Wednesday, 2 July 2014

PENNY DREADFUL, 1.8 – 'Grand Guignol'

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

written by John Logan | directed by James Hawes

I fall for it time and time again, but whenever cable series are given short orders (like Penny Dreadful's eight episode run), I assume this is because there's a shorter story to be told. The fact John Logan (a busy and successful movie writer) also scripts every single episode, added weight to the idea this was a story with a beginning, middle and end he was desperate to get off his chest. And then Showtime renewed Penny Dreadful for a second season, but I assumed this proved it would perhaps be an American Horror Story-style anthology series, with a new story and characters arriving next season—which would befit a drama named after Victorian literature containing multiple stories. I should have known better...

"Grand Guignol" resolved a few things this season's been working towards, but the vast majority of questions remain unanswered and the door's firmly open for a direct continuation. I'm not against seeing the story continue, with these these actors in these roles, but I was hoping for more conclusion than this episode provided. The only real sub-plot to reach a fitting end was Sir Malcolm's (Timothy Dalton) feelings towards his daughter Mina (Olivia Llewellyn), whom he confessed to Vanessa (Eva Green) means more to him than she ever will, before ultimately choosing to shoot his own offspring dead and proclaim Vanessa his "daughter"—once he realised Mina's past saving, and is now a vampire's brainwashed minion.
Sir Malcolm: I left my son to suffer without me. I'll not do the same to my daughter.
It was a lovely moment to see Sir Malcolm realises the depth of his feelings for Vanessa, knowing their tumultuous past together, and this moment nicely ended the season-long quest to find Mina. Although we still haven't met the "master vampire" who kidnapped Sir Malcolm's daughter, have we? I assume the pallid creeature Sir Malcolm plunged a sword through wasn't the culprit they've been searching for, if only because one assumes this wasn't Dracula. And if it was, this was a terrible waste, considering Dracula's in the public domain and there's nothing to stop Penny Dreadul using that character. Maybe next season?
Caliban: I would rather be the corpse I was than the man I am.
The quality of Caliban's (Rory Kinnear) story has waxed and wanes over these eight episodes, but it ended with enough highs to make me happy. There wasn't much here we haven't seen alternate versions of before—Caliban believing a sweet actress's kindness means she's passionate in love with him, leading to a terrible situation where his enthusiasm and naivety leads to an unwitting act of sexual harassment in the workplace—but it was otherwise quite a decent storyline. It was just a shame everyone had guessed sick Irish whore Brona Croft (Billie Piper) would become Frankenstein's (Harry Treadaway) choice for a mate for his creation, and a bit frustrating we'll have to wait for season 2 to see Brona resurrected. I'm guessing she won't instantly fall in love with Caliban, just because they share the same complexion!

Another predictable event was Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) transforming into a werewolf, to fend off two American bounty hunters sent to haul him back to the States to answer for his crimes. It was a fun moment to see Ethan 'wolf-out' during a Full Moon, but quite who would have been surprised by the moment is beyond me. It was signposted weeks ago, and should have been tackled earlier. Still, at least Ethan promises to be a slightly more dynamic character next season, now the cat's out of the bag. But I'm actually more interested in his spiritual powers, which he demonstrated last week in successfully cleansing Vanessa of the being that had possessed her soul.

Overall, "Grand Guignol" wasn't the finale I wanted from Penny Dreadful, which was a shame. It could have been a much stronger miniseries if the intention had been the end the story here, but it's true there's more juice left in these characters and fresh avenues to explore. Vanessa is likely going to embrace her unique abilities, instead of fight to become "normal", Sir Malcolm's relationship with Vanessa will be much stronger, a classic Wolf Man storyline will develop with Ethan now, Caliban's going to meet the 'Bride of Frankenstein', Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) will surely reveal that portrait of his, and we still have the Egyptian doomsday prophecy hanging over everything, plus the likelihood of Dracula appearing on the show. Uh, right? I hope so.

A very entertaining series that hit some turbulence mid-season and was slightly crippled by jerky plotting, some story developments that were far too predictable, and a finale that just didn't seem epic enough considering the excellent start and potential in the steady build-up. If John Logan returns to write all of season 2, I hope he's aware of this shortcomings and does what he can to fix them, or other writers are brought in to help make everything run a bit smoother.

29 June 2014 | Showtime