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As a horror fan, it was impossible for me not to love Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, the first season of which came to a hairy close on Sunday night. To love it as a television critic is shades more difficult, as this eight-episode season’s pacing was sometimes plodding and scenes were not always in service of the storyline. The finale was a perfect marriage of Penny Dreadful’s peaks and faults, and thankfully the majority of the parts I didn’t enjoy as much will seemingly pay off in a big way for Season 2. So, spoiler alert, here are five ways that Season 2 can improve to become an even better series when it returns next year. Maybe you’ll get your portrait on the wall when we’re done.
Give Sir Malcolm a Better QuestEverything we know about Sir Malcolm Murray is that he wants his daughter Mina back. While he doesn’t come off as a selfish guy, everything he does is to further his own agenda, and he’s made it very clear on many different occasions that everything is worth sparing where getting Mina back is concerned. Anyone with their frontal lobes connected knew that her fate was going to be sided with the vampiric community. And so when she finally appeared near the end of this episode and threatened Vanessa’s life, something that Malcolm should have only the slightest problem with, he goes and kills her with nary a hesitant twitch.
And so…what? Many of Penny Dreadful’s most enjoyable scenes featured the growing bond between Malcolm and Vanessa, so it wasn’t really surprising that he chose to save her in some way. But it kind of makes the “Hunt for Mina” a MacGuffin, as the reunion was rushed and didn’t resonate afterward. Season 2 needs to give him a stickier plotline to adhere to. After all, he no longer needs to exploit Vanessa’s sixth sense communication skills. Or does he? Speaking of those skills…
Let Vanessa Keep Her VisionsI love Eva Green, and find her to be as talented as she is attractive. (She and her fashion sense were by far the best part of 300: Rise of an Empire, for instance.) That said, I don’t know what her character could become in Season 2 that would be more interesting or more involved within a horror-based storyline, other than someone who suffers from being touched by Satan. After seeing her go through death and back with the possessions and whatnot, it was clear that some kind of a change would have to be made.
But it was just cruel and unnecessary to pull the bottom off of the end of the episode as she’s consulting a priest to “cure” her of her demonic habits He’s telling her she’s going to be normal now, and it’s told to her almost as a warning, and to audiences almost as a threat. Now, I don’t really think she’s going to actually leave the darkness behind, but I also don’t want creator and writer John Logan to fake us out with a “She’s cured! No she isn’t!” kind of a midseason twist. I want Vanessa and Malcolm to open up a ghost-hunting detective agency in their garage, where they charge a dime each to find the neighborhood kids’ great-grandparents. Or perhaps something better, but with Vanessa talking to demons, as Penny Dreadful is one of the first possession stories since The Exorcist that I actually liked.
Make Ethan Awesome From the Beginning This TimeIt’s hard not to enjoy a cocky American Josh Hartnett being all emotional with his mustache against a crowd of prim and proper British people. However, his sharpshooting Ethan Chandler has spent far too long coasting monotonously, inexplicably teasing out his own supernatural roots without ever blatantly stating or showing it. Considering the promotional teasers all included werewolf body parts, it felt like a waste to keep Ethan’s lycanthropic side under wraps for the entire season.
Plus, there wasn’t anything signature about it; no wicked transformation or anything. He’s just weak Ethan, getting railed on by his father’s hired men who’ve come to find him, and then he’s Michael Jackson’s Thriller. However it was handled in the finale, they need to ramp that “Ethan doing cool shit” factor up a lot when Season 2 starts. It’s fine to watch him making out with Dorian Grey and crying over the consumption-plagued Brona Craft, but we need to witness his darker side now. Seriously, a werewolf who can shoot a bottle from 50 paces is the perfect lead character. Maybe he’s a distant relative of WolfCop.
Make Victor and Caliban Get AlongDon’t get me wrong, I relish every instance when the otherwise introverted Caliban takes his rage for Victor out on some innocent person. But we don’t need to see another season of Victor being randomly victimized. I was unsure of why Billie Piper’s Brona was being given the short shrift narrative-wise, spending most of her screentime coughing up blood. That's because I honestly hadn’t considered her death factoring into Caliban’s need for a mate. And I love the idea.
I don’t expect that relationship to work out completely, as I can’t see Brona just idly falling in love with a man who shares her state of being revived from the ethers. But I want Victor to attempt to make Caliban happy, so that they can get chummy now that Caliban has lost his job at the theater. Rory Kinnear absolutely nailed that awkward-as-bawls scene with the actress he had a crush on – makeup and orange and all – so I can’t wait to see how he plays the “monster” trying to get someone to fall in love with him. Of all the characters that Penny Dreadful has taken from literature, I’m most interested in Caliban’s tale.
Give Dorian Grey a PurposeFor all intents and purposes, I fully thought I would have enjoyed Dorian Gray the most of all the horror reimaginings. Oscar Wilde’s sole novel hasn’t been tackled ad nauseum like vampires, devils and werewolves, and his ramped-up sexuality certainly didn’t hurt. Yet, Dorian never got the backstory episode like the one that rewarded Vanessa and Malcolm’s characters, and we really have no idea who this guy is or what he’s about. Other than someone who likes decorating his walls with portraits and banging broads while getting his picture taken.
Of course, he’s also invincible to some extent, as we’ve seen him heal after being injured. This, of course, is related to all those pictures on his walls, but I want to know how, and I wonder if that reveal will be enough to keep Dorian meaningful after it the secrets come out. Perhaps he’ll just keep moving along in everyone else’s plot like he’s been doing, only with everyone's knowledge that he’s probably hundreds of years old or something. (There are a LOT of portraits.) However it goes, Reeve Carney has delivered a subtle performance that transcends the bland material he’s given. Somebody make this guy fight a werewolf with a gun.