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'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' Season 1 Episode 3: Where have all the freaks and monsters gone?

'City of Angels' lacks the collection of supernatural monsters that the original series had, but it doesn't lack for outsider themes
UPDATED MAY 11, 2020

Spoilers for 'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' Season 1 Episode 3 'Wicked Old World'

For all its glamor, extensive cast, divergent plot threads and incredible sets, there's something vital missing from 'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels'. The original 'Penny Dreadful' had a lot going for it, but perhaps its biggest draw was its collection of literary characters joining forces, in the style of 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'. That seemed to be missing from 'City of Angels', until the latest episode, where a conversation between Molly Finnister (Kerry Bishe) and Tiago Vega (Daniel Zovatto) suggests that a draw has been pulled in from 'Penny Dreadful' after all — just not in a way that anyone was expecting.

The cast of 'Penny Dreadful' fought against a number of powerful foes, yes, in a series of adventures seemingly ripped straight from the penny dreadfuls for which the show was named. However, a big part of the show was also the examination of what it meant to be an outsider — someone who was unable to fit in to mainstream society. The loneliness, self-loathing and the fights against one's inner monster was something that bound all of the show's protagonists together. Some embraced their inner darkness and tried to change the world to suit them, instead of succumbing to the other way around. Others let their outsider nature fill them with either shame or aloofness — a part of the world around them — but painfully distanced from it.

The protagonists of 'City of Angels' have similar problems. As Molly points out, it might not be overt, but people like her and Tiago are freaks of a sort — their lives are far from normal and they live far outside the mainstream — Tiago, especially, as a Chicano police officer. He's neither at home with his own community, nor with the police force. None of the rest of the Vega family are exempt from this 'outsider' effect either, though they are a part of a larger community, who first owned the land LA is built on. That community has been marginalized to the extent that they each must fight just for the chance to be themselves in the face of the ever-encroaching 'white man'. 

Even the show's white men have their own outsider problems to deal with. Lewis Michener (Nathan Lane) is made an outsider by his Jewish heritage. It's what makes him sympathetic to Tiago's plight and it's a burden he carries in a country unsympathetic to the trials faced by the Jewish community. Peter Craft (Rory Kinnear) has not acclimated fully to American life — he's a German through and through, and a Nazi to boot — the show's own version of monstrousness.

The metaphor that was hinted at in 'Penny Dreadful' is made more clear in 'City of Angels' — the acute pain of being an outsider leads people to extreme actions. It's something that Magda (Natalie Dormer) capitalizes on, using the things that make them unique as a dividing line, further separating and radicalizing the people she's in contact with to better empower the monster within. It's a much more grounded take, but the reflection that the show is meant to hold up to society is that much clearer for it. 

The next episode of 'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' airs May 17, on Showtime.