ReviewsTelevision & Film

PENNY DREADFUL: Why Do You Only Break What Others Have Built?

This episode focuses on the chaos that Magda (Natalie Dormer) has been brewing in the lives of our characters, the fermentation process is coming along nicely. Magda knows that Maria Vega (Adriana Barraza) is becoming a significant obstacle to her plans and she must break Maria’s spirit. Magda goes so far as to reveal herself in the opening scene, serenely standing amongst the headstones as Maria’s bus drives by the cemetery.

Sheree Folkson steps into the director’s chair this week and Colin Liddle takes up the pen.

This episode takes us once again into the land of heavy character development. There are some truly creepy and emotional moments but it’s not as visceral or intense as the previous two episodes. I won’t lie, I’m missing the naturally creepy backdrop of Victorian England and all those literary monsters. The sunny streets of L.A. just aren’t the same. There’s a little touch of squalor and strife in the barrio that almost feels like those lawless London alleys but it’s just not quite the same. There’s something about the dank dampness of London that brings out a natural unease.

When we first find Detective Tiago Vega (Daniel Zovatto) in this chapter, he’s attempting to drink away his guilt about Diego Lopez (Adan Rocha). Previously Det. Vega and Det. Michener (Nathan Lane) forced a confession out of Diego to save Tiago’s brother Mateo (Johnathan Nieves) for Officer Reilly’s murder and close the Hazlett case.  The guilt and pain were very visible in Tiago’s face and body language as Michener convinced Diego to confess to crimes he didn’t commit. Zovatto wonderfully carries these emotions with him into this installment.

When Tiago stumbles home with his booze-soaked guilt he discovers Sister Molly (Kerry Bishé) waiting on his stoop. There’s an interestingly telling moment where Tiago seems to question his own atheistic outlook on life. He covertly confesses that he feels like what he and Michener did was a sin; hard to believe in sin if you don’t believe in God. Perhaps he uses the word sin because it fit with what he’s feeling and his upbringing rather than sinning against a God he doesn’t believe in.  Only time will tell, but his confessing this to a woman that we’re, so far, led to believe is one of faith is an interesting moment in the story. His being touched by Santa Muerte and his eventual loss of faith is surely going to play into some kind of arc.

Quick side note: I’d like to take a moment to appreciate and acknowledge Bishé’s performance. She seems to have either closely studied or is naturally adept at the flirting and courtship language of the period. From episode to episode I occasionally forget that I’m watching a modern actress. The subtle ways that she interacts with her costars reminds me so much of those ladies from Hollywood’s Golden Era.

We get a little bit more of the Nazi snake, Richard Goss (Thomas Kretschmann) this time around, than we have in a while. The first time we see him he’s “city planning” for Hitler’s planned new Eagle’s Nest right there in the hills of Los Angeles. He’s promising Brian Koenig (Kyle MacArthur) everything he could possibly want or imagine for Koenig’s development of the V-2 Rocket. It’s a very well written and executed scene (pardon the pun). Goss is telling him how great the world will be under the Third Reich, leaving out the whole “exterminating everyone that doesn’t fit the mold” part. As the scene ends, we discover Det. Michener has been in the distance taking photos of the meeting. These photos are later used to convince Koenig to go into hiding with Dottie Minter (Lin Shaye).

Magda sows more disruption in Maria’s life when her Elsa/Frank Branson incarnations come to live with Dr. Craft’s (Rory Kinnear) family. The whole process is disturbing in so many ways.

(L-R): Adriana Barraza as Maria Vega and Natalie Dormer as Elsa [Warrick Page/SHOWTIME]
First Elsa insists that Frank (Santino Barnard) and Tom (Julian Hilliard) share a room while moving Trevor (Hudson West) into Maria’s room and relegating Maria to the room next to the garage. It’s obvious that Elsa is trying to force Maria to feel like a servant and take away her position as a part of the family.

Magda’s second act of disruption is where things get even more disturbing and uncomfortable. Santino Barnard plays his role as Frank Branson in so many wonderfully creepy ways, from wanting to crawl into bed with Tom and hold hands to killing his little hamster with a look. I wonder what twisted reasons Magda has for tormenting the poor boy. Is it because he’s the youngest and easiest to frighten or is there some other sick motivation?

In regards to Magda’s Alex, she’s the one who seems to be getting disrupted this time around by Councilwoman Beverly Beck (Christine Estabrook). Beverly confronts Alex in the lady’s room about where she came from and what her secrets might be. Immediately after this conversation Alex storms into Councilman Townsend’s (Michael Gladis) office to tell him that Beck has petitioned for Townsend to be recalled from political office. Townsend reacts by suggesting Beck’s assassination once again, this time thinking he can use his relationship with Kurt (Dominic Sherwood) to bypass being humiliated by Goss again.

After everything that has been going on with Mateo, his role is much shorter this time around, but no less tragic in this story. Mateo seeks out Josefina (Jessica Garza) and there’s a very awkward and almost incestuous conversation between the two (think Scarface). When Josefina tries to draw him into her new faith and the happiness that she’s found there she unintentionally furthers his feelings of isolation.  I don’t think John Logan really has much use for characters that aren’t tragic in some form or another, quite Shakespearian of him.

(L-R) Johnathan Nieves as Mateo Vega and Jessica Garza as Josefina Vega [Warrick Page/SHOWTIME]
Yet again, Maria finds cracks in her family when she puts her heart into making a special dinner for Raul and Josefina, pulling out her grandfather’s special silverware. The enchiladas steaming on the table and the place settings laid, Josefina argues with her and dashes off to her Bible study at The Temple of Sister Molly and Miss Adelaide.

There are two very significant reveals or twists in this particular episode that are as enlightening as they are confusing.

The first begins with Goss making it very clear that if Kurt is no longer the icy assassin Goss needs because he’s becoming emotionally attached to Townsend he will no longer be necessary. Outside of this meeting Tiago and Michener are sitting in their car while Michener explains that in return for his saving Mateo, Tiago must now help Michener kill the Nazis. As they observe this meeting Townsend and Alex join Goss and Kurt at the table, shortly followed by Miss Adelaide. The reveal that all of these players are having dinner together causes Michener to delay killing Goss and Kurt.

The final scene brings many of our preconceptions into question regarding the relationship between Magda, Santa Muerte (Lorenza Izzo), and the mortal world. Maria once again calls on Santa Muerte in her desperation at the fracturing of her family and the exchange is quite thought-provoking. Maria confronts Santa Muerte about why her sister Magda is targeting the Vega family, and unexpectedly Magda herself appears in person.

There’s a very interesting scene that plays out between Dormer and Izzo here; love and rejection amongst sisters. It gives me the impression of God rejecting Lucifer and casting him out of Heaven. Santa Muerte retreats and leaves Maria in the presence of Magda and her masterful temptations, much like God allowing Satan to tempt the souls of man. There’s a very dichotomous sensation in this scene — good/evil, life/death, and joy/pain, the necessity of light and dark. Interestingly enough, Santa Muerte is missing the bluish hue I’ve noticed in the past and is a flat grey through this scene.

(L-R): Adriana Barraza as Maria Vega and Natalie Dormer as Magda [Warrick Page/SHOWTIME]
Once Maria and Magda are alone, Magda attacks Maria’s coyote spirit guide as a sad little dog offering to give her a “better” spirit guide tempting her with all her wiles.  Maria throws Magda’s offers back in her face and proudly admits that she is a dog and mocks Magda’s inability to understand what life truly means. Barazza and Dormer give a gripping performance here followed up by a skin prickling monologue from Barraza, the coyote will protect her cubs!


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