Penny Dreadful Review: “Closer Than Sisters” (Season 1, Episode 5)

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Years pass, and Mina grows into a beautiful woman, courted by the handsome, mustached Captain Branson (Joseph Millson). Penny Dreadful is at a bit of a disadvantage at this point in the episode, given that we know Mina becomes Mrs. Jonathan Harker, not Mrs. Captain Branson, so Logan wisely turns the focus from their relationship to Vanessa’s take on it as an envious observer. “You would know love, you would know a man’s touch” before me, she says in her letter.

Desperate to salvage some relic from her childhood even as Mina is jumping into adulthood, Vanessa stuns Peter with a passionate kiss while they’re walking in the maze. He doesn’t reciprocate. Africa has long been his dream, and he doesn’t want to put down roots anywhere. “I love you for your weakness,” she wishes she had said to him that day, knowing he’ll likely die in Africa. It’s too late – he’s run off before she’s able to form the words.

Suddenly, she can see the future crystal clear: Mina in India with Captain Branson, Peter dead in a foreign land with Sir Malcolm, her all alone. Overcome with grief, she tries to pray, but to no avail. “God didn’t answer me, but another did,” she says. A demonic presence has found her – and it has Sir Malcolm’s voice, which is somewhat fitting given that his transgression awakened her darker side. “What games we will have,” it hisses from the shadows.

On the weekend before Mina’s wedding, the estate is flooded with party guests. Vanessa moves among them like a lonely cork on the ocean, lacking place and purpose. All she wants to reclaim Mina, no matter the cost. And so, she sets out on a dangerous path. That night, she wanders through the Murrays’ home and finds Branson, unable to sleep. “Would you like to see something interesting?” She asks. And because he’s a stupid, stupid man, he does.

Vanessa takes him to see the Murrays’ taxidermy collection. “Which are yours?” Branson asks. “Not the docile ones,” she replies. That doesn’t surprise him – after all, what they’re doing now is scandalous in of itself. “I’ve always felt you have to name a thing before it comes to life,” she tells him. The scene is creepily lit by flashes of bright lightning against inky shadows.

Vanessa turns to him and explains how she put mirrors behind the glass eyes to give them the illusion of life. Like the stuffed bird of prey she singles out, Vanessa has been rendered lifeless by the cruelty of others. Since her encounter with whatever demon responded to her prayers, her only triumph has been convincing others than she still feels human. “I would put mirrors behind the entire world if I could,” she whispers, leaning into him.

That’s one creepy pick-up line, but it works, and Branson pulls her dress up, pushing her back onto the taxidermy table. Soon, they’re screwing each other’s brains out (far too loudly for a midnight rendezvous). Mina walks in and sees them, and the eerie music soars to a crescendo. Vanessa’s betrayal is complete – driven by her inner demons and probably a few outer ones, she has destroyed the future of her best friend.

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