‘Penny Dreadful’: Dark Whispers

Published 11 months ago by

Vanessa Penny Dreadful Episode 5 II ‘Penny Dreadful’: Dark Whispers

[This is a review of Penny Dreadful season 1, episode 5. There will be SPOILERS.]


Now this is how you do a standalone episode. ‘Closer Than Sisters’ doesn’t just function as an immensely satisfying flashback with its own beginning, middle and end, but it also manages to have a major effect on Penny Dreadful’s main mission without ever even touching the present events.

Eva Green continues to prove she can carry a show all on her own by exhibiting astounding range throughout the episode. We begin with Lili Davies’ young Vanessa who naturally exudes happiness only to have her pure joy corrupted by catching her mother and her best friend’s father, Sir Malcolm, in the act. Then, with a rather delicate tonal shift in the score and Green’s profound narration, you can see and feel feel the darkness start to slip in.

From there, what Green does with Vanessa’s innate kindness and that growing darkness is nothing short of astounding. She effortlessly sells a younger, innocent version of her character before deftly letting the inner demons take hold. Even though Vanessa harbors malicious intentions and ultimately carries out a particularly cruel one, not for a second do you ever doubt her adoration for Mina (Olivia Llewellyn).

Vanessa Mina Penny Dreadful Episode 5 ‘Penny Dreadful’: Dark Whispers

You’ve got this woman who’s been best friends with the same person for years and truly only wants the best for her, and yet she has absolutely no problem sleeping with her husband-to-be the night before their wedding. If anything makes you doubt Vanessa’s integrity, that should be it.

But by planting the seed with her mother’s infidelity, explaining why Vanessa stole from Mina when they were children, showing the failed kiss with Peter, slipping in dialogue like, “God, how I envied you. Perhaps I even hated you,” and topping it all off with hints that there’s an evil entity in the mix, you can’t help but empathize with her. She did a terrible thing, but it wasn’t entirely her fault.

Once Vanessa’s illness sets in and she makes her way to the asylum, things get especially disturbing. On the one hand, we’ve seen the good in Vanessa, so it’s crushing to see her endure such a torturous form of treatment, but then we’ve got moments like the one in Dr. Banning’s (Frank McCusker) office. Whether it’s her fault or not, Vanessa is dangerous.

There is relief that comes with seeing Vanessa back at home in a proper bed, but there’s also an astonishing amount of unease and dread. Vanessa is practically immobile during her conversation with Peter (Graham Butler) before he leaves for Africa, but their proximity – and the fact that Vanessa isn’t in full control – makes the moment extremely tense.

Vanessa Penny Dreadful Episode 5 ‘Penny Dreadful’: Dark Whispers

And after all that, she doesn’t even do anything. Here’s this character you’ve come to know and trust throughout the show, and in this very moment, you expect her to jump up and attack someone she loves. When she doesn’t, it’s hard not to feel guilty over losing our faith in her. She’s being manipulated by a dark force and, it turns out, so are we.

But just before you can get back to siding with Vanessa and her cause, her inner demon arrives to prove she started it all. “You’ve always been drawn to the deep ocean, to the dark whisper, the mirror behind the glass eyes, to life at its fullest. Can you close that door now?” And the answer is no.

‘Closer Than Sisters’ almost entirely changes the way we view Vanessa, and not in a straightforward manner. It doesn’t make us pity her for having a difficult youth and it doesn’t offer a finite twist branding her a villain either, but rather leaves us juggling both versions.

Vanessa is clearly capable of giving into evil, but that final conversation with Sir Malcolm and the passion in her letter suggest that her purpose is truly to right her wrongs and save Mina, even if her definition of “save” isn’t in line with Sir Malcolm’s.


Penny Dreadful continues next Sunday with ‘What Death Can Join Together’ at @ 10pm on Showtime.

Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.

Follow Perri Nemiroff on Twitter @PNemiroff
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  1. What an awesome show,just love it !
    Best on TV right now together with GOT !

  2. good episode. defiantly had the creepiness level up high.

  3. All I can say is… DAMN, the asylum sequences. I smell Emmy in Green’s near future.

    • What’s really disturbing about the asylum is that torture was the real “Treatments” by some doctors who obviously went by intuition rarer than science. It’s truly a horror the way people with psychological problems have been treated in a real attempt to help them. It’d be like going in with a broken finger and getting your hand cut off or something as barbaric . Then again science a hundred years from now might consider our methods at least back woods, but hopefully not torture like in her time

  4. does is anyone wonder if this might lead to The league of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I mean we have Mina Harker, Dorian Grey, and Sir Malcom Murray who may not be Allan Quatarmain but may know him from his adventures. My thoughts are the writers are taking from this and van helsing. So I think that Ethan Chandler will be a known as a werewolf next episode but that will be the biggest thing. Then in episode seven Dr. Jekyll will come in before he becomes hyde or during which is the beast attacking people not Ethan. But at the same time Mina will contact Vanessa telling her where Dracula is and to kill him and set her free, then in the 8th episode they attack and Ethan kills Dracula but the same time Vanessa can not kill MIna and lets her go. After Ethan can not control himself and kills Vanessa. The last moments show is Sherlock Holmes trying to solve a riddle by James Moriarty. Just my thoughts on the last episodes.

    • I don’t think it’d hapen in one season. On the other hand…..I think they can only introduce so much before it becomes an overload and viewers lose interest. Maybe though if done over a few seasons. But Sherlock Holmes? I don’t think he’d be included.

    • If this was going to become League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, we’d have known about it a long time ago. This show is Penny Dreadful.

  5. I deeply appreciate the writers’ effort to slowly and deliberately flesh out the main characters instead of springing sudden and unearned twists onto us.

    To my understanding, it’s no coincidence that several immortal creatures have been featured thus far, two of which have been introduced while one has been heavily hinted at.

    I agree with someone who recently posted on here that Dorian Gray may be in league with The Master, trying to disrupt the ‘Dreadful Avengers’ as I’d like to refer to them. His superhuman seduction skills may have rendered Hartnett’s character vulnerable or at least temporarily hampered his ability to be of further use to the group. The Master may be employing Gray as some sort of supernatural honeytrap that either grants him insight into the enemy’s long-term plan.

    I’m rather sure that Caliban will play a major part in the endgame, possibly tipping the scales in our heroes’ favour. Maybe the awareness of his role in the grand scheme of things will only be bestowed upon him after Victor has provided him with the mate he desires (most likely the hooker) since the show has been aptly dubbed psychosexual horror (or was it thriller?). So we’d have Caliban with his mate, the pesonified honeytrap that is Dorian Gray and The Master who may or may not have impregnated Vanessa several years before current events. Will the gestation period come to an end sooner rather than later? Will there be allusions to the importance of the child to The Master in terms of ridding himself (and his kind) of the shackles of daylight and other typically vampirical shortcomings?

  6. Even though I have been enjoying the quality of the “Penny Dreadful” series I have been considering giving up on it due to what appeared to be a continuous ambiguity to the show’s underlying story; that was until “The Closer Than Sisters” episode.

    The current episode explained quite a lot in a very engaging style, which in my view, enhanced the production quality even more.

    Fully satisfied with this last segment I am more than looking forward to the next one…

  7. I am very surprised this show is not attracting more comments. It is AWESOME!