New Show Recap: Penny Dreadful 2×03, “Nightcomers”

Vanessa emerges from the bathroom, having just washed. She encounters Ethan in her bedroom, and he asks her about the scorpion sigil she had scrawled on the floor in blood. She is unwilling to speak of what it is at first, but Ethan is determined to help her and begs her to tell him what the sigil is all about.

Vanessa tells Ethan the story of how she first encountered witchcraft. A few years ago, she went to the moors of the west country in search of who she was, and it was there that she encountered the Cut Wife of Ballentree Moor (portrayed by Patti LuPone). She was the first witch Vanessa ever met.

In the flashback, Vanessa goes to the Cut Wife’s cottage, but as soon as she tries to pass onto the woman’s land, she finds that she is unable to. The Cut Woman has cast a spell on a pair of cairns preventing trespassers from coming onto her land. We hear her laugh as Vanessa waits in the rain until dark. Vanessa, exhausted, collapses on the boundary of the Cut Wife’s land, but does not yield; she’s determined to see the Cut Woman. At dawn, the Cut Woman emerges from her cottage and allows Vanessa to enter her land. The Cut Wife is a wisewoman of old, and she demands why Vanessa has come to see her. Vanessa tells her that she is there to seek the Cut Wife’s help. The Cut Wife teaches Vanessa to use her mind and her magic, like a scorpion’s claws, to see into the Cut Wife’s past and to see how the Cut Wife got the scar on her back. Vanessa is able to see that the Cut Wife got her scar from a branding iron. The Cut Woman allows Vanessa to enter her cottage.

The Cut Wife demands why Vanessa has come to see her. Vanessa has come to her because she has supernatural powers as well, and she is known for those powers. The Cut Wife laughs and says that she is better known as an abortionist than as a witch. Vanessa tells the Cut Wife she has come for help because she is cursed by her clairvoyance. She tells the Cut Wife about her visions of Mina. The Cut Wife can’t help Vanessa if she has been touched by the devil, but Vanessa is much more perceptive than the Cut Wife believes. She asks the Cut Wife who gave her the wound, and she deduces that the Cut Wife’s sister branded her.

The Cut Woman is convinced of Vanessa’s power and promises to teach her witchcraft, starting with reading tarot cards. She tells Vanessa that her power is intuitive. Vanessa pulls a card to answer the question of Mina’s fate, and Vanessa draws the Devil. The Cut Wife lets Vanessa stay with her and promises to teach her the arts. While the Cut Woman learned her gift, Vanessa was born with hers.

The Cut Wife and Vanessa discuss the meaning of the Devil tarot card, and Vanessa tells the Cut Wife that the Devil means something of herself but not, a dark lover, something dark and ghastly, which the Cut Wife agrees with. The Cut Wife educates Vanessa on the powers of herbs and simples and shows her the work that comes with being a wisewoman. She challenges Vanessa to break a rabbit’s neck for food, and Vanessa does so. As the Cut Wife dresses the rabbit, she tells Vanessa what she knows about her mother. who was much like Vanessa — strong-willed, imperious, and who liked other men than her father. Vanessa is in danger as a result of her powers, and the Cut Wife tells her she must learn to protect herself from demons. The Cut Wife knows that Vanessa has been touched by the devil, and that she was able to feel Vanessa’s arrival, as could the darker forces.

During dinner, the Cut Wife feels someone drawing near, and she goes outside to see who it is. Three cloaked women have arrived, and Vanessa watches the exchange between them. Evelyn Poole has come to her sister, the Cut Wife, telling her to send Vanessa out to them. Evelyn is an evil witch, and the Cut Wife is a benign witch. Evelyn uses her powers to try to entice the Cut Wife across the border of her land, but Vanessa intervenes just in time.

Afterward, the Cut Wife shows Vanessa her totems for protection, and Vanessa helps her to remember which totems work. She shows Vanessa the mark on her back — a pentagram — and tells Vanessa they must prepare for battle. Vanessa asks the Cut Wife who the women were, and the Cut Wife tells her that the women were nightcomers — witches — and that their leader, Evelyn, was a sister in her coven. Long ago, when the old gods had walked, the women had learned of the uses of herbs, simples, and healing spells, and they had been daywalkers then, but then Evelyn and the other members of the coven sold their souls to the devil and burned the Cut Wife as a traitor. Vanessa, as a spiritualist, knows the dark, midnight arts.

A young woman comes to the Cut Wife for an abortion, and Vanessa insists in the procedure, comforting the girl as the Cut Wife does her work.

In a manor house close to the property, Evelyn Poole is trying to convince her husband, the local landowner, to evict the Cut Wife from her lands. Her husband is reluctant to evict the Cut Wife, but Evelyn is determined that he do so, as there is a blight among the cattle, which Evelyn has caused to happen. The two go out for a ride to see that all of the cattle are dead.

The Cut Wife teaches Vanessa the Verbis Diablo, with the warning that she must not speak the language lightly, or else the devil could take her soul. Vanessa confides that she feels as though she is a monster, since normal humans see witches that way,

Evelyn and her husband are having sex, and they enjoy in engaging in BDSM, with Evelyn as the Dom. She whips her husband as she uses her words to cast a spell to compel him to evict the Cut Wife from his land.

In the morning, Vanessa finds that the Cut Wife is ailing, and they both know that the Cut Wife is dying. The Cut Wife requests her pipe, which Vanessa gives her, and requests that Vanessa live on her land after she is gone. Vanessa is a daywalker — a benign witch — with much power, but Vanessa insists she can’t stay, as she wishes to help Mina.

Evelyn’s husband, Sir Geoffrey, goes to the local vicar for help in evicting the Cut Wife from his land. He reminds the vicar that he is the land’s benefactor. He confronts Vanessa in the forest and asks her if she knows who he is, since he could have her branded as a poacher. He attacks Vanessa, covering her mouth, as he is intent on raping her, but she bites his hand and holds him at bay with her knife. The squire flees in terror.

The Cut Wife, who is ill and dying, tells Vanessa of how Oliver Cromwell granted her the land in 1644 in exchange for refuge. She bequeaths her book of spells to Vanessa, whom she had nicknamed her little scorpion, in the case that Vanessa should be deserted by God and need help.

The vicar has recruited some members of the village so that he might do Sir Geoffrey’s bidding. They seek to evict the Cut Wife from the area and burn her. They blame the Cut Wife for the plague on the land when really it is Evelyn who is the cause. Evelyn smiles at the chaos she has caused. The Cut Wife has something in her box for Vanessa as her end approaches. Vanessa will be leaving after the Cut Wife dies, and the Cut Wife tells her that she is selfish for her heroics and her desire to save Mina. She curses Vanessa to never pass a happy night. After this, a horse whinnies, a signal that the villagers have come. The Cut Wife rises from her bed to meet them, and Vanessa walks by her side. The Cut Wife cautions Vanessa that the nightcomers will hunt her for days, and that she needs to be true to herself. And then the Cut Wife, who never disclosed her name to Vanessa, reveals that she is a woman by the name of Joan Clayton.

The villagers set upon the Cut Wife and kill her, despite Vanessa’s cries of protest. They burn the Cut Wife as some of them hold Vanessa back. Vanessa weeps as she watches the Cut Wife die. As the Cut Wife burns, Sir Geoffrey heats an iron cross in the fire. He brands Vanessa with it on the back. Later, Vanessa recovers in the Cut Wife’s cottage, and she opens the window to find that the villagers have left her. In the morning, she finds the dead woman has bequeathed the land to her. She takes the spellbook with her and leaves the cottage, but before, she makes sure to draw her sigil — that of the scorpion — in her own blood on the cairns to protect the land. As she leaves, she remembers the Cut Wife’s words: “Remember, when Lucifer fell, he did not fall alone. They will hunt you until the end of days. Be true.”

And that’s it for this week’s Penny Dreadful. I have to say that I loved this origin story about Vanessa. She is one of the best woman characters on television right now.

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