Despite an all-hands-on-deck pandemic that should be bringing us all together, America seems more divided than ever. And of course, those divisions aren’t new. Evil voices have always whispered in our ears hoping to drown out our better angels. In Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels” premiering on Sunday, those whispers come from a shape-shifting demon named Magda ( Natalie Dormer), who tricks unwitting humans by tapping into their racial fears, and then letting nature take its course. All the while, Santa Muerte ( Lorenza Izzo), a Mexican folk saint of death, hovers in the shadows unsure whether she should ignore or hinder Magda’s evil plan to pit race against race until they’re all gone (After all, world wars aren’t bad for the death business). “By adding the supernatural element to it, you have this catalyst, you have this metaphor that can lift the story in that way that illustrates [showrunner John Logan’s] themes even more emphatically,” Dormer told critics in January at TCA. Despite the fantasy element that comes with anything Penny Dreadful, Logan said he was surprised to discover during his research just how much the Nazis infiltrated L.A. in the 1930s, noting that New York City’s Mayor LaGuardia “was half Jewish, so he wasn’t letting Germans in. There was a real iron wall around New York, but California—particularly Los Angeles—was like the wild west, and the aircraft factories were centered here, the armament factories, the film studios—so it became really rife for sabotage and for clandestine activity of the Third Reich.” At the same time, the Santa Muerte element gives us a peek at LA’s rich Hispanic culture that was growing stronger even as highway projects bulldozed through its communities. The disdain with which many white Angelenos treated Latinx citizens in 1938 doesn’t seem out of place when you consider that Nazi sympathizers were still parading through L.A. parks—and getting a chillingly warm reception. We can only hope that Magda’s influence has waned since then. But we can’t be sure. – Michael Grebb

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