Dan Attias directs and John Logan returns as primary writer in what is probably the most superbly powerful chapter of City of Angels yet. There is even a “Viewer Discretion” warning at the beginning of this episode, so you’ve been warned, “Look away, child. Look away.”
Once again Logan has fractured our family of characters and Magda has sown a bubbling chaos through Los Angeles. Now the city sits on the verge of desolation.
Nathan Lane is no stranger to amazing performances and he does not disappoint here. The conversation between Detective Michener and Richard Goss (Thomas Kretschmann) is absolutely riveting! He barges into a country club, his face red with rage, and slaps his gun down on the table challenging Goss to kill him right there instead of hiding in the shadows. Goss threatens Michener’s estranged children and Brian Koenig (Kyle McArthur) in the most calm and collected manner. You can almost see the color drain from Michener’s face like in an old Donald Duck cartoon.
In desperation to save his political seat Councilman Charlton Townsend (Michael Gladis), at the urging of Alex, goes to see his enigmatic father. We finally get to meet infamous patriarch, Jerome Townsend, portrayed with all the signature presence and power of the late Brian Dennehy. After a scenic drive through a winding Beverly Hills driveway and what appears to be a long wait Mr. Townsend has only 10 minutes for his seemingly estranged son. It’s once again a scene where you forget that Charlton is a racist who’s colluding with Nazis. You almost feel bad for him after the way his father treats him.
One of the most interesting aspects of the original series was that it stood a mirror before us and showed us that the monsters were more human than we are. This time around there’s only Magda to play the supernatural monster, which makes for some very interesting turns in character development. While we have all the terrible and easily manipulated men that Magda has on her chessboard, we also have the good men doing terrible things. We have what should be the heroes of the story condemning Diego Lopez (Adan Rocha) for a murder Mateo (Johnathan Nieves) committed so that Tiago can save his brother. Townsend and Kurt are vile bigots, but somehow Logan has written them in a way that we are able to forget that at times. Dr. Peter Craft (Rory Kinnear) almost seems to be on a redemption arc at this point, which is in stark contrast to his marching through the park in full Nazi uniform. We can’t tell who the monsters are anymore.
Desperation seems to be the theme of this episode, from Sister Molly (Kerry Bishé) being desperate to escape solitude to Michener being desperate enough to make a deal with mob boss Benny Berman (Brad Garrett) to protect Brian Koenig. We only have one episode left in the season, so this does make sense and fits quite neatly into the narrative. I love Garret’s portrayal of the Jewish mobster and how easy the chemistry is between him and Lane. Berman, despite his articulate candor, still kind of scares Michener and their scenes, are always fun to watch. The fact that Garrett stands more than a foot taller than Lane makes adds so much to the visual impact of their time on screen.
There’s a very interesting conversation between Elsa and Maria (Adriana Barraza) early on in the episode that once again confuses me about how much Maria knows. Maria is obviously aware that there is something supernatural or cursed about Elsa and Frank, and she has no fear sharing this knowledge with Elsa.
Upon Maria’s return home, she finds Raul Vega (Adam Rodriguez) waiting for her and confused about his future, so she demands he take her out for a night on the town. This is one of three pivotal moments in the episode, the first being Sister Molly wanting to get out and the last being Michener’s assignment to escort Diego to the train station for his transfer to San Quentin.
In response to Sister Molly’s feelings of isolation, Tiago takes her out to the Crimson Cat for a night of dancing and anonymity only to discover that Maria and Raul are already there. This scene becomes so complex and eventually, the whole family is reunited and fighting about everything. Zovatto gives probably his best performance so far as Tiago, he gives an impassioned monologue that brings the family back to their senses, if only for tonight. There’s a sense of joy and family that we really haven’t seen since the opening episode. It really was quite beautiful. But Penny Dreadful will always give you something beautiful right before it shows you evil.
While the audience is feeling happy about the Vega family healing their wounds, another wound is festering and about to burst elsewhere in our story. With the sound of lively dance music in the background, the police transport is taking Diego to his rendezvous at the train station, but they never make it. Something more sinister is afoot. Instead, the truck stops in Belvedere Heights and the officers brutally lynch Diego while the others restrain Michener. It’s a brutally visceral scene made even more disturbing by the fact that it cuts back and forth between Diego’s murder and the Vega family dancing. It is obvious that this is the last moment of happiness and joy the Vega family is ever going to know.
All of Los Angeles is about to erupt and the Vegas will be at war with each other and themselves, once again.