Monday, July 15, 2024

Penny Dreadfuls Midseason is an Exercise in Emotional Characterization

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Half of characterization is seeing how a main protagonist or antagonist respond to any given situation; be it stressful, tragic, or even full of enjoyment. The other half is portraying the changes that said character undergoes after this event. As with real-life, all events change many aspects of ourselves so too does it for fictional written characters. As long as the writer is doing it well that is. The mark of great character development not only lies in our ability to relate to them, but rather can we believe the choices they make? Whether we like the outcome or not is it something the character would do? Even if it isn’t something they would; are we given enough reason why the change occurred?

With City of Angels being a very character-driven drama we expect that when the major events happen that it will change our characters realistically, for the better or worse. With last weeks setup to this midseason, a lot was riding heavy for most of the cast, their inner sense of identity or lack of being able to establish it, the balance between their ideals and sexual desires, and the true meaning of family. While not the action-oriented episode that I was only half expecting, I was pretty impressed with the way everyone’s revelations from the previous episode was handled. The way choices had their consequences and how other choices were thrust onto some.

The episode opens with another isolated event. It seems Magda’s Elsa guise isn’t exclusive to Dr. Craft as she meanders through a club, no doubt looking for a dance with a rich man. To what end is not really shown other than she meets a man who wants to take her home and “hurt her”. Perhaps down the line these opening moments will make sense. After the opening credits we see Mateo who is reacting much differently than last week to his murder of officer Reilly. He’s crying and hysterical with the blood still all over his clothing as Magda-Rio whispers nothing but justifications into his ear. Mateo is still afraid of his family finding out but it seems Rio’s mention that Pachuco are his family now coupled with the argument of the previous episode with his real family have set his heart on a different course.

Rio begins to undress him to purge him of the blood of his enemies and to instill him with a sense of pride and new identity. The mixture of native and European blood being the center of what created the “children of the royal sun” whom this Pachuco adaptation believe themselves to be. After the two are caught having sex by Fly Rico who opens his switchblade and throws it at the wall near them, probably scaring the death out of Mateo. Apparently it was only to initiate a threesome.

As we return to Tiago, it seems that his return to Molly has yielded the results I think we all saw coming as the two are shown making love back at the Malibu home. You’re disturbing the evidence Tiago! Our opinion of Molly is probably a lot different than Tiago and this episode settles it. She tells him a story about her and her mother living on the road in Florida when she was younger and getting caught in a bad storm. A truck eventually came by them, full of men, but they were taken to a dry place. They were decent men according to Molly and took care of them. Remember this story for now. The scene ends with Molly telling Tiago that while her mother seems like an angry zealous woman, it was her who gave Molly’s “useless” life purpose and introduced her to her God. She then notices the scar that Santa Muerte left on Tiago as he tells her the story behind it.

The next day Lewis catches up with Tiago as the two witness the beginning of the police retaliatory response to Reilly’s murder as they begin to harass Mexican-American communities. That didn’t take long. Tiago apparently was unaware of the murder. Lewis seems to believe this was a declaration of war and Lewis pressures him to disclose his whereabouts for the last 24 hours as no one could find him. We start seeing an angrier Tiago as he defends himself, but also a not so different version of himself that is aware that if Mexicans committed the crime then he would have to do his job. Let’s wait and see how much he actually means that.

The next scene shows Josefina meeting face to face with Molly and telling her the events that led up to her sexual assault from Reilly and all of its appalling and horrific detail. Molly tries to help her by telling her that she has known many women who have been through this horrible experience and come out stronger. Then she begins telling Josefina a story about her and her mother being caught in a storm. Sound familiar? It’s the same story she just told Tiago but with a very different ending. In this version the “decent” men passed around drinks and tobacco while she implies that they took advantage of her mother. While the result in helping Josefina cope is admirable the question remains whether either story was true. Why did she tell it to Tiago and what her is her endgame? However, by the end of this scene Molly learns that she is Tiago’s sister.

Tiago and Lewis end up in another Chicano neighborhood tracking down the woman who last had sex with Reilly, as we saw during his final moments. Apparently it was well known and she’s not exactly upset about it. The only name she gave them was Fly Rico, another Reina, and two unnamed men, one young with a bandage over his thumb. Tiago immediately changes his attitude. He then tells Lewis they need to go talk to his brother because he might know how to find Fly Rico.

Lewis’ friend Dottie meets up with the rocket science student as he’s working on formulas to have a little chat. She tells him that Lewis wants to remind him that he’ll all he can to protect the kid from the Nazi’s but he has to stay away from them. Dottie asks him to explain the technical issues he’s facing, apparently, she has a lot of know-how in the subject. Unfortunately she’s not the only one in the conversation as the fake Gestapo is listening from the bar. Goss is told immediately after and gives instructions to find out how much Lewis actually knows and to standby on what to do with the kid.

As Lewis and Tiago approach his home, Tiago thinks it best if Lewis waits in the car. He doesn’t which leads to some pretty wholesome Hispanic culture shock. Well not shock but you know what I mean. Lewis however, still thinks that Tiago is hiding something. The two have a short conversation with Raul until Lewis decides it’s a conversation for brothers only. Tiago delightfully asks Maria to introduce Lewis to Santa Muerte, symbolically of course. Maria shows him the shrine, tells him of her ideals, and explains the various colors of her reliefs and what you pray to them for. The chemistry between Lewis and Maria is kind of adorable. While it is something to hear Lewis say that Maria raised an honest man, the scene before and one coming suggests otherwise. We can believe Lewis does indeed trust Tiago, we can’t help but see it waning a bit. It is a beautiful scene and sentiment when Maria gives Lewis a small black relief of Santa Muerte, black representing protection from evil.

Next we move back to Townsend who seems to be in much better spirits than the last episode considering his new permanent partner. His anger is fully focused on Beck. Magda-Alex reaffirms his new happiness with Kurt but she warns him that he should never speak about it. It was would destroy his image, which unfortunately was a product of the time period he lives in. While on the subject of characters who don’t get a lot of screen time, we also get very little of Dr. Craft, yet it is significant.

He’s enjoying a game night with his family when suddenly a call comes. His wife asks him to let it ring because she and we know that it is Elsa. No shock that when she cries for help he leaves his family behind. Apparently she killed her “husband” while he was trying to rape her again but the body is clearly the man she picked up in the opening. He does help her dispose of the body but to what end Elsa is using him, remains a mystery.

This next scene was probably one of the most pivotal in the development of Tiago. The two catch up with a woman who seems to know Fly Rico and where to find them. Yet, all she gives them is run around answers and unnecessary truths not related to his whereabouts. Finally Tiago gets upset and blows up on the woman saying he knows shes living in the country illegally and if she does not help he will make sure they are separated and deported back to Mexico. It’s shocking that we hear this from him. Until now he did question his identity as a Chicano or cop and it seems he made his choice now. Or so we think. She gives the address and no one is more disappointed in Tiago who he compares to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When Lewis asks what his brother told him he says it’s private because it’s family. We can only guess it was something about Mateo.

The final scene is definitely the most significant of the entire episode as Tiago chases down a young boy who is an obvious lookout for Fly Rico. When their cover is essentially blown they move in for the arrest only to encounter stiff resistance from Fly Rico, Reina, Mateo, and some others. Tiago’s heart is obviously broken when he sees his brother. Tiago chases Rico and Mateo alone as Lewis watches the others but ends up only catching up with his brother at a dead-end gate in an alley. He asks him at gunpoint if he killed Reilly and Mateo confirms it with some pride. Any presumptions we had about Tiago and the importance of his family stop here as he lowers his gun and tells his brother to run. Lewis is going to be so disappointed if he finds out…

Image courtesy of Showtime

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