Penny Dreadful: City of Angels Ending Explained

Did Magda commit two brothers to die? Is the freeway a step towards a final solution? Penny Dreadful: City of Angels hides malicious intent in plain sight.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels Ending Explained
Photo: Viacom

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels ends with the same lines in which it began: “There will come a time when the world is ready for me, when nation will battle nation, when race will devour race, when brother will kill brother until not a soul is left. Are you ready?” Only this time, Magda (Natalie Dormer) isn’t saying it to her sister, Santa Muerte (Lorenza Izzo). She is saying it to one of two brothers who are now on very different sides of a struggle they were both born to.

Tiago Vega (Daniel Zovatto) doesn’t tell Magda whether he is ready in the penultimate scene, but her gloved touch fills him with a burning determination. She approaches him from behind. At first, he appears soothed, but then acknowledges this is not a friendly touch. He looks like he’s making a choice. Magda appears to believe he’s reached a foregone conclusion, a preordained acquiescence. She registers his anger, evaluates all he’s lost and judges him ready, but what is he ready for? Is he ready to kill or be killed by his own brother, fulfilling her prophecy? Or is he ready to take her on? On the surface it looks like Magda is playing both sides against the middle, but Tiago is a detective and trained in spotting clues. He’s dedicated to his partner, broke the law for him, and they are friends. Sure, they have their differences, but in a pinch, they are waging a two-man war.  

Mateo (Johnathan Nieves) is filled with the wrong side of righteous anger. The opening scenes of “Day of the Dead” show him ready to lead a revolution. When Rio stabs Fly Rico (Sebastian Chacon), during the uprising, she hands the switchblade, fingerprints and all, over to Mateo saying long live the king. This puts him directly at odds with his brother, the person he saves from being kicked to death, and reunites with at the Day of the Dead commemoration. The Vega family is somehow beloved to Santa Muerte, and Tiago is favored. He bears the mark of the hand of death on his chest, like the claw-marks on David in An American Werewolf in London. His family is not lycanthropic though, they are coyotes. In Germany, they shoot wild dogs like them, Elsa advised Maria (Adriana Barraza) in a veiled threat earlier in the season.

Most of the closing action plays out as a silent film over the soundtrack of Maria’s singing to Josefina (Jessica Garza) before it gives in to the orchestral swells and soft guitar melodies of mourning. It spans the death and discovery of Sister Molly (Kerry Bishé), that news being delivered to Tiago by his partner who heard it on the radio, and the Vega family gathering for the Day of the Dead. During the sequence we see the anguish turn to sorrow and then to resolve. But the resolution twists it.

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By the end of the episode, Magda has consolidated her power and gotten rid of any distraction to those who are following her orders. Dr. Peter Craft (Rory Kinnear) drops his pacifist ideals, however reluctantly, to heil Hitler as a reborn Peter Krupp under Elsa’s icy conversion. Alex ensures Councilman Charlton Townsend (Michael Gladis) will fit into the oversized political ascension she has for him. Magda separately conquered the Vega family by dividing them where they are most vulnerable.

Will the road get built? Oh yes, it’s there now. That part of the story is carved in concrete. The building of the freeway in real life had a similar effect on the citizenry and landscape. It decimated the neighborhoods known as Sonoratown, Sugar Hill and Bunker Hill. It swept the politically dispensable to Watts and East LA. What it means is there are now more characters with more power on the side of the Reich, and they’re shining their jackboots. The final scene shows the barrio being torn down to make way for the road construction. It is being overseen by the unholy quintet: Richard Goss (Thomas Kretschmann), Townsend, his Gestapo Agent lover Kurt (Dominic Sherwood), Alex and Miss Adelaide (Amy Madigan).

Detective Lewis Michener (Nathan Lane) was right when he pegged Miss Adelaide as the “Dragon Mother” and said he wouldn’t put anything past her. Now that we know Adelaide killed Molly’s former lover, John Hazlet, we realize she is capable of anything. And she’s got the strong arm of the lord on her side. Early in the episode, Molly tells Tiago she had four sisters who died before she was born. Later, when Adelaide admits to her daughter she killed Hazlet, she also implies the possibility of a similarly horrid fate befell her younger children. Adelaide is very detailed, saying she would have chosen to have crushed their skulls to ensure Molly was born with the light of god in her eyes. When you think about how the Hazlet family was laid out, it makes you wonder whether the most insidiously malicious monster on the show isn’t a Nazi nor a supernaturally pissed off younger sibling to an ever-dying saint. When Santa Muerte embraces Sister Molly in her death throes, it means the radio evangelist was innocent all along. It also means her mother is now free to do as she pleases. Adelaide doesn’t even need Magda whispering bitter nothings in her ear.

Between Detective Lewis’ oath of lifelong friendship and Maria’s cooking tips, it’s fair to say Benny Berman (Brad Garrett) will make a return. The detective balked at killing for the gangster earlier in the season. Then he killed Brian in order to stop him from giving the world a bomb as powerful as a thousand suns exploding all at once. This bonds people, and it ties the three men in the car. The look Berman gives says he’s in for the fight if it’s against a nut who can fry the atmosphere. The bullet Lewis puts into Brian’s skull says he’s willing to do what the law says not to do to put down the Nazi insurgence. Lewis has already sidelined his partner from the strict rules of peacekeeping when he pulled him in on his private counter-surge.

Tiago has made Lewis an accessory-after-the-fact on quite a few of his own legal bypasses. Tiago hid the truth on two killers and let his partner make a devil’s pact to put an innocent man in jail. It ultimately got the suspect hanged. The sins piled up. But even though Tiago compounded them by protecting Molly, and direct evidence to another of the murders Diego Lopez hanged for, the two detectives are stronger as partners. “They’ll be coming for us,” Tiago warns Lewis as they watch the watchers of the barrio’s demolition. “Not before we come after them,” Lewis promises. The pair declared their allegiance to the City of Angels because the demons are only beginning their march. “This isn’t the United States of America,” the Mexican detective bemoans.

When Tiago says “They’re not building roads, they’re building walls,” it means Penny Dreadful: City of Angels is and will continue to be a parable on the Trump era. The cautionary tale doesn’t need the vampires, werewolves, mad scientists and miffed adventurers of Penny Dreadful to personify our deepest monsters. They can mine the present as they go down the path of alternate history. But does any of this mean Penny Dreadful: City of Angels Season 2 will be scary? It better be. The first season played far too wide into the police procedural aspect of the story. Regardless of how well the series showcases alternative policing with well-defined, but fiercely flawed heroes and antiheroes, it made a promise. If the most consistent frightener of the show is Elsa’s son Frank (Santino Barnard), they short-changed us.

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The central folklore of the premise is less frightening than respectful, but Tiago rejected Santa Muerte, his mother’s saving grace, and this better bring a frightful wrath on his all-too mundane crusading. We still don’t quite know what’s at the root of the rivalry between Santa Muerte and Magda. But Tiago is the instrument it is played out on. Magda has a fetish for families. But the wealthy Townsends and the militarily industrious Krupps got nothing on the Vegas. Tiago is a chosen one, spared from a fiery death and on the Muerte sisters’ radar. We know he has to keep history on course, and all fascists must ultimately perish. He may have to immerse himself in the protective spirits of the dead to conquer the monsters of the living. That will bring Penny Dreadful: City of Angels back to its supernatural roots in a deliciously devious way.