Welcome to Bae Watch Wednesday, where I tell you all about the fictional characters you ought to be crushing on. This week, in honor of Halloween, I’m focusing on the protagonist of my favorite spooky show: Vanessa Ives from Showtime’s Penny Dreadful.
Who is Vanessa Ives?
Vanessa is the main character of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. Penny Dreadful is a Victorian horror series based on gothic literature. The show features characters from such literary classics as Dracula and Frankenstein. Vanessa Ives is an original creation — but that in no way means that she doesn’t hold her own among literary giants.
Vanessa receives a vision telling her that her childhood best friend Mina is in danger. She bands together with Mina’s father Sir Malcolm Murray to save her.
Along the way, Vanessa and Sir Malcolm gather new friends, eventually forming a sort of heroes’ company. A vampire has taken Mina, and our heroes must enter the demimonde — the in-between world — to save her.
Along the way, it is revealed that Mina is being used as bait by the vampire to try to capture Vanessa. We find out that the vampire believes Vanessa is the reincarnation of Amunet, the consort of Amun-Ra, the god of death. If the vampire gets his hands on Vanessa, he can bring about the end of the world.
When our heroes defeat the vampire at the end of Season 1, however, things aren’t over for Vanessa. Season 2 reveals that she has a new villain hunting for her — Lucifer himself. Lucifer believes that Vanessa can help him overthrow God and recapture heaven. Vanessa ultimately defeats Lucifer, but of course, she’s still not out of the woods. Lucifer had a twin brother, Dracula.
Although we are led to assume that the company defeated him in Season 1, Dracula reemerges in Season 3. However, he has learned from his mistakes and his brother’s failures. He seduces Vanessa with kindness, rather than trying to conquer her or offer her power. Vanessa gives in to the temptation… or so we are led to believe.
Now that Dracula has secured Vanessa as his consort, things don’t look good for our heroes, or the world at large. However, Vanessa has been playing Dracula. She has realized that she will never have peace because of who she is and that her continued existence puts the world at risk. Vanessa ultimately sacrifices herself to remove Dracula’s power and save the world.
Even before her death — even before the show begins — however, Vanessa suffered greatly. She was a dark child, but ultimately happy. She had good friends in Mina and Mina’s brother Peter and an easy childhood. However, everything changed when Mina became engaged. Vanessa was jealous, both because Mina was “ahead” of her in life, and because she was losing Mina’s full attention.
Vanessa has sex with Mina’s fiance the night before their wedding. There is a huge falling out, and when Vanessa tries to make amends, she is rebuffed by Sir Malcolm. She falls into a coma of some sort and begins having fits. Vanessa’s family thinks she is sick; initially, they think it is epilepsy but then fear it is a mental disturbance. However, Vanessa is being possessed by a demon.
Vanessa is committed to an insane asylum where she is treated for supposed hysteria. This being the late Victorian period, the care isn’t exactly great. She continues to be haunted by a demon, who we later find out is Lucifer.
Even after she is released from the asylum, Vanessa cannot find peace. She goes to the moors, where she learns she is a witch and an incredibly powerful one. She continues to be hunted for her power and her potential until she makes her final sacrifice.
Why is Vanessa Ives Bae?
Vanessa Ives, for all her secrets and dark past, is a genuinely likable person. In addition to her great personality, however, Vanessa is very beautiful. It’s not hard to see why Lucifer and Dracula want her for a consort. She’s also very classy and stylish. She almost always appears impeccably dressed. Eva Green, who portrays Vanessa, does a masterful job, and the Victorian setting does wonders for her aesthetic.
Vanessa is Nice
Vanessa is a nice, caring, and understanding person. That might not seem to be the case given her past, particularly the whole sex-with-your-best-friend’s-fiance thing. But Vanessa, at least when we meet her at the time of the show, is a nice person. She is a gentle soul.
Vanessa loves the broken things. She isn’t turned off by someone’s appearance. She befriends Frankenstein’s creature, who names himself John Clare. Clare and Vanessa bond over poetry and Romanticism. Clare fully expects Vanessa to treat him harshly because of his appearance, as that has been his general experience of humanity. However, Vanessa is kind and shows Clare that not all people are horrible.
Likewise, Vanessa is kind to Frankenstein himself. Victor Frankenstein, who is a part of her heroes’ company, is an awkward, shy young man. When Victor reveals he has fallen in love, Vanessa does not mock him but helps him and reaches out to his lady-love to be supportive.
Vanessa is also very non-judgmental. One of the characters we meet is obviously and flamboyantly gay. However, rather than reject him based on social mores, Vanessa is welcoming and friendly. When her friend Ethan begins dating a low-class prostitute, Vanessa is charming and open, rather than distrusting. For all her tragic past, Vanessa isn’t bitter or cruel. Perhaps she is kinder because she has suffered herself.
Vanessa is Strong
Vanessa’s kindness does not make her weak, however. She is strong and powerful. The only woman among our heroes’ company, she does not fall behind or hold them back. Instead, she functions as a sort of leader, guiding them on their path to save Mina.
Vanessa Ives may or may not be Amunet, the goddess of destruction and mother of evil. However, she is powerful and otherworldly. She is an incredibly powerful magician, though she tends to avoid overt uses of her power. However, in Season 2 she casts a curse on a man to repay him for murdering her mentor. At this point, we can see what she is capable of.
In Season 2, Vanessa can rout Lucifer on her own. Granted, he did not have a corporeal form, but he was still powerful. Vanessa, however, is more powerful. She will not take his temptation lying down but strikes out at him directly.
Vanessa is Complex
More than anything, however, Vanessa is a deeply intriguing character full of contradictions. She is a witch, yet she is deeply religious (at least in the first season). Vanessa is a devout Catholic and draws strength from her faith in God. Similar contradictions make up who Vanessa Ives is.
Vanessa is kind and gentle, yet at the same time deeply vengeful. She will not hesitate to use violence if it means saving her friends or avenging them. In Season 2, Lucifer tries to tempt her with visions of a normal life. He shows her a future in which she could be normal, and have a family with Ethan. However, she responds that she could never be happy being normal and shows her true power to defeat him.
Another contradiction arises from Vanessa’s seeming serious nature. She has lived a very dark and harsh life and focuses on her goals (saving Mina, her friends) wholeheartedly. Vanessa is capable of being almost childlike at times.
When a handsome young man asks her on a date, she is giddy with excitement and dresses up, asking Sir Malcolm what he thinks of her outfit. She teaches Ethan to dance while they are hiding from Lucifer’s witches. She makes jokes and goes to the museum for fun.
Vanessa Ives is not a one-note character, and that makes her worth attention.
What’s Not To Love?
Vanessa is a fascinating, beautiful, and ultimately tragic character. Even in her final tragedy, she shows remarkable strength and an innate sense of goodness. She is inspirational at times. She is incredibly endearing. I’m still not over the finale, though I respect how the show ended (okay, it took me a few viewings to get to that point).
Watching Vanessa sacrifice herself for the good of the world was heartbreaking because I genuinely love her as a character. She wouldn’t be Vanessa Ives without that core inner strength and kindness. I only regret that Penny Dreadful ended so that I can’t have more Vanessa Ives in my life!