Sunday, June 16, 2024

Penny Dreadful’s Finale Reminds us About the Importance of Reality Being Mirrored in Fiction

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And so we finally arrived at the dreaded (haha) season finale of Penny Dreadful: City of Angels. What a journey it has been thus far, and I can’t wait to see what the sophomore season will bring. As I’ve said many times before, this was a very character-centered drama and you would be remiss in being slightly disappointed in the lack of any fictional horror. Instead we were given true horrors: racism, prejudice, Nazism, and gross injustice. As with written fiction, the writers’ story is only as good as how real it feels. How well we can relate. With all that is going on in the United States at the present, it’s not hard to feel the all too familiar injustices faced by people of color and folks of marginalized sexual orientation, identities, or religion. We are reminded of the awful history that is still present. Yet, instead of looking away, the writers chose to stare it right in the face. To make sure at the very least it is recognized and at the very most, emphasized. This is because true horror is something real.

This sense of tension and the atmosphere of extreme oppression is obviously not the work of Magda. It exists already and has for generations. However, that does not stop her from using her powers of persuasion and the ability to bend minds and actions to her will with a horrifying sort of grace. The silver lining is that all the consequences created by her manipulation of the characters is an especially creative exercise in character development. They feel real and the choices they make are ones that we may have faced ourselves had our lives been different. The paranormal or non-human aspects that seem to be scarce are replaced by an all too real horror: a fear of one’s self.

In terms of the finale itself, we knew this wasn’t the end. While the pacing was spot on for most of the series, we knew ten episodes would not be enough to cover the story wanting to be told. In fact, this finale felt more like the end of a chapter. We were given a great and horrible event that surely will have ramifications when moving into a second season. We had characters make choices that cannot be undone, for righteousness, malice, and escape.

Many of the Penny Dreadful: City of Angels characters learned about themselves. Some gave into the pressures of what they never wanted to be while others found the strength to be either what they wanted or needed to be. Either way, no one is coming out of this season the same, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what season two brings. The finale started with a bang and ended with a crawl, but I mean this in the best of ways.

The episode opens the same night where the previous episode ended. However, this time around it’s Santa Muerte who is walking through the dancers, unseen. As she roams, we see Molly and Tiago dancing while he tells her the significance of the Day of the Dead. It’s a tender moment for the two. I’ll admit I had my reservations about Molly’s agenda, but she seems to be really in love with him. The moment is ruined as we see Lewis desperately search for Tiago in the crowd and we know exactly why.

Tiago tells Molly to go with Lewis, and he rushes to get his family out. Soon after, Fly Rico gets the message from his own spy. Before Mateo can leave with Tiago, Rico takes the stage to make the announcement about their fallen ally. He does his best to keep the crowd calm but Rio only fans the flames of anger by riling up the crowd into a frenzy. Despite her efforts, Rico is able to maintain the peace, urging them to think before they act, to not resort to violence like the cops who killed Diego. Instead, he convinces them to march and to take down Diego and bury him with dignity. The crowd takes to the streets and walk as one, in solidarity. Things however, are about to take a turn for the worst.

We return to the Craft family as they sit in traffic after watching Robin Hood, and the boys clamor over their love of the film. Peter spots the crowd marching in the near distance and instructs the boys to roll up their windows. There’s a seminal moment where two of Magda’s personas catch each others’ gaze and we know it is not going to end well. Frank screams in the back seat, causing Peter to floor his car in panic, pinning a marcher to another car as Rio screams out that they’re being run down. Pair this with a couple of sailors coming out of bars to hear the commotion and suddenly the march becomes a full-on riot.

In the struggle, a man takes a baseball bat and smashes the window next to Tom and shattered glass stabs him in the forehead. A flesh wound made worse by the fact that he is a child and terrified. Tiago does his best to move through the crowd, trying to find Mateo, but Mateo is more interested in finding Rio and Rico. He catches up to them as Rio stabs Rico in the heart and declares Mateo a new king, the new leader of the Pachuco. As Tiago enters the scene, so do three sailors who begin to gang up on him. Mateo helps to get them off but as we can see, his allegiance no longer belongs to his brother. A shame with how they made up in the previous episode.

The following morning, all of LA is now under official martial law and Tiago is the angriest as we’ve ever seen him. Molly does her best to treat his physical wounds and tells the tales of her four sisters before her, none survived very long and she longed for a sister. The idea of a bunk bed was something she fixated on. Tiago is having yet another crisis of identity and Molly takes the full force of his anger, something she doesn’t deserve. He reminds her of the realities of what association with him would bring about in others’ eyes. She tries so hard to bring Tiago back to her but at the end all she is left with is her depression as it flows full force. Tiago is called away by Lewis but it seems these two might be alright after all.

Fortune seems to be favoring Townsend as he laughs in happiness at reading about the martial law now in effect. It seems due to the riot, the city council has approved of his plan to build the motorway through Belvedere Heights, effectively destroying the neighborhood. It is strange, however, that we don’t see or hear from Councilwoman Beck in response to this. For how much Townsend was disgusted in being in league with Nazis, he sounds awfully like them when he says he’s going to build his own 1,000 year Reich.

The scene is balanced as it moves to Peter comforting his son. Tom doesn’t know why this happened but he easily allows himself to say he hates the people who did this. Peter gives him a caring lecture about what harboring hate in your heart does, how he shouldn’t. Elsa on the other hand is more worried about how Peter will allow the Bund to handle this. She begins to sow the seeds of intolerance as she urges him to act.

Tiago and Lewis return to his home in Belvedere Heights where we learn that Brian is being hidden there. It seems he wasn’t aware until now. The plan according to Berman, when he isn’t flirting with Maria, is to ship Brian down to Baja California where he has a private airfield that will fly him all the way to New York, where he’ll be safe. Lewis mentions that hiding him in a Mexican area is good idea for now because the Germans won’t think to look there, yet a scene with Goss mentioning that as an idea to Kurt bodes differently.

We then move back to Molly who is preparing for a service. Apparently, she wants to address the previous night’s riots but her mother is strongly against it. She also tells her mother that after this sermon she’s leaving, showing her the self harm that is being caused by living a life that she doesn’t believe is hers. Adelaide is almost positive this decision is springing from her love for Tiago. This is followed with a guilt trip and then a very serious threat. We learn now that when Hazlett threatened Molly’s reputation at the church, she “handled it.” While not right out saying she killed his family, she does basically admit to it. She’ll do the same to Tiago if she needs to. We see her now for the insane mother that she is and feel that Molly is truly trapped.

Brian’s farewell to Molly is adorable as she gives him some Yoohoos for his trip. It seems the two really grew on one another. As they drive away, Kurt begins to tail the escort. Suddenly the scene turns tense when Lewis and Berman realize that he finished his original project already and is working on a new one: a new type of bomb that uses nuclear fission to create the power of a thousand suns. A bomb that could wipe out an entire city. A nuclear bomb, the first one, as the Manhattan project would not be completed for some years. When the group finally realizes just how dangerous Brian is, they make the fateful decision, to end his life. Lewis does the deed, comforting the young man before he realizes what is about to happen. It isn’t easy but in hindsight, it never is.

Before continuing I want to give my readers a warning before reading the next paragraph. This is a Trigger Warning as the following scene includes a depiction of severe depression and the act of suicide. If you feel this will trigger you please skip this paragraph.

This was definitely the most devastating scene in this series thus far. As I mentioned before, up until now I did not trust Molly but as it stands she was a woman lost, struggling with major depression that stemmed from not being able to live her own life or to have one. We see this here in a pool, with the look of complete grief in her eyes knowing that nothing she will ever do will change her mother’s power over her life. It seems right now the only true escape for her would be in death. Santa Muerte herself appears to comfort this poor woman in her final moments, as a sister asking which part of the bunk bed she wants. It seems Santa Muerte has not forgotten who she is as she embraces Molly. Not long after, Adelaide runs to the same pool where we see Molly floating surrounded by a cloud of her own blood. At this point even her cries send shivers down our spine, she may have been a monster but at the end of the day, she was still a mother.

A final scene with Peter Craft shows him pulling out a German Iron Cross medal as we see him struggle with what Elsa is forcing him to become. Thinking of his boys, he puts it on and lets out a German salute with tears running down his eyes. Yet even sadder is that news of Molly’s death is already all over the radio, and it doesn’t take long for Tiago and Lewis to hear it. The final minutes are filled with grief and pain as we see Tiago’s family together one last time where their dead family members are buried. The final nail comes from the destruction of Belvedere Heights.

They fought so long to prevent this and it is just as painful as anything else. Yet Lewis and Tiago seemed to be filled with a new sense of vigor. He also gives a very important piece of dialogue. When Lewis mentions that all this for a highway, Tiago responds with some profound wisdom. This was to control the population, to keep Latinos, people of color, Jews, Asians, in ghettos. This wasn’t to build a highway, this was to build walls. In the next season of Penny Dreadful, I believe we’ll truly see them at their best, because how much lower can they be than now?

Until next time my friends.

Image Courtesy of Showtime

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