TV Review – Penny Dreadful Episode Five “Closer Than Sisters”
“Your father loves you very much and would do anything to save you. But I love you in a different way. I love you enough to kill you.”
All of the Penny Dreadful episodes have left out an important back story . . . until now. “Closer Than Sisters” delves into the story of Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), who she is and how she arrived at episode one, “Night Work.” The episode is narrated by Vanessa as she writes a letter to Mina. There has been something about Vanessa from the start, she has visions, may be visited or watched over by something devilish, and she is just tad bit odd.
We learn that Vanessa grew up in the house next to Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) and his family, including his daughter Mina and son Peter. Mina and Vanessa were best friends, like sisters. Sir Malcolm was frequently gone on explorations to Africa, but the children kept themselves busy learning about animals and taxidermy. Vanessa’s eccentricities started when she caught her mother having an affair with Sir Malcolm in a hedge maze. While most children would have shied away from such a sight or even run away, Vanessa was intrigued and it sparked something in her. From then on, she felt like something was watching her. It altered her behavior, making her naughty and sinful.
Flash-forward a few years and Vanessa and Mina (Olivia Llewellyn) are young women. Mina is engaged to Captain Branson (Joseph Millson) and is on the cusp of starting her new life. Something stirs in Vanessa the night before their wedding. She violates her friendship with Mina and sleeps with Branson, continuing to do so even when Mina finds them. This begins the downward spiral of Vanessa Ives and a sickness takes hold of her.
Vanessa’s parents (Anna Chancellor, Frank McCusker) take her to an asylum in London, where many outdated treatments are forced upon her including drilling a hole into her skull and brain (trepanation). Vanessa becomes despondent and unresponsive following this treatment. She recovers at home. One of the only people to ever visit her is Peter (Graham Butler) before he disembarks on his trip to Africa to follow in his father’s footsteps. Only before he leaves, Vanessa tells him that he will die there, and we know that this comes true from “Séance.”
Something visits Vanessa as she lies in her bed. In the form of Sir Malcolm, in what can only be described as a powerful demon or Lucifer himself, he prods Vanessa, and she willingly accepts his invitation. Did she give her soul to him? Or did she only take on a power bestowed to her? Regardless, her sexual appetite gives into him as well, causing her mother to die at the sight of her having relations with an invisible force.
Vanessa gets better, but it is her first vision of Mina that causes her to find Sir Malcolm in London to explain what she has seen and endeavor to find her. We are coming closer to Dracula entering the story.
After watching “Closer Than Sisters,” scenes in “Night Work” and “Séance” will make more sense and watching them again may reveal more than what was noticed on the first viewing. “Closer Than Sisters” feels like a one hour film, expertly done. The episodes so far have been dark and bleak. This one is filled with light, gardens, beautiful homes and sets along with an array of different bright and playful costumes. It is only towards the end that we once again delve into the darkness. Both Vanessa and Sir Malcolm are dressed in black once again at the ending. The whole episode is about Vanessa and Eva Green is the star. She is able to go from a cheerful, carefree teenager to one filled with darkness and despair. Her stark features and dark hair carry the role of Vanessa well. If anything, Penny Dreadful is not a series marked with clichés or typical episode framing. The unconventional jumping around in the timeline makes each episode unexpected.