REVIEW: Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, S1 Ep4 – Josefina and the Holy Spirit

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, S1 Ep4 - Josefina and the Holy Spirit

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels delivers its darkest episode yet as it reveals monsters both supernatural and frighteningly familiar.

All the characters continue to be confronted with demons whether or not of their own making. At the moment, there are so many stories and themes to juggle that Penny Dreadful: City of Angels seems to be floundering in its own ambition. The show wants to tackle important issues like racism, misogyny, anti-semitism, redlining, identity, and more while also including the symbolic involvement of two powerful deities, and so it’s spreading itself thin, not allowing all the characters to get justice. But it tries, and when it does succeed, the results are impressive.

The episode opens with Santa Muerte arriving just before a massacre takes place. No one else seems to see her except for a little girl, whose body she soon carries gently away from the bloodshed. It isn’t clear if the girl survived or if she might possibly be the young Maria, forging a connection with the deity from her youth. The image is striking but Penny Dreadful: City of Angels reveals nothing.

The Vega family are thrown into more turmoil in this episode and though the youngest and only daughter, Josefina, is named in the title of the episode, she does not appear until later but does have a very traumatic experience.

First, Tiago confirms that Sister Molly really was having an affair with the murder victim. He confronts her about it and she does not deny the affair but defensively says that she had nothing to do with the crime. She then says she never wants to see him again (not that you can say that to a detective, but anyway). After all this, Tiago still seems smitten with her, and once again, it seems that their romance progressed way too quickly. He chats about his romantic quandary with his brother, Raul, who also strangely does not seem too bothered by the fact that it was Tiago who shot him.

But Tiago continues to be blinded by his attraction to Molly and somehow shows up (how did he get past her bodyguards?) at the kitchen after one of the meetings. She is quietly washing the dishes, finding a moment of peace, and when she sees him, she welcomes his presence as they continue this ill-advised romance.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, S1 Ep4 - Josefina and the Holy SpiritMore importantly, Mateo and Josefina have a catastrophic encounter with the racist white policemen who had met Mateo in the hospital. What follows is the most horrific scene in the show, worse than any supernatural horror that Penny Dreadful: City of Angels could have portrayed. Josefina is sexually assaulted by a policeman while her brother is forced to watch. The scene is harrowing to witness and it is further proof that human monstrosity trumps any demonic apparitions. Such an assault could have taken place in reality and the consequences are always dire.

Josefina begs her brother to keep this a secret. But later, when she tries to approach her mother about it, she is shut out, since the family is too distracted by the discovery of Mateo’s Pachuco tattoo. The poor girl then seeks solace elsewhere, and conveniently stumbles upon a poster of Sister Molly and her congregation.

Josefina attends a meeting where Sister Molly’s gifts are on full display, her charisma and magnetism evident as she speaks to the people of salvation. Kerry Bishé shows why so many people are willing to listen to this evangelical leader and the young Josefina is her latest convert.

Frustrated by his own helplessness, Mateo confides in his Pachuco friends and they help him exact revenge on the perverted policeman. After Rico and Rio corner the man, they serve him to Mateo to execute and the young boy does so without hesitation. The murder is all the more brutal because Mateo isn’t strong enough to make a clean kill and his justifiable rage overpowers any sense of self-control. The mangled corpse is left outside the precinct, a sure sign of more trouble to come.

Lewis Michener is on a journey of his own and Nathan Lane continues to impress in this dramatic role. He has set aside the Hazlett case so that he can seek justice for the death of his friends. At a Jewish cemetery, he sets a meeting with the gangster Benny Berman and shares his theories about the burgeoning Nazi conspiracy in Los Angeles. The exchange is an intriguing one, not just because of the strong performances of both Lane and Brad Garrett, but also because of the physical disparity between them. And yet, Michener is so strong in his convictions that even with his diminutive size, he manages to get through to Berman, appealing to some sense of Jewish camaraderie.

Later in the episode, Berman comes through and finds a treacherous Jew who conspired with the Nazis. Berman gives Michener the chance to execute the man but the old cop refuses, leading Berman to do the deed himself. But Michener has started this risky relationship and no doubt, there will be more shady dealings in the future.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, S1 Ep4 - Josefina and the Holy SpiritDr. Craft’s storyline is by far the most disjointed from the rest. Elsa Branson and her creepy son attend his son’s birthday party and she is immediately the center of interest among his male friends. He certainly makes no secret of his attraction to her. None of this is lost on his wife who promptly confronts Elsa and warns her about Craft’s questionable past in Essen. Not that Elsa needs to be warned since she probably targeted Craft for this precise reason.

Mrs. Craft also refuses to become someone “as banal as a rejected wife.” But the whole subplot is as banal as it gets, with Elsa’s seduction of Craft and their eventual consummation of their passions playing out just as expected. More disturbing is Frank’s bedtime horror story shared with Craft’s son and the subsequent nightmares/visions the boy suffers of a dismembered little girl. But one still wonders why Magda is determined to ruin this particular German family and what she expects them to do for her when the time comes.

Councilman Townsend is unwittingly caught in Magda’s web again. After loudly ordering Alex around after a disastrous council meeting, it’s clear that Townsend would be caught in some trouble. True enough, he is accosted by one of the Germans after one of his illicit encounters and though the terrified man believes he is about to be killed, he was actually just seduced. However, all this was secretly documented by Magda and even shown explicitly as future blackmail fodder.

The stories of both Townsend and Craft are by far the least engaging in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels and it’s slightly frustrating that they are being given so much screen time when we could be learning more about the Vegas and, particularly, Tiago’s special connection to Santa Muerte, which hasn’t really been mentioned in the last couple of episodes. Neither has there been any real progress on the Hazlett case, the central murder mystery of the show.

As we approach the halfway point for Penny Dreadful: City of Angels season one, all these threads need to better fall into place so that we have a clearer vision of what lies ahead and the terrors Magda will be inflicting on a world that seems so open to violence and pain.

Check out the trailer for the next episode: