November 28, 2023

Penny Dreadful – Closer Than Sisters (S01E05)

Penny Dreadful.Some thoughts going into this episode:

1) Are we going to find out what Ethan is or what?

2) Are they going to address that wild absinthe-fueled scene at the end of the last episode?

3) Why did it take me so long to carve out an hour and sit down for this episode?

Aside from those three pressing questions/issues, I want to say this: I am getting pissed off!

I loved the first few seasons of Lost, but eventually I got tired of it just being one long mystery. Sure, some people dig that, but I start to wonder why one would get invested in these people and storylines if we never get any sort of answers or resolutions.  I do not want that to happen with Penny Dreadful because I am truly enjoying everyone that’s a part of the series – with the exception of Dorian Gray (the actor, Reeve Carney, is fine; just not liking him for this particular role). There is so much “right” and “good” here that even though I’m getting annoyed at the lack of forward momentum, I have decided I will stick it out – even if it has me flicking off my TV and cursing.

“Closer Than Sisters” is almost entirely a flashback episode, and though I do think it answers some questions in regards to the relationship between Vanessa and Mina, the fact that there are only three episodes left had me itching for them to just get on with it and give us something in the form of some forward momentum.

Note: There are potential spoilers throughout this review, so you may want to stop here and return after watching the show.

The episode opens with Vanessa (Eva Green) writing a letter to whom we soon discover is her dearest friend, Mina (Olivia Llewellyn). It’s also interesting to note that Vanessa is a smoker! Tsk tsk… And I’m sorry. I know that they probably rolled their own cigarettes back in rainy old Victorian London, but it looked like a joint to me, and all I could think was “Vanessa’s a pothead!”  Silly, I know, but my frustration has done that to me!

Anyway, we soon cut to a beach, and two precocious young girls – Vanessa and Mina – are walking arm in arm. It’s easy to see that Vanessa is the more adventurous of the two. The love the two girls have for one another is evident, and I found myself wondering what happened to drive them apart. If I had to guess, it might have been Vanessa’s love for taxidermy.  Yes, you read that right. Apparently, young children engaged in this hobby back then.  They had books back then, a beach, an amazing hedge maze, but hey, let’s stuff some birds.  No thank you!  Anyway, both girls seem taken with the hobby, so obviously Vanessa’s preoccupation with naming her creatures wasn’t the issue.

And suddenly, Papa is home!  Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) has returned from his travels, and though the kids are thrilled to see him, his wife, Gladys Murray (Noni Stapleton), is not. It could be that she knows she is out of her league compared to her husband. I don’t know.

“Whoa, Mrs. Murray is not very attractive.” That was my husband’s contribution to that particular scene, and I must say, I have to agree with him.

We also can’t help but feel a little sad for young Peter, Sir Malcolm’s son, as Papa basically ignores Peter upon his return. It’s clear that Peter is not the son Sir Malcolm anticipated.

We cut to a dinner scene and see that Malcolm is very charming and a wonderful storyteller, but it’s the next scene that surprises me. Young Vanessa is moving through the hedges when we hear something – I knew what it was, and my husband knew what it was, but I was still surprised to see Sir Malcolm engaged in adulterous sex with… Vanessa’s mother, Claire Ives (Anna Chancellor)!  And yet it would appear that here is where Vanessa starts to wonder if there is something within her, something dark, as she says she didn’t run away shocked, but rather enjoyed the illicit scene. SCANDALOUS!

Penny Dreadful.Time moves forward, and we learn that Vanessa never told anyone what she saw, and we learn that Mina is engaged to the rather dull looking Captain Branson (Joseph Millson) – though he does have a mustache, and apparently facial hair is something the girls have always been taken with. We can see the fear on Vanessa’s face – fear of losing her best friend, of being left behind as the Captain has plans to move Mina to India, fear of never being loved.  And since Peter and his woefully inadequate beard rebuffs her advances (WHAT?  Really?) in the maze, Vanessa sets her sights on… Wait for it… Yep, you got it! Captain Branson.

That being said, she doesn’t have to do much more than talk to him in a creepily seductive manner about stuffing dead birds to get him all hot and bothered. And when she strokes his cheek, all bets are off – what a guy!  Unfortunately, Mina catches them going at it amidst the dead birds – not that Vanessa appeared to mind.

Mina calls off the wedding, and the weak Captain leaves. Vanessa’s mother is scandalized, until Vanessa calls her out on her own affair, but it’s Malcolm that literally slams the door in Vanessa’s face, calling her the ruin of his family. OUCH!

Penny Dreadful.After that, Vanessa spirals. Things get really bad for our dear Vanessa. It is never made clear what is afflicting her. An illness, either physical or mental? Possession? What? But after a few intense scenes of Vanessa foaming at the mouth and looking… well, horrible, her parents give up and take her to an asylum – where Dr. Christopher Banning (Frank McCusker) believes she needs to be treated for some type of psycho sexual problems.  When her parents left the room, and she started speaking in a strange voice (maybe that same weird little kid voice from the episode with the séance) and then attacked him, you would think he would pick up on something more. Or maybe when she started speaking in tongues? Nope, it has to do with sex.

Vanessa goes through hell – ice baths, being sprayed with a fire house while chained to the wall, and then finally primitive brain surgery. None of this seems to cure Vanessa, and she loses her beautiful hair (more on this later).

Penny Dreadful.We then see Vanessa in bed, back at home. Apparently, the asylum was done poking and prodding. Her mother looks exhausted. Unable to formulate any answers, she sits in front of the fire – lost. The confusion on her face probably mirrors my own, but anyway…

Peter (Graham Butler) comes to visit, so he can say goodbye as he is heading to Africa. It is here that Vanessa and I have the same realization – if Peter hadn’t been such a wimp and rebuffed Vanessa in the garden, none of this would have happened!  It’s all Peter’s fault! But Peter does apologize and kisses Vanessa as a goodbye token.

“YUCK! Her lips are so chapped, and I think she’s starting to foam again.” I noted aloud. My husband just laughed at me.

So Peter would kiss her when she looks like this, but not when she was beautiful in the garden?  This boy needs some glasses. Back to the kiss… When Peter pulls back, she hisses at him that he is going to die in Africa.  Peter looks alarmed, but he takes one for the team and tells Vanessa’s already distraught mother that he couldn’t make out what Vanessa said.

And here is where we have the craziest segment of the episode.  Vanessa sees Malcolm in her mirror, and I’m thinking he came to kick her while she’s down, but, as he talks, we find out it is not Malcolm at all, but is instead… The Serpent? The Devil? Amun-Ra? Anyway, he tells Vanessa she has always listened to the dark whisper. There’s always been something else at her back. And they kiss. Oy!

Cut to Vanessa’s mother, who upon hearing something from her daughter’s room, runs up to check on her.  She flings open the door and finds Vanessa engaging in sex with… A ghost?  A monster only Vanessa can see? In a dream?  Vanessa is butt-naked, humping air, with her eyes rolled back. With good reason, this shocks her poor mother, and she falls to the floor – dead.

“WOW!” I said, not sure what just happened!

“What?” My husband laughed. “She probably had enough, and just gave up!”

All I can think is “That poor woman.”

After Vanessa buries her mother, she walks on the beach and is confronted with Mina. I think Mina is there to offer condolences and her forgiveness. And she does, except it isn’t Mina, but another vision. (At least, we assume it is.) Mina tells Vanessa that she has been punished enough, and she forgives her. She says she is now married, to a lawyer (Yep. Jonathan Harker!), but it is the Master that has shown her things. She pleads with Mina to save her, to help her, and then… Poof! She’s gone.

I was pleased to see that Vanessa’s beautiful hair was back, but frustrated at the fact that her’s grew about a foot overnight, and mine can’t! What the hell is she using on her hair? Give me some!

Penny Dreadful.OK, after getting over my jealousy of Vanessa’s hair, we see Vanessa travel to Malcolm and tell him that Mina needs their help. He hasn’t forgiven her. He comes right out and tells her that, for now, she is useful, but that doesn’t mean he won’t kill her when he no longer needs her. HEAVY!

And then we see Vanessa finishing up her letter.  She signs it, but adds something.

“What did she write?” My husband asks, annoyed. “Are they going to tell us?”

“No. Hush! It’s a secret,” I tell him.

Vanessa opens a trunk and puts the letter away, and we see hundreds, maybe thousands, of letters she has, presumably, written to Mina.  And here is where we get the line that made this whole episode worthwhile:

“Post Script: 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.”

As for the answers to my 3 questions going into this episode – 1) No; 2) No; 3) No idea. My bad! Can’t wait for Sunday!

Also, big news: Penny Dreadful has been renewed for a 2nd season. Yeah!


Hello, fellow horror fans! I grew up watching horror, and my love for the genre is still going strong! Slasher films are sort of my secret-well, probably not so secret-obsession, but I'm up for anything-zombies, creature features, B movies, D movies-you name it, I'll give it a shot. Sometimes to the annoyance of my husband. I'm on twitter @Xina143, send me a tweet and tell me what I should watch next!"

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