I’ve noticed something. Some might call it a causal link between a televised drama’s introductory sequence and the product itself, whilst I’ll settle with ‘something peculiar’ and then probably go further to say what other, smarter people have already said as above. Still, the point remains: in recent televisual experiences we’ve been sort of spoiled for fantastic title sequences (the myriad of varied interpretations of The Wire’s opening, Breaking Bad’s dirty-yet-undeniably-cool musical sting, Game ofThrone’s sweeping epic grandeur , oh and GOOD GOD True Detective’s intro). So here’s what I’ve noticed: I skip Penny Dreadfuls intro almost every time I watch it. If I’m on catch-up I automatically fast-forward till satisfied whilst watching it on the night just results in glazed eyes and my eating too many digestive biscuits to pass the time. Not to say it’s bad by any stretch, but if it can be defeated in my affections by digestive biscuits, then it’s not doing that good of a job now, is it? Now I wonder what that says about the show?
So, covered in crumbs and wishing I could sing in a drawling southern baritone, I face the final episode of Penny Dreadful. The Grand Guignol. My Grand Guignol. I know I’ve been stretched out over this show, trying to see its quality whilst bemoaning its characters, drear and reticence amongst other faculties, but I had hoped that with this final episode we might keep last week’s finally-trained-character-focus whilst getting to the point of all this supernatural nonsense. And in that… er… well, we do and we don’t.
On one, normally-sized, hand the cast seem to have kept their heads from last week; everyone’s interactions with everyone else is spot-on, and for the bulk of this episode I couldn’t do my tried-and-tested eye-roll about anyone. I know how that sounds, but believe me I’m trying to keep any and all critiques for the second half of the review. Trust me. I’ll be positive. At least for a little bit.
Ahem. Anyway, top of my trumps for this episode goes to Rory Kinnear’s Frankenstein’s Monster/Caliban/Whazzizname, with a performance so good that it overcomes his attempt at making himself purrdy (make-up doth not a man make, no matter how much he use-eth) and his creator’s attempts at murder most foul. This is probably the only character arc that achieves anything of a destination, which I guess we owe to Frankenstein, whose reconciliation makes Kinnear’s story of acceptance all the more heart-warming. Not that he has much body warmth, being a corpse and all. Ultimately, though, well done Harry Treadaway and Rory Kinnear: you supplanted my preconception of Frankenstein and his creation and made this last episode surprisingly watch-able.
IF IT WASN’T FOR THE REST! Sorry, sorry, sorry, I tried being positive but I couldn’t keep it up. The big problem with this, and maybe most of the other Penny Dreadful episodes, is that the plots just didn’t really go anywhere. In fact, whilst watching this episode I remembered that at least two minor plot threads throughout the series had just kinda been left behind (that or put so far on the back burner that it’s fallen off of the oven and has been adopted by The Borrowers as some sort of new, temporary domicile). That’s not to say they’ve been forgotten, but they are roped in at what seems last minute and offer little-to-no closure. Probably closer to no closure if I’m being brutal. Which I guess I am. NO CLOSURE!
Okay maybe that’s a bit harsh, but then again Ethan Chandler is a werewolf. A ruddy werewolf. I’m sure I called that at some point, and whilst YES it does explain the dismembered bodies a little bit it also just… well… happens. The same can also be said for Billie Piper’s death-by-consumption, an event that suddenly becomes super-duper terminal when she was fine a few weeks ago. An event that has lead her careening into becoming Mrs Frankenstein’s Monster/Caliban/Whazzizname (another thing I’m sure I also predicted). Hmm. And wasn’t Maude (a.k.a that one lady Frankenstein’s Monster fancies) a total lady-git the last time we saw her? Why is she suddenly less so? To wrap that whole plot point up in a combination package of convenience and haste? The same kind of convenience and haste we see applied to the now very-actually-dead Mina Murray and her chittering, theatre-squatting vampiric brood? It all seems rather rushed, with our dear family of characters awkwardly shuffling around the action-y bits like well-dressed meat mannequins.
Speaking of meat mannequins, Dorian ‘Spiderman’ Gray turns up and has a bit of a sob because Vanessa Ives won’t have sex with him anymore. Never mind the fact doing so could cause the end of the world (or something), think of the raging libido! So far this series the insertion of Dorian Gray hasn’t felt necessary in the slightest (that’s what she said etc etc). Ultimately he’s just a foppish gentleman who likes orgies and portraits. Yes, THIS fop has a magic painting, but it’s so ancillary to everything else that you could have just picked any one of Victorian London’s orgy-going-fine-art-lovers and the effect would be more or less the same.
This review is becoming a bit of a sprawl, isn’t it? Hmm, I’ll try to explain in a suitable, bound-to-somehow-work food-based analogy.
Penny Dreadful has all these characters, ranging from the neatly-subverted to the necessarily-expected, and when all thrown into that casserole known as ‘TV’ they all sit there interacting rather nicely, playing off each other. However, there’s so many complimenting and competing flavours that you can’t do a whole lot with said casserole, this maelstrom of a meal. So in the end you just stare at it until it gains sentient mould and has to be chucked in the bin. Which is a shame. Deep down you wish you had a better chef, someone who could do something with all these constituent meats, herbs, vegetables and spices. But you don’t. All you have now is a programme that leaves a weird taste in your mouth. And you didn’t even try to eat it, because it’s an incorporeal broadcast. How does that even work?
In the end it doesn’t matter what I think. Someone somewhere in sufficient number saw fit to ensure a second season of this gloopy, inconsistent broth made it into our telly-boxes. I’m not the mechanical type, but I doubt the combination of broth in and/or around television is going to yield the grandest result. Unless you’re after the insurance money.
Penny Dreadful: not the best excuse to claim on your insurance, but not the worst either.