Well, I guess that was a thing.
Actually, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels Season 1 Episode 10 was a whole lot of things, and that's pretty much been the problem with the show from the beginning.
Like the original Penny Dreadful series, this "spiritual descendent" tried to build a world with multiple narratives.
Unfortunately, where the original series utilized characters and plot points deeply ingrained in the audience's psyche through literature and popular culture, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels made a mostly unsuccessful attempt to launch all-new archetypes.
The finale is a perfect example of the motley storytelling endemic of the season.
To illustrate, let's play a game of "What If..."
WHAT IF ... this season was supposed to be a detective mystery focussed on the strange, ritual-like murder of the Hazlett Family?
Then it was a terrible season and badly written to boot.
After spending half the season occasionally investigating the case, Tiago and Lewis nab Diego for the murder of Reilly and then convince him to take the rap for the Hazletts, as well on Penny Dreadful: City of Angels Season 1 Episode 6.
After that, the identity of the real murderer doesn't appear to matter to anyone so that by the time Miss Adelaide (the MOST obvious suspect from the very beginning) confesses it all to Molly here, we don't even care.
If you ask me, that woman's capable of pretty much anything under the sun and the big, black midnight.Lewis
There is no justice for the Hazletts. The truth is never revealed to anyone involved with the case.
There are no direct consequences for Adelaide (although you could argue her confession triggered Molly's suicide), and her life continues on despite her monstrous actions.
Now, WHAT IF... this was the story of a man trying to escape his past?
Dr. Peter Craft is the most sympathetic Brownshirt I've ever seen portrayed. His backstory as the son of the Krupp munitions dynasty who runs away to raise a family in peace and love is touching.
You don't hate them. You don't hate anybody. You let hatred into your heart, hate is like a hungry rat. It devours everything else until there is no love for anything or anyone. And then... and then you are lost.Peter
However, we've also seen him seduced by Elsa, which leads him to assist in the disposal of a body and have his wife committed to a sanitarium so that Elsa and Frank can move in.
In the wake of Tom's injury during the riots, Elsa lays on her Nazi offensive (and boy, is it EVER), pushing Peter to embrace the ideologies of the Fatherland and lead the German-American Bund in the race war.
Our last look at Peter this season is to see him alone and crying as he practices giving the Nazi salute, having donned an Iron Cross medallion assumably saved from his youth in Germany.
Peter's self-doubt is exploited by Elsa, who will obviously puppet the leader of the German-American Bund into an Aryan figurehead (given another season).
So our good German is lost, broken, and being dragged back into the Nazi-ism he thought he'd escaped.
Once again, a badly-executed narrative with nothing to commend it (beyond an amazing performance by Rory Kinnear).
And he doesn't even get to meet up with the Third Reich's visiting representative. Now, there's a missed opportunity.
On with the game.
WHAT IF... this was the hero's journey of a grizzled old Jewish detective looking to stop evil-doers from gaining a foothold in his city?
As readers of my reviews know, I've been hoping to see Lewis get to take out a Nazi or two.
Lewis loses so much in this war with Goss. His friends are murdered. His car is destroyed.
Lewis: My fucking car.
Tiago: You'll get you another car.
Lewis: Ahhh, this is a V12! You know how much hustling I had to do to get a V12? Damn tragedy, is what this is!
His family is endangered. He makes a deal with a mobster (who, it should be noted, is an absolute DELIGHT).
He kills Brian Koenig.
And was that really necessary? Probably.
Brian was completely fixated on the science of destruction without regard for the real-world applications beyond an aesthetic appreciation for the potential extinction event he would enable.
But having Lewis make that call was to kill a part of a man who had never fired his service weapon until Penny Dreadful: City of Angels Season 1 Episode 1.
Benny: A broken-down cop, a couple of years away from retirement, is going to take down the Third Reich?
Lewis: Fuckin' right, I am!
So, although he is able to hamstring Goss's plans for the time-being, Lewis loses something of himself in the process.
Now, WHAT IF... this was supposed to be a family saga? The story of the Vega clan, torn apart by politics, religion, corruption, and class?
For me, the primary tension has been whether Maria's children can be saved and the family can be made whole again.
My family may be at the center of this chess game of yours but we are not pawns. We are kings and queens and the blood of the Aztecs runs through us. The soldiers of the Revolution walk beside us. And as long as I draw breath from my lungs, I will claw through mud. I will climb hills. And I will fight you to the end of days.Maria
Josefina has been traumatized.
Mateo is a murderer.
Tiago hasn't been able to uphold his own standards of policing (although he's still pristine compared to his fellow officers).
Raul is missing purpose.
And while the reconciling events at the Crimson Cat on Penny Dreadful: City of Angels Season 1 Episode 9 was heartwarming, I'm at a loss as to how they came together so easily a week after murder and martial law for Dios de los Muertos.
Tiago: Dia de los Muertos. Day of the Dead. That's what we call it. We all go to the cemetery and toast the relatives. My father, my brother Tomas, my sister Gina, who both died before Mateo was born. We light candles, and drink, and tell stories.
Molly: In an actual cemetery?
Tiago: But it's not sad. It's more like a celebration. We reach out to the dead and tell them we love them. And maybe they reach out to us.
Could the whole of the season been a prologue, setting up the Vega siblings as representing quadrants of society?
This would cast Josefina as the "priest", finding comfort and inspiration in her faith; Mateo as the "rogue", leading the Pachucos; Tiago as the "soldier"; and Raul as the "spiritualist" since Maria said that he was the only child who believed in Santa Muerte.
This theory works on a few fronts, including the disparate narratives that often pulled focus in multiple directions.
The last WHAT IF might be WHAT IF this was supposed to be a supernatural conflict?
But there isn't a WHAT IF because this was SUPPOSED to be a supernatural conflict. It's the legacy that Penny Dreadful left us. It's a battle between good and evil, destiny and choice, ingenuity, and sheer determination.
This series was sold to us as a battle between Santa Muerte and Magda, powerful and estranged sisters, one who safeguards the souls of the dead and the other who seeks the self-destruction of humanity.
Their backstory is one of rejection and bitterness.
Magda: Why do you torment this family? I know how they feel. I know what it is to be loved by you and to be rejected. Do you remember how it was when you turned from me? Do you remember that agony?
Santa Muerte: I made my choice. And I have suffered for it.
Magda: But do you remember?
But Santa Muerte was largely absent for most of the season. And when she was present, she repeatedly indicated that she had no vested interest in the living or in protecting them from her manipulative sister.
Add to that mix the wholly mortal, yet holy as heaven, Sister Molly, who was almost as good as Magda at disguising herself.
Molly Finnister should have been a sympathetic character, but her web of half-truths and mercurial confidence made her motivations suspect.
When Santa Muerte greets her as "sister" and embraces her in the baptismal pool, for just a moment, I thought something interesting was being revealed.
Look at me. You can see the cracks, can't you? I can feel them all the time. I'm trying to hold myself together but I simply can't endure being Molly and Sister Molly anymore. They hate each other now.Molly
Unfortunately, like so much of this series, the most interesting possibilities don't pan out.
Molly dies, desperately alone, driven to the extreme solution by her mother's fanatical fervor to keep her forever in the Temple spotlight, leaving Tiago with another loved one to toast in the cemetery.
So what was Season 1 of Penny Dreadful: City of Angels really?
I can't know for sure. Actually, I suspect there were post-production choices made that delivered a different final product than what was planned. Those same choices confused the overall theme, muddled character motivations, and holes in plot and continuity.
However, the clear intent of ten hours of beautifully-shot scenery and set, strong acting, and some remarkable music and choreography, is to draw a parallel between the rise of fascism and white supremacy in America and the state of the world today.
Beck: Why do you support someone so utterly devoid of worth?
Alex: I think he has potential.
Beck: Do you now? Gonna make him mayor, are you?
Alex: Gonna make him President.
Beck: You're going to make a racist demigogue without a single scruple the President of the United States?
Alex: That's exactly what I'm going to do.
It's not an elegant comparison. It's not a pretty one, either. It's an ugly truth, a harsh judgment, an uncomfortable honesty.
And it's an important point to make because hate is still driving violence, people are still being victimized, Magda is still winning today.
I just wish that it had made for better television.
So, when you watch Penny Dreadful: City of Angels online consider the potential that was there -- the goodwill built into the Penny Dreadful legacy, the incredible cast and production crew they had assembled -- and pour one out with me for what could've been.
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.