Penny Dreadful: “Closer Than Sisters” Review

“Closer than Sisters” might’ve been better titled “Ambivalence.” It marks the fifth hour of our 8-hour season, and the episode is an odd combination of satisfying and annoying. The entire episode is a flashback to Vanessa’s past with the Murray family and after the oft-alluded to Point of No Return for former friends Mina and Vanessa. This means, of course, that we don’t know anything more about Dorian, Ethan, Brona, or the rest of the gang.

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But we do get many of our questions answered–what happened between Vanessa and Mina? Who is the voice talking about in the seance? Did Vanessa witness incest between Mina and Sir Malcolm, or did Sir Malcolm have an affair with Vanessa that was witnessed by Mina? What is Vanessa’s part in this? And does she know what’s haunting her? (Spoilers!)

So we begin the episode with Vanessa writing to Mina, and we quickly move to the flashback, which then progresses linearly. The Murrays and the Ives were neighbors and friends. Mina and Vanessa, around the same age, were bosom friends, one light and one dark (Mina is fair,

Peter, Vanessa, Mina, and Sir Malcolm

Peter, Vanessa, Mina, and Sir Malcolm

golden, and kind to a fault; Vanessa is dark, curious, and impetuous.) We see Vanessa’s first encounters with her darker side after she sees her mother and Sir Malcolm having an affair. (So it was Vanessa the seer, looking at Sir Malcolm and her mother, that was alluded to in the seance.) This moment, in which Vanessa discovers that there was something enjoyable, something delightfully wicked about seeing Murray and her mother together, is Vanessa’s moment of departure.

Vanessa and Mina continue their friendship as they grow older, though they become less alike. Peter, Murray’s young son whose death was revealed in episode 2’s seance scene, seems to be just a bit older than the girls, and we know from their childhood that many expect Peter and Vanessa to grow up and be married. But they don’t, of course. In a pivotal scene, the two are in a garden labyrinth together, and he rebuffs Vanessa’s sexual advance. Oh Peter. Vanessa later wishes she’d run after him, told him she loved his weakness. Oh Vanessa.

And then we finally come to the moment when the friends are no longer friends. On the eve of her wedding to a gallant man with a wonderful mustache, Mina discovers Vanessa and her future husband having sex. We know now what sin she is paying for–and why she and Sir Malcolm have such a tenuous relationship. There’s a direct line between Murray’s transgressions and Vanessa’s.

This affair spawns a full-on possession of Vanessa. She’s treated by a host of doctors, download (4)diagnosed with epilepsy, and committed to an asylum. We get several squicky moments here, pictures of mental healthcare in the 19th century that include ice baths, hydrotherapy (the download (2)patient is tied up and shot with high power water) and trepanation (drilling holes in the head). Vanessa is then allowed to return home, but she doesn’t seem to be any “better.” She’s visited by a demon in the form of Sir Murray, who seduces her. We then get the most disturbing in an episode that has many disturbing images—naked Vanessa, eyes rolled back in her head, spread naked on her bed, having sex with an invisible force. The shock kills her mother (presumably a heart attack).

Later, we see Vanessa walking on a beach, and it is then that she is confronted by Mina, who has come to her in a vision. Mina speaks of forgiveness, of being sure that Vanessa’s suffering has made up for her crimes. She speaks of Peter’s death, of her marriage to Jonathan Harker. And then things get really weird for Vanessa, as Mina mentions Peter’s refusal of her advance that day in the garden, something Vanessa never told Mina. And Mina finally speaks to Vanessa of her master, one who has taught her so much. Her face falls, voice faltering a bit, as she manages to say “things no one should ever know” before being, quite literally, snatched away.

Cut to Vanessa at Sir Malcolm’s door, drenched in rain, asking him to help Mina. It’s obvious that tensions are still high between the two, but Murray consents to work with her to get Mina back (and where is Harker, I wonder). And then we hear the ominous last bit of Vanessa’s letter—“I love you enough to kill you.”

I’ve no doubt that she does. I do wish, though, that Vanessa’s transgressions weren’t so largely sex-based. It just seems so——done. That Eva Green is an amazing actress made the story shine. But the familiarity of punishing a female character for sexual curiosity and desire makes me roll my eyes a bit, especially after seeing nameless women brutally torn apart before the opening sequence in the first few episodes and with the trope of the consumptive whore present in the character of Brona. I get that the show is playing with tropes, and I think that can work—but there’s a fine line between playing with tropes and playing into them, and this seems a little close to that line.

Either way, I’m glad to hear that Showtime has announced a 10-episode season two of the series, and it looks like we’ll be returning to our present story-line next week.

Penny Dreadful “Resurrection” Review

No Dorian this week, but we did get to some interesting moments with Frankenstein’s

The Guiginol Revealed

The Guiginol Revealed

firstborn. We also got our first view of the Guiginol (where they’re performing Sweeney Todd), which, given that the last episode of the season is to be titled “The Grand Guiginol,” is a significant moment. And we went to the London Zoo.

Much like the weeks before, the pacing of the show lingers in some places, speeds up in others. We’ve a scene longer than the seance scene, this one a 15 minute look at the Creature’s back-story. While that long-scene format worked, and worked well for the first two episodes, the pacing of this episode seemed off, somehow, not as well crafted as the previous two episodes. That 15 minute scene was a wonderful one, but it dwarfed other scenes in a not altogether positive way. Perhaps it was the length of time spent on a story that follows the Shelley novel fairly closely.

We still get the fairly gruesome death of a young, beautiful woman early into the show, though this time it isn’t at the hands of a monster. We open with a young Frankenstein looking for his dog, whom he discovers is dead;  the shot of the dog, whose corpse must’ve been there for a while, is probably one of the grosser shots in this episode, but there’s also a terrible beauty there, surrounded by green grass and life. We then move to a scene between Frankenstein and his mother. During a goodnight kiss and their recitation of Romantic poetry, she throws up quite a lot of blood. She lingers and dies presumably very shortly after. But at least the death doesn’t seem so pointless this time, story-wise: we now know why Frankenstein is so invested in finding that moment that separates life and death. We know he’s got mommy issues.

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Who’s ready for some Game of Thrones?

by Jeremy DeFatta

Good afternoon, everyone! It’s only 3 days until the season four premiere of Game of Thrones. I thought a little music to help get everyone in the mood might be in order. Here is a video of Cosplay Piano’s version of the opening theme from the series, with special bonus Lyanna Stark cosplay included.

Hopefully you are all duly pumped now. What is everyone looking forward to this season? (Book-readers, let’s keep the spoilers to a minimum, please.) What are you hoping for this season? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Tweet me @quaintjeremy.

Batman Beyond!

batmanbeyond

by Jeremy DeFatta

Building on last week’s post, I’ve decided to go through the various incarnations of Batman in a somewhat random order. I’m starting with Terry McGinnis. Any other fans of Batman Beyond out there? I have fond memories of watching it back in the 90’s and early 2000’s; hell, I still watch it on Netflix. I also recommend following the ongoing comic in some form, either the online weekly or monthly print collections at your local comic shop.

The very 90’s sci-fi opening credits of Batman Beyond:

The basic setup of Batman Beyond is this: Bruce Wayne retired from being Batman decades earlier and your standard, loud 90’s idea of a teenager (Terry McGinnis) stumbles into his life, proving himself through his abilities and a common trait of personal tragedy as a worthy successor to the Batman mantle. Villains new and old appear as stumbling blocks in Terry’s attempts to pacify Neo-Gotham (they seriously renamed the city, because the future and shut up), which is effectively a clean-looking version of the cityscape from Blade Runner. Despite its few weaknesses, I have to say this is one of the more interesting possible futures presented in the DC Multiverse.

Terry himself is a great character to lead in new viewers/readers, and even provide experienced consumers with an outsider’s perspective on Batman’s brand of superheroics. The show and comics both provide interesting interactions between elderly Bruce Wayne and elderly Superman, who are estranged friends rather than outright circumstantial enemies as in The Dark Knight Returns. Though DC has an amazing track record with animated films, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is still, in my opinion, one of their best.

Any other fans with fond memories of the animated DC Universe? To be fair, those ventures might have been some of DC’s strongest material to appear in the 90’s, which is a point I’d like to see discussed below. We will return to the animated universe as we work through more iterations of Batman in the weeks to come.

Thank you all for reading, and remember to support your local comic shops!

My picks this week, tough ladies:

Carbon Grey vol. 3 #2
Velvet #3
Rat Queens #4

This was a tough one, being as Daredevil (#35) and Thor (#17) both have new issues this week, and I have to admit those are two of my favorite comics by any publisher currently running. Eh, why not… Five picks this week! Be sure to check them out and feel free to discuss below or tweet me @quaintjeremy. Until next week!

image: viewerscommentary.com