REVIEW: Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, S1 Ep3 – Wicked Old World

REVIEW: Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, S1 Ep3 - Wicked Old World

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels offers an energetic chapter that features an extraordinary dance hall sequence while setting up a dangerous conflict.

The episode opens with Lewis making a deal with the coroner to hide the slugs from the deaths of his two friends.  After being formal and gruff with the coroner, he hides in the stairwell and gives in to his grief, rending his clothes and muttering a Jewish prayer. It’s a small but powerful moment, and Nathan Lane gives a compelling performance. This is just one of the human moments in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels that elevates the show from simply being a supernatural horror mystery.

After rushing through a rehearsal, Sister Molly plays hooky and tracks down Detective Vega. They have a pleasant conversation together and both express a desire to be “someone else” and this leads to an invitation from Tiago to the fair grounds.

REVIEW: Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, S1 Ep3 - Wicked Old WorldThe pair spend a romantic afternoon at the pier, Tiago winning a Popeye doll for Molly at a shooting range, and both admiring the sunset together. Tiago kisses her and declares that this is one of the best days of his life. Molly smiles as she reluctantly leaves him behind. The whole scene was a source of relief and peace in a show that is still full of pain and suffering.

But as sweet as they look together, Tiago and Molly’s romance developed far too fast, in my opinion. They only just met and shared a moment an episode ago and suddenly, they’re kissing in the sunset. It’s clear that Tiago is smitten with the charismatic lady but there is surely more to her than the innocent facade she is putting up for his benefit. Her desire to escape the life she has been forced to live may well be genuine but she may still be hiding darker secrets and she is clearly involved in the central murder of the show.

Her guardians also made sure that she knew that they knew about her little escapade with the detective. Randolph was eerily effective as he menacingly ate cotton candy while watching his ward and Molly’s mother gave the most chilling rendition of “Popeye the Sailorman” ever heard. Penny Dreadful: City of Angels knows how to make such mundane moments strike as much fear in our hearts than any supernatural horrors.

REVIEW: Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, S1 Ep3 - Wicked Old WorldMagda continues her shape-shifting manipulation but is not always successful. Frumpy secretary Alex fails to keep Councilman Townsend in check when they have a meeting with their collaborators. Later in the episode, Townsend is revealed to be a closeted homosexual, a secret that will most likely be used against him when he goes out of line.

Elsa Branson is more successful at her seduction of Dr. Craft, who goes so far as to visit her house. She puts on a good show of being the battered wife and after the good doctor tends to her injuries, he even dares to kiss her. She does not exactly rebuff his advances and he ends up inviting her and her son to his son’s birthday party where some mischief will surely take place.

REVIEW: Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, S1 Ep3 - Wicked Old WorldThe most exciting part of the episode is Mateo’s visit to a Pachuco dance hall. After his encounter with Fly Rico last week, the young Vega is intrigued by the subversive culture Rico is a part of. He enters the dance hall and is immediately swept away by the music, dancing, and infectious energy of all the people there. Fly Rico dominates the dance floor, as expected, and draws the young Vega in and also introduces him to the “queen,” Magda’s latest incarnation, Rio.

The whole sequence is impressive from the lively music, colorful costumes, and elaborate choreography. Penny Dreadful: City of Angels spared no expense in making this scene stand out, hiring Irish choreographer Tommy Tonge and more than a hundred other dancers. Rico, Mateo, and Rio all have their moment to shine as they invigorate the episode with their mesmerizing dancing skills.

To fully appreciate the scene, you can watch the clip below:

Unfortunately, the party is interrupted by the arrival of the police, who accuse the Chicanos of violating curfew. Rio sparks a fight and a brawl breaks out, another clash of immigrants against established authority. Later, as they hide in a dark alley, Rio starts planting the seeds of rebellion into the minds of Rico and Mateo. The latter is easily swayed by her fiery rhetoric but Rico may still need some convincing since he is also aware of the risks they would be taking by starting an all-out war against the police.

While Magda is a shape-shifting supernatural entity, the problematic casting of a white woman as the leader of a group from Latino counterculture is at least addressed. Rio explains her whiteness by saying that her parents were immigrants from Seville, Spain but she was born in Mexico.

REVIEW: Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, S1 Ep3 - Wicked Old WorldThe episode ends with Lewis and Tiago meeting up for drinks as they discuss the evidence for the case. Their partnership still feels solid even a few episodes in and there’s a real chemistry and even solidarity between detectives who are both part of minorities who are prejudiced against in their society. But Michener drops a bombshell that shakes Tiago to his core, the murder victim Hazlett has been having an affair with Sister Molly. Michener gives his partner the evidence to examine further and the younger detective does so dutifully, his wonderful afternoon now shattered by reality.

The episode concludes with a haunting rendition of “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” playing as various characters reflect on what the future will bring. Molly is in tears in her room and Tiago gazes forlornly at the Popeye doll, now suddenly just a painful reminder of a tainted love.

Check out the trailer for next week’s episode: