Penny Dreadful's season 2 finale offered some hasty-but-fun conclusions, but preferred to instead focus on grace notes and setup for next year—rather like how True Blood structured its own closers. I was entertained, mostly because it allowed for some excellent performances to arise from a wallowing sense of self-important misery. It does get rather tiring how all of the show's characters deny themselves chances of happiness, even with each other, because they're convinced their own suffering is in some way infectious and a curse never to be shared.
The situation with Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory) and her coven of witches has been the backbone of this season, but almost everything was resolved within the first twenty-minutes. Vanessa (Eva Green) refused to be manipulated by the devil that had possessed her "fetish" doll, to promise her the idyllic family life she's craved since childhood. Unless I've completely misunderstood things, it did strike me as odd that Vanessa was able to win a 'chanting battle' with the doll, if it was indeed a hotline to Beelzebub—but perhaps we're supposed to believe her powers are truly that awesome? It just felt rather too easy; as did Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) and Victor (Harry Treadaway) gunning down a witch after shaking free of their own mental illusions. Still, Evelyn's inevitable demise from old age was fun to watch—although I'd have preferred to have seen this happen as a result of going up against Vanessa more directly. Where was the payback we've been waiting for, considering Evelyn was the person responsible for what happened to Vanessa's mentor the Cut-Wife? I wasn't very happy about how this season's longest storyline ended, to put it mildly, but at least Evelyn's daughter Hecate (Sarah Greene) escaped and could return to cause trouble in the future?
With the major storyline of the season dealt with so quickly, the rest of the finale was more a jumble of scenes that also ended a few storylines abruptly, or just teased us with more to come next year. The oddest one was Victor finding Lily (Billie Piper) and Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) dancing in white attire, then realising they're both immortal and that Lily's been playing him for a fool this whole time. Indeed, he's left to suffer from the realisation he's given rise to a creature that aims to subjugate mankind, and it seems very clear now that Dorian's a nasty piece of work. This is either an intentional decision from creator John Logan, to try and spice up Dorian's character by making him evil, or perhaps evidence Dorian's so enamoured with Lily that he's simply drunk on her impudence and arrogant ambitions.
More entertaining, but no less hasty, was Caliban (Rory Kinnear) escaping from the waxworks basement and effortlessly killing his employers, the Putneys. I was very amused by the moment Caliban revealed their homemade prison wasn't enough to hold him captive, as they made him a ridiculous offer to keep the other freaks under control in return for a small cut of the takings. And yet, it was slightly annoying such a lot of time was spent on a storyline that ultimately ended on a joke. The moment Caliban couldn't bring himself to kill pretty Lavinia, the blind girl he thought was his friend, almost compensated. His weakness certainly appears to be beautiful women, and at least Caliban's subplot led into another excellent scene between him and Vanessa in the underground cholera facility—Kinnear and Green continuing to do amazing work together, as arguably the two characters most deserving of each other.
And finally, there was Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett)—whose lupine form couldn't bring itself to murder Vanessa after crashing into the voodoo chamber looking for fresh meat. Love, see. And yet, Vanessa can't bring herself to be with Ethan, and vice versa, which led to Ethan turning himself into Detective Rusk (Douglas Hodge) and confessing to the Mariner's Inn Massacre. Plausible enough, in the sense that Ethan wants to atone for what he's done, but I was slightly disappointed Rusk didn't manage to outsmart his prime suspect and instead had the case solved for him. Still, now that Ethan's being extradited back to the U.S, I'm intrigued to find out what happens next. This is actually a very good point to end his storyline, and potentially bring in some new faces, but more likely the story will resume in the New World next time—why else bring Rusk along for the boat trip?
It seems all of the characters have chosen solitude by the end of the season, apart form Dorian and Lily, which is interesting. Sir Malcolm's off on another African expedition; Caliban's in the frozen tundra somewhere; Ethan's locked in a cage bound for America for a date with the hangman; disconsolate Victor's alone and shooting drugs into his ravaged arm; and Vanessa's all by herself—having symbolically burned her crucifix, meaning she's even turned her back on God.
In broad terms, I think this finale worked well. It was certainly a big improvement over season 1's concluding hour, and this year's episodes have likewise been much sharper and more engaging. But it's still a show with flaws and doesn't always get from A to B in a way that feels logical, almost as if the show is half-improvised at times. John Logan's still writing every episode himself, and there are times when I wish he'd sacrifice that level of control and get a few other writers involved—people who may offer up better ideas, or ways to arc the season better. The plotting still feels quite choppy; as various ideas either drop out of focus for too long, or get resolved too quickly and leave me feeling empty. But the quality of production was noticeably much slicker this year, the emotional content often dug very deep, Green continues to amaze when given the opportunity, and some of last year's frustrations were adequately dealt with (like giving Ethan more character and importance). I can only hope this continues into season 3.
written by John Logan • directed by Brian Kirk • 5 July 2015 • Showtime