Sunday, April 21, 2024

Penny Dreadful Reminds us that Family is Always There, for Better or Worse

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Of all the things that Penny Dreadful: City of Angels has been trying to hammer into our heads from the very onset of the series is that family is everything. Which isn’t to say that every family is perfect, clearly the Vegas aren’t, or that every family relationship is a positive one. No, when I say family is everything, it means that no matter if your relationship or past is positive or negative, it will leave a lasting impression on your character. In this series’ case, almost every character is shaped by their experiences with their families, or lack thereof.

Again, this is not the first episode where we suddenly realize that this is one of the most prevalent themes of the series, but it is the one where we realize that these thematic choices will directly shape the events of the coming finale. For most of the season we’ve seen both the positives and negatives of the Vega family. They’re center stage because through all their members, the forces that move the show forward are connected. In a way, with them we are seeing every event go by with a different viewpoint, a different mindset, and many different losses that can come. The emotional and spiritual stakes are high and this tension will set the stage for the finale.

It isn’t just the Vegas from whom we get some notion of family, for now they are just the most positive, which speaks to just how uncomfortable or shameful the experience of family can be for some. Last episode we finally got to see the secret that Peter Craft was hiding. For him, he was ashamed of his own family for being dealers of death and destruction. For the whole season we’ve questioned his morality due to the fact that he is Nazi. Yet, coupled with the shame he feels towards his family’s dynasty, the fact that he does not agree with the actual Nazi agenda speaks to the true morality of his person. Granted, the way he is treating his wife is also indicative of his morals, though in a negative way, we still can’t help but see him as a bit of a better person based on how he views his family.

The penultimate episode of the season opens in the wake of the shootout from the previous episode. Neither Tiago nor Lewis were seriously injured, but Lewis was in deep mourning for his car. At this point, the only suspects behind this gang style shooting are the Nazis or hired guns under the hire of Miss Adelaide, Molly’s mother. Revenge is clear in Lewis’ mind at this point.

Next we move to Townsend, who is mourning as well, mourning the loss of the motorway of his that could have been and the recall of his office. He’s woefully aware of how much the city of truly hates him and this turns into a tantrum about how no one has ever loved him. Alex does her best to show him that it’s still not over. There’s still one more thing he can do. Talk to his father, a man who has been very elusive thus far. Also I want to offer a rest in peace to Brian Dennehy who recently passed away, he played the role of Townsend’s father.

Next we move to the Crafts as Peter brainstorms with Elsa about how best to get through to his son Tom, who is still upset over his mother leaving him. Peter realizes what he did was selfish to both of them, but Elsa of course uses her honeyed words to sway him. She suggests a family outing together to see a movie. By now we know how much Tom loves Robin Hood and it seems like his new film would be just the thing. Afterwards, Elsa pettily just makes Maria’s life hell. At this point we can almost be sure that Maria knows exactly who Elsa is and that she is not afraid.

However, it is not just Maria who is sick of things. Lewis makes a bold decision to go straight to Goss at a country club and opens with some very condemnatory sarcasm about his ties to Hitler. The reason for his visit is clear, he wants to let Goss know he knows who he is and that he knows he tried to kill him. Reminiscent of Quentin Taratino’s Inglorious Basterds, the scene plays like the conversation between Lapadite and Hans Landa. Only this time, Lewis is comparing Jewish people to roaches in their ability to survive rather than the insulting and prejudiced comparison to the rat in the film. Either way, it’s always amazing to see Nathan Lane let out his passionate acting ability.

Before Lewis leaves, he’s left with the threat that Goss will not only get Brian back but that he will also kill anyone close to Lewis. We also learn about Lewis’ estranged family: a wife who left and a few children and grandchildren. Some are ashamed to associate with him and some have never met him. It seems Lewis isn’t as alone as we thought and this is in keeping with the theme of family. It seems he can still be ruled, or rather threatened, by his. What skeletons lay in that closet I wonder? Yet, it seems he’s not the only one whose wishes he was someone else. Molly begs Tiago to let her be someone other than Molly, like the day they first went out.

The moment of truth is at hand for Townsend as he finally decides to see his father. We can tell how little he cares about him already when he’s required not only to make an appointment but that it can only be a few minutes long because he has other things to do. Upon asking for help with the motorway it seems his father is still making him pitch a speech for why he should use his influence. It’s here we learn his father was responsible for building the major roadways and bus transports for LA. Apparently his father is more concerned with aviation. Due to advancing technology as well as the looming war, planes will be needed more than ever. We can see why Townsend dislikes his father, he is prejudiced, homophobic, and just a generally terrible person. We can be happy that Townsend isn’t getting his way, yet we can still feel bad for him.

Back to Lewis, it seems like he’s finally going to make the deal with the devil again. He returns to Berman and his organization. Last time we saw him, Lewis was unable to take the life of a man without due process, but it seems Lewis is becoming more desperate. Berman makes sure he realizes that if Lewis “makes him his friend,” there is no going back. It’s for life.

Maria returns home to find Raul in deep thought. Perhaps they’re saving it for the finale but somehow I just know that there will be a cost for bringing him back to life. Despite the fact that he’s been mostly to himself is strange but nothing so clearly odd. It seems that he thinks he’s ready to go back to work. He feels he has a purpose but he doesn’t know. To cheer him up, Maria wants him to take her out dancing. The two decide to visit The Cat, where like the last time we saw it, it’s full of amazing swing jazz and loads of great dancers.

It seems they are not the only ones there as Raul literally bumps into Josefina. It’s nice to see that Josefina is not harboring bad blood with her family after leaving, and the three of them sit down in order to catch up. Maria asks her about coming home but the answer isn’t different from when she left. In full cringy, Westside Story fashion, the Pachucos show up like a really bad boy band. Including Mateo. He goes towards his family, mostly for Josefina, but it’s good to see he remembers who they are.

Mateo introduces Rio to Raul after Maria refuses to acknowledge them, and he rounds on him about him being a Pachuco now. Mateo defends himself about how everyone was able to find his pride. Why was this different? Pride was what Maria taught them. It’s clear he misses his mother but for one night he wants them to be a family again.

Back in the police department, the force is getting ready to move Diego to San Quentin prison. It seems Lewis’ boss is worried about something going wrong during the transfer, so he reminds Lewis to make sure there’s no grief. Diego is still angry of course but nothing like the looks on all the police inside the station. Also, while the scene is short, it seems Brian has figured out the rocket equation and he’s working on something bigger now. That’s as vague as it gets, until we see Kurt sneaking about the house. The two are saved by Berman’s timely intervention.

Before the episode is over, we get a final glimpse of the Craft family on their way to the movie and stuck in heavy traffic. Some things never change in LA, eh? Craft recounts the first picture he ever saw, which wasn’t a movie but rather a slideshow of photos. This ties heavily to his aspirations as a good man. A place better than he was.

Finally Tiago and Molly make it to The Cat as Tiago recounts his early life. If we didn’t know better, they would be a perfect happy couple. We will see soon if it is true. Tiago wants to leave when he see’s his family but Molly insists. Raul, being the typical big brother, embarrasses him, though it’s all in good fun. Raul is so charismatic, more so than we’ve ever seen him. Hell breaks loose when Maria finally figures out where she knows Molly from, to her she’s the woman who took Josefina from her even though she left by her own choice.

Things get even worse now that Josefina and Mateo return. It seems that Raul and Tiago are the only ones trying to return things to civility as blame and shame is passed from one member of the group to another. Mateo and Tiago also throw each other’s most major crimes at one another, without context thankfully. Mateo asks if Tiago is going to shoot him and Tiago asks if he will slit his throat. Like Townsend, Tiago feels like he’s not good enough for everyone. Despite this woe is me attitude, he still proclaims his love for Molly. Suddenly all is repaired, it’s almost like a dream but its such a relief to see. Anyone part of a Hispanic family knows well how that works.

The final scene ends on a horrible note. As the transport vehicle is taking Diego to a transfer spot, Lewis is held at gun point by his fellow officers. The rest take Diego and hang him to death from a light post as Lewis can only watch in horror.

Image Courtesy of Showtime

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