For all the complaining I’ve done about this second season of ‘Penny Dreadful’, I’m very surprised to admit that the season finale is far more satisfying than I expected it to be. It’s not a perfect episode, but it gives me hope for a third season.
Reading back through my recaps for this season, it’s interesting to see how much hope I had and how much potential I saw in the premiere episode, which then quickly deflated in the following weeks. On the other hand, I found that my resistance to the Ferdinand Lyle character lessened over time. By the end, I actually kind of enjoyed him.
The finale, called ‘And They Were Enemies’, picks up immediately after the wolfed-out Ethan has killed Sembene. He remains trapped in the sealed-off stairwell. Meanwhile, Malcolm and Victor continue to be tormented by visions of those they have loved and wronged (Malcolm’s family and Victor’s creations respectively).
In the creepy doll room, the Devil himself speaks to Vanessa through the doll in her image, using her own voice. He calls her his eternal love, Amunet (the Egytian goddess referenced many times before without much payoff). The scene could easily come across as silly or cheesy, but somehow Eva Green’s performances in both roles sell it.
Satan tries to tempt Vanessa with a vision of a normal life, in which she’s happily married to Ethan and has loving children. After they’ve all died, she will take her proper place at the Devil’s side, where she can be her true self. Vanessa, who’d seemed intimidated at first, quickly turns on him. She asks what she would want with a normal life and says she knows what she is. The two of them then engage in a battle of chanting evil spells to each other. The room shakes. Dolls fall off their perches. Evelyn becomes concerned. Vanessa puts a total smack-down on the Devil, and tells him to “Know YOUR master.” The doll’s head shatters, upon which hundreds of scorpions crawl out. One climbs onto Vanessa’s hand and melts into her.
The Devil defeated, Evelyn suddenly loses her youth and rapidly ages. Spying on these events from the next room, her daughter Hecate uses her mother’s weakness as an opportunity to release wolfman Ethan, who charges into the room and tears out Evelyn’s throat. She drops to the floor dead. Ethan then turns to Vanessa. She recognizes him, and he halts. The beast inside him is cowed by her power and runs off.
Lyle, pinned against a wall by one of the witch sisters, surprises her by pulling a gun and shooting her dead. Malcolm and Victor snap out of their trances, and Malcolm shoots the other sister. Hecate gets away to plague our heroes for another season.
The Wax Museum
Mr. Putney and his wife come down to the dungeon cell to pay Calaban a visit. He looks forlorn, as always. They express surprise that he hasn’t tried to scream for help. He replies that, “I was not made to scream.”
Putney explains his plans to build a freak show with Calaban in the center of it. He asks Calaban to join and become “King of the Freaks.” Or else he can suffer. Either way, he’s going nowhere. Calaban shockingly tears the cell door right off its hinges and violently kills both Putney and wife. When the blind daughter comes downstairs looking for her parents, Calaban simply slips away to let her find their corpses.
Dorian Gray’s Mansion
With the situation with the witches all resolved, Victor makes his way to Dorian’s house, where he finds Dorian and Lily/Brona dancing in the ballroom. He interrupts and asks Lily to come home with him. She cruelly laughs at him. Victor pulls a gun. They are unfazed and taunt him.
Victor shoots Lily in the chest. She doesn’t flinch, and says, “You made me too well for that.” He then shoots Dorian, who likewise responds, “You’ll have to do better than that, sport.”
Lily and Dorian believe they are gods. They debate whether to kill Victor, but ultimately decide to let him live so the horror of what is happening can truly sink in. Victor flees the house, and they resume their dancing, even as blood soaks through their clothes onto the floor.
Ethan, now human again, returns to Malcolm’s house. Vanessa, aware of what he is, asks him to run off together with her. He says that he needs time to think. The next morning, she finds a “Dear Vanessa…” note.
Ethan turns himself in to Inspector Rusk and confesses to the Mariner’s Inn slaughter. He just asks that his hanging be quick. Rusk informs him that there will be no hanging. Instead, he has an extradition order to return Ethan to America. Ethan looks horrified.
Vanessa finds Calaban at the soup kitchen again, packing. She kisses him and calls him “the most human man I’ve ever known,” but declines his offer to run off with him. For all her kindness to Calaban, she’s ultimately pretty shallow and prefers pretty-boy Ethan.
The episode then ends with a trio of boat trips. Malcolm sails to Africa to bury Sembene’s body in his homeland. Calaban sails to the Arctic to be alone and get away from the world (which ties in with the framing device in the original Mary Shelley ‘Frankenstein’ novel). Locked in a cage, Ethan is shipped to America. In London, Vanessa takes down a crucifix from the wall of her room at Malcolm’s house and tosses it in the fire. She and God have no more place for each other anymore.
I still think that the wax museum storyline was a big waste of time that accomplished nothing. Calaban could have headed off to the Arctic after Lily first rejected him, and we’d be right where we are now.
Although I appreciate that Lily and Dorian have been set up to be major villains next season, and I like where we leave things off with them, all that nonsense with Dorian’s girlfriend that took up far too much screen time over the season was likewise pretty pointless.
That said, the witches plot came together nicely at the end, and this was a very strong finale. It’s a shame that so much of this season was such a disconnected mess. I really hope that series creator John Logan can regroup his efforts and deliver a more coherent Season 3.