REVIEW: Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, S1 Ep7 – Maria and the Beast

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, S1 Ep7 - Maria and the Beast

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels delivers another uneven episode that benefits from giving Maria a brief time to shine.

After taking a backseat in last week’s tense, police procedural episode, the supernatural sisters are back for more mystery and chaos. Alex continues to pull the strings behind Councilman Townsend though she is called out by a suspicious councilwoman. Elsa and Frank move into the Craft house and already there is tension between the seemingly “pretty and clean” widow and Maria. And there is a fantastic confrontation between Maria and Magda herself at the end of the episode that also raises more questions than it answers.

Unlike the episode with Josefina’s name in the title, this one at least lets us spend more time with Maria though she still really is not the focus of the story. In fact, as has been the pattern with Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, several subplots are being juggled relentlessly without one being given proper focus. The show would like us to believe that the Vega family are central to the entire story but even the members of said family are not all developed well.

After last week’s intense and disturbing interrogation scenes, Tiago simply mopes and mutters to Sister Molly how he may have done something unforgivable. Granted, the line “It’s not a compromise, it’s not a mistake. It’s a sin.” is pretty powerful but he then simply deals with this by enjoying his time with his lover, even though he has not really solved the murder case yet. Josefina and Mateo have a brief confrontation but the latter is disappointed by his sister’s newfound evangelism and believes he has no one to turn to.

Josefina and her mother have a short but potentially intriguing argument about the importance of religion to them. When the young woman points out that her faith in Sister Molly is as much unlike Catholicism as her mother’s devotion to Santa Muerte, this could have opened a very fascinating discussion about the fusion of different belief systems in an immigrant family. But it never gets beyond a few heated lines between them.

Then, Maria chides Raul for just sitting there and doing nothing, a hilariously meta moment.

So if indeed the Vega family is being specifically targeted by Santa Muerte, as Maria accuses the deity, why them? Even their significance is downplayed by the way they are portrayed on the show, never getting the screen time or development that would clearly distinguish them as the leads. The encounter with Santa Muerte, Magda, and Maria at the end was the most intriguing section of this episode but still left so much in the dark.

The strongest of non-Vega subplots so far is Lewis Michener’s quest to avenge his friends and expose the Nazi conspiracy brewing in the city. As a means to collect on the debt, he ropes in Tiago to help in the investigation although it’s clear that Dottie is the most capable member of the team. Lewis and Dottie try to protect the young Caltech student, somehow the only genius the Nazis can recruit to build a Jew-destroying rocket for them.

And while on a stakeout and just when Michener and Vega decide to simply gun down their enemies, the extent of the conspiracy is revealed. The Nazi collaborators show their faces as Townsend and Sister Molly’s mother arrive to have dinner with the devils. Since there are only three episodes left in this season of Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, the disparate subplots need to converge somewhere.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, S1 Ep7 - Maria and the BeastLess interesting are Magda’s current schemes though Councilwoman Beck’s threat to unveil Alex’s secrets was interesting and her disdain for the plan to make “racist demagogue without a single scruple the President of the United States” was hilariously on-the-nose. The Craft storyline continues to be the dullest and now with added creep factor as Frank (the child actor is to be commended for his chilling performance though) terrorizes poor young Tom while his father is still smitten by Elsa, already trying to get rid of Maria’s influence.

The episode raises some questions about Magda’s powers and their limitations as well as her history with Santa Muerte. Why is Frank (clearly an extension of her) able to kill a rodent with his mind but why is Alex so easily riled up by a human councilwoman? Maria claims to be able to “smell” Magda’s presence but after facing both Rio and Elsa, how much is the “old coyote” able to sense about the demonic deity’s disguises? And how, Adriana Barraza’s compelling performance aside, is Maria able to so easily banish Magda from her home? Do the deity’s powers really just boil down to shapeshifting and whispering problematic thoughts into the hearts of already-problematic men?

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, S1 Ep7 - Maria and the BeastDuring the confrontation with Maria, Magda alludes to an ancient rift between her and Santa Muerte, a painful choice that leads the latter to shed a single tear before walking away mysteriously. Are we going to get some background information on this and will it be relevant to the rest of the story? There were different (and sometimes disturbing) sibling dynamics on display in the episode with Mateo asking Josefina to reassure him with her love and with Frank then creepily asking Tom to say he loves him. What went down between Magda and Santa Muerte and is there some mythological referent to this feud? We still don’t know.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels tries to paint an elaborate tapestry of mythology and modernity clashing as men give into their basest instincts. As ambitious as this vision is, the show has not always succeeded in elaborating it and it will need to properly resolve so many questions in the last three episodes.