Carnivale – Season 1, Episode 3 – “Tipton” – The Legacy of the Father

Carnivale Tipton

We continue with “Carnivale” with some answers about the past and who Ben’s father is, as well as Samson’s relationship with the town of Tipton and the foreboding of things to come.

“Tipton” was directed by Rodrigo Garcia and written by Henry Bromwell.

The premise is that they arrive in Tipton but the Sheriff doesn’t want them there because he’s worried about them losing what little money they have. After Ben is recognized for healing the girl Samson makes a deal with a preacher for a revival to raise money which leads to Ben becoming famous until he’s called by a dream to the Sheriff’s mother Rebecca and how she is related to Ben’s father.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Tone – This episode really catches the desperation of the Depression, from the Sheriff’s distrust even though he’s worked with them before…to people needing hope through miracles and believing the tricks the Carnivale does in the revival since Ben is just a prop and doesn’t actually perform any on the actors that are chosen for healing. It catches the two faced of it which we see when some folks come to tear down Pastor Crowe’s new church because even if he owns it, they own land and their two faced “kindness” is screamed.

Pastor Crowe – Crowe is once again a very compelling character, as we see him preaching the end but giving the poor something to hope for. He’s a complex character and seeing him in action again is great, though the future of his church remains unresolved as the man who came to take it away find himself choking before he departs the church. If this will make things worse or better remains to be seen. Clancy Brown really does add depth to this role.

Samson – Samson is great as the practical leader once again, quickly changing the carnival to a revival and using the members of the carnival to excite the crowd and bring in more money. We also see how angry he was at giving Ben more freedom when Ben leaves them hanging without him and almost does an actual miracle that would have revealed them all the world. Michael J. Anderson continues exploring my favorite character on the show. Samson has them heading for trouble since he feels they have to go to Babylon after Rebecca reveals that is where Scudder is.

Rebecca – Rebecca was the lover of Ben’s father Scudder and we find out Scudder used to be a crook and in his revival suit he looks just like Ben. She feels guilty for not doing anything to stop him. Her role is small and powerful and she tells Ben that Scudder was last seen going to Babylon, which is where Samson has them go next.

Ben – Doesn’t want power and when he is given it is very humble. The most he does is use to follow his dream to Rebecca who points him to Babylon to find his father Scudder. She also reveals Scudder’s dark past a little bit and we we see him ready to save her until she denies it. For now none of the carnival knows his powers are for real. He is now invisible again, which I think is what he wanted anyway.

This is a good episode that furthers the development of Samson, Ben and Justin Crowe…which makes me excited for what’s to come. There is foreboding both in the name and mythology of Babylon, and that is where they are going next and what we hear about their bad experiences there before.

9.4 / 10. Really great, just would have liked more moments to see what will come of the attack on Crowe’s church.

Carnivale – Season 1, Episode 2 – “After the Ball is Over” – Hidden Demons

After the Ball is Over

“After the Ball is Over” goes into more behind the mysterious Carnival and also the growing power of Pastor Crowe as well as the demons he himself seems to be wrestling with. It’s a powerful story that reveals a lot about the surrounding and core characters.

The episode was written by Daniel Knauff and Ronald Moore and directed by Jeremy Podeswa.

The story begins with Ben being asked to clean out a mysterious carriage, which he finds out later never existed. It is there he finds a picture of his mother which leads to greater events unfolding in the Carnival. At the same time Pastor Crowe has set his eyes on making the Dancing and Prostitution house the new home for his growing parish and takes action that reveals the owner’s sins to them both. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Opening Vision/Dream – All the Shepherds are at a cafe and Crowe and Hawkins sit next to one another. The manager says something cryptic to them causing them to wake up. The dream establishes them, possibly her and the other person their as people of power which leads more to be discovered later. It was very Ronald Moore and reminded me of the Opera House Visions in “Battlestar Galactica.”

Pastor Justin Crowe – Crowe has the owner come to him and shows him how he used the front of the dancing and prostitution to molest boys. They face this truth together which leads the owner to giving the place to Crowe for his church and killing himself right after. We later see Crowe whipping himself in penance for leading to a man’s suicide…as we see his guilt at forcing the man to confront his evil did to him.

Ben Hawkins – Ben is the investigator this episode. When Samson says he doesn’t know the woman he later meets Ruthie after helping her get what she needs for her act. She tells him that the women fell in love with a crazy man named Scudder who is the man haunting his dreams. The blind seer says that Scudder is still alive and he finds out later both Scudder and his mother were involved with the Carnival.

Professor Lodz – Has a conversation with Samson about how he used to be in good graces with Management but how everything changed after Missouri. We see that he loved Apollonia but that she hates him. He sees the danger in Hawkins which Management seems to be aware of but going along with, for what purpose remains to be seen. He is a fascinating character who we see glimpse Hawkin’s dreams in the Pilot episode. Patrick Bauchau does a great job.

The Apollonia Scene – She awakens this episode and goes to Ben Hawkins. She is there to warn him but collapses and everyone awakes thinking he is the one who tried to steal her until Samson says that things are changing, and not for the better.

Samson – Samson has an idea that things are going bad, but for now is watching to see just how badly they unfold. He’s a practical guy so I wonder what action he’ll take in the end in regards to Ben Hawkins and the characters like Lodz who hate and fear him.

This was a solidly great episode and a must see. We learn more about Ben’s mysterious past, learn more about the Carnival, see Justin Crowe’s power in action again and also the demons he holds within. Demons were the theme as Scudder represents that in Ben’s dream and in how he is feared for his actions he did in the Carnival. More on what those actions were I expect to be revealed later.

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.