[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the Season 1 finale of Penny Dreadful: City of Angels. Read at your own risk!]
Penny Dreadful: City of Angels was born out of what creator John Logan described as the “shocking parallels” between 1938 Los Angeles and present-day America. But as the 10-episode first season unfolded, the Showtime drama began to overlap with the headlines with frightening specificity. The season’s penultimate episode ended with a devastating, hard-to-watch scene, as the LAPD lynched a young Pachuco, Diego (Adan Rocha), while Lewis (Nathan Lane) was handcuffed and made to watch. But Lewis and Tiago (Daniel Zovatto) bore their own responsibility for Diego’s murder; they had let the boy take the fall for killing the Hazletts and Officer Reilly (Rod McLachlan) in order to cover up for Tiago’s brother, Mateo (Johnathan Nieves).
The season finale of City of Angels picked up in the aftermath of the horrific lynching, as the community staged a peaceful protest that turned violent with a little help from Magda (Natalie Dormer). In the riots, Rio (Dormer) seized the opportunity to cement Mateo’s place as leader among the Pachucos, while Tiago was brutally beaten in a racist attack. The next morning, he and Molly (Kerry Bishé) talked about disappearing together — but when Molly told her mother, Miss Adelaide (Amy Madigan) revealed that she’d arranged for the murder of the last man Molly slept with, and Molly killed herself out of guilt.
The episode ended with Tiago and Lewis paying witness as city officials tore down part of the Vega family’s neighborhood to make room for the freeway, walling off the Chicano community under the guise of city planning. Knowing this neighborhood would not be the last, the partners recommitted to their work. “City of Angels needs us, pal,” Lewis told Tiago.
TV Guide caught up with Logan to get his thoughts on the episode’s unfortunate timeliness, the entertainment industry’s reckoning with cop stories, and what’s in store for the potential second season of City of Angels. Plus, the showrunner spoke about bringing Patti LuPone back to the world of Penny Dreadful and working with the late Brian Dennehy.
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Obviously, this whole show is rooted in the idea of history repeating itself, but the last few weeks in particular, in the real world, have made the story of City of Angels feel very timely. How do you think the show speaks to where America is right now?
John Logan: It’s interesting. It’s eerie and disturbing how much the narratives that we dramatize reflect the world we live in, because as you know, our last two episodes feature a person of color being lynched by the police force and a peaceful march that turns into a race riot. And those trends have always been part of America. The idea of xenophobia and racism and homophobia and anti-Semitism have not gone away. We’ve been able to paper over them for a while, but that’s becoming increasingly unacceptable and impossible. So I’m gratified that the show is speaking to this moment now because, [as] we talked about [before the premiere], I’ve always felt that though this show was set in 1938, if it’s not about 2020 then it’s failed. And right now it is singularly about the moment we’re living in.
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about cop shows. City of Angels is a show that centers a couple of hero cops, but then it’s also a show about how the police as an institution are overwhelmingly racist and violent and not interested in justice. Where do you think the show fits into the conversation about how we should be portraying cops on television?
Logan: In this country we’ve always had a rich tradition of iconic heroes whom we celebrate. The cowboy, for example — for most of our history, the cowboy was celebrated as the lone individualist prime American, and then in the ’60s and ’70s, we began to consider the consequences of the cowboys and Western expansion to the Native American community. I think we’re now beginning to look at the icon of the cop or the detective, who was also deeply baked into our literary and cinematic DNA, and look at it with a more sophisticated lens, and I think that’s important to do. And what the show tries to do is present really complicated circumstances and put empathetic characters in the midst of it, because that’s what drama does so well. It makes you care for the characters in these difficult social situations. And our two lead characters are detectives, they’re cops, but they’re outsider cops, you know — they’re not part of the traditional system. One of them’s Latino, one of them’s Jewish. So by their very identity, they’re separate from the institutional racism or xenophobia and brutality that exists around them, to a certain way. So they’re a good lens with which to view that situation, dramatically speaking.
Do you think that by staying on the force, Tiago and Lewis are in any way complicit?
Logan: I think it’s complicated. I think they’re torn. You know, there’s always the hope that working from the inside can make changes, and there’s always the hope that working on the outside can make changes. So, whether the entire city of Los Angeles [in] 1938 was a corrupt maelstrom of evil? No, of course it wasn’t. There is as much potential for grace and grandeur in any institution and any character as there is for depravity. So I think Tiago and Lewis, the two lead characters, are trying to navigate, with some morality, a very immoral circumstance.
I was wondering what keeps Tiago staying on the force after the events of the finale, when he gets beaten up. So would you say it’s his optimism that he can change the system?
Logan: I think he’s a hero in the true sense. I think he’s a trailblazer who has an opportunity for himself and his people, and he’s not gonna let go of it. And if he can do his job well, if he can rise, if he can maintain his dignity and his soul, he will open the door for other Latino cops and detectives.
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I also wanted to ask about the very last thing Tiago says, which is, “This is not the United States of America.” I think in the midst of all of the systemic racism that we are still grappling with as a country, and seeing, as we see in this show, the way it’s continued to be a pattern throughout our history, it’s very easy to think, “Yes, it is.” So I’m curious what your perspective is on that very last line.
Logan: I think what Tiago is saying is this should not be the United States of America. This is not the dream of the United States of America that my mother came [from] Mexico for… This is not the upward mobility and the glory we hope to achieve in the United States of America, because around me what I see is the decimation of my community. So I think it’s said with a spirit of rebellion and a spirit of idealism about the dream that America still can be and could be in 1938.
I was so sad about Sister Molly’s story in this episode. Was it always the plan for this to be how her story ends?
Logan: Sadly, yes. We all fell in love with Kerry Bishé, who plays Sister Molly, and I can’t count the number of times that Danny Zovatto came to me and said, “Please don’t kill Sister Molly at the end.” And I said, “I have to!” This story’s called Penny Dreadful, and it’s a dense, tragic show in a way. And that was the only fitting ending for the character, because she was torn between two worlds the same way that Tiago is torn between two worlds. That’s why they’re so well matched in the show as characters. And she finally was not able to live with the different pulls on her soul, whereas Tiago still can. But it was a real bummer, because I just loved the character. I love Kerry so much.
Molly could have run away by herself or told Tiago or the cops what her mother did. Was she afraid the same thing would happen to Tiago that had happened to the man she’d been with before, James Hazlett?
Logan: I think that’s part of it. I mean, Miss Adelaide, who Amy Madigan plays, is obviously a ferocious force of nature who will not be stopped, and Tiago represents a threat to her daughter and the church and her own power. So the idea that Miss Adelaide could take vengeance on Tiago I think is very much part of it. I think more to the point, it’s a bit of guilt from Molly in terms of what has been done on her behalf by her mother, which she can’t live with. But the whole series, she’s constantly being torn between, “Am I Molly or am I Sister Molly?” And she can’t reconcile those two demands on her psyche.
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Given the nature of this franchise, I kept thinking about Billie Piper‘s character in Penny Dreadful, and how obviously, she also died at the end of Season 1, and then Brona returned as Lily. So is this really the last we’ve seen of Molly?
Logan: [Laughs] Kelly, you’ll have to wait and see.
When Molly kills herself, she calls Santa Muerte (Lorenza Izzo) her sister. I know it was a reference to her wanting to have a sister, but was it also a clue? Is there more to her than meets the eye?
Logan: I think Molly is a woman of deep faith, and she recognizes another figure of deep faith and feels a sisterhood with her, beyond her sort of biographical wanting to have a sister. I think she feels a kinship with another holy spirit.
Shifting to another character, Dr. Craft (Rory Kinnear) was resistant to a lot of Elsa’s (Dormer) attempts throughout the season to stir up hatred, but ultimately he does still choose the Nazi Party in the end. How much sympathy, if any, do you have for him?
Logan: I have incredible sympathy for Dr. Craft. And I don’t think he does choose the Nazi Party. I think he’s goaded into a position where he tries it out, but he tries it out with tears streaming down his face. So what that means for the future of his story, you know, I could tell you, but I’m not going to. But the joy of the character for me is in the push and pull between his inherently moral ideas and the rhetoric that is heating up around him, particularly inspired by Elsa.
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We saw Elsa and Rio, two of Magda’s human guises, interact for the first time in the finale. What is the internal logic of how those human forms can interact with each other? Do they share a consciousness?
Logan: They do share a consciousness. But they’re sort of bifurcated versions of the same soul, if you will. And the idea of intermixing the various Magda iterations was finally just too delicious to ignore. It’s something I hope to dial into even more next season because we have to start going into Magda’s story a little bit more, her relation with Santa Muerte and the whole theology that we’re trying to create, which for this season, I purposely kept it sort of elastic and mysterious. But more to come on that.
In the end of the finale, Magda stands behind Tiago and repeats her speech from the premiere about the prophecy. Can you say anything about how that prophecy will specifically tie into Tiago?
Logan: I think what that scene says is, “I’ve been dancing around you, Tiago, and now I’m making direct contact.” Also, I thought it was sort of an exciting thing to have kept, really, the two lead characters of the show completely apart until one scene in the final episode, and what it promises is more interaction between them to come. And the stakes for that interaction are the future of the world.
Going back a couple of weeks, I was happy to see Patti LuPone pop up in Episode 8. Tell me about bringing her back to the world of Penny Dreadful.
Logan: You know, Patti and I are fond old friends, so I called her up and said, “How’d you like to sing a song on Penny Dreadful?” And she actually did it while in the midst of shooting Hollywood. She had like a day off, she came in, shot the scene, sang the song beautifully, and then went back to the Hollywood set the next day, so she’s a real trouper. And it was also great to bring back one of the original Dreadfuls. I’m tempted to do it all the time, I have to tell you, because I love that original cast so much. Wouldn’t I love to see Billie Piper in this world, or Eva Green. But I think part of the thing that makes this show unique is that it really is its own beast, so I’ve resisted that delicious temptation. But I couldn’t resist it with Patti.
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And with Patti you also have a tradition of her doing a one-off appearance in one season and then returning as a different character the next season. So should our eyes now be peeled for more Patti?
Logan: [Laughs] Well, I love my Patti LuPone, believe me. It wouldn’t take much for me to write a part for her.
You also got to work with the late Brian Dennehy in Episode 9. Can you tell me about that?
Logan: It was great. I’ve been a fan of Brian’s since I lived in Chicago and he did Iceman Cometh at the Goodman. He was just a regular staple in Chicago theater and such a powerful actor, and I’ve always wanted to work with him. So when I wrote that part, I thought, “Oh, you know who would be magnificent for this, as the roaring old lion, is Brian Dennehy.” And thankfully, he wanted to do it. And it was great just spending a day with him and Michael Gladis, doing that scene. It was one of the most exciting days we had. And I believe it was his last film performance. So I’m really glad I got a chance to work with him, and we got to sort of immortalize that moment.
Do you know anything about Season 2, and can you tease anything about what you have in mind for a potential second season?
Logan: I definitely don’t know anything. If I did, I would tell you, but I don’t. Yeah, I have a lot of ideas. And I’ve started writing some scripts just to explore different avenues. I think we’re dialing into the supernatural a little more strongly and continuing the patterns of relationships from the first season, with some pretty shocking changes as well, because one of the things I think this show embraces is a fair amount of operatic melodrama. So it’s all swirling around in my head. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to tell those stories.
Penny Dreadful: City of Angels Season 1 is available on Showtime.