'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' Season 1 Episode 5 Review: Tiago and Lewis finally do some detective work
Spoilers for 'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' Season 1 Episode 5 'Children of the Royal Sun'
When promos for 'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' first began to show up, it would not have been unreasonable to assume that it would be a show about the supernatural mixed with a classic LA noir detective story centered around Tiago Vega (Daniel Zovatto) and Lewis Michener (Nathan Lane). It turned out to be a lot more than that as tangential plotline after plotline completely buried the detective story that was ostensibly at the heart of the show. This episode, however, finally comes around to being the show we thought it was going to be when we first heard about it. Alright, it's still rather light on its supernatural elements, but one thing at a time.
Tiago and Lewis get most of the focus of this episode, and it's refreshing to have at least one episode where the focus is not split too many ways. While other developments continue unabated, there's enough focus on Tiago and Lewis to really get a sense of what makes both these characters tick. Despite the ramping up of stakes, with LA on the brink of war, the investigation goes quietly enough to see what kind of decisions both detectives make when they're not being pushed around by circumstance. We see Nathan's level-headed experience contrast with Tiago's steadily unraveling hot-headedness.
Tiago is aware that the investigation into the murder of Officer Jimmy Riley (Rod McLachlan) is going to hit a lot closer to home than he's comfortable with. From the writing, we can tell that Tiago is slowly losing it, though you couldn't tell from Zovatto's performance. It's here that the drawbacks of increased focus on the characters come into play. Daniel Zovatto's performance as Tiago Vega is rather bland. It's especially apparent in a scene where he intimidates an illegal immigrant — it's meant to show just how close Tiago is to going off the deep end, but the scene would fall flat if it wasn't for Nathan Lane picking up the slack.
It's a disappointing dip in quality in a series with such a stellar cast. In this episode alone, we see some brilliant performances. The scene between Lewis and Maria Vega (Adriana Barraza) discussing the police force, faith, and Tiago is pure gold, with both actors bursting with charisma in what's a relatively simple scene. Molly Finnister (Kerry Bishe) has a brilliant moment, telling the same tale twice to two different people, as we slowly realize that what seems like an intimate confession is a carefully crafted lie, designed to tell people exactly what they want to hear, a sort of light mirror to Madga's (Natalie Dormer) dark one.
There's also Peter Craft (Rory Kinnear) though it remains unclear what connection he has to anything that's going on, the desperation with which he hurls himself into the darkness that Magda is luring him into is chilling. The poetry of Kinnear's haunted, desperate gaze is a large part of what made the original 'Penny Dreadful' so compelling to watch. The way it carries over into this series is the first true glimpse of the horror that 'Penny Dreadful' is capable of at its best.
The story that's meant to be at the heart of the series finally gets the attention it deserves. Unfortunately, it exposes the show's weakest link. It's a disappointing thing to find out five episodes into the series, but it's not the writing that's at fault. 'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' is telling an incredibly engaging story, and for the most part, it's doing an excellent job at doing so.
The next episode of 'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' airs on June 1 on Showtime.