Carnivale – Season 2, Episode 5 – “Creed, OK” – Haunting Masks

Carnivale Creed, OK

“Creed, OK” is a very haunting episode that also manages to capture a lot of great character moments as well as the arrival of Stroud, Justin’s agent on the scene of the Carnival. It is an overall good episode that brings back dilemma for many of the characters.

The episode was directed by Jeremy Podeswa and written by Tracy Torme.

In the episode Ben traces Scudder’s death mask to the maker’s home in Scudder, OK. It is here a mysterious and haunting episode happens where a mask is made for him upon his face. Stroud threatens Jonesy and Samson and Ruthie comes forward about seeing dead people to Sofie who is in the same boat. At the same time Justin and Dolan receive Iris’s confession of burning down the church.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Mask Maker – This guy is really haunting. He comes off an overly nice but creepy gentleman who says he doesn’t do masks for anyone but children but over the course of talking to Ben begins targeting him and voicing interest. Ben later passes out and is given a sedative to paralyze him as the mask maker makes a mask on his face while wearing a creepy child-like mask. Ben wakes up and the mask maker denies everything but we later see him send a mask of Ben’s face to Pastor Justin after listening to his radio show.

Ben Hawkins – It is great seeing this character active! From his friendship with Samson and Sofie, to his search for Scudder and standing up for people in different situations…Ben has become a great guy! I actually like this character now when I couldn’t stand him in the first season because of how passive he was.

Pastor Justin Crowe – Gets a confession from iris and forces her to face her guilt for what she did. This was powerful showing us that some of the good still lies in this character, even if it only is in the time before he embraced his destiny. I’d like more of this rather than the blatantly evil man we’ve seen the last few episodes.

Sofie and Ruthie – Ruthie feels like a fleshed out character now! It sucks it took her dying to get that. We see it in the moments of shared powerlessness she feels of seeing the dead as she talks to Sofie about seeing Sofie’s mother. They are both haunted by their natures of being changed in certain ways. How this plays out for both remains to be seen, but given the tone of the show it is most likely to end in tragedy.

Sofie and Ben – Sofie and Ben continue to grow as friends and potential lovers leading to the reading of cards and a vision Ben hands leading him to believe Scudder is in Damascus, NE. It’s a scene that leaves them speechless given the graphic vision of a man scarred to the point of lost humanity beyond the visions of the location of “Dog and Wolf howling to the Moon,” and Scudder in a tux.

Samson – Stands up to Stroud’s threats and warns Ben about ruining Sofie’s life because from what he gathers…Ben’s journey is a one way trip. This was powerful showing again how much everyone in the carnival means to him.

Okay: Stroud – The guy just goes around threatening, he is a living weapon and not a compelling one. I didn’t care about this character when he was introduced and I don’t know. He seems to exist only as a plot device for interaction between characters.

This was a great episode that I really enjoyed. The Mask Maker was foreboding and threatening and the reveal of what he does and how much pleasure he takes from it was horrifying. We learn that Scudder is alive from him too which advances the plot. I’m really liking how Sofie and Ben are growing as characters and that this episode at least tried to capture some of the past complexity of Pastor Justin.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great.

Carnivale – Season 2, Episode 4 – “Old Cherry Blossom Road” – The Sins of the Family

Carnivale Old Cherry Blossom Road

Scudder has a messed up family and backstory, which in turn means Ben does too.  This story primarily focuses on the family that Scudder came from as the folks who kidnapped Ben turn out be related and the Crone is his grandmother. I’ll get into why they’re messed beyond their kidnapping of him in the assessment. We also continue to see the darkness in Justin.

“Old Cherry Blossom Road” was directed by Steve Shill and written by Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin.

The episode begins with the main abused and assaulted by Justin and Justin telling Iris they need a new made. Around this time Dolan also comes to Justin with evidence that Iris started the fire but Justin refuse to believe it. Ben is with his racist Ku Klux Clan family and is given words by the Crone his grandmother and where he needs to go next, and Jonesy and Sofie continue to explore her new role.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Haunting Family and Past – Scudder and Ben have a horrifying family. From the Crone sewing the lips of one of her grandson’s shut, to her murdering Scudder’s other relatives at his birth, to her glorification of her KKK ancestors and her near attempt at murdering Ben before giving him a Trench Knife and telling he’ll need it where “The Wolf and Dog howl at the moon.”

Jonesy and Sofie – Jonesy wants Sofie to be accepted and peace on his team so he has her build a giant hole. This ends up proving herself to him and to his men that she is in this and doesn’t want to do anything else. She’s given up the cards.

Ben – Ben is trying everything he can to find the answer. He ends up finding Scudder’s death mask when he’s with his family but learns from Management Scudder is still alive. He feels pretty lost in this episode and his trusting of his insane and racist Grandma the Crone took a lot of guts on his part. At this point he is looking for answers which Sofie can’t give since she doesn’t want to do the Cards anymore.

Death Imagery – Ruthie keeps seeing Lodz and sees Apollonia as well. You get the idea that she more awareness of the veil which is why she keeps walking so close to death and seeing those who have died. I hope this gets explained more.

The Cons: Justin – Sexually assaults his maid and discards her, continues manipulating Iris so Dolan will capture her while at the same time using Dolan. Not to mention his use of a criminal as his apostle who murders in his name. Stroud finds out about Samson and Ben and is following Ben to find Scudder.

This was a good but not great episode. Scudder’s family isn’t complex…they’re just racist Klan folks who persecute anyone who isn’t them. The best moments of the episode were Ben’s discoveries.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10

Carnivale – Season 2, Episode 3 – “Ingram, TX” – Fruits of Corruption

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This was a really dark episode where some of the best moments were those with Ben and Sofie. This is surprising given how depressing most of their situations are, but we see how they are handling destiny and who they are at the core versus many of the monsters around them and in the world.

“Ingram, TX” was written by John J. McLaughlin and directed by John Patterson.

In this episode the carnival has been in Ingram, Texas for a week now as Ben continues searching for the next clue to finding Scudder. This leads him out of camp again where he finds himself captured in an abandoned area where The Crone is. Sofie is working as a laborer but the cards keep calling her back and Stumpy is working his wife to long stretches of the day and is oblivious to those around him. Norman, Justin’s adoptive father is also taken in in his trapped mental state by Justin and Iris. These are the stories that unfold.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Tone – The tone is dark and mysterious with a feeling of threatening pervading the whole episode. From the empty Crone’s home, to an old man offering his down syndrome daughter to sleep with, to Justin forcing his maid to give him a blow job in front his his adoptive father and the cards that Ben destroyed coming back to haunt Sofie. This is a powerful episode in tone and imagery.

Samson – Jonesy attempts to have Samson kick Sofie off to keep his men happy but Samson reminds him Jonesy is in charge of labor so that’s his thing, he’s not going to get involved. It was great seeing him stay out of peoples personal stuff.

Sofie – Sofie and Ben are becoming friends and they have some good moments together. From Ben destroying the Tarot Cards and keeping one that doesn’t burn that Sofie doesn’t know and when she wakes him up and they talk because she smells smoke. Her main dilemma is her facing of destiny as her Mother most likely is using the cards to bring her back into reading others’ fortunes.

Ben – Ben seeks the crone this episode after helping Sofie with healing. It is here an old man tries to prostitute his daughter but Ben holds him accountable and he promises never to do it again. He is later captured by a group at the Crones home who torture him until they see Scudder’s medal and when they learn that it’s his they say “She’s” been waiting for him.

The Cons: Justin – Justin went too dark after seeing glimmers of idealism be it fake or not it went too far having his maid give him a blow job and his sexually molesting her. I hated his character after this episode. He seems evil for the sake of evil, which just isn’t good when you have a character who started out so morally complex.

Stumpy – Stumpy is prostituting his wife non-stop and all about money. It implies gambling issues but this is getting out of hand. I never liked the character and he isn’t making himself likable in his blatant using of others.

This was a good but not great episode. I would have liked to meet the Crone and know if Sofie’s mom was communicating with her. The Crone’s home is haunting though, and the episode does keep the dark forbidding done consistently through the episode.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

Carnivale – Season 2, Episode 2 – “Alamogordo, NM” – Destiny Embraced and the Search for Scutter

carnivale-almogordo

“Alamogordo, NM” builds on the last episode while giving us more questions and also contrasts who the main game changers are becoming…from Management’s refusal to take up the role as hero, to Ben’s looking out for others even when his dreams warn him and Justin’s manipulating of everyone to reach his own ends as he fully embraces his role as Avatar of Darkness.

The episode was written by William Schmidt and directed by Jack Bender.

The episode picks up with Ben’s quest for Scudder leading him to Father Kerrigan who is lost in constant repeatings of a phrase and has pictures all over his room of the Tattooed Man. After he picks up Sofie on his way back as she is lost and can’t remember how she got where she was…this is accompanied by a vision of the Tattooed man who Management tells him is the Usher and bringer of darkness. When Ben offers to heal Management, Management denies him, instead choosing his slow death. Around this time Justin is visiting a woman who is working on his body and manipulating the scenes so that his Archangel breaks out of prison to find Scudder and Iris gets captured for killing the children. These are the primary stories that unfold.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Imagery and Tone – The imagery and tone is back to being haunting! From Father Kerrigan’s constant repeating of life, death and the crone and his room covered in drawings of Usher, to Nick running into a vision of Father Justin praying before the statue of Mary and the Baby Jesus and the statue turning to look at him. These and the reveal of Justin receiving Usher’s tattoo and using the Archangel to kill the prison guard are just some of the haunting images.

Ben Hawkins – I really liked Ben this episode. He really is the reluctant savior that Samson describes at the beginning of the season. He shows kindness to the broken man of Father Kerrigan and stays with Sofie until she’s good enough  to return, even after the warnings. In this way he is a great contrast now to all other supernatural beings who act primarily from a place of people as tools.

Pastor Justin Crowe – Is in control and is shaping things how he wants them to be. From making sure Iris will get caught eventually for her crimes, to setting his Archangel loose, to embracing his role with the tattoo. He is fully in his element, and in this episode it was a lot of fun.

Sofie – Sofie feels human in this and I really liked it. We see her pain and regret and her finding purpose with helping them all pack up even when Jonesy’s men don’t want a woman helping them pack.

Jonesy – Jonesy reveals himself to be a good guy. Whether his promising to keep things between Sofie, Libby and himself a secret was truly meant from goodwill remains to be seen in the long run but it looked like he was coming from a place of respect, as he allows Sofie on the team since the cards don’t work anymore.

Samson – Samson comforts Sofie and gives her Lodz trailer, much to Lila’s chagrin. He is shown to have never cared about Lodz that much and that goes for much of the camp. I think this shows were selfishness goes. People protect Ben because he looks out for others, Lodz only looked after himself.

This was a fantastic episode and was back to what I enjoyed so much in the first place. The main issue was Management is a little hard to here sometimes and the mythology still feels not completely solid yet. Besides that, I don’t mind Justin and Ben embracing their roles, though I miss old Justin who was the idealist tempted by power who was willing to die when he learned that he was an engine for destruction.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Carnivale – Season 2, Episode 1 – “Los Moscos” – A Loss of Conflict for Clarity

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After the moral conflict of Ben and Justin that drove so much of the story, it is kind of sad seeing Justin embrace his new role so thoroughly without any hangups. The internal character conflict was part of what made him so interesting as Tom Clancy did it so well, and the mythology is still confusing. I could have done with at least 2 episodes to explain everything we get told. I’ll get into it more in the assessment.

“Los Moscos” was directed Jeremy Podaswa and written by the show creator, Daniel Knauf.

The premise begins similar to the beginning of last season as Samson gives us the background:

“On the heels of the skirmish Man foolishly called the war to end all wars, the Dark One sought to elude his destiny… live as a mortal. So he fled across the ocean, to an empire called America… but by his mere presence, a cancer corrupted the spirit of the land. People were rendered mute by fools who spoke many words, but said nothing… for whom oppression and cowardice were virtues… and freedom, an obscenity. Into this dark heartland, the Prophet stalked his enemy… until, diminished by his wounds, he turned to the next in the ancient line of light. And so it was that the fate of all mankind came to rest on the trembling shoulders of the most reluctant of saviors.”

The episode than gives us Management confessing to being the Russian soldier in Ben’s dreams and showing him a vision of a nuclear apocalypse. Around this time and implores him to seek Scudder to prevent this. Sofie and Jonesy survive the fire but Sofie’s mother does not, Management asks Samson to hide the fact that Lodz is dead, and if it is found out to take the fall. These are the primary stories that unfold.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Dreams and Visions – Management showing Ben the dream of the End is beautiful, just as Justin’s is at the tree where he meets The Usher (The man with the tree tattooed upon his body). He sees a place to build New Canaan by this twisted tree and Ben finally has a reason to fight and figure out the identity of his enemy Justin. There is also a scene where Justin tears apart his face to reveal Ben underneath. These dream sequences still keep the mystery of the show alive.

Jonesy and Sofie – After what Sofie did Jonesy can’t trust her and that is well established, which is good. He saves her life, but knows it can’t go anywhere. It’s one of the best moments of drama in the episode.

Samson – Samson has to pretend to care about trying to find Lodz after Sofie goes missing and we see just how unattached he was to the guy in the end and maybe is a little happy he’s gone even though he’s against the killing of Carnies. He’s the most human element on the show still.

Okay: Pastor Justin Crowe – Guys embraced being the engine of destruction, which is sad. There isn’t the moral conflict anymore and he’s cruel and threatening to nearly everyone unless they serve his interests. I understand him turning Iris in though, that seems to be what little good in him still remains and that he might feel regret at becoming a monster. He is also approached by a man who was hearing his Gospel and gives him “The Gospel of Matthias” a book that belonged to Scudder. Justin learns he must kill Scudder to fully become inhuman and his full role.

Ben – Ben is still pretty passive but goes to the Templars again and learned Scudder dropped by at one point 12 years ago and that his Chaplain Kerrigan lost his mind and painted the tattooed man in the mural. We learn he’s been missing for quite a while though making the search that much more difficult.

The Cons: Clarity in place of subtlety – With the introduction spelled out by Samson in clear but still vague terms, as well as the dreams…we see the End, we learn about Scudder needing to be found or killed and the battle to come between Justin and Ben. This isn’t bad but it’s presentation isn’t good. It could have been done much more interestingly in visuals rather than having characters tell us all this, since it is still pretty confusing.

This was a decent start to the season and a recommend so far. It does make me worry a little on how the rest of the season will go though. The supernatural is best left in the foreground not completely seen…not so upfront. It turns the show from surrealistic magic to outright fantasy.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Still a good show.

 

Carnivale – Season 1, Episode 12 – “The Day That Was The Day” – A Matter of Choice and Destiny

Carnivale The Day that was the Day

“The Day That Was The Day” is the excellent finale to season 1 of “Carnivale.” Characters are forced to make choices that sets up the struggle of things to come and before making the choices they try to get out of making the choices, to skirt destiny. This episode also ties up the character dramas and answers one of the biggest questions about the nature of Scudder and the powers behind Ben and Justin.

“The Day That Was The Day” was directed by Rodrigo Garcia and written by Ronald Moore.

The story picks up where the last episode left off, with Stumpy confronting Rita about the affair, Sofie setting up a situation to get back at Jonesy and Libby for cheating, Ben approaching Lodz on how to bring back Ruthie who then brings him to management and Brother Justin talks to his adoptive father and shows his father his greatest sin leading him to ask him to prevent his destiny.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Sofie Drama – Sofie sets up a situation where she kisses and sleeps with Libby because she’s found feelings for her but she also has feelings for Jonesy so she bring Jonesy to the same place to get back at them both. Libby for knowing about Jonesy cheating with Rita and Jonesy for the act of cheating. Later Sofie’s mother tries to kill them both in a fire and Jonesy rushes into to save her for the final scene. We are left questioning what will come.

Brother Justin and his Adoptive Father and his Role – His adoptive father raised him as a Christian and after talking to Iris began researching into excorcism to help his son since his son’s power scared him so much. Later when they talk Justin transports him to the past to reveal his sin and the sin of his father was saving Justin. This leads to Justin begging to be killed by him, but when he can’t Justin’s eyes go black showing the full embracing of power and his role as the Avatar of destruction, Left Hand of God and Harbinger of the Apocalypse. The final scene after he makes a deal with Dolan to get his word out into the world is him doing an end times sermon.

Samson’s Warning – Samson warns Ben not to trust Management and Lodz and he’s right on both counts. He also cares about the carnival and tells Ben if he’s going to kill someone to help someone, it won’t be one of the Carnies. Samson is human and showed why he is one of my favorite characters in that scene. He was also right about Management since Management betrayed Lodz to make Ben use his power.

The Choice of Ben Hawkins – Ben continues to resist up until the end, he even gives his own life in the graveyard to bring back Ruthie, but Scudder who is a part of Ben (Ben is the Avatar) is not allowed to die. He almost kills a drunk but decides against it. Thinking he’s one and that he is not like Lodz and management he confronts Management only to have management reveal Lodz as the killer of Ruthie leading to Ben killing Lodz, which brings back Ruthie and solidifies Ben as the same as Management.

This was a great end to the series! It ties us back into the fight against the Avatars of Good and Evil, Light and Darkness and we see Ben and Justin becoming their roles in the fight to come. It is powerful but still leaves more open. I’m excited to see where season 2 takes everything, especially in regards to Justin. Lodz deserved to die but I’m still going to miss the bastard, he was a great character.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. Ronald Moore has once again written gold.

Carnivale – Season 1, Episode 11 – “Day of the Dead” – Manipulation and Set Up

carnivale-day-of-the-dead-review

 

“Day of the Dead” is the episode that sets everything for the final. We get to see what is at stake as characters are getting lined up into being forced to make difficult choices that will define their characters.

“Day of the Dead” was written by Toni Graphia and directed by John Patterson.

The premise is that Management wants to force Ben into action and does so by asking Lodz to kill Ruthie, since management knows Ben will try to save her. Justin also receives a confession from his sister that she started the fire to jump start his power and discovery and Stumpy goes to Iris to have his cards read. In all cases new revelations occur.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Tarot Reading – This is a great scene and has the drama pay off, I haven’t written about it that much because the mythology to me, is much more interesting and the Dreyfus family, Sofie and Jonesy were never all that appealing to me. This scene is very well executed though as Stumpy discovers what he already knew about Jonesy sleeping with Rita after that day he set them up which comes as a shock to both Sofie who was starting over with Jonesy and Stumpy who trusted him.

Professor Lodz – This guy is a great character and antagonist. His seeking out the venomous snake is perfect and we see why Samson has been warning us about him all this time. He wants power more than anything and will sacrifice any person to get there.

Justin and Iris – This had the creepiest scene, we have Justin lying about being in a mental hospital and Iris confessing she burned down the church with the children for him. He grabs her and kisses her showing just how messed up their relationship is. I guess this wouldn’t be HBO without incest.

Scudder – Hears the confessions of Ben’s sins. It’s a smart scene and very subtlety done.

Ben’s Loss – She dies and Ben is not able to bring her back to life. Seeing Ben actually affected by something is powerful, even if we as an audience were never all that invested in Ruthie. She never got explored the way other characters did.

The Cons: Most of this episode is set up so it doesn’t stand as strong on it’s own as it could. This is the biggest issue I have with it. A lot of set up, not much payoff.

This was a good but not great episode. It is worth watching if only for the Iris and Justin scenes though, and we get to see Scudder again in direct relation to Ben, which is good. This episode also firmly establishes Lodz as a villain and why Samson doesn’t trust him.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10