This Penny Dreadful: City of Angels review contains spoilers.
Penny Dreadful: City of Angels Episode 6
Penny Dreadful: City of Angels episode 6, “How It Is With Brothers,” opens in a frightening situation completely outside of supernatural influence. There are no whispering spirits, no conjurations of dark saints or sacred monsters. There is only righteous rage and racial hatred, a far more frightening combination than any creature featured in the gothic series which started the franchise. Tiago (Daniel Zovatto) should have taken a swig from Lewis’ (Nathan Lane) flask before walking into enemy territory: his own precinct.
The two detectives bring in Diego Lopez (Adan Rocha) for the murder of officer Reilly (Rod McLachlan) and all the other cops want a piece of flesh. The young Pachuco is bleeding when he is brought in, and this is like chumming the water to attract a feeding frenzy. This dynamic will take different forms throughout the episode as the waters become murkier. The other cops in the squad room, led by Detective Murphy who is first in line to take over the interrogation after Detectives Vega and Michener crap out, taunt the prisoner and the detectives.
Tiago points out all the cops are looking for is someone to pin the blame on for the Reilly and the Hazlet killings, and they want that person to look like Tiago or Diego. All the voices are low in the interrogation room, but the tension rises to almost deafening volumes. Lewis knows Tiago is holding out on him, and Diego plays a waiting game which moves from defiance to impatience as he plays with the missing pieces.
Penny Dreadful: City of Angels doesn’t always display its politics prominently. Occasionally, it is done quite sublimely. Councilman Townsend (Michael Gladis) learns Kurt escaped the “mongrels” who spoiled the white sands of Hermosa Beach, and found paradise in Hitler’s Germany, only to be sent back to the filthy city in his first assignment as a Gestapo. Kurt is frank about his prejudices, and calmly relates them to his lover Townsend, who takes it in just as calmly. We don’t know what’s going on in Townsend’s head, whether he agrees or has any problems at all with Kurt’s attitude. Townsend loves the city, though. Where else can you walk past Fred Astaire? Townshend says he wanted to be a song and dance man, and we saw him tap a few bars last week, like Eddie Cantor. But Cantor was Jewish and performed in blackface, and the irony is left hanging in the air. “LA doesn’t care who you are when you arrive,” the ambitious politician and failed dancer says. “It only cares about who you make yourself into.” And Townsend is making himself into a monster.
The divorce discussion scene between Dr. Peter Craft (Rory Kinnear) and his wife Linda (Piper Perabo) is painful. He doesn’t exactly pull his Master Race card but throws his medical weight around. She’s a drunk. He’s a doctor. If she makes any noise he’ll have her committed. It is more brutal because of Craft’s low-key insistence, and how Perabo internalizes it as Linda realizes she has no alternative.
“Not for me,” Sister Molly (Kerry Bishé) sings, encapsulating the Craft family dynamic and her own increasingly stifled appetites. She’s already shared breakfast with her mother Adelaide (Amy Madigan), who poured on extra butter, syrup and guilt. The radio evangelist likes doing her good deeds, but also is tired of being lonely. She may complain about her double life, but she does come alive on the stage, or pulpit. Tiago’s sister Josefina is now a full and enthusiastic convert.
The cat and mouse game which plays out in the interrogation room is graphic without a speck of gore effects, except Diego’s wound. We see the Hazlet family laid out along with gas chamber photos. Reilly’s bloated body comes with an explanation of how it will look in court, with his widow and children staring into the hearts of the jury. Tiago teaches that cyanide turns a person’s skin purple. He advises taking a few deep breaths to make things go quicker, even though no one listens when they’re put in the gas chamber. Diego gives lessons on mud hens, tasty but stupid ducks which make lame alibis in a cop-killing case.
Diego’s partners in crime have already written him off as another street statistic. Fly Rico (Sebastian Chacon) tells Mateo (Johnathan Nieves) that Diego got caught because that’s who he is, a guy who gets caught. Mateo is a bad boy who doesn’t listen to his mother. Rio (Natalie Dormer) has quite a hold on her new acolyte. It is a wonder Maria doesn’t recognize Santa Muerte’s sister in the Pachuco hideaway. The standoff is tense and terse. Maria loves her son, who is tortured by family ties and conscience.
Tiago’s inner turmoil is one of the nine circles of hell. At one point, he agrees to Diego’s escape plan. At first, the detective takes the bullets out of his gun to ensure he sends the suspect on a suicide mission but after overhears his fellow officers whistling one too many verses of “La Cucaracha,” he puts the bullets back. When Tiago finally breaks, he takes down the only person he really can trust.
“Poor folks will always be left with the shit,” Detective Michener tells Tiago before he shows him the sewer. The flow started with James Hazlet, the rich guy who was found slaughtered along with his family, and has overflowed into the street, where the young Pachuco treads it. Michener lays it out plainly. There is no way Diego can get out of spending the rest of his life in the Big House. But he can anoint Diego the King of San Quentin. It is a brilliant speech. It only leaves for one conclusion.
This episode could very well close a season. Everything is wrapped up in a nice, sloppy bundle. The bad guy wins. The code of the bad guy is upheld. A dark hero is made. He’s a street hero, but nonetheless, in a city of angels, he’s the darkest one on the block. Except maybe Tiago. Penny Dreadful: City of Angels could be telling the story of a good cop being dragged down to perdition. The young detective, who made history as the first Chicano cop on the LAPD, has two cop-killing brothers. He drags his partner into being an after-the-fact accessory in multiple crimes. Lewis is under orders to be an accessory. His job wasn’t to solve a crime. It was to end an investigation. The look he exchanges with Tiago is one of both collusion and accusation.
While both the emotional and the active plot moves when the focus strays from the precinct house, “How It Is With Brothers” could stand alone as a one-set installment. Penny Dreadful, in its first incarnation, devoted entire episodes which shut out main characters. Natalie Dormer puts in the briefest of appearances in a scene where she is not the main attraction. Her character barely makes an astral impression on how the cop procedural part of the show proceeds. There is an air of Twelve Angry Men over the entire installment and the verdict is guilty pleasure. It’s fun to watch the bad guys win, especially when they’re supposed to be the good guys. Penny Dreadful: City of Angels serves up the opposite of a cliffhanger ending with “How It Is With Brothers.” It is a hard landing and we really don’t know what is coming next.