Sunday, April 26, 2020

REVIEW: 'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' - Racial Divisions Threaten to Tear Families and Los Angeles Apart in 'Santa Muerte'

Showtime's Penny Dreadful: City of Angels - Episode 1.01 "Santa Muerte"

Los Angeles 1938. Tiago Vega, the LAPD's first Mexican-American detective and his partner, Lewis Michener, investigate a murder. Tiago's activist brother Raul Vega battles with the fiery Councilman Charlton Townsend over the construction of California's first freeway. Meanwhile, Peter Craft, the head of the German-American Bun, meets Elsa, the mysterious mother of one of his patients. Sensing danger, Tiago's mother Maria pleads with Santa Muerte to protect her family as the rising tensions in the city threaten to explode.

In 2019, the television industry aired 532 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of Showtime's Penny Dreadful: City of Angels.

"Santa Muerte" was written by John Logan and directed by Paco Cabezas

The original three season run of Penny Dreadful told a fascinating story that mixed gothic flourishes with a Victorian London setting. It delved deep into a well of creatures and supernatural beings who happened to exist within the same world. However, it was also notable for stating that the world is unpredictable. The actions of one group of people can have a profound impact on others without that sense of clarity right away. It was a horror mashup at its core. But it was also a moving story about found family and the fight necessary to battle the forces that wish to condemn the world to nothing but despair. At the start of City of Angels, it feels like a new prophecy is immediately rising up that suggests a similar fate. Magda and Santa Muerte seemingly operate in tandem. Magda creates the chaos and disasters that claim lives while Santa Muerte carries those souls from this world to the afterlife. They are beings that exist outside of this world but their influence is still deeply felt within it. 1938 Los Angeles is a city bustling with energy and chaos. And yes, that is a core theme of the series. However, it aspires for a more unifying message on the failings of man as well. In this premiere, it basically makes the underlying point that all men are evil and just need the permission to act out those horrendous impulses. Magda is capable of setting an entire field ablaze. But sometimes, she is at her most dangerous when she is simply whispering into the ears of others. She does so with the sole agenda of creating chaos. That chaos may eventually destroy the world. That appears to be her ultimate goal. She plants the seeds of animosity and hatred towards others in so many individuals. She does so on every side of the conflict. She wants to ensure that the battle happens. People have to die in order for all of this to be set into motion. People may be touched by forces beyond their control. However, they have no awareness of such divine intervention. They believe they have agency over their lives and actions. Raul will rise up to fight back against the politicians trying to destroy his community just so the city can expand and better cater to its wealthy citizens. He feels the Mexican heritage as being a vital part of the economy and soul of this community. He will fight to his death for that cause. He stands in opposition to his brother, Tiago, who has just been promoted to detective in the police department. He is working his first case which also has racial motivations and clashes. He is accustomed to the slurs and hatred sent his way. He works in a job where no one else looks like him. He is ostracized because he is made to feel as if he doesn't belong. He believes he can bridge these two worlds. He can offer a unique perspective that ensures many lives are saved. However, he doesn't believe his mother when she says he has been touched by a spirit. Santa Muerte's handprint is on his chest for a reason. He has a purpose that can inspire greatness. That doesn't occur here. In fact, it all builds to Tiago killing his brother because of the chaotic nature of this world. It's a big, dramatic moment. One that seems like a point of no return. One that will dramatically alter this family and the world at large forever. But there are big things happening throughout the universe as well. Things that impact the community but play to the global nature of the human condition. It's because this hatred of others is so universal that it plays out in so many different conflicts. It's easy to stand opposed to some of these causes. However, there are equally powerful movements to remain closed off from the world and let the wars pass them by. It's a narrative wherein these big proclamations are being made about how interconnected everything is. The original series had that as well. It also had a strong focal point with Eva Green's lead performance. That is lacking here even though Natalie Dormer is having a blast playing a woman living out multiple lives across this grand narrative. At this point, her presence states that chaos doesn't discriminate. That temptation is deeply felt everywhere and by everyone. It's not unique to one individual. Life is just harder for some communities because of the divisions that have separated humanity for a long time. Those may only intensify further. Some figures play into that conflict knowing it can benefit their goals. That is heinous though. It ensures the devolution of society further. As such, a noble push is necessary for the heroism of society to stand up and fight back for what's good and just. That can be complex and difficult though especially when fighting an enemy that doesn't need much convincing in order to be successful in sowing those doubts and lethal actions.