Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Personal Faith is Tested in Penny Dreadful’s Season 1 Finale

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As we now come to the close of the pilot season of Penny Dreadful, our minds are full of expectations and demand certain revelations. What I love most about these final two episodes is that they deny us some of these. Strategically they give us just enough to keep us sated, while also craving for more. If that is not enough for you, I shall reveal that I preferred the second season’s finale to this one, though that certainly should not deter you from continuing. If anything, quite the opposite.

Let me end the suspense here and begin with the review of the final two episodes in this season named: ‘Possession’ and ‘Grand Guignol’.

There cannot be a happy ending for claw will slash and tooth will rend

We pick up exactly where we left off, a possessed Vanessa after her sexual encounter with Dorian Grey. At first she seems slightly norma,l yet there seems to be a malady upon her. It is confirmed that she is truly possessed as she begins to speak as Mina, a recount of her ailment at the séance in episode two. At first she passively speaks of memories past of Mina tracing her fingers, trying to follow the path her father might be taking as he traveled across Africa. Almost methodically she turns from a somewhat tranquil state to a much more violent fury. Full of contempt, she begins to confront Malcolm of his carnal weakness. Yet not only the event between Vanessa’s mother, but the trail of ravished women he left across Africa. At first the white African women of South Africa, then as time went by the native women. He even went to so far as to force Peter upon one of them. As her fury becomes more pronounced everything beings to fly around the room. Small items and furniture collide in the air and threaten to hit Malcolm until Sembene intervenes and sedates Vanessa with a strike to her head.

Not soon after, Victor is summoned to the house to take part in further examination of Vanessa’s condition. Although she pretends to be well again, both he and us know that to be the contrary. After the examination she seems to be well as nothing is physically wrong with her. Vanessa returns to herself briefly, only to reveal to us that she has no memory of what happens during her possessed state. As what ever is inside her returns she terrifies the doctor by uttering some of the final words he had told to Van Helsing before he was so cruelly removed from life. While Victor leaves the room with more questions than when he came, Ethan is also summoned to the house. Their purpose as a whole is to take turns watching Vanessa, hoping this malady would run its course.

Vanessa losing her will
Vanessa losing her will

Victor gives a quick analysis of her mental state. He seems to believe that she is going through a psychosexual trauma, perhaps she was assaulted sometime in her life. Something that happened recently, something of that nature could have triggered a state of disassociation. Of course we know that it was her night with Dorian.

The group broods over the new information while on table, hundreds of spiders begin to appear from Vanessa’s tarot deck and swarm everywhere. If you’re afraid of spiders I recommend skipping this scene. Ethan finally goes to her and finds her in a fetal state, growling demonically. In a storm of rage she attacks them, screaming revelations of the weird sex scene with Dorian. Yet as I mentioned it is never again brought up nor are the characters ever seen together again. She then changes the subject to Brona’s photo session with Dorian in the early season. She is sedated again afterwards, medicinally this time.

Vanessa loses control
Vanessa loses control

Ethan’s faith, or what little he has of it is clearly being tested at this point. Between Vanessa and Brona’s worsening condition, the poor man has a lot on his plate. He urges for a priest to be called but Malcolm does not want to bring anyone else into this. As time goes by we see Vanessa getting worse and succumbing to malnutrition. Yet another here is suffering where we thought he was mentally sound. Victor begins to inject himself with a nameless drug, most likely morphine. It is revealed that our doctor is an addict and who can blame him in his line of work.

“Morphine. Is it an addiction?”


“Caused by what?”


Sometime after Ethan is seen in Vanessa’s room, she is herself at this time and tells him of her suffering. She cannot fight this, it is an animal inside her, scratching and clawing to get out. She also says she could have fallen in love with him once, to her surprise he replies that there is still time. But isn’t Ethan with another, there is something very strange with Ethan. She wants his promise that if the time ever comes that she wants him to kill her, the others would never have the heart to. Yet, neither does this creature that undoes his disguise and reveals that he is not Ethan but the demon that took the form of Malcolm when she was first possessed all those years ago. He breaks her will further by convincing her that he does not want her dead, he wants her by his side. She embraces him before the scene ends, yet the motive and meaning are unclear.

“I want you to be the mother of evil. I want you to rule the darkness with me at my side, looking over a black, scorched, dead world where there is no more pain because there are no more hearts to feel. We have eaten them all, thee and me, and together we will conquer God, topple him from his bloody throne, and rule in his stead, everlasting.”

Back on the ground level everyone is worn, mentally and emotionally. The doctor is taking another dose of morphine and Ethan talks to him about pain; about how Native American tribes were destroyed in the west, how the surviving children were ripped away from what was left of their tribes and moved east to become true Americans. Yet those who escaped could not re enter their tribes because they had forgotten their culture, stuck between two worlds, just like Vanessa. Though there was a past tension between Victor and Ethan, the two move to more of friendly connection Victor asks Ethan to show him to shoot a gun. It’s a nice scene to witness after the murkiness of the rest of the episode.

Ethan and Victor manly releasing stress
Ethan and Victor manly releasing stress

Again it’s Malcolm’s turn to watch Vanessa. Without thinking he goes too Vanessa to make her use this possession to find Mina. He is using her condition to selfishly get more information from the other side. Unlucky for him that Ethan walks in and pulls him off. Ethan throws his threats and suddenly the whole house except Malcolm is joined in a decision to call a priest, even if it means calling for her last rites. When the priest finally arrives he expresses his inability to provide an exorcism without explicit permission from Rome. He does what he can for Vanessa until she goes berserk biting at his face until she serrates his ear from his head. In a last desperate act Ethan mutters Latin prayer while using the charm Brona gave him to perform his own primal exorcism, which surprisingly enough works. She sleeps most of the day until she awakes to tell Malcolm that she knows where Mina is. A certain theatre where our Caliban works: The Grand Guignol.

Remember us better than we are

Like the previous entry, this episode begins directly where in left off. As Malcolm comprehends where he now knows Mina to be he prepares his mind and his conscience for what may have to be done. He will do all he needs to do to save his daughter even if it means ending her life to end her suffering. Dorian also decides to pay Vanessa a visit to check on her after their night together. He wants to take her out again but she refuses, yet he announces that he will wait there for her anyway. Across the city we see Ethan praying over Brona’s bedside, her face full of death and her pillows stained with blood, she is not long for the world.

Malcolm wastes no time in preparing for the fight ahead by visiting a gun shop to purchase an exceptional prototype of a gun. More importantly he sees a character that we have not seen in quite sometime. Madame Kali from the séance. Though she reintroduces herself by her real name, Evelyn Paul a widow from Brighton. As is a trope with this series an obvious romantic connection between the two; the point is we will be seeing much more of Miss Evelyn in the season to come.

At the theatre a new production is underway in practice, yet Caliban is having trouble with the rope mechanisms. In response Simon (Maud’s man) insults and treats Caliban quite horribly. Later that day Maud comes to see Caliban again offering an orange and apologies for Simon. She truly is a kind soul who doesn’t deserve either Simon in his anger or Caliban in his obsession. She gives him a kiss on the forehead and leaves.

Sometime after, Caliban attempts to put on make up to hide his scars and ends up looking like a clown as he goes to visit Maud in her dressing room. She laughs in jest, not cruelly, but lets him know he’s not supposed to be in there. He makes it obvious that he watching her when he reveals that he has seen Simon in there. Frightened she asks him to leave and he proceeds to force himself to a kiss, when she resists he lifts her by the neck and then remembers himself. Of course this act is not without consequence, Vincent unfortunately has to let him go, but he does so with a very heartfelt goodbye. Yet as the camera rolls off the theatre we see something sleeping in the ceiling, the grey master.

Caliban forces himself on Maude
Caliban forces himself on Maude

We move to the botanical gardens where Vanessa first began to follow Dorian, she meets with him for this last time. She mentions to him that she does care for him but he releases something deadly in her and that this must be goodbye. His eyes are watery and he genuinely looks like he does not know what is going on. She tells him, he is feeling rejection. Just as well the now again rejected Caliban returns to Frankenstein’s home, broken and alone. Victor refuses to forgive him for what he did to Doctor Van Helsing but he can’t but help but feel pity as he holds a gun to the back of the creatures head.

“What dreams I had of my mate. Of another being, looking into these eyes, upon this face, and recoiling not. But how could that happen? For the monster is not in my face, but in my soul. I once thought that if I was like other men, I would be happy and loved. The malignance has grown, you see, from the outside in, and this shattered visage merely reflects the abomination that is my heart. Oh, my creator, why…why did you not make me of steel and stone? Why did you allow me to feel? I would rather be the corpse I was than the man I am.”

After that moving monologue, Victor allows him to stay but is interrupted by a call at his door. Ethan is waiting there asking Victor to help Brona. He tells him what he knows already, that she is close to death. He asks Ethan to fetch him a bucket of water and makes Brona an offer while he is away. To live in a world beyond life and death where there is no pain. She nods in approval as he tells her it requires a price to pay, but one that she is willing to pay. He smothers her with a pillow and she is gone by the time Ethan gets back. Victor tells him that her passing was a thing of grace as he breaks down by her side. Victor even offers to take care of the body…

Victor and a dying Brona
Victor and a dying Brona

Ethan is left alone to his grief with his only company a bottle of whiskey. Two men who seem to be following him throughout the episode finally make themselves known to him. They are bounty hunters back from the states belonging to the Pinkerton detective agency (kudos if you know their significance in this time period, post civil war). Ethan’s father back in the United States hired them. He’s told to come quietly or they’ll take him in chains. A brawl ensues and Ethan walks away from the now battered detectives on his way to meet Malcolm and the group for the final showdown at the theatre.

Upon their entry, the main stage is barren, misty, and dark. They look around until Malcolm spots the grey creature in the rafters. As it wakes and screams a loose floor panel opens under Ethan and he falls below to face a number of female vampires in the likeness of Mina. Sambene and Victor leave Malcolm to contend with the master to help Ethan below. Malcolm takes shots at the lighting fast vampire as Sambene hacks and slashes with his blades and Ethan and Victor empty round after round; they are almost overwhelmed. The master makes a fatal mistake by running head on at Malcolm as he draws his rapier and thrusts it into the creatures’ chest. The beast pulls itself off only to be knocked on it’s backside and pierced through the heart. As it dies the creatures below retreat and just in time.

Yet the fray is not over as Mina finally appears and holds Vanessa by the neck. She reveals that this grey beast was not the true master and that he will have his bride. The pain behind Malcolm’s cold eyes is great as he fires at Mina’s shoulder. She screams trying to manipulate his emotion by crying that she is his daughter. If there was any doubt in his mind he gave no trace as he states that he already has a daughter in Vanessa and shoots Mina in the head. The hunt is over and it has exacted its painful toll.

Mina's final plea
Mina’s final plea

The rest of this finale is an aftermath of events.

Back at the mansion, Malcolm abandons his plans to return to Africa to retrieve Peter’s body; he is no longer using his son as an excuse to run. He embraces Vanessa and completely breaks down on her, there is nothing more tear jerking than seeing a hardened cold man cry. They make plans happily to have the boys over to decorate for the coming Christmas.

Across the city, Victor brings Brona’s body back to Caliban at his lab. His face is awed when he sees her beauty as Victor begins his work on her. Ethan again has returned to the Mariners Inn to drink as the two detectives return to harass him. It is night out, and Ethan for once does not look solemn. He smiles instead and  braces his hands against as they begin to expand into claws and his face becomes the likeness of a wolf. Only screams are heard off screen as a slaughter in the inn ensues. The mystery of the new London Ripper has been revealed. In the final scene we see Vanessa going into a church to discuss an exorcism with a Welsh Priest. After long talk about a town that conducted an exorcism with permission from Rome she is horrified to learn all those involved had perished.

Ethan the Wolfman
Ethan the Wolfman

“Do you really want be normal?”

Alas this is the end of my review for the first season of Penny Dreadful. Watchers I hope you enjoyed this recap. New readers I hope you will use this to give this great show a chance.

Cue the tears
Cue the tears

Images courtesy of Desert Wolf Productions and Neal Street Productions

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