Carnivale Finale – Season 2, Episode 12 – “New Canaan” – The Final Battle

Carnivale New Canaan

So ends “Carnivale,” and what a fascinating journey it has been. So, how does the final hold up and bringing all the pieces together? A lot of major threads get pulled together and major arcs brought to an end…while others are left open. It is that even though the show was canceled, you can tell Knauf, the creator wanted to do more. I do hope he can someday so in comics so that it can get the complete wrap up he had in mind.

The finale was written by Daniel Knauf with the original story by Tracy Torme. The episode was directed by Scott Winant.

The episode begins with the carnival being hosted at New Canaan, “For the Children.” As Samson visits with his entourage to invite Justin to ride the Ferris-Wheel. This is all part of the plan that he and Jonesy work out with Ben so that Ben can use his healing powers to suck the life from Justin and keep him trapped on the Wheel. Sofie catches Justin without his shirt on and realizes who he and his taken to the room that her mother was held in as Justin arrives at the carnival and the story unfolds from there.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Carnival in New Canaan – This is brilliant. We got to see some of this when Justin and Iris look out the window and Iris knows she has Justin trapped in obligation and when her and Samson are negotiating in the episode before. This carries over as the Ferris-Wheel traps Justin as Ben seeps his life to heal the injured members of New Canaan. It is fantastic and the magic of the carnival and religion are really well done here…the red sky just adds the effect of it all and the darkness that comes later.

Jonesy – Jonesy is changed and is truly a good guy looking out for others. We see him keep the Ferris-Wheel going after the healing start and is only stopped after Stroud punches him and Justin uses his power to stop the Wheel. Sadly he doesn’t survive the episode as darkness has inhabited Sofie and after he rescues her she shoots him in cold blood. His loss actually means something, season 1 I cared nothing for this character.

Samson – Samson is great as the manipulator and puts everything into play so that Ben won’t have to risk his life like past Avatars like Jesus did. From making certain Justin will come by holding back tickets after Iris’s fear of heights comes out, to his pep talk with Ben, “The hardest part is living.” I think Ben gets that because he goes along with the carnival’s plan and embraces their love of him for healing Jonesy. Samson is there through it all and ends with making Ben Management by putting him on Management’s bed. As they leave New Canaan you see him ready for the next adventure. He also gives Rita Sue the money from New Canaan to pay off the debts they owe because Samson looks out for family. I loved the scene and it showed that through it all he was looking out for Rita, Stumpy and Libby.

Pastor Justin Crowe – Crowe goes full bad in this and we see the darkness Avatar in him made manifest when he lashes out at being used to heal others. This leads to him killing members of his congregation, his adopted father Norman and injuring Ben before he is killed. He is a good threat and when he’s in the cornfield (the dream Ben had from season 1) you get the tension and fear as this is someone who has killed and in this state…lives for killing. Surprisingly even here he doesn’t kill Iris though, showing something remains of his humanity. His death is left ambiguous though as we see Sofie performing a healing on him as the carnival leaves and the plants die the same way the plants died when Ben first healed the little girl’s legs.

Rita Sue, Libby and Stumpy – We see sadness and resolution here as they tell her to believe Jonesy will come back even as they know he’s dead. It is a sad scene since you see that they have always cared about him. Their debts are paid off now but they lost a new member of their family. In a way New Canaan is Babylon.

Ben Hawkins – Finds that he is family in the carnival and they do what they can to support him to take Justin down. We see how this has changed him too as he puts beating Justin as the priority over finding Sofie. He’s thinking more like Management and wants to do what he can to win no matter what, how he is different though is he listens to Samson. He doesn’t have to risk his life to win because the carnival is hear to help. The moment between them is priceless and you get why they make him Management at the end and carry him off like a savior. His arc is complete and he’s become the leader and no longer the man alone.

The Cons: Sofie – Sofie being possessed by darkness is never explained…as is her role as the Omega. Why did she bring back or try to bring back Justin at the end after knowing he raped her mother? Why didn’t she rejoin the carnival? What did her mother’s ghost haunting her mean?

Professor Lodz – He tells us Sofie is the Omega and he tells Lila next time he’ll be seen in the flesh in a past episode but that never goes anywhere. What’s Lodz’s deal? What was his motivation? What was his connection to Scudder and Management?

The mythology wasn’t fully explained and Lodz and Sofie were never used to their full potential (or Lila or Ruthie for that matter) but this episode does a solid. Nearly everyone plays a role to help Ben take down Justin and it is beautifully executed. Barring the questions and plot holes (which are a problem I have with the series, not just this episode). This episode was great and one of my favorites. I’ll do a look back at the show later with how I think it worked and didn’t…but until then, this is a great finale and well worth watching.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

 

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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 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 9 – “Insomnia” – To Resist Power and to Embrace Power

Carnivale Insomnia     I’m beginning to understand better the role Ben might be meant to play for the writers. This episode showed his resistance as action contrasted by how cold Justin Crowe has become in his embracing of his power. He fears becoming Scudder which is understandable.

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

The episode primarily involves Ben’s resistance of power as he seeks to stay awake so the dreams do not come. Lodz acts as the tempter, telling him to embrace them to learn. Brother Justin’s game at the institution is complete and he’s released and Samson approaches Ben with a Templar Medal that belonged the Scudder. These are the primary stories that unfold.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Professor Lodz – Lodz has great power and a relationship with management that we see in this episode as he enters the trailer a few times and the final scene after he has the same vision Ben does about the Templar’s he compliments Samson for playing his hand well after he had just talked to management.

Samson – Samson is the guide in this episode and makes Ben feel safe enough to open up. He shows him a book with his mother and tells him of how he believes Scudder to be his father. It is finally a moment of connection with Ben beyond Ruthie.

The Carnival – We finally see more of the carnival and action, and it is awesome! From Lodz’s ability to predict the past and events, to Ruthie’s snake dancing…it feels lived in beyond the Ferris Wheel and dancers, which was appreciated.

Ben and Justin – I’m putting them together because we see why the contrast matters. Justin has an insane man beat himself to death for no reason beyond anger, while Ben is resisting and is aware of others, even as he suffers each day trying to stay afloat. This episode was needed to establish the places where they are coming from and how they have changed as people. When Justin is released he has his book and has made all servants to him, Ben is a servant and is the better man.

The Cons: The Rape of Sofia’s Mother – This wasn’t needed to show that her barriers are breaking down and right now serves no purpose beyond shock value. All we know is it is a tattoo man and the further breakdown in Sofie and her mother’s relationship. This could have been done much differently.

This was a good but not great episode. Justin only appears briefly and has turned more antagonistic and the whole deal with Sofie’s mom was cruel for no reason at all. I don’t see this episode as adding anything. It was good, but only just good.

Final Score: 8 / 10

 

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.