Carnivale – Season 2, Episode 3 – “Ingram, TX” – Fruits of Corruption

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This was a really dark episode where some of the best moments were those with Ben and Sofie. This is surprising given how depressing most of their situations are, but we see how they are handling destiny and who they are at the core versus many of the monsters around them and in the world.

“Ingram, TX” was written by John J. McLaughlin and directed by John Patterson.

In this episode the carnival has been in Ingram, Texas for a week now as Ben continues searching for the next clue to finding Scudder. This leads him out of camp again where he finds himself captured in an abandoned area where The Crone is. Sofie is working as a laborer but the cards keep calling her back and Stumpy is working his wife to long stretches of the day and is oblivious to those around him. Norman, Justin’s adoptive father is also taken in in his trapped mental state by Justin and Iris. These are the stories that unfold.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Tone – The tone is dark and mysterious with a feeling of threatening pervading the whole episode. From the empty Crone’s home, to an old man offering his down syndrome daughter to sleep with, to Justin forcing his maid to give him a blow job in front his his adoptive father and the cards that Ben destroyed coming back to haunt Sofie. This is a powerful episode in tone and imagery.

Samson – Jonesy attempts to have Samson kick Sofie off to keep his men happy but Samson reminds him Jonesy is in charge of labor so that’s his thing, he’s not going to get involved. It was great seeing him stay out of peoples personal stuff.

Sofie – Sofie and Ben are becoming friends and they have some good moments together. From Ben destroying the Tarot Cards and keeping one that doesn’t burn that Sofie doesn’t know and when she wakes him up and they talk because she smells smoke. Her main dilemma is her facing of destiny as her Mother most likely is using the cards to bring her back into reading others’ fortunes.

Ben – Ben seeks the crone this episode after helping Sofie with healing. It is here an old man tries to prostitute his daughter but Ben holds him accountable and he promises never to do it again. He is later captured by a group at the Crones home who torture him until they see Scudder’s medal and when they learn that it’s his they say “She’s” been waiting for him.

The Cons: Justin – Justin went too dark after seeing glimmers of idealism be it fake or not it went too far having his maid give him a blow job and his sexually molesting her. I hated his character after this episode. He seems evil for the sake of evil, which just isn’t good when you have a character who started out so morally complex.

Stumpy – Stumpy is prostituting his wife non-stop and all about money. It implies gambling issues but this is getting out of hand. I never liked the character and he isn’t making himself likable in his blatant using of others.

This was a good but not great episode. I would have liked to meet the Crone and know if Sofie’s mom was communicating with her. The Crone’s home is haunting though, and the episode does keep the dark forbidding done consistently through the episode.

Final Score: 8.4 / 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 12 – “The Day That Was The Day” – A Matter of Choice and Destiny

Carnivale The Day that was the Day

“The Day That Was The Day” is the excellent finale to season 1 of “Carnivale.” Characters are forced to make choices that sets up the struggle of things to come and before making the choices they try to get out of making the choices, to skirt destiny. This episode also ties up the character dramas and answers one of the biggest questions about the nature of Scudder and the powers behind Ben and Justin.

“The Day That Was The Day” was directed by Rodrigo Garcia and written by Ronald Moore.

The story picks up where the last episode left off, with Stumpy confronting Rita about the affair, Sofie setting up a situation to get back at Jonesy and Libby for cheating, Ben approaching Lodz on how to bring back Ruthie who then brings him to management and Brother Justin talks to his adoptive father and shows his father his greatest sin leading him to ask him to prevent his destiny.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Sofie Drama – Sofie sets up a situation where she kisses and sleeps with Libby because she’s found feelings for her but she also has feelings for Jonesy so she bring Jonesy to the same place to get back at them both. Libby for knowing about Jonesy cheating with Rita and Jonesy for the act of cheating. Later Sofie’s mother tries to kill them both in a fire and Jonesy rushes into to save her for the final scene. We are left questioning what will come.

Brother Justin and his Adoptive Father and his Role – His adoptive father raised him as a Christian and after talking to Iris began researching into excorcism to help his son since his son’s power scared him so much. Later when they talk Justin transports him to the past to reveal his sin and the sin of his father was saving Justin. This leads to Justin begging to be killed by him, but when he can’t Justin’s eyes go black showing the full embracing of power and his role as the Avatar of destruction, Left Hand of God and Harbinger of the Apocalypse. The final scene after he makes a deal with Dolan to get his word out into the world is him doing an end times sermon.

Samson’s Warning – Samson warns Ben not to trust Management and Lodz and he’s right on both counts. He also cares about the carnival and tells Ben if he’s going to kill someone to help someone, it won’t be one of the Carnies. Samson is human and showed why he is one of my favorite characters in that scene. He was also right about Management since Management betrayed Lodz to make Ben use his power.

The Choice of Ben Hawkins – Ben continues to resist up until the end, he even gives his own life in the graveyard to bring back Ruthie, but Scudder who is a part of Ben (Ben is the Avatar) is not allowed to die. He almost kills a drunk but decides against it. Thinking he’s one and that he is not like Lodz and management he confronts Management only to have management reveal Lodz as the killer of Ruthie leading to Ben killing Lodz, which brings back Ruthie and solidifies Ben as the same as Management.

This was a great end to the series! It ties us back into the fight against the Avatars of Good and Evil, Light and Darkness and we see Ben and Justin becoming their roles in the fight to come. It is powerful but still leaves more open. I’m excited to see where season 2 takes everything, especially in regards to Justin. Lodz deserved to die but I’m still going to miss the bastard, he was a great character.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. Ronald Moore has once again written gold.

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.

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

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“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.

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

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“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