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“Penny Dreadful” Season Finale Recap: Questions Are Answered in the “Grand Guignol”

All the mysteries of Penny Dreadful’s phenomenal first season begin to unravel in its finale episode, “Grand Guignol”. Questions are answered, and a few more are asked – most of them being of the “what happens now” variety.

Where in the world is Mina Murray?

Question number one in Malcolm’s mind after last week’s cliffhanger is “Where is Mina?” Because of a dream of hers where she heard Mina chanting “there cannot be a happy end, for claw will slash and tooth will rend”, Vanessa believes the vampire nest has moved to the theater where Caliban works. After everything that’s happened and, perhaps with Sembene’s earlier words in mind, Malcolm swears that if he can save his daughter, he will, but if not he will end her suffering. Malcolm and Vanessa plan to round up the others and attack that night.

Malcolm buys a shiny new gun

He also runs into a lady friend – Madame Kali, from the seance – and flirts outrageously with her in a long scene that feels strange and out of place in an episode that’s meant to be wrapping things up. Mystery fodder for the second season, I suppose. Especially since we got a zoomed in shot of Madame Kali looking mighty conniving once Malcolm walked away.

Dorian experiences something new; doesn’t like it much

Hearing that Vanessa has recovered, Dorian skips over to the house all bright-eyed and smiley to see her. Apparently during the weeks that Vanessa was “ill,” Dorian tried to come visit then went traveling, but he never fell out of infatuation with her. His eagerness to get in good with Vanessa again is amusing, as is his confusion when she doesn’t seem to want anything to do with him.

Dorian tries again later, inviting Vanessa to that greenhouse where they had innuendo-laced conversations about flowers, and Vanessa shuts him down hard. She kindly takes the time to explain what Dorian is feeling right now, since he’s presumably never felt it before in his long, long life: rejection.

Brona’s getting worse

Yeah there’s not much more to say about this bit. Poor Brona is at death’s door. Ethan is already overcome with grief and tries to make her as comfortable as possible. He ends up calling on Victor to help Brona pass on.

Caliban’s just fucking up everything

First he fucks up the staging during a play rehearsal, earning the ire of the lead actor (this bit actually isn’t his fault but I don’t mind letting my dislike bleed into everything Caliban does). Then the lead actor’s girlfriend, the pretty actress with whom Caliban is obsessed (I finally catch her name! It’s Maude) goes to comfort him in his little mini-loft, saying she knows her boyfriend can be awful, but he makes her happy, in his way. Caliban says he believes happiness is for others, not him. Maude tells him not to hide his face from her, and gives him a friendly kiss on his head.

Caliban then fucks up again by going to her room, after painting makeup on his face to look more alive, and trying to kiss her. Frightened, Maude rebuffs his advances, leading to Caliban slamming her violently against the wall. Caliban is fired from his job (his ex-boss throws out an awful comment about stage actress dramatics and “given half the chance I’d sack her and keep you,” like Caliban didn’t just assault the woman in her fucking room). With nowhere else to turn, he goes to Victor.

Victor makes yet another terrible life choice

At first he was going to make the wonderful life choice of ending Caliban’s life before he hurts himself/others, but then he listens to Caliban’s mopey monologue about being alone and loveless and takes pity. (And okay, it was a pretty enrapturing monologue, but I’m still P.O.’d about his boss’ “poor little Caliban, how dare that prissy actress be scared of you throwing her up against a wall and choking her” routine to really feel it). Victor puts the gun down and tells Caliban he can stay with him for now.

He then does one better – or worse, depending on how you look at it – by suffocating Brona to death and using her body to make a bride for Caliban. SERIOUSLY, DUDE. I know you feel guilty for foisting this life onto Caliban but TWO undead monster bodies do not make a right.

Ethan’s past is catching up to him

Ethan, meanwhile, is being stalked all around the city by a pair of Pinkertons employed by Ethan’s father. The men chose the wrong day to bother Ethan, since Brona’s just died – Ethan gladly takes the opportunity to unleash some rage. Their first encounter, Ethan smashes their heads in and runs away. The second encounter isn’t so lucky for the Pinkertons; Ethan bends over a table, hiding his face, before werewolfing out and massacring probably everyone in that bar. CALLED IT. I mean, so did 99.99% of everyone who watched this show, but STILL. I was one of those 99.99%.

The final battle

When the team – consisting of Vanessa, Malcolm, Sembene, Ethan, and Victor… and I have no earthly idea what Victor was doing there – arrives at the theater, it’s obviously an ambush. It takes some doing, but the vampire hunting team is successful in fighting the creatures back. Malcolm kills the vampire sire/nest leader dude, and the rest of the little vampires are incapacitated as well.

In the aftermath, Mina strolls up from out of nowhere to embrace her old friend, thanking them for saving her. That lasts for a good thirty seconds before she reveals her true face: Mina has been turned, and is now faithfully following the Dark Lord/Amun-Ra or whatever it is he’s calling himself these days. She intends to take Vanessa with her.

Malcolm shoots Mina to get her away from Vanessa. When Mina pleads with him for her life – “I’m your daughter” – Malcolm announces that he already has a daughter and shoots Mina dead.

A little anticlimactic for an epic boss battle, and an abrupt end to a plotline eight episodes in the making, but it’s a fitting one. Later, Malcolm and Vanessa share in their grief over Mina as they embrace in his old expedition room.

In the final moments of the episode, Vanessa approaches a priest in a church and asks him for an exorcism. The priest replies, oddly enough, that being touched by the devil makes one special, even if it is in a bad way. Does Vanessa really want to be normal? The episode cuts to black before we can hear her answer.

Memorable Quotes

Vanessa: Not everyone [has a future.] Some people only have a past.

Vanessa: Mr. Gray. I am not the woman you think I am. And with you, I am not the woman I want to be.

Caliban: I would rather be the corpse I was than the man I am.

Victor: I believe in a place between heaven and hell. Between the living and the dead. A glorious place with everlasting rebirth, perhaps even salvation. Do you believe in such a place? Well, there is a price to pay for such a passage. As there is with all things. I know that you will pay it easily.

Father: If you have been touched by a demon, it’s like being touched by the back hand of God. Makes you sacred, in a way, doesn’t it? Makes you unique. With a kind of glory… the glory of suffering. Now here’s my question: Do you really want to be normal?

Comments + Verdict

  • Last week’s episode was a tough act to follow, but did this seem way too plodding to you? For me it was too much answering of easy questions and not enough of the creepily devil possessed soul that Penny Dreadful usually brings to each episode.
  • Of course, that could be because they weren’t sure they’d get a second season. Which they did! HALLELUJAH.
  • Way too much Caliban – my least favorite narrative – but I did feel a twinge of emotion while he was lamenting about his state of being to Victor. Didn’t stop me from chanting “pull the trigger” at the screen tho.
  • Fans accurately predicted the “twists” of Brona = Frankenstein’s Bride and Ethan = American werewolf in London weeks ahead of time, but Penny Dreadful still manages to make the big reveals satisfying.

Rating B+