'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' Episode 4 Review: Men fall prey to Magda's temptations

Magda's plans start bearing fruit as those she influences succumb to her influence, putting them deeper in her power


                            'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' Episode 4 Review: Men fall prey to Magda's temptations
(Showtime)

Spoilers for 'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' Season 1 Episode 4 - 'Josefina and the Holy Spirit'

Magda (Natalie Dormer) might not be the devil, but she's offering temptations all the same and in this episode, the men fall prey to her wiles. Los Angeles has been on the brink of all-out war from the start but the inciting incident might just have happened and Magda is a significant step closer to seeing the City of Angels burn.

 Several significant things happen this episode. We find out why the Nazis are so interested in Los Angeles - they're seeking to steal rocket designs from Caltech. Peter Craft (Rory Kinnear) finally submits to his desires, Molly Finnister (Kerry Bishe) is revealed to not be as innocent as she first appears, Lewis Michener (Nathan Lane) seeks help from the mob, and Mateo Vega (Johnathan Nieves) steps well past the point of no return with the murder of a police officer.

If there's a theme to the episode, it's that of temptations being succumbed to. Whether it's Peter with Elsa (Natalie Dormer), Townsend to his private vices or Mateo to his rage, Magda's influence has successfully pushed the men she's manipulating to her own ends. This comes into special contrast towards the end of the episode, paralleling the murderous temptations of Lewis and Mateo. Lewis remains a good man but Mateo has gone very much over the deep end.

The episode introduces Benny Berman (Brad Garrett), a Jewish mobster who Lewis approaches for help in Nazi-hunting and his performance is a charismatic delight. Nathan Lane and Brad Garrett are both excellent comedic actors and that sense of timing translates well to a more serious drama like 'Penny Dreadful.' Berman's brunt and intimidating nature is contrasted with a softer, more poetic side and it's a very compelling performance. 

This episode is the most sexually explicit of any of the preceding ones and it's the episode's most glaring flaw. While the orchestral swell of the sex scene between Peter and Elsa beautifully emphasizes the corruption Peter is succumbing to, the scene itself is awkward and banal. It would be comedic if the music wasn't working so hard to make you take the scene seriously. On the other hand, we have the unnecessarily graphic molestation of Josefina Vega (Jessica Garza). While the scene is an important turning point for both Mateo and Josefina, there is nothing that is gained from the thoroughness with which this uncomfortably violent act happens. 

'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' is very detailed. In just four episodes, there's enough backstory on each of the characters and the show's rich setting to fill up a season and a half on any other show. Its details extend to the sets, the music, all in impressive service to the storytelling. When it comes to the sexually graphic scenes, however, things get awkward fast and the show would have been better served to imply, rather than show.

There may, at this point, be one character too many on the series. It's not that it's hard to keep track of the various plotlines but it feels like some characters - such as Maria and Raul Vega - are getting the short shift in terms of narrative development. 'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' is a tightly written series but its cracks are beginning to show and it's hard to say how well the series is going to be able to hold itself together going forward. 

The next episode of 'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' airs May 24, on Showtime.

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