“Closer Than Sisters” was Penny Dreadful‘s strongest episode yet, and with the backstory of The Creature in play, that’s really saying something. The show seems to be getting more into a pattern of “dreadful” episodic tales, or at least, taking the time to break each member of Sir Malcolm’s consortium off to explore their backstory. The biggest question so far has been Vanessa — she doesn’t have a backstory we know from literature (as far as I’m aware), which made “Closer Than Sisters” the most intriguing hour thus far. Hit the jump for why “I love you enough to kill you.”
Penny Dreadful isn’t afraid to mix up its format within the season, as we’ve seen before in the episode largely devoted to The Creature narrating his origin tale to Victor. In “Closer Than Sisters,” the show again took a break from every other character in the present day except for Vanessa, and allowed her to tell her story in the form of a letter (one of many) to Mina (Olivia Llewellyn).
The narrative was linear and straightforward: Vanessa and Mina where childhood friends and neighbors, but after Vanessa saw Sir Malcolm having sex with her mother, she began to feel the pull of darkness that would define the rest of her life. Vanessa’s minor descent became major once she slept with Mina’s finance on the eve of their wedding, which Mina witnessed. That act severed the two families, and Vanessa was sent off to brutal treatments at an asylum, as she was now fully possessed. After her having sex with the devil shocked her mother to death (as it well should), Vanessa was visited again by Mina, now herself possessed and controlled by “The Master,” and begging for Vanessa’s help. That then leads Vanessa back to Sir Malcolm, and after the two put all of their dislike and mistrust of one another out on the table, they form a pact to be a team until Mina is brought back to safety.
The spellbinding “Closer Than Sisters” was, of course, Eva Green‘s time to fully shine, playing Vanessa as an innocent (or was she really ever?) who is tempted by darkness until it completely overtakes her. Like her possession scene in “The Seance,” she chewed every inch of scenery that there was to consume, and then some. But it absolutely worked. Penny Dreadful‘s muse — as we’ve been reminded several times — are the gory penny dreadfuls of pulp fiction past. But the show has taken these stories further, and made them emotional as well creepy, frightening and gothic.
Vanessa’s descent is one that begs a question of all viewers about choice. There are paths of light and darkness that we face every day, which ones do we move towards? The devil, appearing to Vanessa as a seductive Sir Malcolm (the man who first unwittingly introduced her to the darkness within), tells her she could have closed the door, but never did. It was still possible in that moment for her to turn her back, but she didn’t — she slept with him, and sealed her fate.
Her relationship with this force has clearly been an uneasy one, as she still prays and works to save Mina from the clutches of The Master, but she has never truly desired to shut that door. So far, we’ve learned that Sir Malcolm, Victor, and now Vanessa are people who all sought power in different ways, and have been rewarded in their quest with darkness. Sir Malcolm had his children taken from him, Victor is haunted by The Creature (who also killed Proteus), and Vanessa lost everyone close to her. Penny Dreadful isn’t easy on its characters and their desire for the riches of Earth, no matter the cost. As the devil says to Mina, the original sin was about wanting to know more and to have more than was given. The consequences of those desires in Penny Dreadful are harsh.
“Closer Than Sisters” was an episode that has finally fleshed out the backstory that has prompted this missions for Mina. We now know what happened with her, what Vanessa’s betrayal was, as well as Sir Malcolm’s part in it, and their relationship (although not yet how Mina became involved with The Master). All of this serves as the basis for the team Sir Malcolm is assembling with Victor, Ethan and (potentially) Van Helsing. The search for Mina is what has brought everyone together and is that which propels them forward, but Penny Dreadful has done excellent work in showing how many great stories there are to tell along the way.
Episode Rating: A+
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Poor Peter. He never got anything quite right.
— I loved the subversion that Vanessa (who is now so enchanting) was the one overlooked in regards to Mina, and it was her jealousy that lead to that action with Branson and his mustache.
— It’s interesting that Sir Malcolm hasn’t brought Jonathan Harker into any of this. Surely he would want to help?
— How frightening was the asylum? Asylums are the refuge of B-movies and others seeking easy frights, but like with everything it has done, Penny Dreadful found new ways to make it extra horrible. The screw going into Vanessa’s skull …
— If Bates Motel and Penny Dreadful have taught us anything, it’s that avid taxidermists are not to be messed with.
— “I love you enough to kill you” – Vanessa to Mina.