Carnivale – Season 2, Episode 11 – “Outside New Canaan” – Truth Revealed

Carnivale Outside New Canaan

“Outside New Canaan,” is where many things come to a head and where lines are drawn for many of the characters. It is a truth revealing episode and is all the stronger for it and shows how much many of the characters have changed. I’ll get into more of what I mean in the assessment.

The episode was directed by Dan Lerner with the story by John J. McLaughlin and screenplay by Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin.

Ben and Jonesy are in New Canaan and have a bad feeling about this place, leading Jonesy to go back and get help for Ben in the final confrontation. Around this time Lila is accusing Samson of lying and management not existing. This turns into a torn carnival where the only resolutions can be from the truth. Ben attempts an assassination and runs into Sofie and warns her about Justin as characters’ intentions are revealed.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Carnival Drama – The Carnival Drama is really good in this one, with Lila wanting to take the Carnival away from Samson for covering up Lodz’s murder and because Sacramento has a far greater chance for profit than Christian New Canaan. This leads to the reveal that Management is dead and that Ben healed Jonesy which leads to the Carnival following Samson since Samson wants them to go to New Canaan to back up Ben. The scene with Jonesy running is beautiful, as is the reveal of the empty trailer where Management resided. This is the strongest part of the episode by far.

Ben and Iris – Ben meets Iris after he tricks the guards to get into the house. This leads to a tense scene where she has him leave the hatchet that burns Justin later on. You get the feeling she knows what he planned to do and covers for him when Justin is trying to find out why the hatchet was there.

Ben and Sofie – Sofie is conflicted after Ben warns her that Justin is the enemy and his true name is Alexie when she hears them speaking in Russian and also when she finds Ben’s deathmask that Justin is keeping. You get the feeling she has feelings for Ben even if she can’t embrace them because of how often she’s been betrayed by those closest to her.

Sofie and Justin – Sofie refuses Justin when he strives pursuing her as a storm rages outside. Glimpses of the old Sofie are scene in these moments as well as the fact that she’s never been Justin’s tool.

The Cons: Jonesy Stops Ben from Acting – I know the finale is coming but there could have been a great scene of temporary confrontation that night in the storm and it would have given Sofie more to think about if Jonesy hadn’t kept Ben’s hand from action. This does payoff in the end though, it is only a con in this episode.

This was a solidly great episode and well worth seeing. We get to see the Carnival come together with truth revealed and a realization of just how much Ben means to them, Ben is family as seen by his healing of Jonesy. This carries on to some powerful moments in the finale, which in my opinion is one of the best episodes of the show.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Carnivale – Season 2, Episode 6 – “Road to Damascus” – When the Masks are Off

Carnivale Road to Damascus

“The Road to Damascus” is a decision episode. Big events happen that change things and show us the truth of characters and character relationships. We see past relationships too in regards to Samson and the complex relationships between different carnivals.

The episode was written by Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin and directed by Tucker Gates.

We meet folks from the Daily Brothers Show who had their tents burned down by Stroud though they believe it was the owners for the insurance money, Pastor Justin Crowe holds a confessional for the guilty party of the church burning, Ben needs to make a choice to move forward, Sofie has to decide to leave and the Dreyfus family arc finally goes somewhere. These are the stories that unfold.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Pastor Justin Crowe – Justin stands by his sister even after all that happened but only after she had come clean in her guilt and confessed. He helped her grow and it showed he hadn’t completely lost his humanity given he saw Dolan as tool from the beginning.

Dolan – Dolan takes the fall for Iris, and it’s implied Justin’s powers made him do it. He tries to hold her accountable but there is nothing he can do. He was a great character though and even though he was sleezy at times his good heart came through. I wonder if this will be the last we see of him.

Sofie – We see Sofie’s joy in her relationship with Ben and when she dances in the rain, which happens after her and Ben have sex. Sadly Samson’s prediction comes true, at least for now as Ben leaves to find Scudder and try and beat Stroud to him. The last we see of her is her leaving the carnival behind and watching it leave.

Ben – Ben is embracing his destiny and actually forming a life. We see his joy and connection with Sofie over their horrible childhood and parents and her and him happy as they share a moment together in which after it rains. We also see Samson acting as a mentor and it’s after he talks to Samson that he goes ahead to try and beat Stroud to Scudder.

Samson – Samson had a relationship with the woman in charge of the other carnival. They were married for 9 years as he tells Ben but they work something out where she gets a cut of profits and he keeps her husband on board. We see him caring for the other carnies and his glimpsing of the big picture.

Okay: Ruthie/Lodz and Lila – One of the last scene is of Ruthie possessed by Lodz asking Lila where the boy is, just as she’s moving on. I would have preferred a spirit of Lodz given how great the actor is and I worry this will destroy what little development Ruthie’s received.

Dreyfus Drama – Stumpy’s a liar and no one is surprised. He blames Jonesy for destroying his family when Stumpy did that and feels powerless as Jonesy has slept with his wife and is building a relationship with Libby his daughter. I hate Stumpy. Rita’s okay and Libby is awesome.

This episode had a lot happen and made things move forward in a big way. What remains to be seen is if the new elements will go anywhere. Does Ruthie exist as a character? What is Justin’s big plan? Will Ben reach Scudder before Stroud? What will become of Sofie? These are the biggest questions beyond the mythology that I hope we get answers to before the end.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Another solidly great episode.

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 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 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

Carnivale – Season 1, Episode 10 – “Hot and Bothered” – The Power in Relationships

carnivale-hot-bothered5

This was a much needed episode, it answered questions in regards to the outside of how the Templar order appears to be, gave us a symbol of things to come and showed us how power has corrupted Pastor Justin Crowe. There are some minor subplots too, but the main narrative has always been what pulled in the most about this show.

“Hot and Bothered,” was directed by Jeremy Podeswa and written by Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin.

The premise in this one is that Lodz has taken the place of Samson in being in management’s good graces, largely because of his willingness to use Ben to discover the larger picture, Samson does the same but they miss a key clue and find themselves being followed by one of the order. Brother Justin also returns and shakes his congregation with his actions and new found beliefs. From here the episode unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Pastor Justin Crowe’s Return – From his haunting meeting with his sister and Dolan, to his owning his congregation again when he calls on them to make the world reborn in fire and blood as he recognizes each of their sins. His mentor and foster father is lost throughout it as he baptizes Justin and blood appears in the shape of cross and the congregations calls out to be baptized too. He’s changed things.

Samson and Ben – This is one of the major arcs of this episode and it is fascinating. We see them find the Templar order but the leader hiding information from them about Scudder. We also see them connect as people and learn that management bought out the company prior, so Samson, Scudder and Lodz go back before that time. Samson also calls Scudder an eel and we can see how hard he’s taking being out of management’s good graces when he calls Sofie out for not doing her job with the card reading. The clue they miss is on the wall a tattooed man in a cornfield.

What Lodz Learns – Lodz finds out that Scudder believes Ben to be his and that they are approaching him. Management is happy with this and we hear the voice of management for the first time as it speaks silkily and mysteriously. Lodz is now his agent in regards to Ben and Scudder.

Okay: Jonesy and Sofie – These two are reestablishing a romantic relationship. Sofie tells Jonesy about the vision of the past of her rape her mother showed her and we see him being there for her in her desperation. It is largely one sided though, Jonesy is not open about his own struggles and pains. So okay, but not great.

Stumpy’s Story – Stumpy hooks up with a woman in the border bar and when she pursues him they sleep together and he brings her back as one of the dancers. Okay cause it causes drama I guess but I’ve never liked Stumpy and this is nothing compared to the myth narrative arc.

This episode was an upgrade from the last so gets a recommend. Hearing managements voice and seeing it’s relationship to Lodz was wonderful. It gave us an idea of what Samson was dealing with as we see his human side. He isn’t ends justify the means completely and that makes him the better person. We see the power in relationships as the head pastor baptizing Justin legitimized his vision and Management having a relationship with Lodz put Samson on the defensive and without a place. Power dynamics were a big part of this episode.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10. One of the better episodes.

Carnivale – Season 1, Episode 7 – “The River” – Discovery of Power

Carnivale The River

“The River” is the episode where other characters become aware of Ben’s power and Justin Crowe discovers his own as we get his backstory and the reason behind why he lived with his sister. It’s a great episode in regards to how it explores the magic and some of the characters.

The episode was written by Toni Graphia and directed by Alison Maclean.

The episode begins with Ben learning of Ruthie’s connection to Scudder when Lila and Lodz attempt to manipulate him to action. This leads to him fighting and injuring her son Gabriel. Elsewhere Justin Crowe contemplates suicide on a bridge and has a flashback in the river as we get their backstory from Dolan interviewing Iris as a version of their past takes place when Justin sees himself following through with a suicide. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Crowe’s Vision of the Past – Crowe has a vision of jumping into the river and washing up and meeting himself and his sister Iris when they were children. It is there his younger self kills him as he killed the man who tried to hurt them and he realizes his power. After he chooses not to jump and gives his sister a call that she has known about it all along.

Dolan – Dolan’s radio program is fascinating, as well as how we learn from his kindness and openness with Iris and that her and Justin were Russian immigrants who died in a train crash and could only count on each other. It’s a brutal story but reveals why they are so isolated from everyone and their bond. Dolan’s openness is a nice contrast to this.

Iris – Iris telling their story and speaking Russian are some of the more powerful parts of the episode. She calls Justin by his name he had before he was Justin and we see her shock when she realizes Justin knows the truth.

Ben – Still resisting his power (come on now, we want answers!) but he heals Ruthie’s son after they fight and respects Ruthie’s space since her relationship with Scudder was none of his business. Lodz and Lila still have power over Ben and the ability to get under his skin.

Professor Lodz – Lodz cruelty comes out in this episode as we see him beat Lila when she reveals the healing of Dustin to him and he realizes he missed it. It was here that my distrust of him grew much more. How much does he want to help Ben or just help himself?

The Cons: Lag – There are certain moments where the story lags or feels choppy. For this reason I can’t rate it as highly as the episodes that came prior.

Justin is the most compelling part of the narrative at this point. He is finding things out and being active in the search to understand himself, versus Ben who is doing everything to resist that discovery. The carnival is great and I’m curious when they are going to meet  Justin and what will come out of it given the shared dreams between characters. The episode lags in some places but the Justin part of the story is very strong.

Final Score: 9 / 10.