Penny Dreadful S1E5, “Closer Than Sisters”

PD - Poster

Much like the Caliban-centric “Resurrection”, this episode is very heavy on flashbacks.  And by “very heavy” I mean the only non-flashback moments are Vanessa writing a letter to Mina.  The contents of that letter are what we see on the screen, which means we get the occasional voiceover from Vanessa.
After the last couple episodes, I’ve talked about how they need to move the plot forward a bit.  At first blush, a flashback episode doesn’t seem to do much of that.  But a lot of the questions this show has raised so far have been in the ambiguity of the actions of our characters.  I wanted some clarity, and this episode delivered.

PD - Vanessa & Mina

The main question that was answered was this: what’s up with Mina?  There has been chatter among Vanessa and Malcolm about how they both betrayed her, and we get to see that here.  The short version goes like this: Vanessa & Mina’s families were very close.  Vanessa found Malcolm having sex with her mother in a hedge maze (is it possible to see a hedge maze and not immediately think about The Shining?), which inspired Vanessa to try the same thing with Peter (Malcolm’s son) years later.  He refuses, so Vanessa decides to have sex with Mina’s fiance (the mustachioed Captain Branson) the day before the wedding.  Mina sees this, calls off the wedding, and finds a new suitor in Jonathan Harker.
And so we see how betrayal of Mina has led them all to this point.  Malcolm cheats, Vanessa cheats, Mina marries Jonathan and Jonathan leads her to Dracula.  It was a line of deadly, sexy dominoes that all fell.

But there’s more to it than that.  Vanessa’s demon – already seen in “Seance” – shows up here.  At an early age, Vanessa realized something was wrong, like something was always lurking over her shoulder.  While the demon didn’t seem to manifest itself as outright possession until after she had sex with Captain Branson, it seemed to be within her all along, guiding her actions.  In an early exchange with Peter, he exclaims, “I’m bloodthirsty; [Vanessa] is just ghoulish.”  He didn’t know how right he was.  That’s not to excuse Vanessa’s actions, but it’s clear that something evil was within her, and her decisions were not always completely her own.
And so we’re treated to some more Eva Green possession scenes.  And, just like in “Seance”, she absolutely knocked those scenes out of the park.  The creepy voices she uses.  The way she tilts her head.  The herky-jerky movements.  If I didn’t know any better, I would swear that Eva Green was actually possessed.
What makes Green so great in this episode is that it’s not all writhing and screaming.  She absolutely owns the quieter moments.  She’s able to flash a smile that is simultaneously sweet and sinister, with eyes that reflect the demon within.  I can see why people are drawn to Vanessa, but I can also see why they keep their distance.

"Does your soul taste as good as it smells?"
“Does your soul taste as good as it smells?”

We know Vanessa is possessed, but no one else does.  They think she’s crazy, so they ship her off to an asylum, where she promptly says creepy things to the doctor and tries to eat his face off with her chomping teeth.  I’ll say this for the girl: she knows how to make a good first impression.
They attempt to cure Vanessa through a series of terrible procedures.  Where last week’s montage would have been soundtracked by Hall & Oates, this week’s would have been soundtracked by Tool.  She’s forced to sit in an ice bath.  She’s chained to a wall – crucifix style – and blasted with a high-powered hose.  And, finally, her head is shaved and a hole is drilled in her head.  Ice water and bloodletting.  Just another Saturday night.

"I know the pieces fit."
“I know the pieces fit.”

This “cures” her in that she’s more docile than she was before, but we know she’s not cured.  The demon never truly leaves.  Peter – now several years older than he was in the Vanessa-dubbed, Infinite Jest-sounding “Year of the Inadequate Beard” – came to see her before he left on his ill-fated trip to Africa with his father, only to have her tell him, “You’re going to die there.”  (This is almost word-for-word what Regan told the astronaut in The Exorcist: “You’re going to die up there.”  Although, thankfully, Vanessa did not urinate on the rug.  That thing really tied the room together.)

PD - Vanessa at gate

In this episode, we get an answer about another burning question: “Will Eva Green get naked on this show?”  The answer is, “Yes, but it was way more creepy than sexy.”

Towards the end of the episode, we see Vanessa & Mina talking on a beach, in what appears to be their reconciliation.  But it takes a turn when we find out that Mina has already been taken by Dracula.  It’s a really quiet and sweet scene that quickly turned chilling.  It was a great way to close out their story, and it leads directly to Vanessa seeking Malcolm out and jump-starting their quest.  Malcolm’s proclamation of “We shall speak [of death] together,” wasn’t exactly a rousing speech, but it put both of them in agreement of what they had to do.

The episode ends with Vanessa finishing the letter, sealing it in an envelope, and placing it in a box containing hundreds of identical envelopes.  That led to this question: what’s in the other envelopes?  She has written hundreds of letters and has only now gotten around to writing this story?  Are the others just mundane daily details?  Or do each of them contain the exact same story?  Is repeating this story every day the only way Vanessa can deal with her guilt?  Does it keep the demon at bay?

I initially balked at the idea of another flashback heavy episode, but I really liked this.  It answered some burning questions (“thank God Malcolm didn’t sleep with his daughter!”), and featured some terrific performances.  Seeing Timothy Dalton playing a younger version of Malcolm Murray was great: he was so excited and full of life.  I was a big fan of his giddy recollection of meeting up with a tribe of cannibals.

"If the cannibals bashed my head in, all sorts of secrets would come tumbling out."
“If the cannibals bashed my head in, all sorts of secrets would come tumbling out.”

But the real star of this episode was Eva Green.  She was mesmerizing and terrifying every time she was on the screen.

Episode 105

Your line to work into casual conversation this week: “I love you enough to kill you.”