This Penny Dreadful: City of Angels review contains spoilers.
Penny Dreadful: City of Angels Episode 2
Penny Dreadful: City of Angels episode 2, “Dead People Lie Down,” opens in the aftermath of the fulfillment of the prophecy “race will devour race.” We are waiting to see whether the other prediction, “brother will kill brother” will also come to pass. Detective Tiago Vega shot his brother Raul during the confrontation and their mother, Maria, will not let her sons fulfill a dark fate.
She can do it too. Maria’s got some heavy connections in the spiritual world. Sure, she pissed off Santa Muerte when she conjured her in the debut episode, but the sad sister of tears did show up. She showed up expressly to tell Maria to leave her out of the actions of people. Santa Muerte only wants to cross them over, she doesn’t have to be their friend, and she doesn’t have a heart. Or so she says. The relationship between Maria and Santa Muerte is as complicated as it is between the two sisters.
Magda is all too happy to toss any soul to her sister which happens to be within earshot. Her whisperings cost the lives of four cops, and the eye of another. The Mexicans killed at the end of the first episode don’t make the honored dead list, and the first Chicano cop is breaking ranks left and right. Tiago is tortured, exactly as all of his family and fellow cops predicted. He is not part of any side, he is outside to all and all but helpless. He is exactly the right spot to be of most help, and the show does a wonderful job showing him slide very slowly towards decisions which can tip right from wrong. The road to hell has a lot of cracks in its pavement, and Tiago is desperate not to step on any of them. But, the show makes it look like he’s fated to break more than his mother’s back. Tiago is breaking laws by making his partner cover up the identity of who did the cop-shootings. We can only hope he’ll be breaking commandments next.
Nathan Lane must have a ball throwing out lines like “she’ll be preparing for a fucking search warrant if we don’t see her in the next two seconds.” His character is so hardboiled a detective nothing can crack his shell. Lewis Michener thinks everyone is a fraud, and doesn’t care if they know it. He wants them to know. He’s a cop and he’s got the attitude. So his entrance into the temple of radio evangelist Sister Molly Finnister is joyous to watch. All cops walk into rooms like they own the place, and Michener bursts in using his badge as a skeleton key, and boy does he have a hunch they lead to more in the closets.
We meet the minister’s mother, Miss Adelaide, first. She is a stone wall topped with a barbed wire fence of bigotry, and Detective Michener is not one to be stonewalled. The daughter, however, is something else. Because of her shadowed introduction, on the stage at her temple doing a live broadcast, I thought Sister Molly was going to be another of Magda’s incarnations. This kind of thrilled me in an Orphan Black nostalgia pang kind of way, but it only lasted moments. Spiritual as she may, or may not, be, Sister Molly is not one of the Santa sisters. This may be ground zero on where evil turns on the series.
Molly’s mother is all too quick to pass the killing off on the Mexicans, and specifically that particular brand of belief. Santa Muerte’s robe of invulnerability has been breached. No matter how many times she says she doesn’t cry, she weeps for her followers. Miss Adelaide barely sneers. Her daughter, a magnetic presence with an angelic voice who knows all the right inflections, promises salvation. Michener called it a cult in the first episode, and who is to say which cult, Molly’s or Santa Muerte, is evil and which is good in the long run. The subliminal suspense of the mere possibilities is exciting.
Of course the real evil sits in city hall. Councilman Townsend is being groomed as a Manchurian Candidate by his assistant Alex, Magda in disguise. Where his constituency might see tragedy, she sees possibilities and another road to hell gets ready for the tar. The Third Reich approaches from two fronts: The clandestine dealings of dead cops for social engineering, and the individual face of one of the sweetest Nazis you’ll ever meet. Dr. Peter Craft has some fun in the sun with Elsa, the mother of his patient Frank. The sickly child throws a scare into Craft’s younger sons, who is a little bit more on the ball than his sand-castle building brother.
Last week we saw Elsa’s young son returning to the womb, as it may. His skin and entire self ultimately melted in her, as if returning to the thing which created it. When he comes home with sand between his toes, does she get it between her ribs? The kid is the one who knows dead people should lie down, the inspiration for the title. This is a very gothic beam of shadow on the sunshine of the beach. He has the makings of a Wednesday Addams.
There are a lot of coincidences surrounding Tiago. His mom is an expert in how the frame-up in the killings he’s investigating is being laid. One of his brothers is the most wanted man in Los Angeles. His other brother Mateo has a direct encounter with the specific cop who wants Raul the most, at the same moment he makes an impression on local Pachuco legend Fly Rico. The eye for an eye scene has no special effects, but it is painful watch and the suspense it builds in the short time it runs is perfect. Maybe a little too perfect, but timing is everything and we’re ultimately robbed of a gory payoff.
Penny Dreadful: City of Angels once again keeps the overt spooky stuff to a minimum, but when it does, the atmosphere becomes ethereally electric. The merging of the two worlds – detective noir and dark mythology – comes slowly and creepily. We still don’t know how the battle lines will form on Penny Dreadful: City of Angels but the leaks between who is good and who is evil are beginning to blur the sides. Both Detective Michener and Dr. Craft’s crew bring up how much can be hidden in the parapets. The best thing about “Dead People Lie Down” is when the dead stand up to be counted.