Season Finale Review: ‘Penny Dreadful’ – Farewell to a daughter, hello to a bride

There have been numerous interweaving and not so interweaving plots during this inaugural season of “Penny Dreadful,” but there have been two constants.  The first has been the search by Sir Malcom (Timothy Dalton) and Ms. Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) to save Mina (Olivia Llewellyn) from the clutches of a vampire demon.  The second has been the systematic haunting of Doctor Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway, Jr.) by his first creation (Rory Kinnear), a vindictive son who brutally demands a bride from his creator.  If the series finale told us anything it's that creator John Logan had no intention of dragging these story lines out any more than necessary.  More so, Logan appears to have a lot more in store for “Dreadful's” unexpected group of flawed “heroes.”

Two of the series' best performances have been from Green and Dalton.  Their characters have behaved like two adversaries forced to grit their teeth to team up to save a loved one.  We've learned that Vanessa's resentment is caused by her brutal treatment after Mina's wedding was shattered (by her Vanessa's own actions mind you) and she's found herself possessed and close to death the previous episode.  Dalton, on the other hand, has played Sir Malcolm as a man who seemingly hates his remaining daughter and in the finale he bluntly reveals he'll even sacrifice her to get Mina back.  Vanessa doesn't display tremendous affection for her father, but instead wants him to eventually man up for his own actions which include a dead son whose body still resides in Africa.  Moreover, she sees him as partly responsible for Mina's current fate.

It goes without saying that Logan could have had this search for Mina go on for another whole season.  We might have learned more about her as a character through flashbacks. The audience might have even found Mina's final fate more tragic with a deeper backstory. That was never Logan's plan, however. He ends the season with Sir Malcolm making the right and only choice. One that breaks his heart while also reuniting him with his one “child” still in the land of the living. Green has stolen the spotlight for much of “Dreadful's” first eight episodes, but this was a well played out arc for Dalton who over the course of the season was slowly able to make Sir Malcolm more than a stereotypical Victorian vampire hunter (and, yes, we get the ridiculousness of that description).

The other plot line that has been foreshadowed for weeks is the Creature's obsession with forcing Frankenstein to deliver him a bride. When it was revealed that Ethan's prostitute lover Brona Croft (Billie Piper) is sick with no chances of recovery it was obvious she would be forced to suffer a resurrected fate as the Creature's companion.  Logan let the audience wait four episodes dreading, no pun intended, the inevitable moment.  What he has to be given credit for is spinning the outcome into something unexpected. For most of the series we've looked at Frakenstein as a flawed, weak man who made a mistake playing god the first time around, created something wonderful in Proteus (episode two) only to have it horrifyingly killed in front of him by that first “mistake.” The Creature, on the other hand, broke the neck of the legendary Van Helsing in anger over Frankenstein's reluctance to do his bidding fast enough.  Kinnear has played him like a bitter, scorned lover who acts impulsively as a way to impart his pain on everyone in his wake. 

The finale is no doubt titled “Grand Guignol” not just because it's where Mina's storyline ends, but also because it's the locale where the Creature find his humanity. His crush on Maud (Hannah Tointon), a leading lady who perceives something beautiful in him, turns to tragedy as he seriously misjudges her feelings. Granted, this sequence feels rushed in the context of the episode and would have worked better over two. That being said, it finds a remorseful Creature returning to Frankenstein brokenhearted and at his lowest point. “Oh my creator 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.”  The Creature even instructs Frankenstein to shoot him and free him from this pain (a skill the good doctor learned from Ethan).  Frankenstein is stunned. He never believed such empathy could come from his first creation.  Instead of finally freeing himself of this burden, Frankenstein, in turn, becomes the monster. His actions to deliver his now soulful creation a bride prove that out of all the characters on “Dreadful,” the notorious doctor may be the most dangerous and corrupt of them all.

Smartly, Logan didn't end the season with a pulp-y cliffhanger. Instead, he makes a revelation about Ms. Ives that neither her father, nor her newfound compatriots are aware of.  It turns out that demon, the curse, that devil is still inside her.  A priest tells her she could go through the exorcism process, but it could take months, years. Is that what she wants? “Do you really want to be normal?”  And the question leaves Ms. Ives speechless.  Cut to black.

An intriguing end to a season that delivered impressive performances, some gorgeous direction from J.A. Bayona and James Hawes and turned out to be, thankfully, more than just the Eva Green show.  Logan has set up his chess pieces for season two, but both he and executive producers Pippa Harris and Sam Mendes need to be mindful that much of the show's creative success came from the directors who each helmed two of the first eight installments.  Bringing in those creative voices is a key to allowing “Penny Dreadful” to remain something special.

Some other notes:

– Without a doubt the weakest character of the series has been Dorian Grey (Reeve Carney).  What his purpose is in the larger scheme of the series is questionable. On one hand he seduces Ethan (what this really served beyond a sexy make out scene and to imply both characters are bisexual is unclear), but then falls madly in love with Ms. Ives. Her “rejection” of him caused the immortal to cry, but does anyone care?   Unless Logan can find a specific need for him in the second season he may just continue to serve as a pretty red herring which is, frankly, a waste of Carney's talents.
– Sir Malcom's flirty encounter with Miss Kali (Helen McCrory) seems to signify the medium who found herself wonderfully overshadowed by Ms. Ives in the second episode, “Seance,” will return with a more prominent role in season two.  If that means the show is graced by the presence of the wonderfully talented McCrory, that's a good sign of things to come.
– Fan speculation aside, we discovered the “secret” that has caused a trail of death to follow Ethan to London.  More intriguing, however, was Ethan's ability to pull Ms. Graves out of her possession during episode seven. He may get hairy and wolf-y when he's angry, but there's still more to him than just that.
– Cinematographer Owen McPolin's work wasn't that inspired when he worked with director Dearbhla Walsh on episodes 3 and 4, but his collaboration with James Hawes, who helmed the “Possession” and “Grand Guignol,” was almost night and day.  The lighting of the vampire hunting sequence was very, very impressive.

What did you think of the season finale? Are you excited about season two?