Friday, April 19, 2024

Tensions Reach Boiling Point as Penny Dreadful Approaches Midseason

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As we move closer to the midseason of things it’s important to remember what expectations we’ve set for this series so far. All the things I’ve talked about for the past few weeks, of course, play a key role in what’s making the show so intriguing and keeping us watching it every week. However, one of the most important traits of good storytelling, is if all these things are helping to move the plot forward. You can create the perfect characters and the most detailed situations but if the plot doesn’t go anywhere then what’s the point?

In place of the Gothic style fear of the original series, we’ve been subjected to racial and cultural tensions. What makes this situation so effective as a means of replacing fictional horror is that it allows groups of certain race or culture to relate not only to the horrifying aspects of the show but to the more wholesome ones as well. For example, I’ve mentioned before that while I’m a non-Mexican Latino, both the dancing scenes and sense of community were very familiar to how my family hosts similar functions. I’m sure other viewers of Latino background feel the same.

As of right now, I think some major action will happen in next week’s episode and the current one is setting up for it to be exciting and violent. While of course, midseason should mark a culmination of events spread throughout the series it seems that a more emotional direction will be taken. As a very character-centered series it’s only natural that we expect more of a crazy drama between the cast with Magda behind the scenes but I’m sure there will be plenty of action as well. For now, let’s look at how this scene will set up the midseason.

The opening scene is a vignette featuring Santa Muerte, who we really haven’t seen much of this season. It seems she’s true to her words that she cannot care for the living. The setting is a small village in Mexico where a family is shown and two out of place men who seem to speak Hebrew or Yiddish. Another group of men appear and gun the two down using a sea of bullets from Tommy guns and take out everyone else in the vicinity. The two then walk to the men who were targeted and shoot each in the head the make sure they are dead. The scene closes with Santa Muerte carrying a little girl’s body in her arms with the look of grief on her face. I don’t want to say this was random but it is hard to understand what it means in the greater spectrum of things. Perhaps it is an allusion that when hell breaks loose in LA, Mexicans will get caught in the crossfire. I course mean from the Nazis.

Post intro we return to LA the morning after the riot in the Cat and countless Mexicans are behind bars as Tiago tries to figure out what’s going on. Not long into his search, he finds Reilly, of course, beating a young kid half to death in what he calls an “interrogation”. Tiago almost beats Reilly himself until his boss comes in to remind him that he is an officer. At this point, the upper brass doesn’t care who’s pinned for the Hazlett family murder but he gives Tiago the motivation to work harder in exchange for a reason to stop these brutal interrogations.

Following this, we return to Townsend who is briefing the other city officials that Via Hermosa construction company will be taking over the building of the motorway in order to begin the process of healing the city. Councilwoman Beck does exactly as she said she would in the previous episode. She shows a map of a new motorway that instead of going through Belvedere Heights and destroying the homes of countless Mexican-Americans, there was a stretch of hills that would work as space for the motorway that would only add 4 minutes to the commute of the one going through the heights. This, of course, would also save the neighborhood. Apparently she also brought this idea to her friends in the Mayor’s office, effectively going over Townsend’s head. The look on Magda-Alex’s face is one of true contempt. She tries to reason with Townsend on their way out but it seems his ego is far too crushed at this point.

On the German front of things, we finally arrive at the party Dr. Craft invited Magda-Elsa to in the previous episode and we are shown just how zealous his friends are to the Nazi cause. His friend Ackermann is dead set on getting their voices heard on the radio, to appeal to those who listen to the catholic stations. The conversation is cut short as Craft sees Elsa arrive. As a sign of deliberate respect, Elsa asks if she should introduce herself to Ms. Craft until Ackermann introduces himself to Elsa. From here on we are treated to a very jealous and possessive Dr. Craft to the point that it is obvious, even to his wife. Ms. Craft eventually catches up with Elsa to tell her she should ask her husband about Essen and his family, who he really is. That she won’t be turned into the rejected wife. Before the party is over, it seems Magda sees fit to let Dr. Craft have Elsa as the two have sex in secret, above the party.

Lewis, on the other hand, is getting more desperate. He talks to his surviving friend about asking for help from a Jewish mobster named Benny Berman for which she issues him a warning about working with gangsters. During their friends’ funeral Berman does arrive, not too happy. From the last episode, we do find out who Wernher von Braun is. He’s a German rocket scientist working on a new V-2 rocket. Apparently a few students at CalTech might solve it before him and that’s why the Nazi’s are here. Though he makes a passionate argument, Berman leaves, letting him know he’ll be in touch. Seems Lewis’ passion got to him, though at what price?

Tiago finally investigates this Malibu “love nest” that Lewis mentioned. What he finds there only makes his heart sink: Molly’s books, clothes, condoms, and then she appears herself. She doesn’t deny her affair with Hazlett but neither is she ashamed of being with a married man or as Tiago reminds her, a murdered man. She doesn’t take the quadruple murder charge lightly and tells him to get out. Tiago, persistent as ever refuses until he gets some answers. She reveals the affair to be true and of others. Her caged plight comes out again as she defends herself, that if these men were offering a bit of peace in her world, she must be allowed it. It’s clear that Tiago is still in love. He tries to tell her they can continue to try and be someone else. She wakes him into reality and says she never wants to see him again.

Another scene that I question is the sleepover with Dr. Craft’s kids. The boys are telling each other scary stories and fake Frank tells a store of a little girl who was kidnapped and dismembered by her legs and arms, keeping her eyes open with wire. Later in the night, Craft’s youngest son is haunted by the apparition of this girl. It’s clear this is Magda’s work but for what reason? Clearly Frank is trying to influence the boy by fear but for what purpose?

Things take a quick turn for Townsend after he finishes up with a probable sex worker. The Gestapo Nazi enters the room and shoots the worker twice before forcibly taking Townsend into his car and driving off. As they continue he tries to explain himself, hoping the Gestapo won’t kill him. We learn that he is actually American and that he too is gay or bisexual. Or at least he is pretending to be. As the two make love to one another in a safe house, someone is filming from behind a screen. Magda-Alex is using this both as blackmail while also using the Gestapo to make sure that Townsend has sex with him and only him. So it won’t get out.

Before we talk about this coming scene I want to warn my readers that I will be talking about the depiction of a sexual assault. If the subject matter makes you uncomfortable or is a trigger for you please do not read ahead and skip this paragraph. Mateo and Josefina are walking home from buying groceries and the worst of people intercept them. Reilly. Clearly he wants revenge for the way Fly Rico came at him in the hospital. Yet instead of taking it out on Mateo, he turns to his sister. In order to “check her for weapons”, he makes her grab a fence while he gropes her entire body, a shameless and perverted version of a body search which he ends by throwing his entire hand up her skirt. Mateo can only watch in horror as his sister is assaulted yet, it will drive an event of Magda’s doing. Also for poor Josefina, she does not want anyone else to know. Her head held up high, by the end of the episode this will take her to the only place she feels her voice can be heard. Sister Molly’s church.

The next scene starts off light-hearted but soon shows truly that Magda’s grip reaches even the smallest of roles in this drama. It’s a nice brotherly conversation of the dangers of dating a gringa that has both of them laughing, a nice change for Tiago who has had tears in his eyes for most of the episode. The actors show off their chemistry and you can tell that Raul has truly forgiven his brother. The family seems almost normal again until Maria notices the Pachuco tattoo on his hand. The house argues about this, until Mateo finally leaves, proud of what he is doing, he feels strong where he sees his family as weak. Yet, the saddest part of this scene is Josefina, at the end, she only tries to tell her mother something and she is simply brushed to the side. This in no way feels that her mother does not care, but rather she feels disposed of, possibly another factor that drives her to Sister Molly.

The final two scenes of this episode only help to reinforce my theory of things taking a turn for the midseason as cards are being played. First is Lewis who is kidnapped by Berman’s thugs and brought to some warehouse where he has someone tied up. For what reason is inconsequential but the importance is that Berman wants Lewis to kill him. When Berman does it himself he ends the scene by telling Lewis “By blood and fire Judea fell. By blood and fire Judea will rise”. Clearly this is him saying that he will join this fight, but Lewis seems to realize what he may have unleashed.

The second is Officer Reilly’s fate. We knew once Mateo ran back to the Pachuco that retaliation was to be had, but just how much? Even I wasn’t prepared for this one. Of course, driven on by Magda-Rio, the trio of her, Mateo, and Fly Rico quickly work to get Reilly. In a motel room, the two have already done quite the number on him and want Mateo to finish the job. To complete his vengeance. What comes next is a true crime of passion as Mateo butchers up Reilly and finally ending him with a last slice of his throat. It feels triumphant and deserved but we know better with this series. After his body is dumped outside the police office, naked and bloodied, it’s going to become an all-out war.

Image courtesy of Showtime

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