Let’s be honest: If you were to attempt to describe tonight’s season finale to someone unfamiliar with Penny Dreadful, it would be hard to get through it with a straight face. I’m not sure anyone but Eva Green could have convincingly played a climactic encounter with a Satan-possessed puppet of herself speaking with her own voice, but Green has already proven time and again on this show that she’s up for anything and beyond. It’s a bizarre way for this storyline to play out, but that’s in keeping with what turns out to be an oddly structured finale. The main conflict of the season is wrapped up in the first 20 minutes or so, leaving us with a series of gloomy epilogues that scatters our central characters to the far reaches of the globe.
It’s a good thing word has already come down about the show’s renewal, because the possibility of this being the last we ever see of Vanessa Ives and company would be grim indeed. It starts out well enough (except for poor Sembene, but more on that later), with Vanessa’s aforementioned confrontation with the Vanessa doll possessed by the devil. Old Scratch tries a variation on The Last Temptation Of Christ, showing Vanessa the normal life she could have with Ethan as her husband, two adorable children, and even Mina and Jonathan Harker dropping by for tea. Vanessa, however, has already given up on the possibility of normality, and with some spine-tingling, guttural Eva Green chanting of the Verbis Diablo, Vanessa outduels her doll self, finishing it off by cracking open its face and releasing the scorpions within. The transformed Ethan finishes off Evelyn Poole (already released from her eternal youth), but leaves Vanessa alone.
That frees Sir Malcolm and Frankenstein from their own personal demons, who had almost succeeded in urging them both to suicide. From that point, it’s just a matter of shooting the Nightcomers (Really? All you have to do is shoot them?) and escaping the witches’ castle before Hecate burns it down and makes her own getaway. There’s not much time to celebrate the victory, however. After returning to an empty home, Frankenstein finds Lily in the arms of Dorian Gray in his portrait gallery. Shooting them both does no damage aside from the spreading bloodstains on the back of their clothes, and as has been the case for the past several weeks, Lily’s sharp tongue is the deadliest weapon of all. Frankenstein is allowed to keep his life, but it’s back to the needle and the increasingly difficult search for fresh veins.
Contrary to my speculation last week, John Clare is in no need of rescue. He could have freed himself from his cage at any time, but he waits for the most satisfying moment, after the Putneys have deigned to allow the possibility he might be paid a pittance for his role as King of the Freaks. There will be no freak show, however, as Clare smashes both their heads in, leaving the discovery of their dead bodies as Lavinia’s punishment.
As for Ethan, he can’t even allow himself the possibility of the sort of dream life Vanessa had envisioned earlier, not even for a night. He turns himself into Inspector Rusk and confesses to the Mariner’s Inn murders, but instead of the hanging he expected, he’s extradited back to the United States. As the episode ends, three of our characters are on ships far from London: Sir Malcolm, taking Sembene’s body back to Africa; Ethan, caged and bound for home; and the Creature, in a callback to Mary Shelley’s novel, presumably somewhere near the Arctic Circle.
Because this sophomore season has been so strong, “And They Were Enemies” comes as something of letdown—not so much for the downbeat second half (it’s not like I was expecting a parade and fireworks, after all) but for the hasty way Evelyn Poole and the Nightcomers are dispatched after so much buildup. I appreciate Eva Green ululating as much as the next guy (and I’d watch an entire series about her adventures with an evil talking Eva Green doll), but defeating the dark lord himself shouldn’t be quite that easy. The ending also creates potential problems for next season, depending on how many plot contortions are required to bring everyone back together again. Despite these hiccups, however, the second season has overall been a big step forward for Penny Dreadful, and I’ll be eager to see what John Logan and company have in store next.
- RIP Sembene. I didn’t really think he’d turn out to be dead (and didn’t even mention the possibility last week), but the result of Ethan-Wolf’s attack is indeed fatal. Danny Sapani never got as much to do as the rest of the cast and I always figured there would turn out to be more to his character at some point, but… it sure doesn’t look that way.
- Vanessa and John Clare have one last (?) meeting in the cholera dungeon. She’s really sweet on the big guy, but may not be the best judge of character.
- Dorian Gray and Lily leaving a blood trail on the dance floor was a nice touch. Billie Piper has done wonders with her turn to the dark side and I hope to see a lot more of it.