WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Penny Dreadful: City of Angels premiere, “Santa Muerte.”
In its three seasons, Showtime’s Penny Dreadful made a name for itself with its take on classical monsters in England’s Victorian era. As heroes such as Vanessa (Eva Green), Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) and Ethan (Josh Hartnett) battled creatures of the night, as well as their own inner-demons, showrunner John Logan cast a long shadow filled with horror, gore and murder.
While fans saw intriguing villains and monsters making things go bump in the night, it’s actually the spinoff set in 1938 Los Angeles, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, that gives the franchise its most terrifying villain yet in the form of the demon, Magda (Natalie Dormer).
This isn’t a knock on the old villains, but they felt like run-of-the-mill antagonists who were 19th century versions on creatures from shows like Supernatural. Audiences saw the likes of the Devil, Dracula and Evelyn and the Nightcomers, her coven of witches, but they didn’t feel like end-of-the-world threats.
Exorcisms were an easy weapon, and vampires were dispatched effortlessly by Ethan’s werewolf persona along with his human allies. Dracula also faded into the darkness after he couldn’t claim Vanessa’s soul, and viewers didn’t see much of his powers apart from super-strength. He came off underwhelming, just like the Devil who was trying to corrupt Vanessa’s mind, so regardless of how cool and mysterious they were, they lacked a sinister, intimidation factor.
However, in one episode, Magda does way more damage, physically and mentally to Los Angeles, and she does so by herself. She doesn’t need creatures sneaking around in alleys, and she doesn’t even operate at night which adds such an intriguing factor to the show, bucking the trends and aesthetic from before.
Magda’s presence is felt in the first scene as she and her sister, Santa Muerte (Lorenza Izzo), watch over Mexican immigrants farming in Los Angeles years before, where Santa Muerte reveals a Great War is coming. Magda teases she’s the catalyst before walking through the fields, invisible to the workers and igniting everything in flame, the men and children perishing instantly as Magda delights in her sister’s pain. It’s this kind of treachery and supernatural abilities fans wish they saw more of in the original series.
It gets scarier when audiences see Magda can also shape shift, first disguising herself as a blonde mother named Elsa. She visits Dr. Peter Craft (Rory Kinnear) with her son Frank, but when she leaves she absorbs Frank back into her stomach in a grotesque David Cronenberg-like scene. She’s playing Peter, who’s a Nazi, sparking thoughts of genocide in him, and audiences expect to see more of this as she and her ‘son’ keep stalking Peter’s Nazi movement.
She operates like Mystique, moonlighting also as the older assistant to Councilman Townsend (Michael Gladis), who’s set to become Hitler’s pawn so the Nazis can get more motorway contracts. Basically, she’s twisting people’s minds and using them as stooges to ensure the Third Reich takes power, giving her a legion of monsters in the form of hateful, white men. It’s an inconspicuous way to kill minorities without revealing she’s a literal, near invincible monster.
It comes to a head in the finale where a Mexican-American community at Arroyo Seco stands off with the cops, and the show’s star Tiago (Daniel Zovatto) tries to stop his family from opposing law enforcement. They don’t realize Magda’s walking around, whispering hateful thoughts into everyone’s ears, which leads to a cop shooting someone and a riot ensuing. It’s a massacre, and as she ghosts around, basking in her mental games, Tiago has to put his own brother, Raul (Adam Rodriguez), down, showing his loyalty to the police.
Magda’s building an empire, acting as a puppet master and bringing out the worst in humanity as she expands her demonic takeover. Magda shows she knows how to break spirits and fabric of society without lifting a finger. It’s why she can subjugate her sister so easily, and from Santa Muerte’s fear, it’s clear Magda is the unstoppable devil this property always needed.
Created, written and executive produced by John Logan, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels stars Daniel Zovatto, Natalie Dormer, Nathan Lane, Jessica Garza, Kerry Bishé, Ethan Peck, Adriana Barraza, Michael Gladis, Dominic Sherwood and Johnathan Nieves, as well as Piper Perabo, Amy Madigan, Brent Spiner, Lorenza Izzo, Lin Shaye and Adam Rodriguez in recurring roles. The series airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.
Showtime's spinoff Penny Dreadful: City of Angels just gave the franchise its most terrifying villain yet thanks to Natalie Dormer's demonic Magda.