Previously on Penny Dreadful: A coven of witches, led by Mme Kali, set out to ensnare Vanessa, because everybody wants Vanessa.
Ethan finds the scorpion that Vanessa drew in her own blood on the floor and asks what’s up with that. She sits down on the bed and tells him the story of the Cut-Wife, the woman she visited after her initial possession, in an attempt to find out just what the hell her deal was.
Flashback to Vanessa approaching the Cut Wife’s house, out on the moor, a place that couldn’t look more like it’s supposed to house a witch if it were made entirely out of candy. She tries to approach but finds that she can’t seem to move past the gate. It’s pouring rain. She stands there as the CW looks out her window, then turns away. Later, she looks again. Vanessa’s still there. The next day, she opens the door, but Vanessa still can’t approach. CW (whose name, we later learn, is Joan, so we’re going to go with that) laughs. Witches are bitches. Night falls again, and it rains again. Vanessa, exhausted and probably hungry, drops to her knees and pitches forward, but then struggles back to her feet and remains standing. Apparently we’re operating by House of Black and White rules here.
The next morning, Joan finally comes out and approaches her. She roughly shoves her hand up Vanessa’s skirt, then draws a cross on her forehead in blood, speaks in Verbis Diablo (I think) and tells Vanessa she can come in. That’s a hell of a handshake. As Vanessa passes the gate, Joan asks if she’s there for an abortion, a love potion, something like that? Vanessa replies that she is not. Joan roughly asks why she’s there and Vanessa says she’s there because she’s not like anyone else. Joan grabs her and demands she explain how Joan got a scar that’s on her back. With Joan’s coaching, Vanessa figures out that she was burned—branded—by a woman she loved. Joan notes that she’s quick and agile, like a scorpion, and turns back to the house, telling Vanessa she can enter now. ‘Leave everything you were outside this door. Everything you are, bring with you,’ she says. Wow, this really is the House of Black and White.
Vanessa enters, taking in all the totems and things dangling from the ceiling. The woman tells her to clean the blood cross off her face and explain why she’s there. Vanessa says she came to see Joan, who’s so well known that her fame has spread all the way to Vanessa’s neck of the woods. The woman is said to have powers. The woman snorts and asks if Vanessa knows why she’s called the Cut Wife: it’s because she gives abortions. The locals hate her for it, but still avail themselves of her services when necessary. Isn’t that always the way? They hate you ’till they need you. Vanessa wants to know why she’s cursed to see things not of this world. Joan chuckles. Vanessa continues that her friend Mina needs her help. Joan harshly says she can’t do anything to help Vanessa, because the only help she can give someone touched by the daemon is knowledge Vanessa probably doesn’t want to have. Vanessa asks who branded her and then answers her own question: Joan’s sister. Joan is somewhat taken aback. She regards Vanessa for a moment, then goes to the table and lays out the tarot cards, telling Vanessa to look at them and let them speak to her. She shows her how to hold her hands over the cards and allow herself to choose one. Vanessa does, leaving it face down. Joan draws in a deep breath and moves towards the loft. At the stairs, she turns back and tells Vanessa to help herself to stew and the sofa. S she heads up, Vanessa turns over her card. The Devil.
The next day, the women walk through the woods and Joan tells her that the cards of the arcana don’t always mean what we assume. She asks Vanessa to tell her what the devil card can mean, besides evil. ‘A dark lover approaching, bringing terror. Irresistible. Part of you, but not, a whisper of something ghastly and beautiful,’ Vanessa elaborates. Joan starts telling her about the various plants and their uses. Vanessa asks if Joan was born with the gift. Joan learned it, but Vanessa was born with it.
Joan finds a curiously relaxed rabbit, fetches it, and tells Vanessa to break its neck. She does, reluctantly.
Back at the cabin, Joan skins the rabbit and starts deducing things about Vanessa’s mother. She knows the woman’s dead but, like Vanessa, was strong-willed and imperious. She also knows the woman slept with other men and guesses Vanessa kind of enjoyed catching her mother and lover together, because the secret gave her power. Joan suddenly announces that Vanessa’s in danger. It doesn’t matter much to her, because she’s old and that just makes her final days a bit exciting, but Vanessa really needs to watch out. She warns Vanessa she needs to learn to protect herself, but she’s also a dangerous woman in her own right. Everyone knows where she is, and the ones after her will be there soon.
That night, while she and Vanessa chat by the fire about Mina, Joan suddenly sits up and firmly tells Vanessa to stay where she is. She gets up and goes outside and finds Kali, Hecate, and one of the other witches waiting for her at the gate. Vanessa watches through the window as Joan and Kali greet each other as sister. Ahh, here we have it. Kali tells her to go ahead and send Vanessa out. They start talking in the Verbis Diablo and Kali says she’s pleased to hear that her sister hasn’t forgotten the old tongue, figuring she would have, as old as she is. Kali, meanwhile, has remained youthful and lovely. ‘That’s rather the point,’ she drily informs her sister. Kali sneers at her and once again orders her sister to send Vanessa out, because the Master seeks her above all. Joan tells her she can stand out there until she rots, since she can’t pass the stone. Kali starts calling for Joan to come to her and Joan is soon beneath the spell, reluctantly stepping forward. Just before she reaches Kali, however, Vanessa bursts out of the house, screaming, breaking the spell. Kali warns Joan that she can’t protect Vanessa or live forever. Joan will do it as long as she can. Kali gathers her girls and they vanish onto the moor.
Vanessa helps Joan inside and up to bed. The woman struggles, so Vanessa gently helps her undress and sees the brand on her back for the first time. A pentagram. Joan climbs into bed and Vanessa tucks her in. Joan tells her they must prepare for battle, because when it comes, it comes fully, and to the end,.
Kali walks through a field where cattle are grazing, slicing a few of them with that poisoned magical ring of hers. They drop instantly, dead.
At the cottage, Joan’s dumping a huge amount of salt into the dinner. Vanessa asks who the three women were and Joan explains that they were witches, her former coven. Back in the day, she and her sister and the others learned things from the very, very old days. Healing skills, mostly. But then her sister followed a different path, and the coven followed. Joan wasn’t willing to go along with it, so she was branded and cast out. They became the Devil’s followers, in exchange for youth and beauty.
Someone pounds on the door and Vanessa jumps. Joan reassures her that only fully human people can pass the gate. She opens the door and finds a teen girl on her doorstep needing an abortion. She gives Joan a locket and some eggs. Joan lets her in and orders Vanessa upstairs. Vanessa offers to help and is told to fetch a tarpaulin and lay it out. The girl is briskly ordered to pull up her skirt and lie down. She does, trembling and terrified, and she begins whimpering before things have even begun. ‘What will I do with you girls?’ Joan asks, getting out her tools. Vanessa tells the girl that God forgives all. Joan pulls out a button hook (EEEEEEEEEEK!) and gets started.
At a grand mansion, the local landowner, Sir Geoffrey, is complaining to Kali, his lover, that the dogs won’t stop barking and he can’t get Joan off her land. She holds an old deed from Cromwell. Oliver Cromwell, that is. Kali looks out the window and the dogs immediately shut up. She sighs that it’s a shame for a man like him not to be able to get his hand on the land he wants. That seems a bit weak, and she doesn’t admire that. He tries to tell her that little spot of land doesn’t matter to them and she agrees for the moment, suggesting they go for a ride. He grabs his hat and crop and mentions there’s some sort of cattle blight going around.
They go out riding and find a cattle herd that’s been absolutely decimated. Most of the beasts lie dead in the field.
Joan is teaching Vanessa the Verbis Diablo, as well as all she knows about healing plants. She warns her that the incantations are dangerous and she mustn’t learn to speak the devil’s language easily, or it’ll take over. She should only speak it if all else fails. They’re out in the woods, and they step aside as some farmers pass on a cart. One of them crosses himself and then spits on Joan. She shrugs that the locals send their girls to her, but hate her for it. Such is the way with those who work with women. She wonders why people always fear what they don’t understand.
Back at the estate, Kali and Geoffrey are getting ready to engage in a bit of S&M. Of course, Kali is the dom. She circles him with a riding crop, calling him pathetic and weak for failing to protect his cattle and get his hands on this land he wants. She hits him viciously, bringing blood. She tells him that the idiot peasants working his lands can be led and made to kneel just like him. It comes naturally to them, after all.
Joan collapses and Vanessa puts her to bed. Joan knows she’s dying and is perfectly prepared for it. She tells Vanessa she wants her to stay and make this place her land after Joan’s dead. The place needs its cut wife. Vanessa doesn’t seem all that keen on that idea. Really, though, how many girls in this sad, poor area need abortions?
Geoffrey goes to the local priest, who agrees that Joan is an evil woman. Geoffrey calls her a witch and reminds the man that his employment is dependent on Geoffrey, so he needs to fall in line. He tells him to meet at the pub that night, because they have work to do.
Geoffrey, riding home, comes across Vanessa in the woods and dismounts, grabbing her by the throat and getting ready to rape her. ‘Maybe I’ll make you scream,’ he says creepily. Instead, she bits down hard enough on his hand to draw blood, then draws a knife, holding it to his throat and telling him to scream. He does. She warns him not to come near her or her loved ones again. He gets back on his horse and rides off.
That night, Joan tells Vanessa that Cromwell gave her the land in return for her giving him supper after a battle back in the 17th century. Vanessa tries to get her to eat something but Joan wants to discuss her offer to give Vanessa the house. Vanessa’s still unsure about staying there. Joan asks her to fetch a book on the shelf and tells her that this is the most cursed of all the texts and spells: it’s the Poetry of Death. She says that, if there comes a day when Vanessa is crushed and beaten, she’ll open this book, and at that point she’ll have turned away from God forever. They hear an animal screaming in the distance and Joan says they get trapped in the mire and struggle, but the more they struggle the faster they sink. Vanessa lays her head on Joan’s chest and calls for God to give them sure footing. Joan strokes her hair, then tells Vanessa to put the book away.
At the pub, the vicar says that the bible calls for necromancers to be stoned. Geoffrey chimes in that, if the woman continues blighting his cattle, he’ll have to move and that’ll ruin the whole county. He offers more ale and, as the people get drunker, they agree that they need to fight. They call for the witch to be burned. Kali, standing at the back of the room, smiles in satisfaction and leaves.
Back at the cottage, Joan tells Vanessa that there’s something in a large box where she keeps her most precious things for Vanessa to find after she’s dead. Vanessa nods.
Vanessa has decided to leave, to Joan’s great disappointment. She accuses Vanessa of being selfish, for leaving the girls of the area to go and save one young woman. But their quarrel is interrupted by the arrival of Geoffrey, the vicar, and the local mob. Joan says she’ll meet them on her feet, but tells Vanessa to remain inside with the door locked. Vanessa refuses, saying she’ll walk with Joan. Joan nods, then warns her that the witches will hunt her until the end of days. Then she tells Vanessa that her name is Joan Clayton, the first time she’s told her this. She’s not the cut wife, just a woman who wanted to help.
She goes outside to find a bonafide lynch mob waiting for her. Geoffrey accuses her of necromancy and of being in league with the devil. Apparently those pesky notions of justice or a fair trial passed this particularly backwards town over. Some of the locals throw stones and grab Joan. Others hold Vanessa back as the brutes take turns punching and slapping Joan before chaining her to a large, dead tree just outside the gate. Two of them throw hot pitch over her—God, this is awful to watch. Between this and Game of Thrones this week I need a very, very long hug—and then set the pitch alight. Joan gasps but doesn’t scream as the flames quickly overtake her body. What the hell is wrong with these people? Who can stand by and watch something like this? Vanessa cries but also looks seriously pissed off. Joan dies quickly (mercifully), and then the vicar takes a cross-shaped brand, puts it into the flames still consuming the body, and once it’s bright red, he and Geoffrey go to Vanessa. ‘Come on, child, scream for me,’ Geoffrey whispers as the vicar brands Vanessa’s back. She, too, moans in pain but manages not to scream. She’s dropped to the ground, where she lies, sobbing. Kali takes all this in.
Vanessa spends the night in front of the fire inside and gets up, groaning in pain. She makes her way slowly, and very painfully, to the window and looks out. The three witches are waiting for her beside the dead tree.
Before she leaves, Vanessa goes to the box and pulls out an old document. It’s the deed to the land, signed by Cromwell. Joan’s name has been crossed out and Vanessa’s written over it. Vanessa folds it back up, then looks at the cursed book for a while. She packs up the tarot cards, takes one last look around, looks out the window again, and leaves. For some reason, the witches are not waiting for her. Come to think of it, why did the witches wait so long to swing back and go after Vanessa? She was at that party with Kali, so Kali knew she was in London. And why didn’t Vanessa recognise Kali at that party? Is she severely nearsighted and didn’t get a good look at her during any of the confrontations this episode? Lots of questions here.
Before she goes, she takes a moment to slit her thumb and use the blood to draw a scorpion on one of the stones at the gate. Who wants to bet that the last shot of the series is Vanessa returning to this place, once all the daemons have been banished?