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'Penny Dreadful' Wraps a Confusing, Boring, Disappointing First Season

By Dustin Rowles | TV | June 30, 2014 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | June 30, 2014 |

There’s certainly part of me that believes that I’m just dim, and there’s more layers to Penny Dreadful than meets the eye, and I’m just missing them. Typically, I am confident in my abilities to spot subtext, pick out the clues, and very often ascribe profundity where there is none. I’m very good at making mountains out of molehills, but all I can detect in Penny Dreadful are molehills. Tiny, boring, incoherent molehills. Peel back the layers in this show, and I’m afraid all you find is a rotten husk.

The concept, undoubtedly, is interesting: Mix together Dr. Frankenstein (and his monster), Dorian Grey, a werewolf, a Bram Stoker character (and her father), and Eva Green, playing a demon-possessed clairvoyant with some freaky sex tricks. Unfortunately, while the visuals and costumes were gorgeous all season long, the acting was top notch (particularly Eva Green), the increasingly scant action scenes were well executed (Josh Hartnett’s Ethan Chandler was particularly good in them) and Eva Green’s hell-f*cking was fascinating to watch, the substance in Penny Dreadful never materialized. What felt at first like an impenetrable series that would reward viewers with for their patience turned out to a lot of ponderous pretension. The Emperor Eva Green Wears No Clothes.

Last night’s season finale ended almost precisely as anyone who has been watching the series all along might have predicted, save for the Mina Harker subplot. Namely, Dr. Frankenstein decided to use Brona Croft, as expected, as Caliban’s bride (though, the show threw in a last-minute red herring in Maude). And, as everyone has been guessing since the opening episode, a full-moon finally arrived and revealed Ethan Chandler to be a werewolf, although one who is very good with a gun and not so good with the witty retorts. The Dorian Grey subplot, meanwhile, was surprising only for the fact that nothing happened. Beyond the occasional orgy, the series has no idea what to do with that character.

Meanwhile, the main storyline — Sir Malcolm Murray’s search for his daughter in the netherworld — came to an unexpected pseudo-conclusion. After exploiting Vanessa Ives the entire series in order to get to his daughter, Murray abandoned that plan in the end, shot his daughter dead dead, and adopted Ives as his surrogate daughter, supposedly to atone for his ill-treatment of her.


To be fair, I found the events that transpired in the Grand Guignol theater in the end confusing, but that’s mostly because I wanted to read more into the situation than what existed. Malcolm killed what he thought to be the Master, only to discover that the Master was still out there controlling Mina, until Malcolm laid waste to his daughter, the very woman he spent the entire season trying to save.

Basically, instead of giving us resolution, Penny Dreadful simply set up next season for a revenge killing instead of the higher-stakes search and rescue mission. The capper, of course, was weak cliffhanger which wasn’t much of a cliffhanger at all: Vanessa was given an opportunity rid herself of the demon that makes her interesting to the series. Is that the open question that’s supposed to lure us back for season two, because I can already tell you now that she decides against it.

Maybe it’s not that I don’t get Penny Dreadful. Maybe there’s just nothing there to get?

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.