'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' Season 1 Episode 6 Review: Crime noir storytelling at its finest
In a stellar hour of television, Lewis, Tiago and Diego spend an entire episode in an interrogation room, gambling with high stakes bluffs
Spoilers for 'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' Season 1 Episode 6 'How It Is with Brothers'
In this episode, all pretence of being a show about the supernatural is dropped. Instead of focusing on its many spinning plates, it pulls its focus on a simple, masterfully told story set nearly entirely in an interrogation room. The episode hasn't abandoned its other stories, but it does reduce their roles and getting to focus on a singular storyline is a refreshing change of pace.
Last episode builds Tiago Vega (Daniel Zovatto) and Lewis Michener (Nathan Lane) investigation into the death of officer Jimmy Reilly (Rod McLachlan). The two have managed to procure just one suspect out of four, and on the surface, their mission seems clear. Find out what Diego Lopez (Adan Rocha) knows and get justice for Reilly's killer before the city erupts into a war of racial tension. Things aren't quite as cut and dried, however. Locked together in an interrogation room, the three men are playing a very dangerous game and each of them has a very different win condition.
Michener wants to get to the heart of the matter to find out the truth so he can use it to diffuse the situation, one way or the other. Tiago's situation has complicated matters, however, given that he knows Reilly's murdered Tiago's own brother, Mateo Vega (Johnathan Nieves). This knowledge gives Diego what could be a winning hand if he plays his cards right; leverage over Tiago, with which he can either escape the police or take some of them out as he goes down fighting.
It's a solid hour of television and perhaps one of the best single episodes to come out this year. The three men use threats, implied or otherwise, manipulations and a variety of mind games, all in an effort to gain the upper hand. There is a lot of very subtle storytelling and some brilliant performances from all three actors, though it does reveal Tiago to be a weaker man than we were hoping. Tiago's being torn apart by all the different directions he's being pulled in and he grabs desperately at any solution he can find no matter how ill-advised it may be. Diego excels as the petty criminal with justified anger at the position he's in, willing to use any leverage he has to better his position but being smart enough not to use that leverage until the time is just right.
It's ultimately Lewis Michener who steals the show, however, using his years of experience to piece the clues together at the very last minute. Tiago reveals his weak hand and Lewis sees right through Diego's bluff and manages to get to his win condition in the most compromised way possible. Lewis' solution is classic noir storytelling — a haunting and cynical ending that neatly ties everything up while leaving a colossal stain on the souls of everyone involved.
The other stories featured in this episode each get their moment to shine as well, seemingly benefitting from the compact storytelling. Whether it's Charlton Townsend's (Michael Gladis) strange love for his city, the first look of rage we ever see in Peter Craft's (Rory Kinnear) eyes, Molly Finnister's (Kerry Bishe) achingly told song of heartbreak or the moment when Maria Vega (Adriana Barraza) stared down the devil living behind her son's eyes, the episode is filled with mythic moments for its extensive cast.
While 'City of Angels' has had a lot to enjoy, from its dedication to its aesthetic to its storytelling and performances, it has suffered from the feeling that it does not quite know what story it wants to tell. In this episode, that story rings as clear as a bell, and 'City of Angels' seems to have finally hit its stride.
The next episode of 'Penny Dreadful: City of Angels' airs June 7, on Showtime.