Penny Dreadful Season 1 Episode 5 “Closer Than Sisters” begins at Sir Malcolm’s house. We see Vanessa sitting in her room writing a letter to Mina. In it she’s says she’s going to tell Mina how the events that led to her being taken came to pass.
We then flashback to two girls running along the beach, one with dark hair and one with light hair. The girls are holding hands and laughing. They are clearly Vanessa and Mina. Little Vanessa tells Mina that they should go into the ocean and swim out as far as they can, but Mina is afraid and doesn’t want to. Current day Vanessa tells us that the girls grew up in estates next door to each other, and that the gate between their two estates was never locked, until the day it was locked forever.
Vanessa walks over to Mina’s house and says hello to her mother. The two girls and Peter, Mina’s older brother, have an unusual hobby: taxidermy. Vanessa is drawn to the predators, while Mina and Peter prefer the pretty, gentler animals. Suddenly a bell rings: Sir Malcolm is home from Africa! The two girls and Peter rush to greet him, and while he is happy to see all of them, he clearly favors the two girls over Peter. That night, the Malcolm’s and the Ives join together. The two families seem very close.
After dinner, Vanessa decides to take a walk through the Malcolm’s maze. She hears a noise in the maze and decides to follow it, thinking it’s Mina and Peter playing a trick on her. She rounds a corner and sees Sir Malcolm and her mother having sex. Instead of shocking her, Vanessa says that she “enjoyed” watching it. Vanessa goes home and prays, but God doesn’t answer her. Something else does. After that, Vanessa begins to change. She starts committing small crimes, like stealing Mina’s comb, that she tells herself is just “mischief” but she knows is much more.
The two girls grow up. Mina becomes engaged to an officer in the army, but Vanessa stays single. The Vanessa we see in these flashbacks is different than the Vanessa we know now: she’s wearing white, her hair is down, and she seems happy. She has lunch with Mina, Peter, and Mina’s fiance, and flirts with Peter a bit. Later, she tries to kiss Peter in the maze, but he rejects her. Not cruelly, he just seems frightened. He tells her that he is going to Africa with his father. She tells us (although not him) that she wants to tell him to stay, that he’s too weak to go to Africa, that he’s so beautifully weak.
That night there’s a big party: it’s the night before Mina’s wedding. After the party Mina and Vanessa are asleep in bed together, but Vanessa can’t sleep. She goes downstairs and finds Mina’s fiance drinking. She decides to show him the room with all of the stuffed animals. She tells him the eyes are the trickiest part, it’s trick to get dead eyes to look alive. She turns to Mina’s fiance and kisses him. He kisses her back, and the two have sex on the table. Vanessa looks up and sees Mina, watching them.
The aftermath is unbearable for Vanessa. She tries to see Mina, to fix things, but Sir Malcolm forbids her. She becomes extremely sick, although the doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong. We know that she is possessed by a demon, and Vanessa seems to know too. But her parents send her to an insane asylum. There they essentially torture Vanessa, putting her in a straight jacket, hosing her down, and finally drilling into her skull. When it’s clear she’s not getting better, they send her home to die.
Back at home, Peter comes to visit Vanessa. He wants to say good bye to her before he goes to Africa. She’s lying on her bed, catatonic. But as Peter starts to talk to her, she shows signs of life. She says he should have kissed her in the maze, he says he knows. As he’s leaving, she tells him not to go to Africa, he’s going to die there. It’s not a suggestion, but a prediction, and we already know Peter doesn’t make it out of Africa alive.
Some time after Peter leaves, Vanessa is lying in bed, looking at a mirror on her wall. She hear’s Sir Malcolm’s voice, and he tells her to recite some poetry. She says she can’t, she’s too weak, and that she knows he isn’t the real Sir Malcolm. He asks her to name him, she says he’s the devil. The devil tells her to recite the poetry, and then starts doing it for her. He tells her that he can give her the world, if she joins him. Vanessa at first resists, but then gives in and starts reciting the poetry. They kiss.
Vanessa’s mother is downstairs. She hears some strange noises coming from Vanessa’s room, so she goes to investigate. She hears Vanessa panting, like she’s having sex, and sees her writhing around naked on her bed. Vanessa turns her head, and her eyes are completely white. Her mother collapses, dead.
Some time after her mother’s funeral, Vanessa is walking on the beach. She sees Mina approaching from the distance. Vanessa is dressed in all black, Mina in all white. Mina tells her that she is forgiven, after all of her suffering, and that she is married now. Mina then tells her that she should have run after Peter, that day in the maze, and told him not to go to Africa, that he was too weak. Vanessa had never told Mina this, so she asks her how she knew about that. Mina’s eyes turn red, and she says:
“I know about many things now, Vanessa. The master has taught me much.”
Mina’s eyes turn brown again. She screams “Help me” and then vanishes, as if tugged away by an invisible rope.
Vanessa goes to Sir Malcolm’s house in London to tell him that Mina has been taken. The two both admit that they have blood on their hands. Sir Malcolm is at first still angry with Vanessa, but then softens and agrees to work with her and lets her stay at his house.
We see Vanessa finishing up the letter and putting in an envelope. She then puts the letter in a trunk. Inside the trunk are hundreds and hundreds of letters, all for Mina. Mina has been missing for a very long time.