If you haven’t been watching Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, I really don’t know what you are doing with your life. Ok—so maybe that’s a bit strong—but really, if you haven’t been watching the show, you should. It’s delightfully creepy, set in Victorian London and intertwining the stories of characters from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula with one another to great effect. But you won’t find Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), who this story really belongs to, in any of those texts. She is an entirely new character, like many of the others in the show.
In the first season of Penny Dreadful, Vanessa unites with Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), father of Mina Murray (Harker), who has been taken by a creature that they later learn is a vampire. Vanessa and Malcolm form a group of associates–Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), an American sharpshooter in a travelling Wild West show; Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), a talented doctor not afraid of experimentation; and Sembene (Danny Sapani), Malcolm’s enigmatic Senegalese servant. Throughout the course of the season, we discover that Vanessa has some incredible innate power; she is a medium, and she’s been running from (and sometimes possessed by) demonic forces for quite some time. In the second season, we learn that Vanessa is a witch, a day-walker who must constantly fight the temptation to perform dark magic and become a night-walker.
Vanessa is the daughter of Gordon and Claire Ives, wealthy socialites who lived next door to the Murray family. As a child, Vanessa and Mina Murray were extremely close, and Vanessa was expected to grow up and marry the Murray’s son, Peter. Even as a young girl Vanessa seems to have felt her differences keenly, especially after she witnesses her mother and Malcolm in the middle of sexy-times. She told no one, not even Mina or Peter, relishing the feeling of having a secret. As they grew older, a kind of resentment grew in Vanessa–she was still very close to Mina, but she began to feel abandoned by her. All of these feelings began to surface when Mina becomes engaged before Vanessa and Peter plans to leave with his father to explore Africa. Vanessa’s rebellion, as is probably not surprising, is sexual in nature—Peter rebuffs her advances, but Mina’s fiance does not. When Mina catches Vanessa with her fiance, the splintering between the two families is completed, their gates closed to one another. Vanessa is overcome by what is probably some kind of demonic force. She is institutionalized for a time, and then she returns home. One night the demon visits her in the guise of Malcolm, and she is seduced by the promised power—once again, the rebellion is sexual. When her mother runs upstairs to find Vanessa having sex with something that isn’t there, her eyes rolled back in her head and body bruised and battered, Claire dies from the shock.
It isn’t clearly exactly how, but perhaps the shock of losing her mother brings Vanessa back to herself once again. As she was walking on the beach one day, Mina appeared to her, and Vanessa learned that she has been taken by a creature Mina only refers to as “The Master.” Vanessa traveled to the home of the Cut-Wife of Ballentree Moor, who she believed could teach her about what she is and how to manage herself. Though the Cut-Wife is at first reluctant to accept her as a pupil, a strong relationship grows between the two, and she teaches Vanessa much about being a day-walker. But when Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory), a witch from the Cut-Wife’s former coven and a night-walker, begins making cattle sick in the area, the townspeople who previously tolerated the Cut-Wife and Vanessa form an angry mob. They burn the Cut-Wife, whose name we find out is Joan Clayton, at the stake, and Vanessa is branded with a cross. Though she willed the place and all her possessions to Vanessa, and though her desire was to see Vanessa living in the house and acting as the village’s Cut-Wife, Vanessa knows she must return and help Malcolm find Mina.
Vanessa travels to London, carrying only a few tokens from her time with the Cut-Wife, and finds Malcolm at home. The two form an uneasy alliance for Mina’s sake, and they recruit Ethan Chandler, Victor Frankenstein, and Sembene to help them. When they eventually do find her, it is only to discover that she is lost to them forever, possessed by the creature, and that he took Mina as an attempt to lure Vanessa to him. Malcolm protects Vanessa, embracing her as his daughter.
But of course, this is not the end of Vanessa’s troubles. Evelyn Poole and the other night-comers still want to take her to their master–the Devil. They concoct an elaborate scheme, using Malcolm as bait, but they are eventually thwarted in their efforts. Meanwhile, the group has been working with Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) and discovered that the creature is Lucifer’s brother, flung from heaven at the same time as Lucifer, and that both brothers are searching for a mate to stand with them as the mother of evil. Vanessa’s power has made her the prime candidate for both.
At the end of season two, Vanessa seems poised to embrace the darkness. She has committed her first murder–using an enchantment to kill the landowner who threatened her and was responsible for the death of the Cut-Wife–and has looked upon the face of evil, called it Beloved. Season three has just started, so we’ll soon see what path Vanessa is headed down.