Penny Dreadful 1.07 & 1.08
Be wary, spoilers below...
So here we are - the end of Penny Dreadful's first season. It's been a mixed bag so far and a little lacklustre at times, but the show has upped its game over the past two weeks. The question is, have these final episodes, Possession and Grand Guignol, continued such televisual prowess? Or left us disavowed from the demimonde?
Following on from last week's passionate affairs between Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) and Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney), in which her subsequent vulnerability enabled the devil to take control, we are first treated to possession 101 – an hour of insurmountable lunacy and torture.
Sir Malcom Murray’s (Timothy Dalton) house plays an important part in creating a succinctly dark and foreboding atmosphere for Possession, where both lighting and framing cleverly evoke a sense of pressure and claustrophobia. Green puts great gusto into her performance, showing off intense physicality and a seamless fluctuation between vulnerability, violence and devilish mischief. The dilapidating effects of possession do not once resort to the over-the-top body contortion so frequently seen in the horror genre nowadays and as a result, evoke a more raw and painful experience.
Amidst the screaming, medication and wall-scratching, Ives occasionally rests, leaving time for the remaining characters Murray, Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) and Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) to become more acquainted, as they cautiously stand guard in the darkened halls. Here, Penny Dreadful falls back into its much beloved existential musings about death, God, belonging and human decency. As ever, it’s eloquently written and well performed but nevertheless tiresome. There is an upside this week however, as Chandler is finally granted a bit of screen time and characterisation that make him, dare I say... likeable. Not to mention, his ad-hoc exorcism saves the day and rescues Ives, much to the disavow of Murray who it turns out, wanted this to happen all along as a means to find Mina. Say what you like about the man’s logistics but his plan worked - the episode concludes with Ives’ revelation of Mina’s whereabouts.
Not without its faults, Possession remains an impressive penultimate episode to the series. It’s dark and foreboding, characters are pushed to their limits and relationships are frayed. It all points to a rather explosive, action-packed finale.It’s a shame then that the finale is anything but that.
Rather than a head-first, all-guns-blazing opener in which the team unite to battle and salvage the long lost Mina, Grand Guignol is two thirds emotional filler. It’s effective in neatly progressing specific sub-plots and as ever, faultless in dialogue and performance, but feels nevertheless a little anti-climactic. Ives rejects Gray, The Creature (Rory Kinnear) leaves the Grand Guignol after harassing starlet Maud Gunneson (Hannah Tointon) and Frankenstein begins the creation of his bride, using the body of Brona Croft (Billie Piper) whose illness unfortunately got the better of her... as well as Frankenstein’s smothering. This is great and all, but what about Mina?
The team eventually unite and enter the Grand Guignol, where Mina has been hiding all of this time. Tension and suspense are cleverly evoked as we peruse the vacant theatre, before a nice dose of action and vampire hunting ensues. It’s over in a flash however and falls a little flat when a possessed Mina emerges, only to be shot by Murray to save Ives. Just like that, the hunt is over and their emotional retribution is finished. But what about The Master who is still at large? And what about the inevitable (yet understated and effective) reveal that Chandler is a werewolf? Will Ives pursue an exorcism and rid her connection with the demimonde? Or will she detest being normal and salvage her uniqueness?
Boasting all its usual merits of great cinematography, top performances and well-written dialogue, this is unfortunately, a slow and anti-climactic finale for Penny Dreadful. The show’s writer, John Logan, has nevertheless done a great job at closing certain doors and leaving others open. There are bigger issues at stake now, each philosophical, physical and emotional, and our connection to the underworld is far from diminished.