Carnivale – Season 2, Episode 9 – “Lincoln Highway” – The Good in People

Carnivale Lincoln Highway

“Lincoln Highway,” is one of my favorite episodes and the best episode thus far in season 2. It keeps to the style of 2 but gets into a lot of the morality and mythology we had interwoven so deeply in season 1. This is an episode I won’t forget anytime soon either as it defined what makes good television on a lot of levels.

The episode was directed by Rodrigo Garcia and written by William Schmidt.

The major things that unfold in this episode are the discovery that Stroud is with Scudder in Cheyenne, Jonesy and Libby being kidnapped while Jonesy gets tarred and feathered and left to die for the death of the man’s wife in last episode and Norman’s attempt to kill Justin.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Tone – This episode is great at having the theme of decision pervading it. From Ben deciding to save Scudder or save Jonesy, from Libby choosing to trust Ben or not, Sofie learning to forgive and Justin choosing to forgive or let the mob kill Norman when Norman attempts to kill him. These are huge moments that are given the respect and power they deserve.

Sofie – Sofie is Justin’s maid and through her eyes we see that not all of Justin’s humanity is gone. From holding Norman after Norman tried to kill him, to his letting her go and not seeking selfishness with her. It is through Justin we see her process of forgiving her mother, Jonesy and Ben.

Pastor Justin Crowe – So glad we got to see the complex man again this episode! From his forcing Norman to break a tooth when Norman mocked him for Sofie being able to leave him speechless, to his forgiving of Norman and teaching Sofie how to forgive too. If it’s real than there is more to this character again that meets the eye and I want to see more of that. We see even in all the selfishness and power, there is still some good there.

Iris and Norman – Iris praises Norman for trying to kill Justin and we see that she wants him dead too. She wants them to do it together when the time is right since the darkness if Justin for them is too much (Iris kills the other maid for her saying she’ll joke about seeing the devil in him). They are both powerless so want to do what they can  to get that back and no stopping Justin is the only way.

Libby and Jonesy – We see more of their relationship, from the good and the bad. From her smoking outside enjoying the sun and Jonesy asking her to put on more clothes to her staying with him through the desert heat after he’s been tarred and feathered. We see that though they have conflict they are committed to each other.

Jonesy and Ben – Ben heals Jonesy, including his leg and unlike everyone else who has been terrified Jonesy is grateful. He laughs and runs and is like a child again. It’s a beautiful scene and we see him finally fully respecting Ben. This was one of my favorite scenes in the episode.

Ben – Ben sees Scudder trapped by Stroud and knows where they are but on the way stops and chooses to save Jonesy. The payoff is worth it. We see them grow together and Ben better understand the good he can do in his role. This episode captured his humanity really well.

This was a solid episode that I could not find anything wrong with. I’d highly recommend it, if only for the character moments. We see what characters’ core intentions are and the reasons they do what they do, and that says a lot for what makes the show so great.

Final Score: 10 / 10. A favorite.

Carnivale – Season 1, Episode 6 – “Pick a Number” – Haunted by Ghosts

Pick a number

“Pick a Number” continues where we left off in Babylon and explores the quest for just by the carnival as well as giving us more information about Scudder. It’s a powerful episode to complete the stay in Babylon.

The episode was written by Ronald Moore and directed by Rodrigo Garcia.

The story picks off with Ben still in the mine and transported back to World War 1 in the trenches where he runs into Scudder, Lodz and a Russian soldier. While this is going on a funeral is thrown for the dancer and Carnival Justice is sought against the last man in Babylon who confesses to the act. From here these stories unfold.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Tone – The tone is haunting and foreboding, as we learn the people who can the day before were all ghosts and that Babylon is a literal ghost town where the dead can never rest. The last image is of Dora Mae the dancer being pulled into the darkness of her rape in murder after Samson has completed justice against the last man in Babylon. The town’s horrors still live on forever.

Jonesy – Jonesy’s doubts are put a little to rest in this episode when Samson tells him that he trusts him and thought he was trusted in turn. Together with the rest they seek carnival justice against the accused and last man and bury Dora. Eventually Samson wins him over as we see him traveling with Samson at the end as they continue following Scudder.

Professor Lodz – We see he fought in World War 1 with Scudder and that there is more going on too. He tries once again to train and help Ben but is denied. We see his tender side during the funeral and his brutal side when he invites Ben to watch Carnival Justice.

Ben – Is a very lost character still. He seeks Scudder in the visions of the past, but won’t open up to the one person who can help him. He’s keeping himself isolated and I think that’s going to have a bad affect on him later.

Pastor Justin Crowe – Is in the burned out church and eventually realizes God isn’t there for him anymore and leaves to wander. To him his God is dead for letting the children die and the ones who are guilty still live. This is the most desolate we’ve seen him.

Samson – Samson shows why he is co-manager when after carnival justice (Russian roulette) leaves the man alive. He gets information about Scudder going south and Scudder’s killing and bringing the ghosts to this place. After that he kills the bartender, leaving the man in the Hell he never wanted to die in. He fulfills the justice the carnival couldn’t get during the trial. He really steps up in this episode and for all these reasons is able to put Jonesy’s fears to rest, at least for the moment.

The Funeral – The funeral is powerful, with singing and everyone gives a gift to Dora to honor her. It really is a great scene.

This episode was nearly perfect and one I’d recommend. My only issue is that it was hard to hear the important stuff sometimes because characters didn’t enunciate. But the power of what happens and how honoring someone good and killing someone bad are shown lend power to the actions of the carnival as a whole and to Samson as the leader we see.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

 

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 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.