Penny Dreadful Season Finale Review: “Grand Guignol” (Season 1, Episode 8)


Episode 108

It may seem to some of you as if Showtime’s Penny Dreadful just got underway, and those of you who feel that way wouldn’t be entirely wrong. After only eight episodes, the season finale is now upon us, despite it feeling like showrunner John Logan is only just starting to show us the extent of the gorgeous, Gothic world he has so excelled in creating. “Grand Guignol” is a spectacular finale befitting Penny Dreadful‘s spectacular first season – and it left me both satisfied and beyond excited to leap back into the story when the show returns next year.

As many of you predicted, this finale wraps up the hunt for Mina, Brona’s illness and Caliban’s search for a mate, in addition to some other smaller character arcs. Let’s take a look at how it broke down.

We open as Vanessa and Malcolm discuss their plans to rescue Mina, whom Vanessa now believes to be a prisoner of the vampires within the Grand Guignol theater we saw back towards the start of the series. Malcolm admits that it may be too late to save his daughter, but he vows to either rescue her or put her out of her misery. “Will that bring you peace?” Vanessa asks, fully knowing the answer, and Malcolm calls her on it, snarling, “Don’t be naive – it doesn’t suit you.” They agree to go to the theater that night.

No sooner has Malcolm departed than Dorian Gray arrives, eager to see Vanessa after having been denied access to her throughout her awful possession (though all he knows is that she was ill). Her face is taut as he enters, and he senses the lack of emotion. At a loss for what to say to her, he tells her that he travelled since last he saw her. First, he went to Italy, he begins, ready to beguile her, but she’s not having any of it. And understandably so, seeing as their last night out ended in her being successfully possessed by a demon she’d held at bay since childhood. Dorian’s face falls, and he tries a different tact. “Will you read my future?” He asks, his voice hopeful. “I’m not sure you have one” is her cold reply. The past, then, he asks. “But then you would have no more mystery,” she retorts.

For once, Dorian’s charm is failing him, and he doesn’t take it well, proceeding to ask her out on various dates, recoiling a little with each rejection. Finally, he begs her to meet him that afternoon at the botanical garden they met in during “Demimonde.” Eventually, Vanessa simply dismisses him, leaving the room. The look of utter devastation on his face as he stands, watching her leave, is almost painful to witness.

Meanwhile, Ethan is continuing to show us why he’s the most devilishly handsome Latin scholar in Victorian London, praying fervently by Brona’s bedside. She’s almost gone – no more wise cracks, no more flirtatious smiles. The woman’s a ghost, and he knows it, so once his prayer is finished, he grabs his coat and heads out. That’s when an intriguing new development occurs. Turns out, Ethan’s a hunted man. Two Americans stand watching him, ready to swoop in and capture him. “Have patience, and enjoy the hunt,” one says to the other.

Malcolm is gearing up before the big night. He goes into a gun shop and purchases a gun with an automatic firing mechanism, along with the highest-velocity bullets in the world. When he emerges, Madame Kali (Helen McCrory) is in the shop, looking at firearms. She flirts with him heavily, comments on what a pity it is that he’ll be leaving on another expedition soon and asks after Vanessa (after all, the last time she saw her, Vanessa was possessed by the spirit of an ancient demon). “I don’t see much of her,” he lies before bidding her adieu and saying that he hopes to see her again soon. Malcolm is a bit of a cad (to put it lightly), as we’ve discovered throughout the season, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that he wants to see more of her.

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