Family is Everything: the Ones We’re Born Into and the Ones We Choose

 

Well, all my suspicions from the previous episode appear to have come true and we’re only on episode three. If John Logan is putting just as much heart into this series as he did the first series, I am forced to wonder if it’s all misdirection. The original series was very emotional and cerebral, which is one of the reasons I often contrasted it with the abomination that Game of Thrones became. The Song of Ice and Fire books were so intricately interwoven, while the show turned into murder porn with a tiny touch of intrigue.

Hmmm..it appears I really like to take jabs at studios who turn great stories into mush for the masses.

Logan seems to have a gift for either finding directors, actors, or both who are extremely gifted at subtlety. Much like Mr. Kinnear’s little microexpressions, Daniel Zavatto has a similar talent to project his thoughts on his face. It is rare to see actors exhibit that kind of talent, to say whole sentences with a look or a subtle twitch. It is one of the things I admired so much in the original series and something I’d long felt had been lost in the craft.

Much like the previous episode, this one takes a turn in tone away from its predecessor. We discover that the creepy zombie-like scene that was the conclusion from last week was not just a vision. Raul (Adam Rodriguez) has come out of his coma and is recovering in the Vega home. Mateo (Johnathan Nieves) is struggling with the fact that Raul was shot by their own brother, Tiago (Daniel Zavatto), and confesses this to Raul expecting Raul to be angered by the fact. Instead, Raul tries to explain to Mateo the personal Hell that Tiago is going through and shows a totally unexpected insight from one brother to another. There is that love from brother to brother and the understanding that personal feeling of duty one has. It’s a very touching moment while being very visceral at the same time.

From what we’ve seen of Raul, he’s been a bundle of rage directed at his perceived betrayal by Tiago, but here we get a moment of understanding from an older brother. Raul doesn’t seem angry because of the path Tiago has chosen; he’s angry because his brother has chosen the most difficult path possible and as the older brother he feels a responsibility for the difficulties his brother has to endure. It’s a really interesting arc for Raul after all his previous bravado. Family is everything.

I love how this series is really playing on that pre/post WW2 glamour and posturing. You have Sister Molly (Kerry Bishé) bathed in golden stage lights from last week and then you have Councilman Townsend with the high chin and slightly cocked jaw this week that was so prominent in film reels and posters of that era. The show creators have really done their research and tried to work all of that historical nuance into so many scenes.

Unlike the original, this series has failed to draw me in at every turn of the camera, but it has definitely pulled me in much more subtle ways. The storytelling here is very different from what one might expect from the title, but it is no less monstrously human. Many of the quotes from the creators called it a “spiritual sequel” to the original and this episode really bleeds that into its storytelling.

One thing that struck me as very reminiscent of the original series is a conversation that Tiago and Sister Molly have at a bus stop about the burden of being “divinely chosen”; Tiago by Santa Muerte and Molly by her evangelical calling. It made me think of so many of Vanessa’s struggles with the idea that she was meant to save the world from evil. That somehow all the suffering these characters have gone through has some overwhelming purpose which makes them resentful and reluctant to believe in any of it. The reluctant hero is a common trope but Logan manages to make it organic, none of it feels forced and there’s enough mystery here to keep it interesting.

The episode starts in the morgue with the charred bodies of Michener’s (Nathan Lane) compatriots and the medical examiner showing him the bullets found in their heads. We get that feeling of “something underneath” the real story. Lane gives an equally heart-wrenching scene to Zavatto’s, in the previous episode, as he rends his clothes in act of Kriah in a stairwell. There is so much hidden pain and struggle here that makes you easily sympathetic to our protagonists.

Brent Spiner’s Captain Vanderhoff is proving to be quite an enigmatic character. He seemed very understanding of Detective Vega in the first episode and then appeared just as racist as Officer Rielly (Rod McLachlan) in the next one. This time he has a very personal talk with Tiago about not working on his day off and sends him home. It is great to see Spiner on-screen again, no matter how his character turns out.

I attended Junior High in Fullerton, California, not far from Los Angeles. Our 8th-grade summer trip was a tour of Washington, D.C. and many of the Revolutionary and Civil War historical sites. The first three days of the trip were centered in D.C. I will never forget The Holocaust Museum; I still have the “papers” with the picture of one of the 6 million who didn’t make it out of the camps. The end of the tour finished in the “gift shop” like so many tours do and being the avid reader I am, I was immediately drawn to the books. The one I was most fascinated with and did not purchase was titled, Ordinary Men. According to the internet it was written by Christopher R. Browning. The title alone struck me because it was such an apt title for one of the most terrible atrocities in human history. How was it that “ordinary men” actually committed such disgusting acts against others? How was it that people could willingly be so hateful against other human beings and even attempt to rationalize that hatred and murder with their faith? I think that we will see the gentle yet misguided Dr. Peter Craft (Rory Kinnear) become that monster with the help of Magda (Natalie Dormer). I admire him as an actor and his Creature was one of the most intricate characters from the original series. Watching him march through the park as a brownshirt was disturbing to me and I believe he’s going to get even more disturbing.

We do need to take a moment from all that darkness and appreciate what happens a little later, a gorgeous combination of color, music, and choreography. Mateo is off to meet Fly Rico (Sebastian Chacon) and be introduced to a new incarnation of Magda, Rio. The costumes and dancing in these few minutes, alone, make you want to get up from the couch and dance!  Sergio Mimica-Gezzan has really made something extraordinary in these scenes, from the brass band to the costuming. This is really something amazing!

The episode ends with the revelation that Sister Molly was likely having an affair with Hazlett, Mateo becomes a Pachuco, and that Townsend’s secret isn’t that he likes bread baskets, but that he likes men.  There’s likely to be a lot going on in the next installment and some things will not be what they seem.

The previous series drew the characters together and created such an intricately woven and unexpected family, which was torn apart when we lost Vanessa (Eva Green) and our hearts along with it. City of Angels resurrects those families we make from circumstance or opportunity while also bringing in the complexity of families united by blood. This is shown through the complex unity of the Vegas and the eerie sound of Miss Adeliade (Amy Madigan) singing Popeye the Sailor Man to taunt Sister Molly towards the end of the episode.

Now that Raul has survived which brother will kill brother to fulfill the prophecy?

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