‘Closer Than Sisters’
Penny Dreadful has so far been very secretive about its main protagonist, Vanessa, and the backstory that makes her such a difficult character to understand. This episode, Closer Than Sisters, dedicates its whole hour runtime towards enlightening the audience about these untold secrets and achieves this in a continuously twisted and terrifying sequence. It’s one of the most frightening stories, not just on TV, but also of any medium in recent years.
These scenes are set before the current nightmarish events with which we’ve become familiar. Instead it favours a darker (if that’s possible) and more harrowing tale that depicts Vanessa’s childhood through to adolescence, and all the years that she shared with Malcolm’s daughter Mina, her inseparable friend.
The two girls shared an intimate friendship, spending almost every day with each other, as did their families, who regularly dined together. We finally meet Malcolm’s son, Peter, who we’ve learnt has since died in Africa on a past adventure with his father. What we didn’t know was that Peter was to wed Vanessa when they came of age. The friendliness between the Ives family and the Murray’s seemed too perfect and happy for a show of it’s nature. Before long the cracks began to show when late one night Vanessa caught Malcolm having an affair with her mother, the root cause from which Vanessa’s psycho-sexual hysteria stemmed (as diagnosed by a doctor whom she later tries to kill in a horrific possession scene).
It was a clever twist that answered the cryptic words uttered by Vanessa in the earlier episode, Seance, when her body became possessed and we first realised she’s being hunted by the devil. In many literatures, Satan tempts his victims with sex, and the scenes where violence and sex overlap are genuinely chilling. A graphic scene in which she’s envisaging having sex with Malcolm, recreating the earlier scene she saw involving her mother, is particularly uncomfortable. The close-up of her rolled-back plain white eyes is a vision I wish I could erase from my mind.
The scenes of possession in this episode match and even exceed the astonishing performance Eva Green gave when we first saw her controlled by an evil spirit in Seance. Miss Ives is subjected to horrific Victorian treatment and we watch every tormenting moment of her grueling recovery from the first meeting with her doctor, to her brain surgery, right through to her solitary confinement in an asylum.
Closer Than Sisters is undoubtedly the best episode of the season so far. It hardly moves the story forward, except for filling in the gaps we’ve been unclear about along the way, and yet it rivals any episode I’ve seen of any show in a while. The terrifying themes explored in the episode made me feel a genuine sense of dread and discomfort, which I haven’t felt since I watched the critically acclaimed horror movie The Conjuring. From Logan’s incredible writing through to Green’s acting (without a doubt the best acting I’ve seen from her), Closer Than Sisters is a masterpiece in every way, proving once again that there’s still room for very real horror in an otherwise stale and dead (excuse the pun) genre.