Each week, Joe (@bstolemyremote) and Terry (@gaylydreadful) review an episode of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, alternating between our respective sites — queerhorrormovies.com and gaylydreadful.com.
Spoilers for episode eight…
1.08 “Hide and Seek”: Lewis (Nathan Lane) confronts Townsend (Michael Gladis) in his office. Rio (Natalie Dormer) implores Mateo (Jonathan Nieves) to embrace her and the Pachucos. Peter (Rory Kinnear) visits Linda (Piper Perabo) at the asylum. Townsend and Kurt (Dominic Sherwood) go on a dangerous outing. Maria (Adriana Barraza) fights to protect the Craft boys from Frank (Santino Barnard).
You know, Terry, every week I think I’ve got Penny Dreadful figured out. Then the very next episode comes along and changes the way that I feel about the show. Last week we applauded the fact that “Maria and the Beast” winnowed down its focus to feature a trio of stories, which allowed John Logan et al. to dedicate more time to those plots and characters. At the time, I advocated for this model because the episodes prior where the narrative was divided between more characters felt curt and unsatisfactory.
So imagine my surprise when “Hide and Seek” comes along and completely disproves that notion. Here is an episode that affords the characters a near equal amount of screen time (the exception being Mateo and Rio, who only appear in a single scene, despite the episode description above)…and yet it all works really well!
One reason this works so well is because we’re at the point in the season that Penny Dreadful is starting to finally pay off some of its long running narrative threads. Lewis and Tiago (Daniel Zovatto) begin to connect the dots between Townsend and Miss Adelaide (Amy Madigan); Josefina (Jessica Garza)’s dedication to the Temple is revealed to both Tiago and Maria; Councilwoman Beck (Christine Estabrook) lays her cards on the table for Townsend; and Frank reveals to Maria that he’s the spawn of Satan.
There’s a lot of satisfaction in these developments, particularly in an episode that continually references “secrets”. With only two episodes remaining in this first season, it’s high time for these secrets to come to light and “Hide and Seek” definitely feels like the creative team drawing the net in tighter around our characters.
There’s also a lot of talk about war, battles and blood here, Terry. As teased in last week’s episode, Councilwoman Beck unknowingly has a target on her back. One of the more fascinating scenes in “Hide and Seek” is when Townsend, who is appallingly bad at playing mental games with people (as demonstrated by his conversations with both Beck and Lewis earlier), attempts to manipulate his smitten lover Kurt into killing Beck.
Back in episode three, Penny Dreadful highlighted The Crimson Cat, a hidden Pachuco club that were heavily coded as a queer space, but the club Townsend takes Kurt to here is a proper gay bar. It’s also noticeably whiter, populated by wealthier patrons (the clothes are glamorous and exquisitely tailored) and even has its own diva singer (Patti LuPone, in a bizarre “singing only” cameo)! Initially I was almost enamoured with Townsend’s attempt to woo his lover, who looked smitten by the idea of a place where queers can simply be themselves. And then the politician had to ruin everything by asking – mid-dance no less! – for Kurt to kill Beck.
Talk about a boner killer!
I’m sure as gay viewers, we are more interested by the secret queer nightlife of late 1930s Los Angeles than other viewers Terry, but I felt like “Hide and Seek” did a better job at balancing these intimate character beats with full-on plot progression than a lot of early episodes of Penny Dreadful.
Am I alone in that thought, Terry? Or were you more invested in the spectral shenanigans going on in the Craft household? How did you feel about the pay-off for Craft’s secret history as a Krupp? And were you alternately elated and dismayed by Linda’s declarations in the asylum, where she vowed to ruin his life, but also didn’t care a lick about her two sons?
You know, Joe, I really appreciated seeing the secret speakeasy for queer couples and to understand how some things change and how some…remain the same. I wish the narrative were a little more thematically linked and what I mean is that when we saw the Pachuco club we saw how unsafe it was (how they were living their lives in the open and how easily it was for the police to come in and start a riot). That experience contrasts so nicely with this upscale place for rich and powerful people. I liked how a siren would ring and they’d immediately swap partners. It’s a safe expression of queerness, but also one that showcases their absolute privilege as rich and powerful white people. And I probably never would have made the connection if we weren’t digging in deep every week.
I appreciate a show that puts the onus on the viewer to make connections because a lot of the time TV series are blunt and look down on their viewers, thinking they won’t be able to keep up with the plot. But I do feel that, particularly when comparing the first half of City of Angels to the second half, there’s a lot of thematic qualities that I wish they would have connected better, like the difference between the Pachuco club and the rich white people club.
That said, I was so engrossed in this episode as a whole. Since we’re eight episodes deep and we know the characters, the quick-scene approach works immeasurably better than it has in the earlier part of the season. With that said, however, I wasn’t as invested in the spectral shenanigans in the Craft home, which surprised me because I have been craving more supernatural moments. Thinking back to some of the creepy home moments in Penny Dreadful, this felt very perfunctory in its execution and didn’t really spend much time developing the fear.
One thing I did appreciate, though, is when Tom (Julian Hilliard) and Trevor (Hudson West) are camped out on the floor listening to The Black Chapel. It was a real radio program that played at 11:45 PM on Thursday/Friday nights. You can listen to one of the few remaining episodes here.
I was also living for Linda (and Piper Perabo)’s deadpan humor as she passive aggressively (and then aggressively) tears into Peter. The bit about her roommate missing her dairy cows had me cackling, as did her use of “I shan’t be here forever.” I actually was impressed that the writers didn’t have her fawning over her lost sons, if I’m going to be honest. Too often mothers are seen as having such an affinity for their kids while fathers are not, so this subtle inversion really made me appreciate her more. Also: “Bring a lawyer…and a cow for my roommate”? Yas. Queen.
One point of confusion for me was that Linda acted as if Peter’s secret would destroy his relationship with his German friends. But if Peter actually belongs to the Krupp family, who developed war weapons and machines, I don’t see how that’s a damning thing. Even in his Bund meetings, Peter professes he wants peace and doesn’t want to be a part of the purge and war his brethren want. If anything this just helps cement why he feels that way. I now understand why Magda chose him over, say, Herman (Ethan Peck): because Peter’s ties to a giant war machine is perfect for her. But I don’t understand how his family would be a house of cards for Linda to tear down.
So maybe I’m missing something, Joe? Do you have any insight into this? And continuing with the Peter Krupp line, were you excited when, instead of giving into Elsa’s browbeating, Peter offered Maria a raise? And can I poke you again about Molly, who shows up in all black and whose mother tells Tiago that she has her secrets, is actually a femme fatale? I am not going to let that one go, Joe!
Lol – I literally questioned my husband about Molly’s status as a femme fatale. We’re in agreement, he and I: if Penny Dreadful ultimately reveals that Molly is secretly in cahoots with her mom and this has all been a long con, we wouldn’t be surprised. BUT (and it’s a Sir Mix-A-Lot sized one), I honestly don’t think that’s what’s happening here. I’m firmly on the side of “chaste, traditional mixed racial love affair”. We’ll see who comes out on top of this debate in the next few episodes. 😉
As for Peter and Linda’s conversation, I think you’re on the right track, but you’ve misunderstood the audience that Linda would spill the beans to. Sure, the name Krupp would probably elate the other members of the Bund, but as someone attempting to melt into the societal fabric of Los Angeles, including white (and possibly Jewish) clients at work, the truth that Peter’s fortune is the result of war profiteering probably won’t sit well. It may gain him points among his German friends, but it could very well mean the end of his business.
While I’m still not in love with his storyline, it is fascinating to consider how much time the Penny Dreadful writers have invested in his interior home life. Perhaps this shouldn’t be so surprising considering Kinnear is the sole player from the original series to appear on this spin-off, but it’s hardly been the showiest role. And yet, all of the sudden, Peter (and by extension Maria, whose story is now intertwined with his) appears to be one of the few players who can deflect Magda’s plan. There’s something telling in the moments that follow Maria’s exit from the Craft household with her $5 a week raise: Elsa falls into a chair, sighing and seemingly exhausted. Thus far she’s only been rebuffed by two people: Maria…and now Peter. Getting turned down is obviously a new experience for her!
Terry, this is a stark contrast to how Mateo is held under sway by Rio, so I wonder if this means that part of Magda’s plan is a variation of the old adage, “all that’s required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”? Does Magda’s plan simply require good people to submit to what is easy, self-centered and goes against the greater good? Townsend, Mateo and perhaps even Josefina have succumbed to easy wish-fulfillment. Do you imagine that Tiago and Lewis will be tempted next? And speaking of the detectives, who do you suppose sent that Tommy Gun-wielding assassin after them: Miss Adelaide, Townsend or Goss?
Joe, I’m excited to get to the end of the season and a lot of it has to do with finding out that I’m right about Molly (….or that I’m not….but we’ll cross that bridge when it happens. Hahah!).
As for whether Tiago will be tempted next, I think he is being tempted by Molly. Molly who has also pulled Josefina into her worshipful arms. Who tells her “oh you can stay here, but you should move back to your mother’s house!”, knowing full well that Josefina won’t. Who has inserted herself into Tiago’s investigation from the very beginning and uses her “feminine wiles” to pull him back every time he thinks he’s out…
But spinning very slightly away from Molly’s black outfit, perfectly coiffed persona and red lips and rouged cheeks, slinking into the hard-nosed detective’s apartment at night, you asked about the Tommy Gunner. It’s probably Randolph (David Figlioli), yeah? He’s been tailing Molly the entire season and regardless of how friendly and “golly gee, detective, I didn’t know Richard Goss was a Nazi!”, Adelaide obviously wants to silence them.
Or at least send a message.
I say the last part because, based on where Tiago and Lewis were sitting, it’s obvious that Randolph probably could have killed at least one of them had he wanted to. I don’t think it was Townsend because he’s too busy dealing with Councilwoman Beck and her “queer” questions. And while it could be Richard Goss, he just doesn’t seem that interested in “sending messages.” He had Kurt point blank shoot Lewis’ two buds with a silencer…I don’t think Tommy Guns are quite his thing (yet).
And as for Lewis…the way Alex (Natalie Dormer) “confided” in him about her own Jewish heritage makes me think she’s going to try to sink her claws in him, too. Because I think you’re right, Joe, as much as she proclaimed in the beginning that the only thing needed to make man a monster is give him permission to be a monster, having a person become a complicit bystander is also an easy thing to do.
With two episodes left, I’m sure we’ll find out soon. But next week we’ll be back at Gayly Dreadful to dig into the penultimate episode, “Sing, Sing, Sing.”