Sunday, May 26, 2024

Penny Dreadful Shows the Importance of Morality in Character Development

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The end is in sight with City of Angels and it’s more chaotic than ever before. Now this in itself is both good and bad. Up until this point the series has hammered into our brains that this character is good and here’s why. This character is bad and here’s why, and this character is morally gray but we’re going to hold back on why. While it is important to draw the lines between the characters we should be rooting for versus the one’s we shouldn’t, the staple of the original series was that everyone was gray, or rather, everyone had something to hide that may impact our second perception of them. Some of examples of this in the original series were: discovering Ethan was a werewolf, witnessing Malcolm’s affair, and seeing that the creature truly did have a heart.

Now don’t get me wrong, City of Angels hasn’t completely ignored this, I just wish there was more of it. As of right now the only characters I can think of with this sort of story are Townsend, Molly, and Craft. Townsend is a horrible person, there’s no denying it. Yet what few shreds of morality he has left in him are slowly being corrupted out of him. Craft on the other hand, despite condemning his wife and being an active Nazi, seems to have qualms about who he is. Finally, Molly is still a complete enigma. We like to think that she’s telling Tiago the entire truth but we just know that she isn’t. That being said, I don’t believe that she’s malicious.

Coming back to comparing the two series again, on the side of character struggle the one difference that I do like is the smaller scale in consequences. Now this is not to diminish their own individual struggles, but if you look at the endgame, it is much smaller than covering the world in darkness. Even though Magda’s plans and motives aren’t completely shown yet, the soul of LA is less grand in scope than covering the entire world in darkness. And with this comes a more grounded focus on characters which is not perfect but still pretty damned good.

Episode 8 opens to Tom burying his hamster, that even he knows at this point Frank killed. He says as much to Maria, who knows the truth of what’s going on here. She may not know that Elsa is Magda, even though the resemblance is there, but she knows that something sinister is at work here. She gives him her protective Coyote talisman and the protection of Santa Muerte, yet her inaction lately leads us to question if it really will protect him.

Following the revelation of their last stake out, Tiago and Lewis do their best hatch a plan to discover the connections between Molly’s mother, Townsend, and Goss. You can see that there’s more to Tiago wanting to investigate the temple front when he continues to press Lewis on it.

Townsend finally goes to answer the threat of Beck calling to remove him from office, wanting to know who she plans on replacing him with. Like the current political atmosphere, Beck wants not only to remove him from office, but also to directly enact change against a system that allowed someone like him to be allowed into office in the first place. This isn’t the first time that the question of who Townsend’s father is comes up that he responds very emotionally to. We still haven’t found out who his father is but he isn’t the only character whose family rules over their image. He does try to end the conversation with a subtle death threat but she retorts with bringing up the fact that he is gay. While it’s horrible that she is able to use that as political ammunition, we do have to remember that this is a period piece.

Later, Lewis is waiting with Alex in Townsend’s office, it seems that Tiago swayed him to his way of thinking. He makes it obvious that he knows about Townsend’s ties with Goss. Townsend is surprisingly a brick wall, demanding that the next time Lewis comes around t make sure he has a warrant. As he leaves Alex follows Lewis out to tell him that Townsend knows exactly who and what Goss is, playing the role of fearful assistant. She spins him a story about her family being Jewish and displaced from Austria after Hitlers annexation. We can only scream in frustration as Lewis buys every lie spewed from her mouth.

Yay, more soap opera. I jest. Josefina returns to her mother at Craft’s house to tell her that’s shes moving out of their home to live in the temple with her new congregation. It’s a sad scene to see Maria’s family being slowly torn apart. It’s also infuriating when Josefina won’t even let her mother try and talk with her. We understand that she wants something different out of her life, but abandoning a family that is supportive and loving is not the way to do it. Such is cult mentality, and at this point we can call the temple exactly that. Even if Molly herself, or Josefina for that matter, can’t see it.

Things are made even worse for Maria as she goes inside. Elsa not only directly insults her spirit animal, the Coyote, making fun and saying that back in Germany they shot them for sport. Even worse, she tells her to never be seen speaking to other Mexican people at their gate. The true Elsa is beginning to show herself.

Speaking of the Craft household, Dr. Craft makes a visit to the asylum where he has condemned his wife to. It seems like she’s adjusting well after her desperate pleas from the previous episode. Yet, this is because of one simple truth. She thinks, or rather she knows, that she has the upper hand in the situation now. When Craft brings her custody papers to sign for the children, she plans to lawyer up, based on adultery and divorce. She’ll wait this out, even sacrificing not seeing her children, and then she’ll tear his life apart.

Of the little glimpses we get of Mateo in this episode, it seems that the killing is still weighing on him. Well, not so much the act of killing Reilly, but rather that Diego took the rap for it. However, Magda has other plans for the boy. Since she now controls almost every faction at each others throats, she needs someone as passionate to the cause as Mateo. Or that’s what she is leading him to believe. Even if is an ineffectual leader of a cultural movement, he’s still a weapon to use against Tiago.

On the other side of the investigation, Tiago finally catches up with Molly’s mother at the temple. She gives him her most Voldemort-like hug to thank him for catching the Hazlett Murderer even though it is a sham. Like Lewis, the first question he goes for is her association with Goss. She pretends like she doesn’t know he’s a Nazi and them tells him he’s providing the funds and workers via his construction company to help build them a new church in Pasadena. She’s playing that he wants to be saved by their religion. While on the surface, the goals of her church seem noble—shelter for migrants and indignant, feeding the poor, helping the sick–all free of charge of course—it’s a deflection to turn his thoughts away from Molly.

Her mother is quick to call Tiago a thrill for Molly, she doesn’t love him, only the thrill of what he represents. Apparently he wasn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last. This is still something he refuses to believe. All it takes is seeing his sister getting baptized for him to go off the rail. Later, it is clear that Tiago is head over heels. Despite his feelings and what he knows now, the two still spend the night together,

One of the few nice bits of this episode is mostly a visual affair but it confirms that even though Townsend is politically a horrible person, he does care for Kurt, as well as the gay community as a whole. He brings him to a sort of speakeasy that is guarded and exclusively gay. The atmosphere is wonderful and jazzy, the music speaks to the soul. It’s a shame that Townsend can’t reveal his true self in everyday life because he has the potential to be so likable. This is all ruined when he asks Kurt to kill Councilwoman Beck. It seems Kurt is actually turning against his Nazi nature as he talks to Townsend about what this will do to him on a spiritual level, he’s not a killer.

While most of this series has taken horror on a cultural and racial journey, it is easy to forget that nothing thrills more than an old fashioned tense and scary supernatural sequence. We see that during Maria’s night shift playing nanny for the Craft children and Frank. While the two real boys are watching TV, Frank revels in making Maria feel uncomfortable and bashing her life choices as he opens his mouth in a very Imhotep style.

Craft seems to be getting hit with bad news everywhere as his friend in the political club questions his leadership as well as his loyalty to the Nazi cause. It seems he’s not into Hitler’s radical beliefs of purifying the races of the world. He wants a world of peace. Elsa does her best to help Peter but it only makes him feel unmanned. It’s on their way home that we finally learn about Craft’s true background. His family name is actually Krupp, a 400 year old weapons family dynasty. In the Great War, as a medic he saw what his families weapons could do and it terrified him to the point that he no longer wanted to be apart of that.

The penultimate scene in the episode begins as Frank sees the talisman that Maria gave to Tom. As he is a part of Magda there is an obvious reaction and things turn into Chaos. He runs amok in a pitch black house scaring both Maria and the boys. Then he tries to whittle down Maria’s spirit by showing her dead husband. He says that Santa Muerte has brought him back to help her but it’s obviously Magda trying to scare the Coyote away from the Craft home. Our Maria is stronger than that and she endures.

Whether it was a dream or vision we don’t know. But what we do know is that Magda is tired of playing games. She has Frank burn his hands on an open stove flame just as he and Elsa walk in. Of course Elsa uses this to try and get dismissed but apparently Peter Krupp cares too much for her and gives her a raise instead for her many years of service.

The final scene is Lewis banging on Tiago’s door while he lies there asleep with Molly. He tells him to meet him downstairs. Apparently after his meeting with Townsend he looked up Via Hermosa in the public records. They decide to break into their offices until a shower of gun fire erupts towards them. Both manage to survive the barrage without any injuries but it seems they’re getting too close to something. Too close for someone’s comfort.

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