Sunday, June 23, 2024

Penny Dreadful Gives us an Unlikely Hero to Stand Behind

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Well, that was a surprise and I’m not talking about Santa Muerte actually appearing in an episode for once. Up to this episode, I’m still not sure whether her lack of screen time is a criticism or a clever ploy by the writers that I’m clearly not recognizing. For me, this episode marked two distinct strengths that this and the previous series have managed to maintain so delicately. The first being an incredible consistency where character development and choice they would make are concerned. The second being a liberal use of the environment affecting the same choices and growth. Both these factors have been an important way of showing just how excellent of a job the writing crew has done.

As much as I don’t want to constantly compare City of Angels to its predecessor, the fact remains that what I’ve just mentioned is the shining jewel of the series. What I liked most about this episode, other than finally another glimpse at Santa Muerte, was that it took a moment to actually give us more of Maria. While she still has a copious amount of screen time compared to Lorenza Izzo, we haven’t been given enough to actually say we know her as a character. This is surprising when you consider that she’s one of the only people who actually knows of and believes in both Santa Muerte and Magda.

While of course, every character has their role to play in the grander spectrum of the series, Maria’s special place is that she has a hand in nearly all of it. From her sons being major characters in their own rights as well as being a housemaid for Dr. Craft, as well as everything I mentioned previously. It’s almost criminal that she hasn’t had more of a critical role in the series. Up until now, that is. From those who are practiced in any kind of cultural tradition, we know that our elders are the keepers of all of it. In this case, Maria is the elder yet, no one seems to believe a word she says. This seems to only make me love her character more but we will have to see what awaits her resilience and faith in what’s left of the series.

The episode opens with Maria taking a bus to work at Dr. Crafts’ house, in the local newspapers you can see that the news of Diego killing the Hazlett family and Reilly is all over the front pages. As they pass a graveyard she sees none other than Magda herself. The lie put on Diego is emphasized even further as Tiago is told about it from the barkeep. As Tiago leaves he runs in Molly who talks even more about it. Yet, she tries to help Tiago get out of his own head by offering him a shave. You can tell how much this lie is weighing on him, Molly does her best to cheer him up but then and “I love you” is dropped. The two go up to his apartment and the string of soap opera-y scenes of this episode begin.

In the following scene, Goss is trying to further sweeten the pot for Brian by showing him an area that he will eventually want to make into his very own lab. It seems the kid is stuck between wanting to help the Nazis as well as his own morality. Lewis is also present but hidden and taking photos. Later, Dottie meets up with Brian to see if he’s met up with the Germans to which he denies. That is until Lewis shows the photo evidence. Brian is definitely becoming slightly indoctrinated to his cause which is giving Lewis some serious fear. Dottie also recounts a story about people who did not appreciate her family’s Yiddish theater in her youth. It was looted by these people, her father beaten and the theater with all their plays burned. The lesson to be had here is what kind of person Brian truly wants to be.

Returning to Craft’s homestead, his youngest son Tom, is clearly not coping well with his mother being committed to an asylum. Even more so he doesn’t seem to be okay with the fact that Elsa is pretty much replacing her. Maria does her best to put the boy’s mind to ease but despite her best efforts unease continues to grow along with fake Frank’s eerie demeanor. Elsa is quick to make herself at home, moving quickly to make sure Craft’s eldest boy gets his own room so that Frank and Tom might stay in the same bedroom. This also costs Maria her own room for when she stays. With dignity, she accepts knowing that even though it seems seeded from malice it is not her place to argue. Dr. Craft however, who obviously sees her as family offers his own sort of niceties. The relationship between them is actually quite sweet despite what he is and Maria seems to be quite accepting of it.

As Frank settles into his new room with Tom, Tom does his best to make Frank feel welcomed by sharing his things and telling him the story of Robin Hood. He also shows Frank his hamster, Frank follows by telling him that he only wants to be a good brother. It’s unsettling and uncomfortable as we can see Magda has plans for Tom, yet to what end is not clear yet. Elsa on the other hand is also feeding into the racist part of Nazism to Craft as she worries that the children shouldn’t be subjected to so many different cultures. Of course, she means Maria and Latino culture specifically.

Councilwoman Beck also gets an appearance this episode in the ladies’ room alongside Alex-Magda. Her ever perceptive view of the world is shattered when she is told by Alex that she plans to make Townsend go all the way to the top, to become the President of the United States. Her disgust is shared no doubt by many, as his platform will be built upon racism, prejudice, and hate. Yet her perceptive eye also notes that before she came to work for Townsend, Alex did not exist. There are no records of her childhood, schools, training, or even medical records. Beck is becoming more and more of a threat to Alex who shows her frustration very violently. As if matters couldn’t get worse for her and Townsend, it seems Beck also filed a petition to have him recalled from office. Townsend seems ready to go to drastic measures, assassination.

Josefina also gets some screen time in this episode however, it is extremely cringe-worthy. Mateo meets up with her asking her if she loves him. He is obviously distraught over the murder of Reilly even though he’s in the clear. It seems murder isn’t an act he will get used to. What plays is just a constant cry for validation and affection to his sister but it comes off like a Spanish Novella. Her newfound religious fervor comes out too as she tells Mateo that God also loves him. This won’t be the only time this happens. Later, when Maria and Josefina return home, another soap-opera-like scene happens. Maria and her argue over religion, Maria is not fond of this new vision of God her daughter has taken to as Josefina mocks Santa Muerte in the same fashion. We wouldn’t be remiss if she too called it a cult. I really wasn’t into these scenes but all I can hope is that we don’t get much more of it.

Lewis and Ti ago finally meet up again after the drama of last week. Lewis begins to show Tiago what he’s been working on as far as the Nazi problem is concerned as well as playing off the anger he has from losing his two oldest friends. As he catches Tiago up on everything he’s learned he basically tells him this is a recruitment in exchange for helping to get Diego to confess. It was a debt owed and now he’s calling him on it. Dottie spies on a meeting between Gossman and Kurt later that night as they talk about the relationship Kurt is having with Townsend. Kurt is reminded of how expendable he also is.

At the same time, Tiago and Lewis are outside spying on the same dinner meeting. Lewis continues to express his mistrust in Brian while also telling Tiago what the capability of a V2 rocket could be. The Nazis could put one on a ship or submarine and potentially strike at any major city in the world. At this point, Lewis is out for blood. He wants to ambush Goss and Kurt and end this thing once and for all. Things take a major spin when Townsend and Alex appear to the same dinner. To Lewis, it’s clear that the Nazis have infiltrated the local government. A third enters, Molly’s mother.

The final scene is extremely significant as it establishes Maria as a major player in the series. She summons Santa Muerte again for help, explaining that Magda is targeting her and her family, tearing them apart. Yet, once again, Santa Muerte is almost uncaring, devoid of all empathy. Magda appears soon after to try and play to Maria’s anger, to draw her into her arms. Magda speaks of a division between her and her sister which is most likely the catalyst for her anger but up until this point, it is still unknown. Try as she might, Magda is unable to sway Maria to her side. Her spirit is far too strong for that. For that, we can only clap in triumph for Maria as she has the power to banish Magda from her shrine. Magda has found a new enemy, but will Maria be strong enough to truly defeat her?

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