‘Penny Dreadful’ Season 1 Finale Review – Time To Long For Being Abnormal

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Mina and Vanessa Penny Dreadful Season 1 Episode 8 ‘Penny Dreadful’ Season 1 Finale Review – Time To Long For Being Abnormal

[This is a review of the Penny Dreadful season 1 finale. There will be SPOILERS.]

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Penny Dreadful has shown off some compelling scenarios, highly intriguing characters and award-worthy performances during its eight episode run, but it lost momentum and story structure in the final two installments of its first season.

As was the case with episode 7, ‘Possession,’ the finale, ‘Grand Guignol,’ is still a strong enough hour of television, but when you’ve come from far more powerful places, it’s tough not to be just a little underwhelmed by the conclusion of the first season.

The first half of episode 8 plays rather slow. The conversation between Vanessa and Sir Malcolm repeats information from previous episodes, we’ve never really come to care about Dorian so Vanessa’s rejection doesn’t spark much emotion and Sir Malcolm’s run-in with Madame Kali doesn’t go anywhere. Perhaps there will be more to Dorian in the new season and Madame Kali’s promise that she’ll cross paths with Sir Malcolm again will actually happen, but as far as this episode goes, both are dead ends, and dead ends are especially disappointing in finales.

Frankenstein and Caliban Penny Dreadful Season 1 Episode 8 ‘Penny Dreadful’ Season 1 Finale Review – Time To Long For Being Abnormal

Caliban, Frankenstein and Ethan, however, fair much better. We’ve seen two completely different sides of Caliban since his introduction. With Frankenstein, he’s a ruthless and demanding monster, but at the theater, he’s rather meek and sensitive. The opportunity to see those two halves come together makes for a very satisfying conclusion to his season 1 arc, and it serves Frankenstein quite well in the process. Caliban’s been professing his desire to find a mate all along. Frankenstein, on the other hand, expresses his loneliness in less direct manners, like his conversations regarding Sir Malcolm’s exploring for instance. Caliban’s done abhorrent things, but we’ve also seen the good in him as well, so seeing the two of them take a step closer to reconciling their differences is a rather reassuring way to end the season for both of them.

Then there’s poor Ethan. This was a rough one for him, but his struggles did finally give Josh Harnett the chance to go big and access so many more layers of Ethan. His feelings for Brona were never in question, but his reaction to her passing is the first time we’ve ever been able to feel how much he’s really come to need her. All along he’s paraded around with his pistols in hand, brandishing more confidence than most, but here, it all comes crumbling down and that paves the way to what we’ve been waiting for since the very beginning of the show – for Ethan to turn into a werewolf. We made the connection early on, so his transition wasn’t much of a surprise, but the fact that his mood-change sparked the outburst made the big moment an especially well-earned one.

Ethan Werewolf Penny Dreadful Season 1 Episode 8 ‘Penny Dreadful’ Season 1 Finale Review – Time To Long For Being Abnormal

As far as the hunt for Mina goes, the lack of clarity in episode 7 definitely hurt the big theater scene in the finale. It was just too difficult to get into the action while still wondering what sparked Vanessa’s vision revealing Mina’s location in the first place. However, once the combat kicks in, the action is powerful enough to divert your attention.

The battle on the lower level rocks the bigger thrill and build. As we’ve experienced before, pitting our heroes against a horde of those blonde vampires elicits some stunning imagery, especially when all hope is seemingly lost and they’re being devoured by them. However, the sequence’s big finish is the crown jewel of the episode. The show’s been barreling towards a standoff between Vanessa, Sir Malcolm and Mina ever since revealing their history in the 5th episode. When Sir Malcolm makes his choice and puts a bullet through Mina’s head, you feel it because the show’s earned it.

If Penny Dreadful only resolved one thing this episode, that had to be it and, personally, it’s just the ending I wanted. Sure, the talk of buying a Christmas tree and having the boys come over to decorate it was a little saccharine, but after so much darkness, that little bit of pure happiness and hope was vital to letting us part with the show and these characters on a positive note.

Mina and Vanessa Penny Dreadful Season 1 Episode 8 II ‘Penny Dreadful’ Season 1 Finale Review – Time To Long For Being Abnormal

‘Grand Guignol’ certainly did not match the season’s strongest episodes – ‘Séance’, ‘Resurrection’, ‘Closer Than Sisters’ and ‘What Death Can Join Together’ – but the strength of the show as a whole absolutely made up for the less impressive finish. Even at its worst, Penny Dreadful is still better than most and what John Logan achieved in this first season, particularly the remarkable connection he struck between the audience and the main characters, is well worth continuing on. There is an astounding amount of room for this show to grow and Penny Dreadful most certainly earned the opportunity to move on to a second season and give it a go.

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Penny Dreadful has been renewed for a 10 episode 2nd season.

Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.

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TAGS: Penny Dreadful

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  1. “Blonde vampires”?

    They look like albinos to me.

    We agree about Dorian…”We’ve never really come to care about [him].” In my opinion, he is the only character who is miscast in the show. He just looks too young, like a teenager, and he does not have a very commanding presence.

    • Yeah, albino is probably the more accurate term. The hair is what catches my eye though – especially because the bulk of their battle scenes are always so dark.

      Reeve Carney does look young, but I think the bigger problem is that Dorian is SO underwritten. I can’t even imagine what people who have no knowledge of The Picture of Dorian Gray think of him. The show doesn’t even scratch the surface of what the character’s all about.

      • I have a coworker who didn’t know who the character was (hadn’t read the book) and all she could say was “What’s up with that guy? I don’t get why everyone is so into him”. And that pretty much sums up the feelings about this version of the character. He is too much of a mystery. That paired with Carney’s miscasting I think most people simply don’t care about the character. The show could go on without him and no one would mind

      • Carney kind of reminds me of a young Jackie Earle Hailey, circa. The Bad News Bears (1976). The character of Dorian Gray, in my opinion, should have been played by someone with more manly attributes.

        • See hes exactly what I picture from the book, I imagine that he would look like a boy band member and Reeve does. I think the biggest problem is bar seduce people and look at his picture shirtless, hes had very little plot, if he had an episode like the others have had to explain his story we would understand him more.

          I feel very little for Brona, for much the same reason, her story is more developed than Dorian (who clearly changes depending who he is around to be what they desire more than what he needs) but I care very little for her and think Billie Piper is not a great actress, and her accent is horrid, I require subtitles when she is on screen. But she had a clear purpose.
          I hope for an episode to explain Dorian to those who do not know the book

          • Yeah, Billie’s accent was horrendous but to be honest, I’ve understood her more than actual Irish and Northern Irish (and Scottish) people. Basically, everyone with a heavy accent of some kind will have some wondering what’s being said.

            Her purpose was basically to become Caliban’s bride and I think we all saw that coming weeks ago.

    • I agree that the role was miscast. The actor playing him simply does not have the gravitas needed for the role. All of these characters, Vanessa, Ethan and Bronna are supposedly drawn to him but he simply doesn’t ring true because the actor playing him doesn’t have the right kind of charisma to carry it off.

    • The Dorian Grey character is probably the weakest link in the show for me. I really struggle to see what purpose he plays aside from the character being a literary figure from that era. The few scenes he has been in with the other characters seem ancillary and have little or nothing to do with anything else going on.

      On the plus side they did manage to flesh out Ethan, Caliban and Dr. Frankenstein more in the last few episodes. And is it just me or is the Dr. a bit creepier than his creation at this point?

      Hopefully they will find a strong narrative arc for the next season and either do more with some of the elements they have established or find new directions to take the show. They have plenty of material to draw from so story ideas should not be a problem.

  2. Great Show ,and really promising !
    But I must say it lost something after it’s first 2 episodes and I guess it has something to do with the Director !

    The first eps felt really epic,more like a Movie,the whole atmosphere was fantastic !
    Camera work and Colors were just breathtaking..for example the scene Victor took his creation out to experience the world ! So beautiful !

    And it felt big..really big with some Awesome Big Shots showing the city,the river with all the ships ! Just amazing !

    It seems they spend all money on those eps,cause later it felt small and constrained !:(

    or is it just the vision of the directors who have a small narrow view coming from a low budget tv background ?

    Not sure what the reason was,but many of the later episodes had a lack of those WOW moments the first 2 eps had ! Especially many of those BIG Shots were missing where they show a lot of the city or places they went !

  3. Couldn’t agree with your review more – great writing, great directing, great acting, but the structure of the story over these 8 episodes has been, for lack of better words, a weak point leading to an underwhelming finale. Scenes with Dorian Grey especially tend to really, really drag and has, thus far, gone nowhere. Every episode seemed to build to the next episode or in the case of the finale, next season, but never entirely got anywhere – very minimal progression.

    Just a possible correction to something you wrote – what sparked Ethan’s turn into the werewolf was the full moon as the show seemed to imply – everything all just seemed to come crashing down in his life at the wrong time and the two dudes definetly picked the wrong time to mess with him.

  4. waiting for a doctor jekyl somwhere in the future. And the reveal of dracula ofcourse

    • not sure what dr. hyde would bring since Ethan, Caliban, and Vanessa all have darker sides and hulk out, so Dr. Hyde wouldn’t stand out.

  5. waiting for a doctor jekyl somewhere in the future. And the reveal of dracula ofcourse

  6. “No…not monkey…”, awesome pre-butt kicking one liner. Hope they reveal Dracula and finally do something with Dorian (hopefully kill him as i do not like his character). Cannot wait for next season.

  7. So what happens when Ethan discovers Frankenstein’s new bride?

    Frankenstein vs Wolfman?

  8. For the $15.00 a month just to watch this one show on Showtime, it was not enough offered for me to keep Showtime, so I dumped the channel and consigned this to my Netflix list where when they add it i can basically watch it for free. The show has potential: I liked Sir Malcolm (hoping for a Mummy) and also want to see Ethan go werewolf, but the writers were too interested in sexual exploitation scenes that added nothing to the atmosphere and gloomy story that lurked in the wings all season. I wanted to see more Dracula-esque stuff as well. I will still watch this, but it certainly did not live up totally to my expectations (I watched through about the fourth or fifth episode before moving it to Netflix). Also, alot of the scenes were filmed so dark (opposite of light) that you could not see what was going on on the screen. That plus the torrid content is a common complaint I have with otherwise decent show: Penny Dreadful, Salem, and many others.

    • Netflix advertisement insert “here” :)

      • I really hope Dr Frankenstein can fix Brona’s accent whilst she’s on the operating table. It would really do us all a favour. Please.

        • Seriously. I could only understand about 1 out of every 10 words she said.

    • Sexual exploitation was a common trait in the old penny dreadfuls, they were full of horror and titillation and things meant to shock the readers of the day. The fact that they managed to do those things (in a society when photography was mostly used for explicit images of nudity and intercourse and sold openly in the streets before moving underground due to the Obscenity Act) means that of course the show had to follow suit and it didn’t feel out of place at all.

      I have a feeling that with all the complaining you do about that kind of content, you may be more of a prude than I first thought.

      As for the dark scenes, I have that complaint about GOT, 24 and pretty much every show I’ve seen over the last few years, it’s just a matter of staying out of direct light while watching.