'Penny Dreadful' season 1, episode 5 recap: 'Closer Than Sisters' examines Vanessa's twisted past

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Without a doubt, Season 1 of Showtime's "Penny Dreadful" has had its fair share of ups and downs. However, regardless of how you may feel about the show, there is no denying "Closer Than Sisters," is hands down the best episode of the series yet.

Part of what made it so great might be the restraint that was used in exposing characters. With such a large cast, it's easy for people to get lost in the shuffle. However, "Closer Than Sisters" focused on the history of Vanessa Ives, and more specifically her relationship with Mina, Sir Malcolm's daughter.

Viewers are introduced to Vanessa as a child, best friends with siblings Mina and Peter. Their families grow up close, with the three kids being the best of friends. One evening, Vanessa discovers her mother having an affair with Malcolm and was shocked to realize she enjoyed it. She thinks there is something inside of her, a demon, feeding off that kind of energy.

As the children grew up, Mina found the man she intended to marry. The idea of losing her best friend to a man who might move her away proved to be simply too much for Vanessa to handle.

She makes a pass at Peter, which he rejects. He is set on venturing to Africa with his father, though Vanessa knows inside that he would never survive the trip. Vanessa saw his future death in her mind and tried to pray it away. While God didn't answer, something else did.

On the eve of Mina's wedding, Vanessa has sex with her fiance. They're caught in the act, ending the engagement and friendship all at once. It's at that point that Vanessa descends into madness. 

Whatever is inside of her came to the forefront. If you thought the seance in episode 2 was something, this blows it out of the water. What is at first believed to be epilepsy is then diagnosed as a problem with her brain. Those that have been watching the show knows this isn't some run of the mill mental problem. Vanessa is somehow connected to a supernatural world no one else could possibly comprehend.

Still, she's locked away in an asylum and has a disturbing treatment forced onto her, which includes drilling into her skull. In the end, she is sent home in a catatonic state with no one knowing how to fix her.

Peter stops by for one last visit before going to Africa, with Mina long gone. Vanessa snaps out of her waking coma to ask for a kiss and warn Peter that he will die in Africa.

Once he's gone, the ill Vanessa sees a vision of Sir Malcolm. She believes it to be whatever is tormenting her and calls it a serpent. Then comes the the creepiest sex scene the show could ever have. To Vanessa, she's sleeping with her tormentor. When her mother walks in though, Vanessa is all along, having sex with thin air, with her eyes rolled back into her head.

The shock of the scene before her cause Vanessa's mother to drop dead on the spot. Later, Vanessa has found a measure of peace and encounters Mina once more, on the beach. She's different, though.

Mina says she married a lawyer, but she's truly under the control of the master vampire. She begs Vanessa to save her before flying away. It's then that Vanessa returns once more to Sir Malcolm. She lets him know of the danger Mina is in. It's also revealed that Vanessa has written her friend hundreds of letters, which she intends to deliver. However, she admits that she loves Mina enough to kill her if that's what it takes.

Eva Green's masterful work throughout this episode is deserving of the praise she'll undoubtedly get for it. She was simply amazing through the various stages of Vanessa's life and sanity, right down to her final broken moment coming to Sir Malcolm. Don't be surprised if this episode alone gets her attention during awards season, because it's surely deserved.
Photo/Video credit: Showtime