Episode 8: Grand Guignol
SUMMARY: A newly-well Vanessa (Eva Green) becomes convinced that Sir Malcolm's (Timothy Dalton) daughter Mina is somehow connected to the Grand Guignol theater, where Caliban (Rory Kinnear) works as a stagehand.
REVIEW: Fresh from last week's episode, which ended in a bizarre sequence which revealed Ethan (Josh Hartnett) to be some kind of exorcist, PENNY DREADFUL ends its first season with a bang. That said, it's clear right from the opening frames that showrunner John Logan is in no rush to wrap-up too many of the season's big mysteries. Within moments of the opening, new plot threads are being dropped into the show, with the most notable being a pair of American men watching Ethan, suggesting that he's a hunted man. Given how truncated the season has been, with only nine episodes this shouldn't be too much of a surprise. This is like THE WALKING DEAD, in that the first season seems more like a set-up for a much longer haul, and it's certainly going to take a good chunk of season two to tell whether or not this will be a consistent show.
That said, the first season has been rather good. More than anything, it's been an incredible showcase for star Eva Green. Often cast as window dressing due to the fact that she's absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, Green's run the gamut this season, from sex-siren, to mad woman, to ultimately a vulnerable but courageous heroine.
The episode kicks off with Vanessa giving Dorian Gray the cold shoulder. One thing that's worth noting is that he's apparently been to Italy and back. How long was Vanessa sick for? The show made it seem like days, but was it weeks or even longer? Of course, she isn't able to resist Gray for long, although she eventually breaks his heart (or does she?) but telling him that they could never be together. But when Gray cries at the notion that they can never be together, is it genuine? Of everyone, Gray's the hardest to figure out.
Equally hard is Caliban. While inhumanly violent and monstrous, he can't help but break your heart, to the extent that by the time he's dismissed from the Grand Guignol for making a clumsy pass at the young ingenue (to the point that he tries to cover his scars with garish makeup), even Victor feels bad for him. Too bad for Bruona (Billie Piper) that her illness coincides with Victor's new sympathy for the monster. While sympathetic to her plight, to the point that she probably thinks she's being euthanized, she's doomed to a horrible new life as Caliban's bride, which is setting up an interesting conflict for the heartbroken Ethan that will likely become a big part of season two.
Ethan's evolution has mostly been confined to the final episodes of the season, with it now revealed that he's on the run from the Pinkerton's – who want to bring him home. Too bad for them they happen to run into him right after Bruona's death. Hartnett's been pretty bad-ass this season, although I'm still scratching my head after last week's final scene which made him out to be some kind of latent exorcist.
On of the most rewarding aspects of PENNY DREADFUL has been Timothy Dalton's prominence as the ambiguous Sir Malcolm. There's something so cool about the fact that this show is run by the guys behind the new Bonds (SKYFALL and the next one) and that they're paying tribute to one of the great, underrated 007's by given him such a solid role. At the beginning of this episode he even gets a little Q-like scene where he's fashioned with a new automatic pistol. So cool...
Sir Malcolm's motives have been hard to figure out, but in the end he redeems himself somewhat by executing his daughter Mina – who to no one's surprise is now undead and in service of the master (Dracula?) – to save Vanessa from a cruel fate. Clearly Malcolm is no saint, and I fully expect his dark side to be prominent next season, but Dalton nailed it here, and brought the season to a satisfying end.
Well, almost. Like last week, this episode ended with a bizarre revelation from Ethan. Last week, he was an exorcist. Now, he's a werewolf. Huh? This is a weird twist, and hopefully his character will be expanded upon next year, but this final twist was maybe a little much. That said, I'm super game for next season, especially to see how Bruona's new fate as Caliban's bride will play out. This could bring the show to the next level. For now, it's a solid second-tier show, and bloody good fun. But, it may get even better.