“Glorious Horrors” feels a lot like last season’s finale, “Grand Guignol”: both episodes are designed around large, Victorian social main stays created to bring all the characters of Penny Dreadful together, if only for a brief moment. It allows for unusual character interactions and a neat intersection for all its stories – and like last season’s finale, “Glorious Horrors” doesn’t quite feel like it takes advantage of the situation. Sure, it’s haunting in moments, and visually captivating throughout, but with such a build-up leading to that dramatic set piece, there’s no denying that “Glorious Horrors” (like “Guignol” before it) could’ve done a little more with the gothic tableaux it created.
As noted, there are certainly engaging sequences throughout the episode; but most of these come before the ball Dorian throws to celebrate his love for Angelique, like the episode’s arresting opening sequence piggybacking on the climatic moment (no pun intended) of last week’s “Above The Vaulted Sky.” And these moments are mostly predicated on the atmospheric elements, or what they suggest may come in future episodes: chief among them, Evelyn activating her Malcolm fetish with a creepy doll, in turn leading to Malcolm reacting oddly to the death of his wife and the presence of his own facial hair. This story takes up a good quarter of the episode, but remains obtuse as to where it’s actually heading; and it certainly doesn’t appear to be getting any simpler, with the agendas of her “daughters” seemingly coming in conflict with Evelyn’s, even as they go unexplained throughout the hour (they do cause some kind of hallucination in Vanessa, as she begins to see blood falling from the sky on the ball attendees before passing out).
All of “Glorious Horrors” is this elusive (and allusive); Dorian’s party offers every story a breather, an opportunity none seem to take. Each scene is so concerned with aligning its characters and stories properly, it fails to take advantage of the dramatic situation it offers itself with the ball, especially as a full moon falls on London, denying us Season 2’s most anticipated conversation: that between the reincarnated Brona (now known as Lily Frankenstein) and Ethan Chandler, each of whom go through their own distinct transformations in this episode. Brona gets to be the life of the party while Sembene watches a chained Ethan go through his monthly transformation, making him the second person to see the Wolfman and live (the other being a Pinkerton employee who is unnecessarily complicating Ethan’s chess game with Inspector Rust, a far more interesting story).
That parallel is nice, but it delays the most satisfying possible outcome of this party, which is otherwise a moment to set up further Diablo-related material; instead, we get Mr. Lyle acting nervously a lot, and the same pleasant, but repetitive shots of crowds dancing while Dorian’s art looms large on the walls behind them. Dorian’s presence in particular feels perfunctory to the whole event, which further undercuts whatever dramatic resolution (or conflict, by the same token) could be offered within the time spent at his party. As someone who skirts on the outside of the show’s story at all times, it always feels odd when Penny Dradful decides to re-integrate Dorian, a belief furthered by the awkward dialogue between him and Vanessa through the episode, which attempted to address their brief romance in the most curiously stilted way possible, again robbing the party itself of having any kind of satisfying arc in its own context.
“Glorious Horrors” isn’t a season finale like “Guignol” was, which gives it the benefit of the doubt moving forward. As many shows often require, “Horrors” is Penny Dreadful beginning to narrow the tunnel of the season as it begins to gain steam towards the finale. Evelyn’s dolls are in place with beating hearts (creepy!), Lyle realizes he’s in over his head, and Ethan’s feeling the pressure from the outside world. These stories, while in contrast with the other, wildly ineffective stories occurring throughout this season (again: what is going on with this Caliban story?) are all reaching their critical point; unfortunately, “Glorious Horrors” acts more as a herder than an executor, and ultimately, feels like much less of a memorable episode than the potential of its premise seemed to offer. Not a bad episode, but not quite the lively, gothic thrill ride we’ve come to expect from Penny Dreadful, either.
[Photo credit: Jonathan Hession/Showtime]