Finding the right conclusion that plays with the texture to uphold stakes is difficult in any series. Questions always arise. The manipulation from within becomes the true aspect of drama. With the season finale of “Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels” entitled “Day Of The Dead” the paths divergent become a messy train of broken souls but also resolve. Tiago Vega thinks he sees a path both correct and then apart. But then it comes undone. He thinks he knows the path of right and then he realizes that it doesn’t serve the greater good. Sister Molly thinks she knows what happiness could be but it becomes a shadow of reality. The key with this season has always been sketching the melting pot of life within this time in Los Angeles. It could define what it would become, both with its differences and similarities. The question the series brings up becomes who are the people that lose and what is the inherent collateral damage when all is said and done.
Unlike some of the episodes which make the words do alot of the walking, the season finale especially in its latter half lets the silences and the imagery speak. The diametric images especially in the last 10 minutes push the stories in ways that one would not expect. Granted one specific point does not make sense as it might be more metaphorical than literal. The stakes are still present but manufactured or perhaps regrouped in a different way. The joy that was prevalent in the previous episode lurks below the surface but with an element of pain which is what makes the best drama. Again the manipulation of the supernatural is done subtly but the battle of what the Goddess wanted versus her sister relates in very poetic terms. It foreshadows a crossroads that when discussed is both undeniable and yet tragic, poetic yet sad. Series creator John Logan who also wrote “Gladiator” understands the necessity of light and darkness. Lives are not neatly wrapped up. “Day Of The Dead” as a season finale works to highlight that the danger that lingers, lessons learned, actions taken and yet life moves on perhaps with a little more wisdom.
The aspect of acceptance and continuing are a blend on the idea of what can be and what is inevitable. Does the texture of possibility allow for fate to be changed or is it simply the human endeavor. Is it the crux of fate or whether life turns out the way it is supposed to be or where life sets itself. With Episode 10 of Penny dreadful City Of Angels entitled “Sing Sing Sing,” it is about this collision of life converting on a single place. In this episode without giving too much away, it is The Crimson Cat which was the pinnacle of energy in the series as the focal point. It is the swing music club in the heart of Chicano territory Like The Gym in “West Side Story”, it is the place where one sees all the colors flying through but the emotions played in one structure. While the flow is not as vivacious as that earlier episode, the character work that is done in one specific scene is undeniable. Without giving too much away, it revolves around to identity and family and how that changes over time. This dynamic is very rich but there is always strife right behind it. The secondary stories in the episode are still chumming along but the aspect of acceptance in the reverse is a double edged sword (which is what is playing out on the flip side). This is true, without giving anything away in the inter-cutting because of the kettle that is brewing.
But what is interesting is that there is a moment’s hesitation from one of the key characters, a slip in the fabric. The aspect of coincidence as it builds to The Crimson is undeniable. While it works well, there is a slight bit of magic missing from that earlier episode, a sense of the cinematic. but the characters were in different places. Forgiveness and acceptance are the backbones here now and what can be believed. Faith and a sense of duty is an interesting conundrum for the Vega family. As much as the Goddess Of Darkness wants to pull them apart, there is a sense of decency to them. The problem is that too much pressure leads to an spark point which this episode does have. One very nice coda plays in a small scene of one of the titans of LA. His perspective gives a voice to the actuality of what is going on, supernatural or not. Progress , good or bad, is inevitable…and whoever wins is dependent on a sense of worth and will.
Rage is a powerful emotion but unchecked it simply becomes utterly destructive. Revenge also filters within this structure. Jealousy as a factor also integrates. But these emotions can cloud facts by simply the changing the words that need to be heard, beyond actually said. Some have clarity. Others want to be led down a different path that perhaps holds a greater light or a sense of satisfaction. While the most previous episode worked to portray a sense of tendency on the part of the series that with would-be bad guys, it is all about opportunity. The battleground as LA in a way as Tiago (as played by Daniel Zuvatto) points to is a breakdown in structure based on those in power and how they are steering their agenda. Everyone wants a piece of the pie. What is important for Tiago versus Sister Molly? is it as simple as happiness? Nothing is because that construct can change over time or in an instant.
In Episode 8 of “Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels” entitled “Hide and Seek,” the more esoteric or existential battle is taking place with Maria, the mother of Tiago in her work as the maid at the house of a German doctor infiltrated by the goddess of darkness in sheep’s clothing. The undeniable fact is that Maria cannot see the devil that is in front of her. It begins to show itself in the spawn of the devil as a metaphor in a rather oblique way. That tendency bathed in a sense of dread can be scarier and watching how it affects another character is quite intense. The burying of a beloved pet is particularly poignant in its silent power. What is interesting in this episode is showing previously almost passive characters changing their angles although one ( the goddess) is just telling someone what they want to hear by slightly changing the facts.
Masks are simply placed on to protect a person from the moment before their true self is revealed. This is shown fairly literally in a diametrically staged alternative club (much different from the earlier swing dancing club). The series has the ability to subvert itself in many ways without showing its hand too much or relying on mythology or the supernatural. There is enough magic in play in real life. The underlying structure is that the goddess is always in control even when she wants people to think that she isn’t. “City Of Angels” is about that balance and the choices that propels the characters either way.
The attentiveness of temptation but also resolve plays heavily into Episode 7 of “Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels” entitled “Maria And The Beast”. The idea that plays is whether one gives into temptation and follows its path or rebels against it in terms of a sense of self. After the progression of self hatred overtakes Tiago (played by Daniel Zuvatto), he realizes that he is encompassed in sin. However he might not see Sister Molly as a transgression but rather a haven. The focus of this episode as an epicenter is rather in certain way is Maria, the mother of all the boys at a cross roads who seems interconnected to all the stories. It is almost as if they are the disciples in many ways whether it be Paul or Peter or even Judas. The daughter is an interesting addition as he is neither Mary Magndalene or the Virgin Mary but somewhee in between. The build contines to work in the Goddess Of Darkness. What is interesting to see as the series goes on is the modulation of Dormer in her different roles and to which point it has to be used. Every one of the characters she plays has such a distinctly different ideas but with the same MO: destruction. Maria’s visions and an eventual reckoning at times with “The Beast” speaks again to religioius iconography: what is for the greater good. With Tiago especially with the actions of his partner (played by Nathan Lane) in the last episode, the narrative shows that there is almost no line when it comes to survival between teh two sides of the coin. The question becomes one of loss of the soul for Tiago which is an abstract concept anyway. Is there redemption?
What is interesting specifically is a scene with Mateo as it almost needs to work the way he sees it and, as a result,e he loses. Some of these characters are looking for escape or redemption but they seem to think it has to look one specific way and therefore are not open to compromise or the coast is too high. As a result they go further down that hole. The story that Lane tells in the car to Tiago is powerful and works because we can see the structure and strategy that is going on just off screen. There is a path from which there is no return. Now whether this plays into an idea in the series of an alternate reality or simply a story of caution remains to be seen. The subtle dagger especially in the house of the German doctor is disconcerting since it is not clear what the game plan is or if it is simply to incite to riot in the guise of comfort. All the characters Dormer plays seem to e aware of slight chinks where she could be defeated. The question becomes is she looking for the good in humanity where she could be proven wrong or counting on that fact that her sister Sante Muerte has lost her ability to be compassionate completely in the face of death. Time shall show.
With “Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels” the balance between reality and what is being altered by the Goddess of Darkness, switches from episode to episode. It is a very good approach to pace. One episode involves chess moves while the next one shows the consequence and how it is dealt with. The pendulum of ying and yang teeters back and forth between the potency of human good and the need of opportunism and gluttony. This is the battle that is waged. Here in Episode 5 “How It Is With Brothers”, it is a balance within trust, loyalty and the greater good. Tiago (as played by Daniel Zuvatto) has to ride between the two worlds, and while Zuvatto sometimes overplays it (in the Robert Sean Leonard style of acting), his point is true. However it is the subtlety of an older pro like Nathan Lane, which might be a metaphor and a directorial choice, that can bring the grounded darkness within the light. The decisions are very gray in this episode, not just for the brother but for his mother.
A very telling scene also involves a mother’s intent to save her son from the dark side. It is that struggle of identity that permeates the episode through and through. Mateo, whom Tiago is protecting as his brother, is acting out of rage and not logic, acceptance, and not compassion. But the same can be said of Sister Molly. Is her mother trying to protect her or exploit her, see her happiness or search for her own. One specific revelation that this reviewer had not noticed is the German wife that has been slighted by the German doctor who has himself been seduced by the Goddess Of Darkness is none other than Piper Perabo from “Covert Affairs”. It is a smaller role for her to take but the disappearance is undeniable. Whereas her accent and blonde looks were always on display before, this is an inherent and textured reveal especially as her husband seeks to send her to detox. As with other aspects, motivations and choices are not what they seem whether to protect, serve or to subjugate,