Carnivale – Season 2, Episode 8 – “Outskirts of Damascus, NE” – Management’s Legacy

Carnivale Outskirts of Damascus NE

“Outskirts of Damascus, NE” had a lot of good ideas, but they were not fully executed. The good news is this is made up at least partially by some great character moments…largely with Samson and Ben. For this reason alone, it was still a good episode.

The episode was written by Daniel Knauf, the show’s creator and directed by Tim Hunter.

The premise picks up where the last episode ended with Management granting Ben his powers and from that we learned he’d set it all up in the first place to grant Ben the knowledge and power he would need to take on the Usher, Justin. Management it turns out was a bigger deal to Samson than we knew as their friendship is revealed and Ben must deal with Samson before they can move forward. Jonesy and Libby also get married and that is dealt with in the episode too.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Samson – Samson is one of my favorite characters who is still living and in this episode shows more of why. We see him mourn the loss of his friend and how even if he didn’t trust Management there was still so much history there between them. This leads to it taking a while for him to see that Ben isn’t management and can’t lie. This leads to them forming a new partnership to save Scudder and stop the Usher.

Ben – From one of my least favorite characters last season to one of my favorite this season…Ben Hawkins is worth caring about finally. We see his making sense of his new powers and trying figure out his role and try and save Scudder. We also see him bring back the memory vault so Samson can say good-bye to Management. For this reason he starts out things solidly with Samson and we see them as partners, which Samson and Ben have never really had before. We see his embracing of his role as Avatar in a clear way that wins Samson over too when a mother begs for her life to be given for her dead child’s and Ben grants her wish to bring her child back.

Jonesy and Libby – Jonesy and Libby marry and we see the conflict with Libby’s parents because of Jonesy sleeping with her Mom, though surprisingly Stumpy is okay with it, it’s Rita who has most of the baggage. This comes to a head when Libby says she will dance until her father’s debts are paid off, but no more than dance. It’s a great character moment that showed her being active to Jonesy’s passiveness through the episode. We also have a death at the Ferris-Wheel which is powerful as the mob blames Jonesy because Stumpy shared a drink with him.

Sofie – Sofie is Justin’s maid! A sign of things to come I think.

The Cons: The Tone – I didn’t know what to make of this episodes tone. At times it’s supernatural at times it’s real but it’s hard to get to invested in invents because it doesn’t have a feel that flows through it. For this reason I have to dock it down some points.

This was a good but not great episode, which is a shame since the showrunner and creator was the one wrote it. It still does what it needs to do, so it isn’t bad. It just isn’t great. I would recommend it though if only for the moments with Ben and Samson. The silence of Samson morning management and Ben lost in his new role. These moments helped define it and made it “Carnivale.”

Final Score: 8 / 10

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

carnivale-los-moscos-review6

 

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 8 – “Lonnigan, Texas” – Exploration of Power

Lonnigan Texas Carnivale

Pastor Justin Crowe is my favorite character in the show at this point, after him probably Samson or Lodz as far as how complex and compelling they are. This episode really illustrated why for me in regards to Justin. He’s a character who has crossed through Hell and come out of it changed with a new discovery of his power. This episode is about his using that discovery to find out more about what his power is and means. Can’t say the same for Ben…

The episode was directed by Scott Winant and written by Daniel Knauf.

The premise starts out with after his suicide attempt Justin has been put into an Insane Asylum where after all the treatments, he begins to discover what he is capable of and his place in the world. This is contrasted by Ben who is asked to go into town to pick up someone for an act. There are also the mini-stories of Stumpy trying to hook up Jonesy with his wife and his wife trying to get Sofie into dancing because she’s seeing how it makes her daughter happy. These are the stories that unfold.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Asylum – The asylum scenes are some of the best. From seeing the torture they put Justin through to when he is able to correct the Doctor’s work and put words on the page as well as shaping the minds of the insane around him…from silencing a man who cannot be quite. The scenes are chilling because he’s embraced the supernatural in his nature.

Justin Crowe – God, this character is awesome! I’ve already described some of the events and now he has self awareness of the world and their looking for him and their belief in his mission of helping the poor. If that mission has changed remains to be seen but he found his belief in God and his own power making him the most compelling character on the show.

Mother and Daughter Relationships – This episode had a lot mother and daughter relationships…from Libby and her Mom for the dancers, from Sofie and her Mom for the card readers. In both we learn that Libby’s mom rebelled against her mom which is why she went into dancing and Libby has been protesting against her because she thought she was hustling Sofie. We also see Sofie do one show until someone grabs at her and we realize she’d done for the same reason Libby’s mother Rita Sue. We also see Rita was doing it to make Libby happy and to feel her own whole of her daughter’s murder. Babylon changed things.

The Knights Templar – The one noteworthy thing that happens to Ben is another Carnie owner Phineas who has a ring that is tied to it that sparks a flashback leading to Ben to still the ring. This leads to us seeing Phineas and Samson have a relationship even though their rivals and that their is a Carnie honor code. What all this means remains to be played out. Is Phineas part of the order? What does the order mean in the mythology of the being darkness and being of light? How does it tie to Scudder?

Jonesy and Rita – Jonesy has a sweet moment with Rita where she treats him with kindness and tenderness when he sleeps with her and he does too. This is contrasted by her husband who cares nothing for her. This is a big part on why she tells Sofie, “I wish I had someone who cared half as much for me, as he (Jonesy) cares for you.”

The Cons: The Drive – I get this is the depression and it’s supposed to be bleak and depressing but Ben being lied to by folks and us seeing he escaped for a chain gang and is wanted feels unneeded right now. Ben has got to start acting like Justin and finding answers or else we have no reason to care about him.

Another great episode that is worth a watch, but with problems like before. It was slightly better than the “The River” though, mostly because the side character stories are really good and having more time with Justin is gold.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10

Carnivale Pilot – Season 1, Episode 1 – “Milfay” – Of Good, Evil and Outsiders

Carnivale      If you’ve been reading the blog for a while now you’ve probably found that I do love shows or movies that incorporate mythology into them, and do it well. Be it Heaven, Hell and the Apocalypse in shows like “Supernatural” and “Sleepy Holow” (and this show), or shows that play off Greek and Christian Mythologies like “Battlestar Galactica.” For me these myths have the potential to teach us about ourselves, as any good story can. It was discussing this with my Grandfather when he suggested this show, and he got me hooked.

I’ll be reviewing episodes of “Carnival” sporadically, but I do plan on going through the entire season since the show itself isn’t that long. The show was created by Daniel Knauf who served as Producer along with Ronald Moore (one of my favorite directors and producers) and Howard Klein. Daniel Knauf wrote the first episode while Rodrigo Garcia directed.

The premise begins with the mythology of the show as one of the Carnies, a Dwarf named Samson who has power says,

“Before the beginning, after the great war between Heaven and Hell, God created the Earth and gave dominion over it to the crafty ape he called Man. And to each generation was born a creature of light and a creature of darkness, and great armies would clash by night in the ancient war between good and evil. There was magic then, nobility, and unimaginable cruelty. And so it was, until the day that a false sun exploded over Trinity, and man forever traded away wonder for reason.”

From here the story unfolds following an ex-con named Ben Hawkins who is haunted by dreams of being hunted by a tattooed man. He awakes and we are in the time of the Great Depression as he is watching his mother die as she is scared of him. From here the story unfolds as two people from the Carnival stand up for him leaving him with the dilemma of recognizing his power and to join or not join the Carnival, fully leaving his past behind to start again.

Here is the assessment of the pilot:

The Pros: The Cinematography – The Cinematography is fantastic! The scenes that catch the desperation are beautiful as the dust shows how desolate Ben and other characters feel. We also see some spectacular visions that are done to give us glimpses into the minds of the characters.

The Writing – From Samson (Michael J. Anderson of “Twin Peaks” fame) being the co-manager and guy who isn’t fully trustworthy but has good intentions, to Ben’s mysterious past and the mysterious present of Pastor Justin Crowe. The elements of supernatural pervade the themes and the dreams while never fully integrating themselves except for a scene where Pastor Crowe makes a woman throw up money after she stole and Ben resurrects a kitten and makes a little girl walk again.

The Music – The music is amazing! It keeps the mysterious feel and strange of what makes the Carnival and the Carnival while keeping religious themes in it too the way “Battlestar Galactica” did. Wendy Molvoin and Lisa Coleman were perfect composers for the theme and music.

The Characters – All the characters who have scene get great exploration that shows them to be more complex than they first appear to be. This is an ensemble show even though Ben and Justin are the primary drivers of the story.

Samson – I really like Michael J. Anderson, his being co-manager with the mysterious Management makes for an interesting situation as he is the one who is practical but also can be cruel and kind. He offers himself as a mentor figure to Ben but is rejected. I’m curious to see what his relationship to Management is like, as well as the rest of the carnival.

Brother Justin Crowe – He is set up as the powerful and possible antagonist as it is left open if he made the lady who stole throw up quarters since she stole one…and he later has a vision outside an erotic dance bar of a red cross over it in neon after it snows and rains blood upon him…and we see Ben have a vision of him with black eyes jumping out. So he’s probably the well meaning antagonist when the story gets deeper in. Clancy Brown is great for this role.

Jonesy – Works the Ferris Wheel, has a kind heart towards children but is contrasted with his looking down on women. After Sofia is nearly raped in town he tells her she shouldn’t have gone out. She smacks him thankfully but internalizes what he says later. We do see him help a crippled girl ride the Ferris Wheel for free though and gives her and the boy she’s with an extra ticket.

Sofia – Sofia is the one who reminds Ben of his past by reading his guards, which reveal his past and the kitten he brought back to life that his mother killed and caused him to suppress his powers. She stands up for herself against Jonesey’s sexism and fights the rapists but is contrasted by her saying Jonesey was right to Ben showing the growth she still has to go through in regards to respecting herself. She lives with her mother who is in a coma and talks to her through her mind. They are an act at the Carnival. Clea Duvall was good for this role.

Lila – Is the bearded lady who has compassion for Ben. She is the most experienced of the Carnies as far as how comfortable she is in her face. I can’t wait to learn more about her character. Debra Christofferson plays the character.

Ben Hawkins – The primary character haunted by dreams and the protagonist of the series. We don’t know fully what put him in prison or why he is so guarded about his past but we know he can perform miracles as he resurrected a cat and made a girl walk again at the end of the pilot. I’m curious about this character even though the Carnies are at time more compelling. Nick Stahl was chosen for the role and it is a good fit at this point.

The Themes – Good and Evil, Heaven and Hell, Wealthy and Poor, Privileged and Victimized, Corrupt and Good. These themes are captured really well and I expect they’ll be throughout given Samson’s opening speech.

Okay: Slow Start – The pilot is slow at times which is good for building tension and setting tone but I would have liked more drama between characters. It’s not bad but can’t put it as a pro either.

So far I really like this series and I was glad my Grandfather got me into it. I like how the Supernatural element is subtle unlike “Supernatural” or “Sleepy Hollow,” which are both shows I really like, but are both strongest when we are being teased by the mythology and discover it over time. This is what makes this show really great, besides the amazing producers, the fact it’s on HBO (giving it more flexibility in what it can do) and working the mythology into the ensemble cast and covering the fascinating era of the Great Depression. The choosing of a Carnival as the main area of drama with Crowe’s town on the other side of the story. It gives a  nice contrast of the poor and outcast versus the wealthy and privileged.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10. A great start to the series.