“When nation will battle nation, when race will devour race, when brother will kill brother until not a soul is left, all it will take is one final spark.” — Magda

When you sit down with your drink or popcorn and “P.D.: City of Angels” opens, this is what you’ll see: Chicanos working the fields picking the crops. It’s a beautiful day, and the music, like the air, is sweet.

A boy is watching his father work the long, verdant fields.

A woman walks through the fields. She is dark-haired and dark-eyed, dressed in long, dark, ankle-length garments and killer boots. She is Magda.

As she walks with swift, angry steps, flames erupt behind and beside her, engulfing the fields in a roaring, rolling storm of fire.

The boy watches his father and his workers caught up in the inferno. He runs to help him, but is pulled back by an old man. As the sky darkens with smoke, he watches his father die, as Magda smiles and walks away.

Welcome to the fourth season of “Penny Dreadful” with the season titled “City of Angels,” where Good battles Evil in big, splashy gutters of blood and dry river beds festooned with mutilated bodies.

On our first viewing, we embark on a voyage down a Styxian river of darkness, and begin an adventure in cinematic excellence — gorgeous cinematography and a lot of classy acting.

No, it’s not a Mexican “Godfather: with touches of Francis Ford Coppola’s sauce, it has more integrity than that, and yes, it’s television, but television with a deeper voice, razor-sharp edges, startling optics and a cast of characters we elders recognize as drawn from John Steinbeck, William Saroyan and Dashiell Hammett. Set your schedule to record the series.

Before you can catch your breath in John Logan’s “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels” you’ll hear the words again, spoken by Magda, the black-leather and silk-gowned goddess of darkness, death and demons. Magda is played by Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell on “Game of Thrones.”)

Dormer shape shifts through a squad of bizarre women, the satanic Magda (Dormer insists that she is not Satan but she clearly is), the blonde German wife of a doctor, and a tweedy, bespectacled office assistant to a city councilor. It’s the kind of fun job actors kill for.

I’m the famous guy who was the only human who never watched one segment of “Game of Thrones,” nor any of the “Penny Dreadful” years, but when this year’s season came out swinging with the tag “City of Angels,” and previews of a lot of really good actors in Depression-era suits and fedoras, I found myself smelling the cologne of Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown,” and soul-itching memories of my old city.

“City of Angels” is no remake of Wim Wenders’ 1987 film “Wings of Desire,” full of earthly angels or handsome actors walking its burrito-scented side streets and perfumed patios of Beverly Hills.

We’re given a Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles in 1938 instead, full of victims of the bad times and centering on the Chicano neighborhood of Los Angeles and the Vega family. The “Chinatown” scene fills the air, and the Arroyo Seco Parkway that will become state Route 110, is the boiling pot that will spill over and scald everyone. It is in Magda’s words “That one final spark.”

The Vegas are proud of their son Tiago, (Daniel Zovatto). Tiago is the Chicano boy who saw his father die, and has now grown up a sweet soul with uptown manners, a Sam Spade apartment in the ‘hood, and sporting an LAPD gold detective shield.

Around the table sits the kid brother Mateo (Johnathan Nieves), a sister Josefina (Jessica Garza), union leader big brother Raul, (a fierce Anthony Quinnish-like performance by Adam Rodriguez) and, of course, their mama Maria (Adriana Barraza) a devout Catholic who, like many Mexican women of her age, violates church rules by dabbling in the spirit world.

Brace yourself, Mama shakes up the action by bringing out of the dark the fearsome Santa Muerte (a terrific, scary Lorenza Izzo), the Angel of Holy Death.
There will be neo-Nazis, and real Nazis, profiteers and crooked cops, looking to make L.A. the fire pit, fueled by players of all colors and ideologies.

The real action starts with a moment on a hot L.A day, when Tiago is called to the Los Angeles river basin on his day off to join his partner, Lewis Michener, a Jewish detective with nightmares of his own. It’s here we get to meet the surprise casting of the decade, the baggy-brown-suited comic Broadway star Nathan Lane (“The Producers,” “Birdcage.”)

Together they view four departed bodies with similar wounds and arranged in the shape of a cross. Nearby on a wall a sentence is scrawled in red.

“Te llevas nuestro corazon, tomamos el tuyo.”

Tiago interprets, “You hold our hearts, we take yours.”

“City of Angels” will have its high brow critics, but for those of us grounded and wingless who miss “Chinatown” and a noir dinner of any kind, know that “City” isn’t filet mignon, but we’ll settle for a great meat loaf.

“Penny Dreadful” premiered at 10 p.m. Sunday, April 26, on Showtime, with the premiere currently streaming for free on YouTube and SHO.com.

 

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.