This Penny Dreadful: City of Angels review contains spoilers.
Penny Dreadful: City of Angels Episode 7
Penny Dreadful: City of Angels episode 7, “Maria and the Beast,” brings into focus the question we’ve all been asking since the series began: Why is the Vega family being picked on so badly? Santa Muerte (Lorenza Izzo ) left her mark on Tiago Vega (Daniel Zovatto) when he was a young boy and lost his father, and she hasn’t let up since then.
The Diego Lopez (Adan Rocha) confession is big time news. They’re calling him a mad dog killer and Detective Tiago Vega’s local bartender says he should get a medal for the arrest. But, it doesn’t look like he gave Tiago a free drink. At least he can get a free shave from Sister Molly (Kerry Bishé). That’s what she does for the homeless who come into her soup kitchen. She does it because her congregation can smell pride. Molly doesn’t smell it on Tiago, though. His picture is in all the papers as the cop who caught the mad dog killer but it is wearing on him.
“The kid killed him and the family,” Tiago tells Molly about the dead man she was having an affair with. The Hazlet case is where it all began and its conclusion was supposed to end, but it puts Tiago and Molly in a new reality. Tiago confesses he is in “a place where there’s no right answer.” He didn’t get there through compromise or mistake. “It’s a sin,” he says, which he has to live with. The radio evangelist Molly has a penchant for sinners, and says “hell yes” to acting on the cop’s contrition.
It may be folly for the detective to be giving the charismatic evangelical so much information, even if the case is closed. It hasn’t been so long since the holy rolling sister was a suspect in the case, who actually told the investigating officer to give her some space. Sister Molly is inscrutable, yet transparent. She is nakedly trying to get information out of the detective she says she loves, and he’s in an emotional enough state to be taken in by the love-bombing of spiritual predators. Molly has already converted Tiago’s sister Josefina (Jessica Garza). She not only leaves their brother Mateo (Johnathan Nieves) with no one to turn to, but also rejects Santa Muerte for the very real Sister Molly.
While it hasn’t fully played out yet, Tiago may have been blessed by Santa Muerte. He’s risen to a high enough position of power in the Los Angeles Police Department he’s able to apply judicial immunity on family members. At the same time, however, he only has to do it because of whatever tribulations Santa Muerte has inflicted on the family. Magda, the dark sister of the personification of death itself, whispered temptations of violence to one Vega, and incited another Vega to violence through one of her guises. Maria (Adriana Barraza) is losing her daughter, Josefina to a new religion, which isn’t even Catholic, and it is as much a loss as losing a son to the ultimate sin.
Each of the Vegas is embattled. Maria can’t even escape family curses where she works. She is the maid, cook and all around caretaker at Dr. Peter Craft’s household, which is undergoing internal change. The good doctor institutionalized his wife and inflicts his mistress Elsa and her son Frank (Santino Barnard) onto the family. Peter’s younger son Tom (Julian Hilliard) might have a bit of the shining. He’s only just finished hearing Maria trying to soften his circumstances by comparing it to a fairy tale when he makes a dire prediction. Hansel and Gretel only made it out of the forest “when they killed the witch” he points out seconds before Elsa comes knocking with a full family in tow.
Tom already has a mother and a brother, he complains. He’s also got a hamster named Friar Tuck, which he named after Robin Hood’s best friend. It is cute how me makes this assumption, very much like a child. This stands in stark contrast to Elsa’s son, who acts like a child but emits evil. The scene where the two kids sleep in one bed is creepy and suspenseful. Even though we know how it’s going to turn out, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels puts enough of a muted spin on it to make it surprising.
It is interesting Elsa and Peter speak English when they are alone in bed. It feels like they should have an establishing scene where they both speak German. Many of the characters speak other languages. Detective Michener’s spoken Yiddish a few times. Sister Molly is always on the verge of speaking in tongues. The Vega family occasionally slips between languages within sentences, which is very natural for a bilingual family. Maria, who comfortingly pronounces her English words as if they are spelled out, also speaks the language of the soul. She is very understanding. “There’s a reason windows have curtains,” she says when Peter worries about the secrets his household holds.
Elsa is one of Magda’s guises, and it is interesting neither she nor Maria exhibit a single sign of recognition. Elsa must know who Maria is but, even as she pushes the idea of getting rid of her into Peter’s mind, shows no outward sign. Elsa is more focused on the ethnic food and language which is warming the doctor’s children. But she also, possibly, tips her hand.
Elsa tells Dr. Craft he will become “an important man the world will watch.” She will make him strong. When he’s not at home with his family, at his office or making house calls, Dr. Craft spends his time in the uniform of the Bund trying to win hearts and minds over to the Nazi cause. Besides Elsa, Magda has another incarnation, Alex, who is helping the Third Reich make inroads on the infrastructure of Los Angeles. Alex is steering her creation, Councilman Townsend, on the road to the White House. She said as much to his sworn nemesis Councilwoman Beck, who immediately erects a road block.
Architects build, Nazi entrepreneur Richard Goss (Thomas Kretschmann) tells the young rocket scientist Brian Koenig (Kyle McArthur), while Detective Lewis Michener (Nathan Lane) keeps surveillance. Brian’s got some crazy, mixed up ideas swimming around in his head and the Nazis are all about nuclear fishin’. Similar to how Maria used Fairy Tales to straighten out a young mind, Dottie (Lin Shaye) calls on King Lear and Faust to break the young apolitical man’s impenetrable casing. By the time she’s done telling him about the destruction of her father’s Yiddish Theater, he’s crying in his Yoo-Hoo and ready to submerge himself in the La Brea Tar Pits. Dottie says nothing has happened there in a million years, but it seems like a mere week since Elsa and Peter made a trip there to dispose of an inconvenient husband.
Brian is right to be afraid. He is ultimately just another “disposable American,” as his Nazi benefactor Goss describes Kurt, as he shows signs of thawing. The American-born Gestapo agent disposed of Lewis’ friends as they were investigating Nazi incursion into Beverly Hills. The end of last week’s episode made it appear Lewis might have been pulled down into an ethical morass when he got Diego to take the blame for all the killings on the docket to cover Tiago’s brother. But he didn’t sell his soul, he only used it as collateral. The two detectives got a week off as a reward for closing the Hazlet and Officer Reilly murders cases. They spend it chasing Nazis. Lane is fantastic as Lewis runs through a virtual rolodex of emotions to bring Tiago around. He throws guilt, threats and duty down to even get the younger detective in a car with him. And when he brings up his own final solution to the Nazi problem, he does it almost reluctantly, making Tiago’s decision that much harder to go against him.
It all comes together, though, as a much bigger problem than a few bullets in the back of the head in a dark alley can solve. The “bully pulpit and the public airwaves” sit down for a meal with the Third Reich. The two detectives learn of Councilman Townsend’s involvement, but this is the first time the audience sees Miss Adelaide (Amy Madigan) confirming Lewis’ prediction. “If the Dragon Mother’s there, the daughter can’t be far behind,” Lewis tells Tiago. He has no idea how much agony the younger detective is going through.
The episode opens with Maria on the bus to her job at the doctor’s house, going past the graveyards where Magda is waiting, and watching. It ends with a visitation. Santa Muerte comes to the Vega home to answer for how it is being dismantled. What does she have against this family, Maria wants to know. So does Magda, who comes uninvited to offer help with the family’s misfortunes. Natalie Dormer’s Magda is vulnerable, reasonable and makes a compelling argument. She and Adriana Barraza have wonderful adversarial chemistry. You can palpably feel the pride Maria takes in the power of her womb as a spiritual weapon.
“Maria and the Beast” is more than a regrouping after the closing of the murder cases, it is a resurrection. The two episode title characters only have the one pivotal scene together, but it looks like the stage is set for the supernatural aspect of the show to gain prominence. Maybe with all the talent gathered at the restaurant, they will decide to unleash Randolph (David Figlioli) on Councilwoman Beck. He is an underused monstrosity, the second scariest character on the show after Frank.