Already seen the Season 2 finale? Read on at the bottom for additional, spoiler-filled comments.
“There’s no walking away from what I am,” says Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) in the finale of Penny Dreadful Season 2. It’s exactly the kind of line that John Logan’s series lives off: extravagantly on-the-nose, but delivered with such conviction by the performers that they slot in perfectly between the preposterous Gothic stylings.
Hartnett’s secret came out in the moonlit open last week, when he tore Sembene’s face off – a moment so upsetting that it overshadowed the actor’s frankly rather terrible werewolf make-up. (A moment’s silence, please, for Sembene: top servant, gruff monologuer and best slave-owner-turned-torte-maker in the business.) But if that gets you feeling down, it only sets the tone for what’s to come: this whole hour is a wonderful downer. If season finales are where you usually come for a happy ending, Logan here restates his show’s ability to provide the saddest resolutions possible.
Penny Dreadful’s second run began by throwing our team into each other’s paths once more, faced with Miss Poole’s coven of witches and new, unanswered questions, but they end it further apart than ever. Sir Malcolm, as we know, has already been planning to journey to Africa, although he’s been sidetracked by the mind games of Evelyn Poole. Vanessa, meanwhile, seemed destined for Mr. Chandler’s arms, only for his lupine ways to come between them. Instead, her fate is, inevitably, a showdown with Miss Poole – and, more specifically, the fetish doll that confronted her at the end of Episode 9.
An entire climax hinged upon, essentially, a shouting match between Eva Green and a puppet? It’s yet another example of how much Penny Dreadful’s cast and script conspire to make the daftest things not just convincing, but entertaining to boot. After hearing Green spout Verbis Diablo once again, you’ll wonder why all TV shows don’t do it. In the opposite corner, Helen McCrory continues to prove Eva’s worthy adversary, while Logan is careful not to present us with a CGI Devil or similar critter: the beast is, as it has always been, a figment of her personality, an internal force as much as an external tempter.
It’s fitting, then, that the most difficult challenge for Vanessa is the prospect of a peaceful life with Ethan: the fact that we get to see a glimpse of what a happy relationship between them could be like gives us something to swoon over, but also makes the ultimate conclusion to the plot all the more moving. Equally impressive is that this strong, internalised conflict doesn’t prevent the show from glorying in the claws and teeth of Mr. Wolfman, who has more than enough gnashing and slashing to please fans. (Season 2 has re-emphasised the series’ knack for striking visuals and gory horror with the kind of aplomb that only Hannibal can rival.)
There is violence, too, for Mr. Clare, as his imprisonment comes to a predictable – but surprising – end. The freak show, it turns out, isn’t to be held by the Putney family (when you hear them explain their business model to Mr. Clare, you realise how poorly thought out it is) but by Frankestein’s other baby: Lily. Now firmly in the arms of Dorian, they make a formidable couple: we see them waltzing through his ballroom with all the superior air of those humans who looked down upon Angelique in Grey’s earlier ball. In a world full of blacks, purples and greys – although their are some fiery reds – they are bedecked in white and surrounded by candles: the future, for them, is unabashedly bright.
Dorian’s plot line has been the weakest in Season 2 – you wonder why Logan didn’t just hold him back until the final half – but he has, at last, become wholly relevant again. Now, it’s impossible not to see him and Lily as the central enemy in Season 3 – and to be thrilled by the prospect.
But what of Frankenstein? After being tormented by the guilt of his visions between last week’s episode and this, Victor is far from the glow of Dorian and Lily’s success – which they now plan to devour. And so, he finds himself in a darkened room facing an internal struggle as well. It’s the same problem that has dogged this whole ensemble since the first episode: the question of accepting themselves. (“You are the most human man I’ve ever met,” Vanessa tells Mr. Clare in their last underground encounter; a moment that elegantly brings their chance meetings, also in shade, full circle.) While the monsters must come to terms with their darker – and lighter – sides, the humans (Sir Malcolm and Victor) must make peace with the consequences of their actions. The more we see of Victor’s creations, therefore, the more his drug problem seems to make sense: he depends on other things to define his existence, something that Harry Treadaway’s empty eyes do so well to convey.
Hartnett, meanwhile, continues to bring a maturity and menace to the hulking Chandler – sorry, Talbot. (Expect some US-based exploration of that to form the other spine of Season 3.) “There’s no walking away from what I am,” says Ethan, as he prepares to shoulder the responsibility for his killings. Even as we watch each of our characters literally walk in different directions, it is clear that they take who they are with them as a punishment; an albatross around their necks. For Vanessa, the price is her faith. For Ethan, it is his freedom. For John, it is companionship. All of them, though, remain one thing most of all: lonely. As Miss Ives turns the gas lamps off in Sir Malcolm’s home, one by one, there is a sense of quiet tragedy and finality to the closing of her bedroom door. But after expanding the show’s horizons so successfully, this bittersweet break-up only leaves you hungry to find out how, in 12 months from now, Penny Dreadful will get the band back together. The show may be over, but we’re not walking away that easily.
Season 1 to 3 of Penny Dreadful are available on Sky On Demand. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £6.99 Sky Entertainment Month Pass subscription – with a 14-day free trial. Season 1 and 2 are also available on DVD, Blu-ray and pay-per-view VOD.
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Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– BOSH! If you didn’t shout something to that effect when Ethan barged into the room where the Puppet-Off was happening and slashed Miss Poole’s neck wide open, we can’t be friends.
– “Church. God. Ministers of grace. You have left them behind.” Helen McCrory’s taunts directed at Vanessa may not have wooed her to the dark side, so to speak, but they stick with her: the shot of her burning her crucifix in the fireplace, right at the end of the episode, is a huge moment for her character. What does she have now, if not her belief in the triumph of good over evil?
– While Vanessa was shouting at a puppet version of her – and causing the entire thing to crumble into freaky scorpions (What was with that one dissolving into her hand? Theories below please…) – Hecate’s rebellion against her mum was far less explicit: she opened the door to let Ethan into the chamber. Later, her torching of the mansion is an enjoyably defiant act – but the collecting of her box of nasty tricks and waltzing into the darkness suggests that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of her. What role will she play in Season 3? Our money’s on Ethan…
– … because despite handing himself into the authorities in the hope of death, our Scotland Yard detective has sentenced him to extradition back to his home, where the mystery of the Talbot family will no doubt be revealed. Hecate, however, has already emphasised his importance as the Hound of God. And old Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale needed more screen-time in this episode – then again, he needs more screen-time in everything) has also placed great weight on the fact that the Hound, the Devil and Vanessa will circle each other eternally.
– Sir Malcolm running off to Africa is a natural step for the hunter, who, let’s face it, has little left to be explored. Once you start to giggle at the sight of his ghostly family members haunting him, you know that the emotional depth to his story line has largely run its course. That said, we can’t quite bear to imagine the show without Timothy Dalton’s facial hair and hat. Can you think of a story for him to follow next time around?
– Mr. Clare, on the other hand, is departing somewhere completely different – a place that’s “icy and far away”. Frankenstein passing away, perhaps of an overdose, feels like another natural stopping point for the character. (“Let him live with what he has created. A master race,” declares Lily, in a way that feels as final as it gets.) But it’s hard to see her continuing her crusade to rule the world without her beloved monster counterpart. Will she intercept Mr. Clare’s journey and bring him on board with Dorian and her’s army of bogeymen (and bogeymen)?
– “Superiority. Cruelty. Ascendancy. Conquest,” they chant at Victor. That could be the bad guys’ motto. They could put it on badges and sew it into their clothing. Like the X-Men. But, you know, undead. And evil.
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