ReviewsTelevision & Film

Organized Crime, Religion, and Pachuco. All Sins Come With a Price.

This episode fully brought back that underlying thrum to the storytelling this series has been lacking from its namesake: the very real horrors that humanity commits against itself along with creepiness from otherworldly realms. I’m starting to feel at home here; however, we’ve traded the dark, dank streets of London for the bright desert oasis of Los Angeles. This is not to say that the previous episodes were not well crafted. They seemed more like the setup to all the reveals that we’re getting in this episode. We’re finally experiencing the twists and turns that we’ve come to expect from John Logan’s creation.

One aspect of this episode that struck me from the beginning and throughout is the color blue. Santa Muerte (Lorenza Izzo) seems to be often bathed in blue light and Magda’s (Natalie Dormer) Elsa Branson, as well as Piper Perabo’s Linda Craft, seem to be wearing varying, yet similar shades of blue. Research has led me to some very interesting information. The Blue Santa Muerte represents immensity, spirituality, and wisdom. She is recommended to educators and students, but there is also a healing aspect to her. These are all very interesting concepts that are all over the narrative, so far. From Maria Vega’s (Adriana Barraza) frantic prayers to heal her family, community, and Raul (Adam Rodriguez) to Brian Koenig’s (Kyle McArthur) work at Cal-Tech on the V-2 Rocket.

There are so many representations of wisdom being passed on to a new generation in this show.  Raul taking on the mantle of the elder brother, Michener (Nathan Lane), and even the enigmatic Captain Vanderhoff (Brent Spiner) trying to nurture/teach Tiago (Daniel Zavatto), in this episode. We even find Josefina Vega (Jessica Garza) forsaking her Catholic upbringing after being sexually assaulted by Officer Reilly (Rod McLachlan) and finding solace in the evangelical cult of Sister Molly (Kerry Bishé). Then you have Mateo’s transition to pachuco, which makes me wonder, again, who the brothers from the prophecy will be.

I’m not sure if any of this intentional or if I’m just reading things in where they don’t exist, but from what I’ve observed of John Logan’s storytelling I would be quite surprised that anything is without intention.

This episode opens with a brutally touching scene so common in Penny Dreadful, and we are still left to question how much Santa Muerte cares for those she takes away. Her eyes seem to be brimming with tears as she watches the massacre. Does she really care so little for humanity? Or does she feel the pain and sorrow at the moment and then forget about it later? This scene made me recall Terry Pratchett’s DEATH, who while often humorously sympathetic to those HE took away there was also that feeling of “all in a day’s work”. DEATH took pity on the mortals, but based on the conversation from the very first episode, Santa Muerte cares nothing for mankind. I’m starting to doubt this. I’m wondering if all the death coming to the world over the next 7 years might be taking its toll on her.

This episode really gets into the complexity of the characters, the setup phase is over, let the fun begin!

Captain Vanderhoff (Brent Spiner) becomes even more enigmatic when Tiago attacks Officer Rielly while he’s beating a handcuffed Latino prisoner. Vanderhoff interrupts and pulls him into the office to verbally reprimand him.

We get the feeling that Magda is starting to think of Councilman Townsend (Michael Gladis) as expendable, or at the very least in need of blackmail to keep him in line. This is shown when Kurt (Dominic Sherwood) bursts in to assassinate the male prostitute Townsend has been seeing and dramatically drags him away to a secluded motel for a “romantic tryst”. All of this has been planned out and now recorded by Alex and Richard Goss (Thomas Kretschmann). We are left wondering who or what Kurt is, exactly?

Can we take a moment to admire Natalie Dormer’s performances as Magda? I get the feeling that Magda is primarily focused on her work as Alex and interacting with all her other incarnations from that personification, but she’s really bringing some Orphan Black energy to this role. The vastly different ways that she portrays Magda’s personifications are quite admirable, especially when it comes to Alex, who is a type of role I don’t recall ever seeing her perform. Dormer is often a complicated beauty, but as Alex she’s reserved and thoughtful. I’ve yet to notice her signature lip curl in this incarnation of Magda.

I’ve been a little reluctant to focus on Dr. Craft (Rory Kinnear) in this series, primarily because we see him so little and his interactions with Magda’s Elsa Branson really need little explanation. This time around their relationship takes the expected turn, yet we’re allowed a tiny glimpse into what lies beneath the kind and gentle Nazi-sympathizing doctor. We are shown a jealous rage and a lust for dominance that, while hinted at before, is on muted display now.

Another character that gets her time to shine in this episode is Mrs. Linda Craft (Piper Perabo). Previously she’s had very little screen time, now we get to see her as the drunk and embittered wife of a successful man. Mrs. Craft’s confrontation with Elsa is very intriguing. Mrs. Craft brings up some as yet unknown darkness in Dr. Craft’s history in Essen that might be the very reason that Magda has chosen him as a target. Shortly after there is a coital encounter with Dr. Craft and Elsa in what appears to be the study of the house. I find it interesting that she would not indulge his lust in “Mr. Branson’s” home but is fully willing to do so against a window overlooking the party within Dr. Craft’s.

One other thing about this portion of the episode: Elsa, paired with son Frank (Santino Barnard), is probably the most sinister incarnation of Magda. Dr. Craft may be kind and gentle on the surface but dark and twisted underneath, but why does Magda torment the Craft boys (Julian Hilliard-Tom, Hudson West-Trevor), too? After the eerie Beau Geste moment from episode 2 and the terrifying recounting of Captain Vanderhoff’s first homicide case, involving Florence Moore (Amelia Sheikh) during the birthday sleepover, it’s becoming quite unsettling.

In my first watch through I thought that Santino Barnard was also portraying Florence Moore; they do not look alike but there are enough similarities to make it disturbing. It doesn’t help that Amelia Sheikh has eyes that are nearly identical in shade to that of Natalie Dormer. Why does Magda enjoy tormenting the boys so much? Is it because she has to play submissive to the lust of Dr Craft? Does she feel this is some kind of retribution for that or does she have a role for them to play as well?

Well, now that that darkness has been explored, let us go somewhere else, Mr. Scrooge. Perhaps to a graveside?

Detective Michener is taking a few days to bury his good friend Anton Chevic (Bill Smitrovich), who has no other friends and no family. While he’s mourning with the last remaining member of their quartet of Nazi investigators, Dottie Minter (Lin Shaye), he’s arranged a meeting with the leading Jewish mob boss in L.A., Benny Berman (Brad Garrett). Both Mr. Lane and Mr. Garrett give fiery yet subtle performances here, made even more interesting by Mr. Garrett’s towering figure and articulate dialogue. The scene is really well done and we learn a lot about actions from the previous episodes as well as the meaning of that wall in Michener’s home from the first episode.

The relationship between Mitchner and Berman is going to be an interesting one to watch develop. Michener feels like he is in need of Berman’s help because those in L.A. hate the Jewish and he doesn’t see any other way to combat a city that is so willing to be corrupted by the Germans. As a test to Michener’s commitment to Berman’s help, Berman orders him to execute a traitor to the organization. When Michener refuses, Berman does it himself. Michener is now left with a couple of choices: he’s either an accomplice to the murder or he reports it.

This week’s story has Tiago in a smaller role than we’ve become accustomed to, mostly focused around Sister Molly’s affair with Hazlett and Tiago coming to terms with that. The scene between Bishé and Zovatto is a tense and interesting one, which once again brings up the burden of being “Chosen” and the need for a life free that pressure.

My original title of this review was going to reference Mateo’s rise to Pachuco, but the second time I watched it, and considering the episode’s title, I realized that I was falling into the trap that was designed. Our most obvious reaction is to be understanding of Mateo’s NEED for revenge after he is held helpless as his sister is molested and assaulted by Officer Rielly, but this episode is more about Josephina. Garza gives a harrowing performance during the assault and I was left wondering the whole time if Reilly knew that it was Tiago’s family he was harassing.

When they arrive home, Josephina is then dismissed by her own mother when she tries to talk to her about what just happened. The family is so focused on Mateo’s Pachuco tattoo that Josephina is practically invisible to them. They don’t see the anguish and shame in her posture and face throughout the scene because they are so focused on Mateo, so she goes to Sister Molly for salvation.

Magda’s Rio is harnessing Mateo’s feelings of helplessness to radicalize his rage to fit her purpose. He’s handed a razor by Fly Rico (Sebastian Chacon) to kill Officer Reilly in one final act for his ascension to pachuco. It’s a particularly brutal scene, reminiscent of a boy killing a hog for the first time, the first cut isn’t as deep and true as it needs to be. There’s a bloody struggle as he attempts to get his prey under control and finish the job. There is no going back for him now and we are left wondering what retribution will be visited on his community for this brutal murder of a police officer.

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