘Penny Dreadful’. Was this a budgetary issue for Showtime, or did series creator (and head writer) John Logan only have this much story in him for the first season? Whichever is the case, I’m hooked and ready for the show to come back.

On the whole, episode ‘Grand Guignol’ is a pretty satisfying season finale, though it doesn’t really resolve much and leaves me with a bunch of unanswered questions – mostly about the nature and rules of vampirism, which still seems to be ill-defined.

After Vanessa’s vision that located Mina in the Grand Guignol theater, Sir Malcolm readies for a rescue attempt. He vows to save Mina if possible (and is quite clear to Vanessa that he values his daughter above her), but is prepared to kill the girl if she’s too far gone.

Malcolm obtains a prototype Mauser automatic pistol for the conflict to come. As he leaves his dealer’s store, he runs into Madame Kali, the psychic medium from the séance earlier in the season. As suspected, she’s not really psychic. In fact, she’s quite up front to Malcolm about her real identity, an actress named Evelyn Poole. They flirt a little. I expect that she’ll have a greater role to play in Season 2.

Dorian Gray pays Vanessa a visit to check on her recovery from her illness. (He doesn’t yet know about the demonic possession.) Vanessa insists that, “I’m quite myself,” but is coldly dismissive toward him. Later, she breaks off their affair with a little more kindness. This is Dorian’s first taste of rejection.

Calaban makes a move on the actress he’s been pining over. When she spurns his attempted kiss, the enraged Calaban gets violent and has to restrain himself from hurting her. Soon afterwards, he’s fired from his job in the theater. Calaban makes his way to Frankenstein’s lab, whining about his sad lot in life. When the creature’s back is turned, Frankenstein pulls out the pistol he obtained from Ethan and contemplates shooting. Calaban actually invites him to put him out of his misery, but ultimately Frankenstein can’t kill his creation.

As Brona’s health worsens, Ethan calls for Frankenstein’s help. Frankenstein invents an excuse to send Ethan out of the room, and smothers Brona with a pillow. When Ethan returns, the doctor informs him that his love passed “with grace.” He also very generously offers to take care of the body. As expected, he brings it back to his lab and reveals to Calaban the subject that will become his immortal mate. This is an entirely predictable twist, though I wondered last week if Calaban would kill the actress to use her instead.

In the midst of his mourning for Brona, Ethan finds himself stalked by two men, one white and one Apache Indian. They’re Pinkerton detectives, sent by his father to retrieve Ethan and bring him back to America. He gets the better of the men and beats them up, but they’ll be back again later.

Ethan joins Malcolm, Frankenstein, Vanessa and Sembene for the raid on the Grand Guignol. In a very creepy and suspenseful scene, they’re swarmed and overwhelmed by vampire women, leading to a big shoot-out. Malcolm finds the vampire monster that I assumed was Dracula, corners and stabs the beast. As it dies, so suddenly do all of its vampire brides.

Mina reveals herself. She’s a full-on vampire now. “Why do you think I want to be saved?” she asks. She grabs Vanessa, who she claims will be a bride for the Master. (So have we not seen Dracula at all yet?) Malcolm shoots her. The injured Mina suddenly acts innocent again and begs her father not to hurt her. Malcolm coldly responds, “I already have a daughter,” and shoots her dead.

The next morning, Malcolm officially abandons his plans for another expedition to Africa, and embraces Vanessa. I guess she’s his daughter now.

The Pinkertons catch up to Ethan in a bar. He wolfs out and kills them. Finally, we have confirmation that Ethan is a werewolf, which was hinted at a few times earlier.

As the episode wraps up, Vanessa visits a priest to ask for an exorcism. (Apparently, Ethan was able to subdue the demon but not purge it entirely.) The priest tells her a tale of what a miserable experience a real exorcism is, and talks to her about “the glory of suffering.” He asks, “Do you really want to be normal?” The episode ends before she can answer.

This finale brings closure to the Mina storyline, which was ostensibly Sir Malcolm’s motivation for investigating the supernatural. At the same time, it leaves open a lot of mysteries yet to be resolved. What really happened in Ethan’s past? How much control does he have over himself as a werewolf? Has he been murdering whores throughout London? When will we really see Dracula? How do the Egyptian gods Amun-Ra and Amunet play into everything that has happened? When will Dorian Gray’s secret be revealed?

Admittedly, the show has frustrated me at times with the vagueness of some of these storylines. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the season and look forward to more.

6 comments

  1. I’m also a bit confused by the rules of the show. Ethan for instance. Can he control his transformation? (I don’t remember seeing afull moon) If he CAN control it, why didn’t he turn the few times he was near death fighting the vampire women? Sure other people would have witnessed it, but would he rather of died instead of his secret being exposed? If he CAN’T control it he sure got lucky with that timing! I found Ethan to be a little bland up until these last few episodes. Now I can’t wait for them to show more of his story!
    I’m not terribly knowledgeable of vampire lore, so do you know what exactly the vampire women are and why they look the same and gather with the big vamp? Always confused me a bit. My least favorite parts of the show were the fights with these women.
    I loved the end with Calaban watching Frankenstein work with wonderment. It was actually kind of sweet. Which is odd. Haha. I
    This felt more like a mid-season finale than the big finish. I liked it. I just wish more could have been fleshed out so I wasn’t confused by things before next season.

  2. Josh Zyber
    Author

    On another forum I read, someone speculated that Malcolm’s “I already have a daughter” line may be a hint that Vanessa is literally his daughter – a product of his affair with her mother. I’m embarrassed to say that didn’t even occur to me, but it makes a lot of sense.

    • Ryan

      Lot’s of people have been declaring the “SHE IS HIS DAUGHTER”. That’s just nonsense.
      It’s certainly possible that she is, but as of now, it’s more likely he didn’t mean that literally.
      And given that there aren’t DNA tests back then, I don’t think we’ll ever get more than a “maybe she is”

  3. Ryan

    First off, I have come to love this show. After a ho-hum first episode, the show quickly came into its own.
    That said, I thought the finale was a good episode, but not great. Mina’s resolution seemed a bit rushed to me. I think the ep could have benefited from a slightly longer runtime.
    I liked that they kept me guessing as to who the bride would be. Brona seemed obvious from the start, but when they introduced the actress, I figured it would actually be her. So that was a nice twist.
    Had no one mentioned it online, I would have never thought that Ethan was a werewolf. Sure the dogs seemed to look at him in the one ep, but so what? I thought it was more likely that he was some sort of Jeckyl and Hyde type character (though I guess this is similar in a way). I wish reviewers had kept their guessing to themselves, as it ruined a fun surprise.

    I am very excited for what the show has in store for us next season. I’m 100% on board!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.