Penny Dreadful 1×05 ‘Closer Than Sisters’: To forgive, divine

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Practically every week, I say that we’ve just watched Penny Dreadful’s best episode. Yet when the next episode airs, it seems that I must eat my words, because this is Penny Dreadful’s best episode. I pride myself in always being right, but nothing would please me more than if they keep proving me wrong.

Source: Showtime

Source: Showtime

Certainly, ‘Closer Than Sisters’, a flashback episode, didn’t do much to further the narrative. But personally, I’ve always been more interested in why something happens than the actual what. Vanessa and Sir Malcolm’s turbulent relationship and history have been constantly hinted at throughout the show. It may have even been the biggest mystery. I expected their past to trickle out, perhaps in vignettes of flashbacks, and was extremely pleased to find that the whole episode was dedicated to this piece of history.

Forgiveness was the main theme in ‘Closer Than Sisters’, though Vanessa didn’t receive any. Vanessa witnesses sin for the first time and admits that she enjoyed it. This begins the slippery slope of her downfall. Eventually, through fear of losing her best friend, Mina, she sleeps with Mina’s fiancé. ‘An unforgivable transgression that has marked [her] for life.’ This terrible act is what makes Vanessa succumb to the darkness in her.

Source: Showtime

Source: Showtime

To the world, Vanessa seems insane. She is sent to an asylum where they perform now inhumane treatment. There’s a stunning shot where Vanessa is bound and being sprayed with an incredibly strong jet of water. She is Christ-like. The message is evident. She is suffering for her sins, and the sins of her mother. In fact, this entire segment, Vanessa’s insanity/possession, is punishment for her sin. She knows this. While Mrs Ives was desperately trying to save Vanessa, she quite calmly tells her, ‘You should let me die’. Because death would be far kinder than the pain she would have to go through.

Source: Showtime

Source: Showtime

When the devil (in Sir Malcolm’s form, fitting as he is her introduction to sin) comes for Vanessa, he tells her that she could have ‘shut the door’ any time. But she doesn’t. She welcomes him into her. Mrs Ives, drawn by the strange sounds, witnesses the most disturbing scene of all time. Vanessa thrusting her hips furiously to an invisible force. Vanessa turns and reveals her white eyes. This proves more than Mrs Ives can handle, and she promptly dies. Does Mrs Ives die of shock, or did Vanessa kill her? Or did the darkness in Vanessa kill her? Though Mrs Ives brought sin into Vanessa’s life, she too tethered her in light with her love. Perhaps Vanessa couldn’t bear knowing that Mrs Ives has seen Vanessa at her lowest. Perhaps Vanessa felt that she did not deserve a mother’s love. Perhaps the devil wanted to get rid of all the good in Vanessa’s life.

 

Source: Showtime

Source: Showtime

After the funeral, Vanessa takes a walk on the beach and sees Mina, though it is questionable if that is truly her. Mina has forgiven Vanessa due to all her suffering. But Vanessa replies ‘It is more than I deserve, but I can’t forgive myself.’ Once again, the theme of forgiveness is explored.

There is great parallel between Sir Malcolm’s quest to save Mina and Mrs Ives’ quest to save Vanessa. Both Mina and Vanessa are in evil’s clutches, and both parents desperately cling on to the hope of recovery. But is hope more cruelty than kindness? In Vanessa’s words, ‘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.’

Yeung Wing

is an aspiring TV critic, writer and editor. You can see her past work on her Tumblr!
She lives her life through escapism.

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