harsens_rob (harsens_rob) wrote,

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Penny Dreadful reviewed: "Closer Than Sisters"


Penny Dreadful
Season 01, Episode 05

"Closer Than Sisters"

Written by: John Logan
DIR by: Coky Giedroyc

Blurb: Vanessa recalls her past and the events that ultimately led up to all of her guilt regarding Mina.

Sc01: We open on an extreme close up of Vanessa Ives' eye, as we hear scratching. This will turn out to be Vanessa writing. It is a letter to the missing Mina. In it, Vanessa mentions recovering from an illness, and that she has gone from writing a letter a month to a daily letter to her missing friend.

Miss Ives tells Mina that she looks forward to the day when things can be as they were. There is a pregnant pause, before Vanessa admits that she knows that can't be.

Sc02: We flashback between Vanessa and Mina running as children along a beach to Vanessa continuing to write in her letter about their past friendship.

Young Vanessa proves herself to be adventurous, while Mina is more hesitant to do anything that may be trouble.

Sc03: Young Vanessa is then playing in the woods between her family's property and the Murray's.

Adult Vanessa asks Mina in her letter if there were any two families that were closer than theirs. She writes that she could never remember the gate connecting their properties being closed, until the fateful day when it was shut between them forever.

We see that Young Vanessa was such a fixture around the Murray residence, that she was no longer expected to ring upon arrival, but can simply enter and wander the house until she finds her 'sister'.

Sc04: Young Vanessa wanders the Murray home, greeting everyone as she goes. She's directed by Mrs. Murray to the solarium. There she finds Young Peter and Young Mina working on their taxidermy. Apparently, a past time of the children in the Victorian Era among the upper crusties.

Young Vanessa is working on a hawk, and Mina smilingly tells her that she's always working on things that kill other things and that she suspects Vanessa is bloodthirsty. Young Peter says that he's bloodthirsty, Vanessa is just ghoulish.

The girls talk about men and speculate on their future husbands. Mina tells Vanessa that she'll, of course, marry her brother -- everyone says so. But Peter interrupts to tell 'Van' that he shan't be there to marry her, as he plans on travelling in Africa with father.

The sound of a bell interrupts, and excited voices drift in from the front of the manor. This excites all of the children.

Commentary: This is so sad, because we know from The Seance, that Peter does go to Africa, but never gets to come home.

Sc05: The commotion is caused by Sir Murray returning from his latest trip. The greeting from Sir Malcolm toward both his son and wife is very reserved, but still warm. But toward the girls, he's more effusive and grinning.

Peter is given a skin, but otherwise Malcolm remains devoted - obviously - to his daughter and practically-sister, leaving Peter standing in the foyer watching his back.

Sc06: That evening, a proper meal has been prepared to celebrate the master of the house's return, and the Ives are in attendance.

In VO, Vanessa longs for those days again, as it was always treated as a holiday when Sir Malcolm returned from exploring. As Young Vanessa was entering the cusp of adulthood, she now admits that there was something stirring beneath the congenial togetherness of their families. She didn't understand what she was sensing, but it was something.

Commentary: Sorry for the lack of comments, dears. There isn't much to observe. Other than you can see poor, doomed Peter trying so desperately to gain his father's attention and approval, while Malcolm is devoted only to his daughter(s). And we know, from Vanessa and Malcolm's arguments that something awful will happen that drives the Ives and the Murray's from one another, and will drive a permanent wedge between Vanessa and her 'sister'.

Sc07: At some point in the night, Vanessa left the Murray manor to wander in their hedge maze.

Vanessa hears the laugh of a woman from deep in the maze as she wanders it. She asks Mina if maybe she recalled something at dinner that would've warned her of what she'd find, but she doesn't recall any such signs. She rounds a bend of the maze, to see Sir Malcolm and her mother in a passionate encounter.

Vanessa writes that beyond the shock of seeing her mother and Mina's father's sin... Young Vanessa enjoyed spying on their forbidden moment. Vanessa says that something whispered to her, and she listened.

Sc08: Young Vanessa rushes into her room, to kneel before the cross and pray for forgiveness, but she admits that she always felt as if a dark presence was with her. And this night, the whispering continued.

Commentary: I liked this part, because Vanessa's personal history with her visions and the supernatural around her is basically the through-line of the series. Here we see that she was always hearing something calling to her, tempting her and ultimately costing her nearly everything of value. It plays deeply into S2 and S3.

Sc09: Vanessa writes to Mina that she never told her what she'd witnessed, as they played dolls. Vanessa tells her that she was protecting her, but now she thinks that maybe she just enjoyed having a secret to keep. From that point on, Young Vanessa began to change - doing little things, like stealing from her 'sister' and other mischief. But even as she was telling herself that it was just pranks, she knew it was something more.

Sc10: Some indeterminate days later, Young Vanessa is again in the hedge maze. As she wanders again, we transition to an older Vanessa doing the same and singing to herself.

Vanessa recalls Mina blossoming into a lovely woman, and meeting her gentleman, a dashing officer. Past-Vanessa finds the two standing together in intense conversation deep in the maze.

Sc11: At lunch, Past-Vanessa gazed upon the courtship of Mina and Captain Branson, while she jokes about it being the season of Peter's inadequate beard.

Now-Vanessa writes to Mina that she watched the pairing proceed apace, and that when Mina mentioned perhaps going to India with Captain Branson, Vanessa could see clearly that she would. She was left bereft and jealous of her 'sister', fearing a loneliness. She had envied Mina. And maybe, she had hated her a little, too.

Sc12: Vanessa offers to Mina that she had trouble reconciling how someone as meek as Mina might have a grand adventure before herself, who had always been the risk-taker. She was jealous that Mina would know the touch of a man before her.

Sc13: Later, again in that maze, Vanessa had walked with Peter. He goes on about how he had no doubt that Captain Branson was a fine man [no, he really isn't]. Peter offers that he's worried about his sister's moving to India. Conversation turns to Peter's own plans to run off to Africa, but he complains that everything he brings up the possibility with Malcolm, his father shies away from the suggestion.

Vanessa had suggested that Peter stop asking for awhile, but he admitted to her that it had been the only thing he'd ever wanted. He admits to feeling like he is a disappointment to Sir Malcolm, and hoped that blazing a new trail with his father would finally win his approval.

Peter offered that it would be sad for Vanessa after Mina runs off to India with her husband, and he off to Africa with his father.

Vanessa responds by grabbing Peter, and kissing him.

It turns out that Peter just isn't into her that way. Vanessa places his hands against her bosom, but he pulls away - in a near panic. He draws her attention to the Minister coming to meet with his mother about the upcoming nuptuals, and she'll expect him to be there. Peter all but runs away from her.

Vanessa is left staring after him - Now-Her offers to Mina's letter that in that moment, she had a clear vision of Peter's future if he went off to Africa, and regrets not running after him and pleading with him not to go. She says that she loved his beautiful weakness, but it would get him killed.

Commentary: This scene was beautiful, and awkward and I especially enjoyed Graham Butler's acting in this scene. It's also laying the groundwork for Vanessa's giving into that whispering darkness that will destroy her young life and her relationships.

All of this isn't so compelling when trying to review/comment, but it's all adding needed layering to Vanessa's relationship with Sir Malcolm and her driven need to rescue Mina - despite her and Malcolm's fraught relationship. I just feel so badly for Peter. It's obvious that Sir Malcolm is only going to very reluctantly allow his son to accompany him, and in the end will leave him behind when he gets too sick and weak to travel.

I think I've said it before -- but none of our main characters are 'good guys', and their faults are so... faulty.

Sc14: Past-Vanessa returns to her room in tears and falls on her knees before the Crucifix on the wall, praying some more. Now-Vanessa reports to Mina's letter that God didn't answer her. But another certainly did.

Something whispers that soon they'll play such games.

Sc15: At a soiree that evening, Vanessa is nearly prowling the room. She locks gazes with Peter, but seeing his discomfort, turns away from him. It was the final night for Mina to be Miss Murray, and Vanessa writes that she was so full of happiness. But to Vanessa, she could only think of Mina losing herself in Captain Branson, and she didn't like it.

Commentary: If it wasn't already clear to anyone not as thick as I am, this is the place where I knew what had driven Mina away from Vanessa. And I really didn't like our main character, suddenly.

Sc16: That evening, during a storm, Vanessa lies in Mina's bed with her [not like that, this is a chaste sister-friend thing]. She sits up and following a compulsion, leaves Mina's room to wander downstairs.

There she finds an inebriated Branson, still drinking. Branson is clearly pondering his 'last night of freedom' with ambivalence. Vanessa offers to show him something interesting.

Sc17: Vanessa leads him to the solarium, where he's shocked to find that 'his Mina' was involved in such a ghastly pastime as taxidermy. She offers that Mina only works on the most inoffensive of critters. Branson asks which are hers, and Vanessa tells him it isn't the docile ones, which he is unshocked by.

This all leads to where I suspected it would - with Vanessa actively seducing her best friend's fiance. And this leads to Vanessa's virginity being forcefully taken by the drunken Captain. And where this is bad enough, it turns out to be catastrophic for the Ives-Murray bonding, as poor Mina comes across the spectacle...

... and 'sister' Vanessa stares at her in the doorway, while being roughly plowed.

Commentary: Ugh. God, this was gross. And I've lost all respect for our title character just that fast, even though she's obviously being influenced/seduced by some dark power -- The Devil, if we believe Lyle. But the way she just stares at Mina, without stopping is just repugnant.

Sc18: That morning, Captain Branson is obvs sent packing.

Sc19: Mina is devastated and sobs uncontrollably to her mother.

Sc20: At the Ives', Vanessa rushes out toward the Murray's against the advice of her mother. Claire asks her if she has no shame, and Vanessa throws her knowledge of Claire being without shame in her face, before storming off again toward Mina.

When she reaches the gate between the two properties, she finds Sir Murray standing there and looking devastated on behalf of his daughter. Vanessa pleads to see Mina, so she "can make this right". Malcolm tells her that he always thought that his thoughtlessness at being away so often and so long from his family would be what destroyed them. He didn't suspect it would come at the hands of a cruel, little girl.

He, as expected, shuts the gate against her with a deliberate slam.

Sc21: Vanessa stumbles her way back toward her home, before collapsing under the strain of the implications of what she did to her closest friend.

Sc22: Vanessa goes on to write to Mina about the illness that took her afterward. She lay delirious, with the doctor's having no explanation for what she was suffering.

Sc23: Time passes, and Vanessa gets weaker as she refuses food. Her mother tends to her, but worries because the doctor won't find what is wrong with her. She tells her about Mina leaving, unable to stay so close to them. Claire cries that they no longer talk to the Murrays, or they to them. Vanessa remains unresponsive to her mother's grief. But she does react when Claire tells her that they'll be moving to London for a time in order to consult specialists at a woman's specialty clinic.

Vanessa guesses it'll be an asylum. She stares at her mother and calmly tells her that she is not mad. She is not suffering 'unhappiness' that needs to be treated. She tells her mother that she should allow her to die.

It sends Claire into sobs, but Vanessa remains unphased.

Sc24: Some short time later, Vanessa has been transferred to the then-modern attempt at a psychiatric hospital.

Vanessa is diagnosed with a psychosexual disorder, and will receive narcotics and "escalating hydrotherapy", and if there is no improvement, surgery will be employed on her brain. Vanessa perks up at that last one, and offers she'd like to do that option [it isn't stated, but in the time, 'surgery' would mean a lobotomy]. Vanessa starts saying things to the doctor, after her parents have been sent out of the room, that greatly disturbs him... including knowing his full name, which he hadn't shared.

He rings for assistance, and orders Vanessa to sit down, as she had gone to the windows behind his chair. Instead, she asks who Vanessa is, and attacks the doctor - trying to bite his face. She starts chanting at him in a foreign language, as the orderlies arrive to drag her off to her new accommodations.

Commentary: These scenes are terrific for Eva's acting, but also for the ghoulish makeup that has been used to really make Eva Green look completely dragged out, unkempt and looking like death-warmed-over.

I think that I am having an issue with this whole episode [excepting the voiceovers] being in flashback, though. It feels like the episode is draggy to me, and I wish we'd have gotten all of this spread out over a few episodes, instead of all condensed in this one. It feels too much like we've gotten off on a long tangent, away from Mina. Some return to what is happening now would've helped me out. It's also an episode that has zero input from Ethan, Victor or Dorian so while Eva is killing her part, this is feeling drawn out to me. We still got 24 min to go, and it feels like we should be wrapping up this episode.

Sc25: Vanessa is locked in a strait-jacket, and put into an ice bath for 'treatment' as she screams in the other-language. After this helpful, stage one treatment, she dumped into a bed and tied down to mutter her gibberish language.

[Not my judgement, the subtitles say it's gibberish.]

Doctor drugs her up.

Sc26: Sometime later, Vanessa is forced-marched to a tiled room, where she's bound to a wall. A firehose is turned on her. [Whether this is 'therapy' or just a patient-shower, I'm not clear on. Whatever, it's obviously barbaric.]

Sc27: Some more time later, and she's stapped down in a chair, with a gag between her teeth. Her hair is cut off as much as possible with scissors. She sheds tears through all of this. And its purpose is to allow the doctor to use a hand-cranked drill bit to puncture her skull, ostensibly to relieve pressure on her brain.

But the doctor finds no such pressure, as there isn't any welling of blood from the wound.

Sc28: Some time later, we return to the Ives' residence, where Claire and Gordon sit in silence. The Ives are startled by a ring at the door, them no longer having visitors. They're even more surprised, and pleased, to see that it's Peter Murray.

Peter is there to say goodbye, as his dream of going to Africa with his father has finally come to pass. He asks to see Vanessa. Gordon tries to tell him it isn't a good idea, but Claire overrules him and giving her consent.

She does warn Peter that he mustn't be shocked, but Vanessa is much changed from the last time he saw her.

Sc29: When they enter her room, Peter finds Vanessa lying still and grey. Her breathing is coming in ragged gasps. Peter asks Claire if she's to die, and her mother responds, "If there is a God".

Peter leans over her, talking to her about his coming adventure. She seems to recognize that someone is there, but Claire informs Peter that they don't know if she knows anyone.

Vanessa does recognize Peter, because she whispers that he should've kissed her (in the maze), and asks him if he would kiss her now. He does so, gently and still hesitantly. She whispers to him that he's going to die in Africa.

He leaves, shaken by the encounter.

As Claire walks him to the door, she pleadingly asks what she said to him for some hope, but he tells her that he couldn't make it out. After he leaves, the Ives are left to sit in their despairing waiting, again.

Sc30: In her room, Past-Vanessa comes to from sleep, to Malcolm's voice. His image is seen in the mirror. But Vanessa recognizes that this isn't actually Sir Murray; She asks after who the apparition is. The apparition is called out as The Deceiver by Vanessa, but this doesn't drive him away. The presence asks Vanessa if she knows Keats, and offers to quote a passage that he thinks is especially apt. She asks if she has any choice, and he replies that of course she has.

He tells her that she always had a choice. She has done this to herself, she chose to seek out the forbidden and to fuck it. He offers her that she could still shut 'them' out, and asks if she will. He offers though, that she'll miss the knowledge of man's virtue and sin. She'll miss the visions of things beyond this physical world, and though she denies that she wants anything beyond the physical world, he calls her out as a liar.

The evil presence tells her that she's always been drawn to the deep ocean, and to the dark secrets of the world. He goes about tenderly touching her face, seducing her by knowing her inner self. He goes back to the quote of Keats he wanted to share with her: "Darkling, I listen and, for a time I have been half in love with easeful Death   Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme   To take into the air my quiet breath."

Vanessa and the presence in the guise of Sir Murray kiss one another. She whispers that the darkness spoke, and he says back that she listened. He lays her back onto her bed.

Commentary: Timothy Dalton does a marvelous job with that voice of his in these quiet moments, and he's just... delicious... here. I loved his acting here.

Sc31: Downstairs, Claire hears moaning from upstairs. When she rushes up to Vanessa's room, she finds her daughter bouncing and writhing as if in passionate sex, though she is alone. Vanessa looks at her, and her eyes have gone milky white. The very sight is so shocking and horrifying that Claire drops dead right then and there onto the floor!

Sc32: Claire's funeral. Vanessa has been wheeled to her graveside for the service, but her father barely acknowledges her presence.

Later, she's able to leave the chair to walk the beach in her mourning black.

Sc33: While Vanessa is walking along the beach alone, she suddenly sees a figure approaching her. It is Mina Murray. Mina has come to Vanessa to tell her that she's been forgiven for her sin against her, due to the suffering she's already been put through. Mina shares that she's married now, to a good man by the name of Harker.

She then brings up their poor Peter, who has died by this time. She tells Vanessa that if only she had run after him that day in the maze, and held him tight and begged him not to go, and that she had loved him his weakness... things that Vanessa mentioned in her future letter, but that right now are thoughts the real Mina could not know.

When Vanessa asks how she could know about those thoughts, Mina's eyes turn red and she replies that she knows a great many things now.

She tells Vanessa that her master has taught her much. But Mina's eyes return to normal, and she fearfully tells her that she knows things now that a person should never know. She pleads with Vanessa to save her from Him, before she is yanked away into the ether with a dread-filled scream.

Commentary: This was another strongly acted scene, especially by Olivia Llewellyn's turning from cunning to fearful on a dime. And we now know why Vanessa and Sir Malcolm ended up paired to find her, so the backstory is welcomed, even if I would've preferred it to not be completely spelled out in a single episode.

Sc34: It's pouring rain at the London Murray residence. Malcolm is sitting alone with his books and maps, when Sembene interrupts that he has a visitor.

He finds Vanessa Ives standing in the rain. They stare at one another, before Vanessa tells him that Mina needs their help. She asks if he'll let her in, and there is a pregnant pause.

Sc35: In the parlor, Malcolm stares out a window at the storm. He asks if Vanessa knows anymore than she just shared. She also shares her confidence that she can reach out to Mina again, or vice versa. She offers that she knows he can't believe it, but he negates this view by telling her that she knows nothing about him. He tells her about the many, many men he killed in Africa until it seemed his every step was in blood. He tells her that he'd have gladly killed her, and may gladly do so in future - but for now, she has his attention, and he can make use of her.

Vanessa wonders if she could also find forgiveness, but this is harshly denied. She rails at him for thinking he knows about suffering, next to what she has gone through.

They agree to work together to find Mina, even though they can't overcome their mutual loathing of one another. He tells her that she'll receive a room until their task is completed.

Sc36: We return to Current-Vanessa, writing to Mina that she doesn't expect any expulation of her sin from her dear friend, and that she carries her guilt herself. She writes, while tearing up, that she will not rest until Mina is safe.

She seals the letter up in an envelope that she addresses to Mrs. Jonathan Harker and then places it in a chest filled with similar letters. Afterward, Vanessa stares toward the hallway with a determined look. She adds a postscript to her letter that she know quotes, that her father loves her very much and will do anything to retrieve her. But Vanessa loves her in a different way...

Sc37: We join flashback to Young Vanessa, Young Peter and Young Mina running along the beach and laughing together. Vanessa voiceovers that she loves Mina enough to kill her.

The Good: In general, I did like so much history of the Murray and Ives families being discovered, and the explanation for how Vanessa and Sir Malcolm came to dislike each other so much and yet continuing to work together so closely.

We have some strong guest performances by Graham Butler and Olivia Llewellyn. And I loved Timothy's work as the evil thing pretending to be him and seducing Vanessa.

The Bad: Nothing bad.

Other Thoughts: I did find this episode to be too crammed with Vanessa's history, and it made things start to feel dragged, because we didn't skip away to check in with our other storylines. I think that's just on me, though. But it felt to me like the episode was longer than usual, especially the asylum bits - and the extensive narration.

The Score: I liked the facts that we receive on how Vanessa destroyed her relationship with the Murrays, and learning that this dark entity has been following her nearly her entire life - pushing her, but not controlling her - into following a destructive past. But on the whole, I found the episode draggy and slow.

3.0 out of 5 stars

Tags: penny dreadful s1 reviews

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