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 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 7 – “Damascus, NE” – Scudder’s Reveal

Carnivale Damascus NE

We finally meet Scudder! This was an interesting episode if only for the fact that this guy receives character development. I wouldn’t call it great though, there was a lot of potential this episode had and most of it was squandered.

“Damascus, NE” was written by John J. McLaughlin based on the story by William Schmidt and directed by Alan Taylor.

The story involves Ben’s arrival in Damascus, his meeting with Scudder and the events that come out of it both when they return to the carnival, and prior when facing off against Stroud. It is here it is revealed that Management is connected to another major character as the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Damascus – For a richer looking farmtown this place is pretty threatening. This is done by people speaking cryptically, Stroud hunting Ben and how making everything seem fine is more important than dealing with the problems. No wonder Scudder made this place his home, that is him in a nutshell.

Scudder – I wish we had gotten more time with this guy and Management hadn’t killed him. We see him connect with Ben his son, after Ben heals his face that he destroyed with acid in order to forget and reject the world he’d left behind. We learn he left to protect his wife and Ben from Lodz and others from pulling them into the conflict and we see that he is a good guy even if he refuses to fight. For these reasons his death is sad and I wish we’d gotten more of his relationship to Lodz and Management.

Ben – Ben is super active in this episode and ends up saving his father from Stroud when he heals the wounds and uses the energy from Stroud to do so. We see him hold his father accountable for leaving him and his mother and we see him kill Management for killing Scudder in the end.

Management – Management is a great threatening force in this and when he attacks in his mask and we see who was behind the curtain (the person who lost all their limbs in Ben’s visions of World War 1) we realize just how messed up this character is from his experiences. He kills Scudder when Scudder says Justin is his son and that his son is alive and the enemy and we realize just how connected everything is.

The Cons: Time – This episode would have been a two-parter on another show and it was needed here. There isn’t enough time to explore Scudder or Management as characters and they are taken out so quickly that nothing really registers. Justin appears briefly and throws up when Stroud does but besides that he isn’t worth mentioning because of the time issue. We also get a little time with Samson but not enough to mean anything. This is a major point against the episode so will be taking off more points because of it.

This episode is crucial and has some great moments but was not great as a whole. Not enough time with Management or Scudder and everything feels rushed. In this end this takes away from what could have been one of the best episodes in the series.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

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

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“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 11 – “Day of the Dead” – Manipulation and Set Up

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“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

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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.