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.

Comments (6)

We've migrated from our usual commenting platform and unfortunately were not able to migrate the comments over. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause.

  1. Grandlersays:

    Best review of this awesome finale that I’ve read so far

  2. shaunnsays:

    Good review. My only point is that I don’t think Ethan has much control over when he changes. Obviously, he changes with the full moon, as indicated by the shot of the moon as he is killing everyone in the bar. The question would be what time does he change? I would guess, based on what happened, that he must change when the moon is high in the sky – otherwise, he could have transformed (as you point out) when he was attacked by the vampires. I like Ethan a lot, but I’ve got to say that I have limited sympathy for a guy who knows he is about to become a murderous monster and a) goes to the biggest city in the world to hide and b) waits for his transformation in a bar with other people, knowing that everyone in that bar is as good as dead. Maybe he just figures it makes no difference, the werewolf will kill someone that night no matter what he does, but he still essentially sentenced everyone in that bar to death.
    RE: Vanessa: if she is trying to exorcise Amunet, I doubt it will work. If I understand this correctly, she is actually the incarnation of Amunet – she is the goddess and they have the same soul. I agree with you on Dorian. I’m not sure I agree on Victor. He is acting out of a kind of compassion for his monster and he knew that Brona was dying. He has convinced himself that he is giving both of them a second chance at a better life. It probably won’t work out that way, but I can see the logic.

  3. Nedsays:

    I could be missing something, but it seems to me everyone else has been. When I saw Malcolm carrying on his affair with Vanessa’s mother in “Closer than Sisters,” it seemed very likely to me that a subplot yet to be revealed would be that Vanessa was indeed Malcolm’s actual daughter. In later episodes Malcolm points out their similar character traits on top of the obvious physical similarities. He and Vanessa share much more than a bond of convenient necessity. For Malcolm it is something he must always have known but not actually had physical proof of. (There was no DNA testing in 1890.) When he finally declares to Mina, “I already have a daughter,” I believe he is at last stating what he has known in his heart all along. The dark-haired child with an even darker soul and penchant for destructive behavior of tragic proportions is not only his, but more of a daughter to him than Mina could ever have been. Bring on season 2!

  4. R.animagussays:

    Awesome season finale! I’m so happy that Ethan was finally revealed as a werewolf. Although, I think he more closely resembles Lon Chanley’s Wolf Man from the 1941 movie, unless that was not his full transformation. I think Ethan can only transform when there is a full moon, if so I don’t think he is able to control it. I find it interesting that one of the Americans who were looking for him chose to say “Have patience and enjoy the hunt,” perhaps his father knows of his sons affliction and has been hunting him down for this reason.

    I really
    don’t know about Dorian Gray, unfortunately not much has been done to develop his
    character or at least not like some of the other characters in the
    season. I love the Brona storyline, I wonder how she will react to being brought back to life and if she will conform to being with Caliban. There will most definitely be some drama between Ethan, Victor, Caliban, and FrankenBrona. I’m sure it’s going to be an amazing performance from Billie Piper too. I think that Vanessa will go through with the exorcism but it will go terribly wrong and this will unleash the full power of Amunet, almost like opening the portal for Amunet to finally take over Vanessa. I can also see something crazy happening between her and Dorian again and Amunet will gain full power and try to reunite with Amun-Ra. Ugh, who knows, I can’t wait until season 2!

  5. The Creaturesays:

    Loved the finale (and the whole show), although the ending didn’t have too many surprises. There was some awesome acting by all actors, the most outstanding in my opinion Rory Kinnear, who showed a wonderful vulnerability, and Eva Green. Reeve Carney was a perfect Dorian Gray, I liked his acting in the final episode. However, his story wasn’t satisfyingly resolved – I would have loved at least a peek at the portrait. But I guess they saved that for season two. I hope it won’t be too long!

  6. GiggirlNYsays:

    I found it curious that the priest made a very pointed pronouncement that EVERYONE died in Wales at the exorcism he attended. Was he alluding that he too died there?

All Posts