BWW Spoiler Alert!: PENNY DREADFUL Elegantly Concludes a Bloody First Season
Welcome to BWW Spoiler Alert! In this new column, I am going to share five questions and takeaways from the most buzzworthy television episodes of the week (i.e. whatever shows I watch). By definition, these columns will contain SPOILERS if you have yet to see the episode in question, so don't say that I didn't warn you!
For a long time, I got used to doing other things while watching my favorite TV shows; checking social media, keeping an eye on whatever game was on, or multi-tasking by doing a little bit of work. However, as I have become engrossed in shows like HOMELAND, AMERICAN HORROR STORY, HOUSE OF CARDS, THE AMERICANS, ORPHAN BLACK, Fargo (and many others), it has been more important for me to give each new plot twist and revelation my undivided attention. Whether that was a product of the rise of more thoughtful, better-scripted television, or my loss of brainpower as I get older, I'm not sure, but it became clear to me that to watch certain shows, I needed to unplug. Being the hyper-connected Millennial that I am, it was difficult to do, but, not surprisingly, I found that when I did finally start closing my laptop and putting my phone aside, I both enjoyed, and understood, my favorite shows far better.
Such was the case when watching Showtime's PENNY DREADFUL; about halfway through the eight-episode first season, I realized that I was missing a great deal of the show's details while I was checking Twitter or watching a Reds game. While I was always able to follow the tent-pole plot points, I was missing the subtler clues as to the show's growing mysteries. To be honest, there was a point when the show completely confused me. I wasn't sure what was going on with Vanessa's other-worldly connections, I wasn't sure where Brona and Ethan's doomed love affair was going, and I wasn't sure what was going on with Sembene's face. While putting away the distractions did not allow me to understand everything that was happening on PENNY DREADFUL, it is an expertly written mystery after all, it did allow me to focus on what was important to understand, and what was superfluous. When I finally reevaluated the aspects of the show that I had missed, I realized that this was far more than a Victorian AMERICAN HORROR STORY, and was as much a comment on the darkness of the human spirit as all of the novels which supply the show its characters.
PENNY DREADFUL's creator and sole-writer, Tony and Golden Globe-winner (and three-time Oscar nominee) John Logan, has created a very layered and interesting world filled with reimagined literary and horror figures. The story was as darkly Romantic (big R, not little r) as all of its source materials; weaving together Gothic tales into a commentary on the baseness, and self-destruction, of humanity.
Due to the grandness of PENNY DREADFUL's scale, going into the finale, the show's pacing and habit of ignoring characters and storylines for weeks at a time left me wondering what would actually be revealed in the finale. There were so many different players in Logan's mythology that it felt like he threw so much into Season 1 that could have (should have?) been saved for subsequent seasons.
However, the storylines were far more elegantly resolved than they were constructed. Though many of the resolutions were easily foreseen, they nevertheless thrilled upon completion. Below is a short list of reactions, observations, and questions related to tonight's Season 1 Finale of PENNY DREADFUL. If you plan on watching it, and do not want to know any of the episode's details, stop reading now:
- If you would have told me that Dr. Frankenstein's original monster would become the season's most sympathetic creature when he came bursting through the sternum of sweet, newly reborn Proteus, I would have thought you were crazy. While he often walked on the tortured side of good and evil, in the end, we felt his loneliness; we felt his abandonment, his need for companionship. How heartbreaking was it when Caliban told his creator, "I would rather be the corpse I was, than the man I am,"?
- I was really surprised that we didn't get more of a conclusion with Dorian Gray. I fully expected that after his rejection by Ms. Ives, we would see him back in front of his portrait, and the camera would circle around, finally exposing Dorian's true visage.
- I still don't think that they ever adequately explained why every evil spirit (the Devil, the Master, Amunet, whomever) wants to make Vanessa his mistress, or did I miss that reveal while I was previously distracted?
- I think it is safe to assume that the group's moral compass, Ethan Chandler, in the form of a werewolf, is responsible for the brutal murders that opened the season. This was one of the no-brainers I mentioned coming into the finale; from his ability to commune with the Master's wolves in the zoo, and his uncomfortableness at the werewolf in the play he saw with Brona, this one was telegraphed, the clues were all there, but I will admit, I missed them the first time through because I was too busy on Twitter. Despite seeing it coming, it was still satisfying to see Ethan transform and quickly dispatch of Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench... wait...
- When Sir Malcolm tells his daughter Mina that, "I already have a daughter," was he speaking metaphorically or literally? We do know that he had an affair with Vanessa's mother... It is also interesting to me that Vanessa is essentially this story's version of the literary Mina.
- I'm really glad that they didn't give Billie Piper a black and white beehive in her final scene.
- When Vanessa entered the church at the end of the episode to ask the priest to perform an exorcism on her, did she not look like a Victorian Tim Burton character? Then, the long pause to close out the episode was masterfully played by Green. However, the abrupt cut-off felt anticlimactic. It seems obvious that when the show returns, her answer to the question of whether or not she truly wants to become normal will be handled in-depth, but how much more satisfying would it have been if right before the screen turned to black, an ever-so-slight wry smile began to form on Vanessa's lips?
What did you think of the first season of Penny Dreadful? Were you satisfied with the finale? Where do tonight's revelations leave the group heading into next year's Season 2? You can let me know what you think in the comments below, or on Twitter (you already know I'm a bit obsessed) @BWWMatt.