In “Children of the Royal Sun,” you first see Elsa/Madga set out a lure. Once again, the show has set up a mystery to be solved later. What you can see though is that while Magda has great power, her power has limits within the confines of the material reality of the world. She can bring forth physical forces, like setting fires or exploding windows, and she can even send out a part of her own body in the form of another body, Elsa’s “son” Frank Branson, but she cannot create things or beings out of nothing. From what I’ve seen so far, Madga seems to be a combination of two demonic beings of ancient religions, Masterna, a male angel from the Jewish religious work, The Book of Jubilees, and Lilith. Masterna is an angelic servant of God who punishes human beings and tempts them to see how faithful they really are to God. Masterna may have eventually become one of the fallen angels. Lilith is the willful first wife of Adam who insists she is his partner, not his servant, and who prefers to become a demon rather than submit to Adam’s will. She is sometimes believed to have become the wife of Satan, but certainly revels in her sexuality and does whatever she pleases, not unlike a certain demoness of our acquaintance.
While the murder of Riley seems justifiable, Mateo, who was heretofore an innocent, nonetheless weeps. Rio comforts him with tales of the heritage of the Mexican people and the Aztec Empire. She reminds him that he, as all Mexicans, Chicanos, and Pachucos, are descendents of that mighty civilization of Meso-America that existed without European influence. This empire boasted a capital city, Tenochtitlán, that was an impressive model of engineering. The city used levees and aqueducts to maintain the city’s ubiety and its water supply in an area that was surrounded by five lakes. Tenochtitlán boasted a population between 200,000 to 400,000 people, which rivaled the largest cities of Europe. Moctezuma, the last king of the Aztecs, may have ruled over a population of 5 million people in total. The Aztec Empire itself was also called The Triple Empire as it was a coalition of three Nahua states, Tenotichtalan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan that lasted for roughly 1000 years, as Rio/Magda notes, from 1428 to 1521, the time of the Spanish conquest. Normally when I have referenced the great civilization of the Aztecs to defend my ancestry, the first degrading comments I hear are about how the Aztecs were savages who performed human sacrifices. While this is true, it struck me while thinking about this episode that European society wasn’t innocent of human sacrifice itself.
Observe: The Inquisition. It was the practice of the Catholic Church roughly from the 12th to the 17th Century in Europe and in the European colonies to prosecute heretics of the Catholic Faith and force those not of the faith to convert. The prosecution, or persecution, was a legal process, but was based in religious faith and included the use of torture and execution as remedies. Priests and other members of the clergy were the judges who were in charge of the courts, sentenced people, and went from town to town pursuing heretics. The penalty for heresy in the court of the Inquisition was quite frequently being burned at the stake. Is the Inquisition really so far from human sacrifice? It was done under the guise of protecting their faith, but was a part of the Church itself. They were Ecclesiastical courts. Really, how was burning someone at the stake for heresy so different from sacrificing someone to Huītzilōpōchtli? Here’s a hint: if you are doing it for the glory of your God and to preserve your religion, it’s human sacrifice, even if that’s not what you call it. At the very least, some of the Aztecs’ victims were willing victims.
Both the Aztec civilization and the European countries had similar secondary motivations and gains from human sacrifice. Namely, the sacrifices/executions were shows of their power and they then confiscated wealth from the victims.
But if we really look at things closely, wasn’t the Crucifixion of Christ a sacrifice? The Gospels of the BIble certainly say it was. Some things to think about when you call certain peoples brutal savages.
Rio refers to the descendents of the Aztecs, like Mateo, as the Children of the Royal Sun and indeed Huītzilōpōchtli is the Aztec god of war, human sacrifice, and the Sun, as well as being the patron of the capital city of Tenochtitlan itself. She compares his killing of Riley to the actions of a warrior and strips him of his clothing and starts sensually measuring him for his suit of Pachuco drape “armor”. In this, he seems to have passed the test for entry into the ranks of Rio and Fly Rico’s inner circle. She references the melding of Spanish and European civilization and power in his heritage, which can be looked on as a detriment on either side - the Indigenous vs the European, by comparing Huītzilōpōchtli, the Hummingbird God, to Jesus Christ. She does it again by comparing La Malinche, a Nahua woman who was a slave and interpreter for Hernán Cortés who later gave birth to his son, and the Virgin Mary, although Malinche’s legend in Mexico also carries a thread of treachery to her people. But in Rio’s interpretation, La Malinche was equal to Mother Mary as she was the symbolic mother of the new Mexican people, a melding of the power, intelligence, and heritage of the Nahua with the Spanish might, ambition, and cunning. This is also the interpretation of Mexican feminists starting in the 1960’s. This is an excellent strategy on Rio/Magda’s part, but it’s also the truth of the pride of Mexicanos and Chicanos. While they were conquered, they endured, and have the right to pride in their heritage as complex as it may be. She reminds him to not fall into the trap of being ashamed of who you are because people look down upon you and try to convince you that any part of your ancestry is not as worthy as theirs. This is the cornerstone of the pride of the Mexicano, the Chicano, and the Pachuco.
The show and this particular episode has a lot to say about duality. Like the quandary of the Mexicano and Chicano and their heritage, more than one character has two distinct personalities or sides to who they are. One that is emerging very quickly is Sister Molly Finnister. Sister Molly and Tiago give in to their attraction and Sister Molly also has a one on one conversation with Tiago’s sister Josefina. In both conversations, she tells a story, but in two very different ways. To Tiago, she represents the tale of hitting hard times in Florida during a hurricane as an inspirational tale of human nature and resilience. To Josefina, who confessed her rape to the Sister, the same story takes on a quality of a similar attack upon Molly and her mother, Sister Adelaide. Could both sides of the story be equally true? Yes, they could and I think that they are. I think that Sister Molly, whoever she is with, is always performing. She’s always telling a story that suits the listener. To Tiago, inspiration but no confession that she has been involved in a sexual attack on herself. To Josefina, a sisterly confession that she’s not alone and advice on how to stop such an attack if anyone ever tries it again with an additional clarification that no man can really despoil you. Again, the idea that while someone may try to rob you of your dignity and humanity, you don’t have to let them. It is also similar to Rio/Magda’s message to Mateo.
Rio/Magda and Mateo have also given in to sexual feelings and are found in flagrante by Fly Rico. There’s a moment of anger and fear, but Rico soons joins Rio/Madga and Mateo in bed and all three of them make love. This means that the shared theory that Penny Dreadful: City of Angels would become as “queer as Hell” has come true.
There were indications of queerness and strong attraction between Rico and Mateo starting from the moment they met in the hospital in episode two and the dance sequence at the Crimson Cat in episode three, and damn if both Gayly Dreadful and Phil Nobile Jr. weren’t absolutely correct, right down to the pansexual inclusion of Rio herself.
Tiago returns home to find Belvedere Heights swarming with cops and an angry partner who questions where he’s been. Since Tiago made a threat against Riley to Captain Vanderhoff before Riley’s murder, Lewis is very uneasy. Tiago refuses to say where he’s been, but denies responsibility and is obviously unaware of what has occurred. Lewis accepts this, but it’s obvious that he thinks that there’s going to be a problem if they don’t manage to find the killers of Riley as quickly as possible. They start by questioning Riley’s Sonoratown “sweetheart” Sofia (Veronica Ocasio) and she owns up that Fly Rico, Rio, and other Pachucos were involved. Tiago hears about the bandage on the hand of one of the Pachucos and clearly suspects that Mateo was part of the group. He abruptly finishes questioning her and tries to hustle Lewis out of there as quickly as possible. In this scene, as an extra detail, you can see a Red Car, the first public transit railway system in Los Angeles that ran from 1901. That was when many different train lines were merged into one system called the Pacific Electric Railway by Henry E. Huntington, who still has a street and the Huntington Library named after him in San Marino, CA, a city just east of Pasadena. He even has a beach and city named after him in the South Bay. The Red Car Line was the largest mass transit railway line in the US, even longer than the New York City subway system.
Meanwhile, Dottie Minter is still on the case. She follows Brian Koenig, the student from CalTech, and strikes up a conversation with him in a cafeteria-style restaurant that could be Clifton's Cafeteria, the most famous and oldest such restaurant in LA. She tells him Lewis sent her and that they will protect him, but he has to let them know when the Nazis try to reach out to him. Dottie flourishes a magazine called Unknown Limits, which seems like a reference to the real life science fiction magazine, Unknown. Unknown was a magazine that was only published between 1939 and 1941. It’s a nice pulp science fiction reference and a nod to how science fiction often predicts the direction of science’s progress. When Brian scoffs at her ability to understand his scientific work, she lets him know that she’s no slouch. Dottie tells him that she learned how to “wire explosives with the anarchists back in the Haymarket days.” Those Haymarket days happened during a time when striking union workers were murdered by the police while attempting to confront strikebreakers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in Chicago, Illinois. The Haymarket affair happened during a strike to get an agreement for an eight-hour work day from the businesses the union strikers worked for. It was the genesis for the institution of International Workers Day on May 1st. The day after the cops shot the strikers, the unions held a demonstration with speeches from Union and anarchist leaders. No one is sure who threw a bomb while the police were trying to disperse the crowd, but a small group of anarchists was found to have made bombs in the days before the rally. Does this mean that the Anarchists threw the bomb? No one really knows. Dottie mentioning Haymarket is a reference to another group that has been traditionally oppressed and violently assaulted by the police, union workers. The police frequently worked as bullies for companies that sought to break strikes. The death toll from the bomb was seven policemen and four civilians with many others injured. Eight anarchists were convicted at trial, seven were sentenced to death. Four of the defendants were hanged. Seven years later, Governor John Peter Altgeld was critical of the trial and pardoned the surviving anarchists. Without the sacrifices and bravery of unions, their members, and yes, socialists and anarchists, working a job would be a very different and unpleasant experience today.
Unfortunately, Dottie is followed by Kurt who calls Goss to inform him of the meeting. Kurt is told to find out who the woman is and that they will figure out what to do about Koenig, which doesn’t bode well for Dottie, Brian Koenig, or Lewis. Goss finishes speaking with Kurt and looks over a map of Los Angeles that has more than one freeway snaking through it, contemplating his plan for what’s to come. He clearly has many plans for the city and everyone in it.
Tiago tells Lewis that they need to talk to his brother Raul, which really confuses and embarrasses Lewis, because of the shooting during the standoff with the police. One of the things that seems to confuse people about Raul’s character is that he seems to have very little memory of the shooting and even when told that Tiago shot him, seems to hold no enmity towards his brother. He seems to have lost the fire and anger that his character originally had. I was wondering about that myself and I realized that it was, as I suspected, because Raul was under Madga’s spell and really wasn’t in control of his actions during the standoff. Her suggestion stirred an underlying rage within him and he did something that he may have wanted to do on some level, but never would even as an angry, but essentially moral man. The thing to remember is that Raul was shooting cops indiscriminately, targeting whoever he saw. It wasn’t the policemen who were attacking the others of his group, just every man in a uniform or whoever he could identify as a white male police officer. I see the evidence of this in his targeting of Lewis, which led to Tiago shooting Raul. Raul was in the grip of a blood rage. He wasn’t in charge, the violent anger that Magda set fire to in his mind was. Since he was under her influence, he doesn’t really remember what happened. My last confirmation of this is that he does not in any way recognize Lewis, who is a person that he was actively trying to kill. I think part of this is also his head injury, but mostly it is the influence of Magda. But there is tension when Tiago asks where Fly Rico might be. Lewis offers to leave, but instead, Tiago asks his mother to show Lewis her shrine to Santa Muerte. Lewis is bemused by what he sees in Maria’s shrine and by Maria’s faith. Maria gives him a black icon of Muerte for his protection which he accepts ruefully. Maria also explains the different aspects of Santa Muerte, differentiated by color: black for protection, green for justice, white for purity of heart, gold for wealth, and red for love. One thing that I hadn’t considered about Muerte’s granting of Maria’s prayers to heal Raul is that Raul is the only one, that Maria knows of, among her four children that believes in Muerte. Tiago says he doesn’t, but deep down, he knows she’s real. The scars are still on his chest from Santa Muerte’s protective shove out of the field when he was a boy. Even Sister Molly noticed them and, while Tiago lied to her, she saw them for what they were, a blessing of sorts.
Councilman Townsend runs his hands over a box full of ties from Bullocks Wilshire, a showcase store of the Bullocks chain, that was based in Los Angeles. The store’s beautiful building is still at 3050 Wilshire, although the chain no longer exists. It was the height of luxury during the ‘30s and ‘40s and many Hollywood stars shopped there. Townsend displays an interest in his appearance and rhapsodises about life in a way that shows that he is clearly enthralled by Kurt. He even asks Alex/Magda about the agent and she tells him he should never do that again. Alex/Magda asks Townsend how long they’ve known each other and he can’t seem to recall, but says that it feels like forever, implying that Alex/Magda inserted herself seamlessly into his life using her powers. It’s almost as if she is teasing him with the knowledge that she’s isn’t really his assistant, just because she can, and to flex her power. It is partially because it amuses her to dance around a human’s perception of her true nature, but also to awaken thoughts in his mind. Doubts, perhaps? Certainly, fear of what she might be capable of doing to him. She reminds him of his father and what he might think of him if his secret gay life was ever exposed. Townsend curtly tells her to return all of the ties but one. He keeps the blue one that is most flattering to his image.
Tiago refuses to tell Lewis what Raul told him and their next stop is to question Bernadette Romero (Stephanie Arcila) , a friend of Rico’s. Tiago gets very belligerent and threatening in a way that Lewis has never seen after Bernadette mocks him. In fact, Tiago acts more like the late Riley or your average Border Patrol agent than you would think any Chicano would, as he threatens the young woman with deportation and separation from her child if she doesn’t tell them everything. Lewis is as shocked by this behavior as I was. I do understand where it comes from though. Tiago is clearly afraid that Mateo took part in the murder, to an extent that terrifiies him, for his family and himself. He’s under the pressure that he feels he can’t admit any of this to Lewis without giving up a member of his family and potentially losing all that he has gained as a detective. He is afraid of coming under suspicion himself because he can’t account for his whereabouts without admitting to his affair with Sister Molly, who would likely deny everything. It’s not an excuse, but I can see that desperation could make him cruel. It should also be said that just because you are Latino, Mexicano, or Chicano, doesn’t mean that you are immune to the hatred or self-hatred of your people or self justification.
Doctor Peter Craft and his family are enjoying a game of Sorry!, an English board game based on the ancient board game from India, Pachisi when he receives a panicked call for help from Elsa/Magda. HIs wife is noticeably disappointed in him for leaving with little explanation and his return to secrecy from her and his family. Craft goes to Elsa/Magda and finds the man from the opening scene dead on the floor and Elsa/Magda begging for help after she murdered “her husband.” As I noted earlier, Magda in her many forms cannot create matter, she has to work with the matter that she can access or control. Peter Craft immediately begins to dispose of the body and takes Elsa/Magda to a secluded area to bury the man. There is a place in Los Angeles that is notorious as an area filled with unmarked graves close by Pasadena and that’s the Angeles National Forest. If you live in LA long enough, you will hear the rumors of Mafia burials in the past, but bodies are still being discovered in 2019. In fact, the Angeles National Forest is known as the most dangerous national forest in the United States with two to three dozen bodies discovered each year. Rangers surmise that countless numbers of bodies are never found because their killers were more careful. The forest is also a place where crimes such as rape, carjacking, and arson take place regularly, and in 2003 over 3,000 arrests took place there. Forest Prime Evil is a nickname among the rangers for the area. After Craft disposes of the body, he and Elsa/Magda once again have sex and it seems that his fate as Madga’s pawn is sealed. She has crafted the perfect “damsel in distress” trap that appeals to his nature.
Lewis and Tiago have Fly Rico’s location staked out and notice that a small child seems to be out late riding a bike. It turns out that the kid is a lookout for the gang and you are treated to the spectacle of two grown men chasing a child up into the building to stop him from alerting Rico and his confederates of their presence. They end up outside the door of the apartment and wait a moment before entering in classic, hard boiled, movie detective fashion. Once they kick in the door, they discover exactly who they are looking for, but are blindsided and have the card table knocked over them. Rio and another Pachuco flee one way and Rico and Mateo run a different way. Tiago has clearly seen Mateo and even though he tells Lewis he’s going after Rico, he chases Mateo. Lewis pursues Rio and Diego Lopez (Adan Rocha) and corners them. Rio escapes through an exit door and leaves her follower to be arrested. When Tiago catches Mateo, Mateo freely admits that he killed Riley and that he would do it again. Defeated, Tiago tells him to run. With that defiant confession and a sunken heart, Tiago can only let his brother go because he knows what would happen if it was known that Mateo committed the crime. He knows that Mateo’s life and his own would likely not be worth much and Mateo would pay the ultimate price no matter what. It’s not clear if Tiago knows the reason why Mateo did it. Did Raul know? Did he tell Tiago? It’s hard to say. There was certainly some information passed between the two of them that Lewis and the audience are not party to. Raul’s judgment that “no one should die like that” includes the caveat that a person needs to live a dignified life to deserve a dignified death might be a hint about what he knew.
This episode was written by José Rivera, and not John Logan. Rivera is a Latino, Puerto Rican, and also the first Latino screenwriter to be nominated for an Oscar, as well as being a playwright, like Logan was originally. I think the episode reflects that in viewpoint of the episode.
As an addendum, in the third episode of the series, “Wicked Old World,” Tiago told sister Sister Molly of a plague that came to the area where he lived in Los Angeles. I missed part of the story and LA Taco found the rest of the story recently, and here is their report on the tragedy. It was yet another example of Mexicans and Chicanos in Los Angeles being stigmatized and blamed for horrifying events that were out of their control. The Macy Street area, near where the Twin Towers Jail and the 101 Freeway are now, was a neglected area that the city rarely cleaned and that didn’t even have paved roads. When the plague came to the area and took 37 lives, the LA Times and local officials made sure to link the disease with Macy Street, calling it “The Mexican Quarter” even though the area was multi-ethnic, and preacher Robert Shuler proclaimed the Pneumonic Plague to be the “Mexican Disease,” much like today’s “Chinese Virus” smear tactics from Trump and his allies. The area near the freeway, Macy Street and Belvedere Gardens, were forcibly quarantined during the middle of the night and many employers fired their Mexican employees out of fear and racism when they learned what the disease was.
Some homes were fumigated and some were burned down. Once the serum arrived, it was only used in one case. It took the intervention of journalists and officials of the Mexican Government to get the jobs of the unjustly fired Mexicans back. City officials made outrageous claims that the Mexican and Chicano people were responsible for the situation in the areas they lived in, rather than the neglect of the city. These disgraceful words and actions are nothing new to the government officials of Los Angeles or the United States itself.
The Burning of a Mexican Village, 1924
As I’ve said before, there are many things that haven’t really changed.
Dolores Quintana is a Chicana actor and writer from Southern California who lives spiritually in her beloved Los Angeles at all times. She has written for Pocho.com, Nightmarish Conjurings, The Theatre @Boston Court and late period Buddyhead. All praise, complaints, celebratory rituals and debate challenges should be directed at the author on Twitter.com.