Finding a new approach in a franchise is about perceiving lore. “Penny Dreadful” as a series that was based on a complete volume was its own monster in many ways to use that parlance. But with “Penny Dreadful – City Of Angels”, specifically in its introduction in Episode 1 (“Santa Muerte” ) it feels like a bit of “Black Dahlia” mixed with “The Serpent & The Rainbow” but without all the psycho-sexual background. There are some odes to exactly the myths going on behind the scenes. However it follows the archetypes while by planning a story of life and death on a ethereal level within a spark point in Los Angeles in 1938 a couple years before the US entered World War II. The main story follows Tiago Vega (played by Daniel Zovatto), a Chicano native who has mad detective in the LAPD which, at the time, was no mean feat. Creator John Logan, like most of his work, understands the approach in this city where even back in the 30s so many things were brewing below the surface, both having to do with identity on the immigrant issue (which is an issue obviously to present day ) but also with the German population.
The episode moves towards a spark point which is inevitable and actually interrelates to the 110 Freeway from Downtown LA to Pasadena…and as the episode reaches its pinnacle it really gives a sense for local Angelenos of the history per se, despite it being in entertainment form. It is at this point that the parallel structure of what is going on and Natalie Dormer’s presence as a Magda, a supposed dark goddess of death partially comes into play. This also reflects back to the first scene of the series which again takes on certain aspects with her sister (which is where the title of the episode comes from). The metaphor of The Garden and the fall from grace through all the characters, especially Tiago, is quite textured. There are a few metaphysical and supernatural elements at play but are working subtly up a sense of foreboding. The path of darkness is no doubt specific for these characters. It is not known how this will play out but this approach like “Fargo” in a way is dynamic enough to push the story furthers. And the casting for the surrounding players like Nathan Lane and another genre favorite is outstanding and further enhances the pedigree of the proceedings.
By Tim Wassberg