PENNY DREADFUL Recap: “Closer Than Sisters”

     June 8, 2014


“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-eva-green-posterPenny 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.

penny-dreadful-closer-than-sisters-eva-green-olivia-llewellynHer 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?

penny-dreadful-closer-than-sisters-eva-green– Such great imagery in regards to the “mirror behind the eye.”

– 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.

  • Redjester

    Best episode of the season, bar none.

  • Rjd12345

    It was probably the best episode, but the pilot was probably my favorite. Such an incredible show.

  • Sam

    Such an incredibly enchanting and riveting episode.
    The direction,acting and cinematography deserved the Big Screen.

  • Dan

    Another boring ep. Nothing of import happened and everything with Vanessa was passive. No stakes, no rhyme or reason for anything, just a series of sequences where odd things happened with no connective tissue between them. van sees her mother and Malcolm in huge maze, YAWN. She then screws Mina’s husband on hath enigma before wedding, cliche with no motivation or realism whatsoever. Thing is this show just happen because the scripts say they do. There is no organic storytelling at all.

    • Science Advisor

      You missed that they just wasted an entire 12.5% of the season on backstory for only *one* of the major plot lines. If they show the same dedication to the other storylines, then the rest of the season would be a write-off. This episode could have been handled in ten minutes of flashbacks, inter-spaced with a regular show. This just indicates the lack of creativity which has plagued PD since the end of the first episode. There has been little major plot development, relying on the introduction of new characters to keep the story moving at all, and even then that has stalled more often than not (e.g. Van Helsing was just name dropping).

      Not unlike Resurrection, we see another short-run eight-episode season where the pace is set so painfully slow that one has to wonder what the producers are thinking. Penny Dreadful may be another Showtime auto-renewal (anything picked up for a first season gets a second regardless of how bad their numbers are), but at the current viewership, if the pace continue to meander like this, the second season budget will be slashed so painfully it will never see a third season. Production values are nice but entertainment value is everything, and this just does not have it (so far). Here’s hoping the last three episode rectify that.

      • Ian McDowell

        “This episode could have been handled in ten minutes of flashbacks, inter-spaced with a regular show.”

        Thank goodness they weren’t. I’d sacrifice every single one of my neighbor’s annoying gap-toothed children (and their yappy little dogs, too) on an altar to the Dark Gods to have an episode of TV this delightfully and decadently High Gothic (as opposed to, gag, Goth) every week. This show has been amazingly successful at the channeling the spirit of both the great 60s icons of Euro Horror (particularly Mario Bava) and of Hammer Studios, and Eva Green has become something I thought we’d never see, a genuine successor to Barbara Steele.

      • Michael

        so you troll PD everywhere. and you know nothing about what you talk. Showtime has already said its one of their best recieved shows. And budget slashed are you on drugs. They just gave it 2 more episodes then its first season. If they would cut the budget they would not have given it 10 episodes. think before you write stupidity

    • Ian McDowell

      I come to the conclusion that anyone who posts “YAWN” (the all caps are particularly redolent of double douchery) as though it were an incisive criticism of anything, even things I absolutely hate, is a lazy hipster who needs to be punched once in the face and twice in the taint.

      • Michael

        science advisor is a PD hater find his or hers posts on tvbythenumbers in his post history..

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  • ModernGrace

    Well, I wasn’t expecting that sex scene or her mom dropping dead. I found it interesting that they took Vanessa to a doctor and put her in an asylum instead of calling any type of priest, considering they were a Catholic family. They were clueless.

  • AptGun

    Now that’s some progress… Going to be honest, up till last week’s episode, the show’s been quite slow for me, a little let down, despite some really interesting moments & the great production value. But then came Closer Than Sisters. For me, this was the best episode so far, It’s all that I’m expecting from the show at the first place; cinematic, gothic, significant, solid narrative, enlivened by dark characters, played by talented actors. And I’m glad they did this, sort of, spinoff episode, it’s like reading a comic book series. It recharged me, really puts me back on the excitement for the show.

    Thing is, I like my TV show moving fast and intense, and with substance, and I guess the problem w/ PD is, there’s not enough stakes. Even when there is, it feels uneven (or I don’t care enough… ). IDK, or am I missing something? But, whichever, wish things only get tighter, more threatening in each of the episodes to come!

  • CJ

    PENNY DREADFUL not really the kind of show that wins awards, but after this episode I think Eva Green should definitely be up for something.

    She’s magnetic in this show.