Anotaciones: Penny Dreadful: City of Angels Episode 10: Day of the Dead

Dolores Quintana
12 min readJul 7, 2020

In the final episode of the first season, the show manages to come up with another very timely scene. Lewis goes to the Crimson Cat to warn Tiago about the lynching of Diego Lopez. Diego was even lynched, as an obvious provocation and warning to the Mexicans and Chicanos, in Belvedere Heights. Lewis takes Sister Molly with him and Tiago tells Raul to get Maria and Josefina home immediately. When he takes Mateo aside to tell him what happened, the kid lookout comes in and lets Fly Rico know what happened to Diego. Fly takes the mic to tell everyone what happened and what they should do. When Rio/Magda grabs the mike and attempts to stir up the anger of the crowd, Fly grabs it back and makes the very sound argument that destruction would not help them.

The Pachucos walk peacefully through traffic in Downtown LA to retrieve Diego’s body and bury him with dignity. The camera finds the car with Peter Craft, his children, and Elsa/Magda in it, happily discussing The Adventures of Robin Hood. It’s another trap, but the scene quickly shows the undercurrent of racism. It first comes to Peter’s face but spread to Elsa/Magda and his children. It’s the fear of seeing brown people daring to be brown in a space they occupy. It’s a common occurrence these days with “Karens” attacking people of color, especially Black people, for simply existing. Here’s an example:

William Barajas denied entrance to his own home by white people who think he doesn’t belong there and is a criminal

More and more, white people feel panic and feel entitled to deny people of color, especially Black people, the right to assert themselves or even just be who they are in a space that they feel belongs to them. Spoiler alert: that space is pretty much everywhere they go. Here’s another disturbing example:

The interesting thing about both of these examples is that they both took place in San Francisco, which is generally considered a very liberal city in a very liberal state, California. The scene clearly makes visible that white fear of the other that is instantaneous. If the crowd walking down the street had been white people, the characters wouldn’t have thought twice about it. But because it was a crowd of Mexicans/Chicanos and particularly Pachucos, these people were dangerous simply because of the color of their skin. This is an article from 2018 that details a number of these incidents even before the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not just the pressure of the coronavirus. It’s business as usual.

Three Black women were recently detained on April 30 by police after leaving a Rialto, California Airbnb, when a neighbor called police, assuming they were burglars. Seven police cars arrived on the scene as they were removing their belongings from the Airbnb rental. The elderly white woman who called police claim she did so because the women did not wave or smile at her. The three Black women were traveling with a white friend, yet the neighbor only mentioned the three black women as suspicious. The women explained to police that they were renting the Airbnb, but the officers refused to believe them. The women were detained for between 20 and 45 minutes according to their attorney. One of the women noticed the woman watching them and had joked with her friend that the woman would call the police on them.

Yes, look at all these scary Mexicans.

Elsa/Magda sees her opportunity, and after Peter tells his children to lock the car doors and the fear hits a fever pitch, “Frank” screams and causes Peter to let go of the brake and crush a Pachuco’s legs up against the car in front of them. Rio/Magda screams that “they” are running them down, which is eerily similar to the method of hateful anti-BLM motorists and cops who attempt to intimidate and disperse protests by using their cars as weapons. It wasn’t intentional on Peter’s part, but it was absolutely intentional on the part of Magda.

Right-wing extremists are turning cars into weapons, with reports of at least 50 vehicle-ramming incidents since protests against police violence erupted nationwide in late May.

At least 18 are categorized as deliberate attacks; another two dozen are unclear as to motivation or are still under investigation, according to a count released Friday by Ari Weil, a terrorism researcher at the University of Chicago’s Chicago Project on Security and Threats. Weil has tracked vehicle-ramming attacks, or VRAs, since protests began.

The 20 people facing prosecution in the rammings include a state leader of the Virginia Ku Klux Klan, as well as a California man who was charged with attempted murder after antagonizing protesters and then driving into them, striking a teenage girl. Video footage of some attacks shows drivers yelling at or threatening Black Lives Matter protesters before hitting the gas.

Of course, the current crop of deliberate vehicular assaults couldn’t have been known to John Logan while making this series. John Logan wrote this episode, as it happens. But the die was cast at the Unite the Right rally in Charleston, North Carolina when James Alex Fields intentionally drove his car into the crowd of protesters during the protests and murdered Heather Heyer.

During the trial, Fields’ attorney, John Hill, argued that he panicked and was scared when he drove his Dodge Challenger into the group in August 2017 after hours of violent fights breaking out in the streets between rally attendees and counterprotesters. Hill told jurors that Fields “feared for his safety,” and at one point was remorseful that people had gotten injured.

Prosecutors, however, argued that Fields was angry that day over the fighting taking place between the two sides. Prosecutor Nina-Alice Antony pointed out that Fields, twice posted on Instagram before the rally an image of a group of people getting struck by a car.

“This case is about his decision to act on that anger,” Antony said.

Prosecutors also played surveillance video showing Fields driving his car slowly towards the group, reversing and then speeding into them.

All one has to do to realize the relevance of this scene is to read the description of Field’s defense during the trial. He was scared. He was threatened. By a crowd of people who were doing him no harm. The only thing that threatened him or scared him was that white people were joining with people of color to stand up for the rights of the people that he fears and hates.

This is Heather Heyer, who paid the ultimate price because an angry racist and Nazi decided to punish protesters standing up against white power.
This is Summer Taylor who paid the ultimate price for standing up for Black lives in Seattle, Washington, because someone decided to ram a crowd of peaceful protesters with their car only a few days ago.

Benny Berman and Lewis have hidden Dottie and Brian Koenig at Maria’s home and Berman has started taking lessons from Maria in Mexican cooking, specifically her Mole recipe while wearing an apron. This prompts Lewis to deadpan, “Who doesn’t like Mole?” to an exasperated Tiago, which made me laugh out loud. Who indeed?

Sister Molly has a confrontation with her mother, Miss Adelaide. What’s clear is that Sister Molly longs for a human connection that is real. She longs for a family and the love that she never got from her mother who valued her only as a means to an end. Her own mother sees her as an instrument of God and confesses that she had Hazlett and his family murdered to “protect” Molly and her religious empire. I’ve heard people consider Molly and Tiago’s romantic connection to be suspect, but Molly is a desperate woman seeking comfort and warmth that she never got from a cold and grasping mother who uses her from Tiago. She needs it, especially after Hazlett’s murder. She might be over compensating with Tiago, but she is also seeking a way out of the Church and her responsibilities. Is it possible that her love for Tiago isn’t that genuine? Yes. But her need for him is intense. He is her way out and protection from her mother.

Tiago, Lewis, and Benny Berman take Brian Koenig on the road trip to Baja to go to Meyer Lansky’s airstrip and then on to New York City, where Goss and his Nazis would not dare try to touch him. On the trip, Koenig starts talking casually about his new idea: nuclear fusion ,which would lead to the atomic bomb. This is a very disturbing idea to Lewis and the others. They recognize the destructive power of such a weapon, especially if they failed and Koenig were to fall into the hands of the Nazis. The USA started the Manhattan Project for fear of what the Nazis might achieve with their nuclear weapons program. What Lewis does to Brian is the answer to that hypothetical question many have asked themselves. If you had the chance to kill the man who invented the atomic bomb or Adolf Hitler, what would you do?

When Sister Molly meets with Santa Muerte in the pool, Muerte greets her with the question of which bunk bed she wants. Sister Molly destroys herself from the despair of never having the love of the person that she most desires it from in the world: her mother, Sister Adelaide. It is the despair of a child who has only ever been used to achieve an aim or satisfy a desire rather than simply being loved for who they are, flaws and all. It’s a tragedy all the more intense because her mother probably only mourns the end of her power rather than the death of her child. The child who only wanted to be loved by her mother and valued as a human being. The child who finds that acceptance in Muerte’s cold embrace.

The last scene is at the graveyard for El Dia De Los Muertos, the celebration of Mexican people’s beloved dead. The circle closes with that celebration of family and the reappearance of Magda, who touches Tiago’s neck and reveals herself to him, speaking the words that she intoned at the beginning of the series.

There will come a time when the world is ready for me. When nation battles nation, when race will devour race, when brother will kill brother, until not a soul is left.

Magda adds to her incantation, “Are you ready Tiago Vega?” intimating that she is not yet done with him and his family.

The next scene is the beginning of the destruction of the Belvedere Heights to build the Arroyo Seco. Councilman Charlton Townsend has gotten his way and had exulted in his power. He feels he can do anything he wants. He can build the next freeway through Bunker Hill, another downtown neighborhood, with the hope that the “coloreds” would riot too. Bunker Hill was a poor neighborhood, full of lower income immigrants until it was “redeveloped” after the rich people moved on to West Adams, a neighborhood that has again been reclaimed by gentrification.

The plan: The government would acquire every property on Bunker Hill through eminent domain, evict the elderly and the immigrants who lived there, demolish everything in sight, then turn the land over to private developers. Within a decade, the last Victorian mansions on Bunker Hill were carted off to Heritage Square, where they promptly succumbed to arson.

As Tiago says in the final moments of the episode, as the bulldozers destroy another building, “It’s not just a freeway, it’s population control. Cut off the Chicanos with a barrier of concrete and steel, you put them in the ghetto. And then you put up another freeway around the Coloreds, and then the Jews, and then the Chinese. They’re not building roads, they’re building walls.”

Always remember who the biggest proponent of The Wall at the US/Mexican border is and who built his current racist reputation by calling Mexicans criminals.

And that in the end is what it is all about, destroying the burgeoning ethnic neighborhoods that threaten white supremacy, no matter what color they are.

These efforts took many forms — most famously racially restrictive covenants, which barred African Americans and other ethnic minorities by deed from living in houses and neighborhoods deemed “white.” Where covenants failed to keep the races separate and unequal, rising Ku Klux Klan violence targeted African American families who attempted to integrate. Bombings, cross burnings and even drive-by shootings were largely successful in keeping people of color out of “white” communities like Eagle Rock in northeast Los Angeles. Then there was Manhattan Beach, which seized the homes of every African American property owner in town by eminent domain and razed them. The city then turned the land into a whites-only park.

If you have any doubt whether or not John Logan knows exactly what he is talking about when he has Tiago Vega say these words, you have only to read that article. The actions of Councilman Charlton Townsend are right in line with the recounting of the actions of local government officials back in the day.

Local officials rerouted the elaborate designs of freeway engineers — often at considerable expense — to destroy thousands of homes in racially diverse communities. As detailed by Gilbert Estrada in “If You Build It, They Will Move,” mixed-race Boyle Heights was gutted by freeways. Despite a mandate to avoid parks at all costs, planners put lanes through the middle of Hollenbeck Park while spending millions to reroute around a park in the white suburb of San Dimas. Dozens of Boyle Heights homes were destroyed just to give white suburban shoppers easier freeway access to a Sears department store.

It is clear, the freeways are yet another monument to segregationist ideals. Another way to wipe a culture off the map and confine people of color to poverty and despair.

Officials justified these actions as “slum clearance” — intended to upgrade the city’s supposedly crumbling housing stock. But their racially malign intent was obvious, laid bare when officials moved the Santa Monica Freeway so that it ran directly through the stately African American middle class neighborhood of Sugar Hill — anything but a slum — wiping it off the map.

When L.A. communities of color rose up in protest at the destruction of these neighborhoods, they were ignored. White areas like Beverly Hills and South Pasadena, meanwhile, successfully fought off freeways planned through their neighborhoods. As noted by Estrada, only 61% of L.A.’s planned freeway network was built as a consequence. This created immediate traffic bottlenecks in the system, which have lingered to this day.

Much of this freeway construction was in service of a suburban housing boom that was explicitly segregationist.

John Logan is very aware of how segregation minded white people in power used the freeways to isolate people of color into ghettos.

It was intentional.

Rothstein’s new book, The Color of Law, examines the local, state and federal housing policies that mandated segregation. He notes that the Federal Housing Administration, which was established in 1934, furthered the segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African-American neighborhoods — a policy known as “redlining.” At the same time, the FHA was subsidizing builders who were mass-producing entire subdivisions for whites — with the requirement that none of the homes be sold to African-Americans.

The freeways were a way to make transit much easier, but they were also a way to keep those people of color out of white neighborhoods. To keep out the “undesirables” who they feared from gaining wealth and privilege similar to their own. This the answer to the original question posed by this column. Why Penny Dreadful? Why now? Because Josh Logan had something very important to say and he has said it well. Josh Logan is a man extremely well versed and well read about the history of his beloved Los Angeles. He knows and he is trying to tell you.

If only people are willing to listen.