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 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

carnivale-almogordo

“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 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 4 – “Black Blizzard” – Power and Responsibility

Carnivale Black Blizzard     “Black Blizzard” is the episode of “Carnivale” that establishes a great world but also leaves questions open. Characters make choices or choose not to make choices and we are hinted at that this will have lasting consequences later. The main choice makers of this episode are Samson, Sofie, Justin Crowe, Ben and Jonesy.

The episode was written by William Schmidt and directed by Peter Medak.

The premise is Sofie goes into town to hook up and Lodz takes Ben out to train his abilities while Samson is entertaining a prostitute and leaves Jonesy when one of his workers visits, In all cases a giant dust storm hits keeping them trapped in their locations and having to make a choice.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Tone – The tone and feel of having to make a choice is really strong in this episode and the dust storm facilitates that drama really well. We learn more about characters…both the good and the bad about them, mostly the bad as fears override their better natures.

Professor Lodz – Brings Ben out to train him and we learn he gave up his sight to see the future, for what little power he has he was willing to sacrifice so much. He is able to convince Ben to stop the storm briefly, but when Ben gives into to fear and denies his power they are back where they started. He hasn’t given up yet though, since he knows trouble is coming in Babylon.

Ben – Doesn’t want the power and when he uses it, denies it. We see someone who wants to be normal more than anything else and wants to remain invisible. This is a shame since he could make such a difference but at this point cannot see beyond himself and he chooses that place.

Samson – Samson is revealed to be quite prideful and selfish. I still find the character compelling and if acts differently later may like him again, but he uses the prostitute he was entertaining profession against her when one his workers hooks up with her. He is shown to be quite low and wants to shame her because of how small he feels inside thinking they had something special…when they did, but he blows it with his small mindedness. She tells him at the end, not to come by again.

Jonesy – Is left in charge and protects them all from the storm really well, but uses the key to see the Manager but finds no one there. He doesn’t trust Samson after that and throws the keys at him. The mysterious Management still remains mysterious.

Sofie – Sofie goes into town and hooks up when given the chance. She feels nothing during it and regrets it later when she finds out the guy was married (she feels used) and that her mom nearly chocked on the dust without her there. She grows from the experience and we see just how human she is.

Pastor Crowe – Is told by his fellow pastor that he needs to go back to his old church or face termination. He says me must stay and we see he cares for the children and poor. Mysteriously his church gets burned and the children die in the fire. At the end he is devastated and I suspect it was the men who warned him they were going to tear down the neighborhood, his sister who says it happens in a blank voice or one of the pastors. How this changes things with him remains to be seen since he believes God wanted him to build the church and minister to the poor.

Okay: Samson’s motivation – We don’t really get why Samson was so cruel beyond jealousy, this was a shame as he is a dwarf and recognizing him facing prejudice towards him because of this would have gone a long way beyond him just looking like a prick.

This is a must see episode and nearly perfect. It gives us drama, dilemmas and we learn more about characters and their motivations. This is what makes a series great and why I am looking forward to where the series goes if this level of quality continues.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10