Mostly I have been watching season two of Carnivale.
Although the series did finish with something that could be a conclusion (at least it wasn’t a massive cliffhanger), there are still many unanswered questions. After perusing information gleaned from the pitch document, interviews and so on I feel a bit more satisfied, and have an inkling as to where the next four seasons would have gone. Stupid HBO for cancelling it after only two seasons. Despite this irritation I still have plenty to say about it, as evidenced by my scrawl-filled notebook:
Carnivale in general was just really well (and lushly) shot, it looked like a movie thanks to a huge budget- sadly that budget is probably what led to the show’s cancellation. It was worth it though I think, and I love the attention to detail- having major characters fraffling around in the background of scenes, such as Sofie digging her hole, as well as minor characters portrayed in great details, like the sword swallower. I’m by no means an expert on 1930s America, but I think that the sets, costumes, speech (‘jibber-jabber’ is a great word!) and so on were so beautifully detailed that it seemed perfectly realistic. The constant smoking made me crave a cigarette a little though. I really wish I knew a little more about carnivals- for example, surely a guess your weight challenge would be really easy if you know your weight, unless they’re fixed? If they are fixed, wouldn’t people who do know their weight protest about this? The opening credits were absolutely gorgeous too, dipping in and out of tarot cards. I was actually kind of sad that I was watching them for the last time when I got to the series finale!
I’ve become somewhat enamoured with small town America, I think Supernatural has a lot to answer for, so I was glad that Carnivale allowed me to further this little obsession. The troupe’s bitching (and Sofie’s especially virulent brand) about how boring Nebraska is made me laugh because the Americanos at work are constantly bringing up the point that there’s nothing in Nebraska because they are seriously puzzled as to why Hans spent a lot of time there.
There’s a reasonably high ick factor too, Justin dreaming of pulling off all his skin rated fairly highly for me. The scene involving people biting live snakes was also a tad gross, and I was a little remorseful about my choice to eat tomato sauce-soaked pasta at the time. There’s an episode of Buffy called ‘What’s My Line, Part 1’ which I honestly thought I was incapable of watching without a plate of spaghetti bolognese in my hand. It’s pretty much the only thing my father can cook which probably explains the frequency with which the two events coincided, but it wasn’t a happy coincidence- since that episode includes an exploding bug-man who kind of resembles bolognese.
Season two started with another of Samson’s speeches. This one claims that the Depression, the environmental ravages which created the Dust Bowl, rampant ill health and various other problems facing America in the 1930s were caused by the presence of evil incarnate in the country. I assume that later events are supposed to fall under this scope too- especially the ‘false Sun exploding over Trinity’ (the atomic bomb). It’s an interesting take (although by no means an uncommon one, since religious folk often seem keen to propagate these kind of notions), but this neatly sets up the idea of Justin as possibly being an extra-strength brand of evil. I don’t feel that the concept of Justin as the Usher, as something distinct from being the Avatar of Darkness, was explored enough but probably it would have been in later seasons.
Quickly the audience is taken back into the Carnivale action, where Jonesy ran into the fire (please imagine Martin Sheen as President Bartlett pausing meaningfully here) to save Sofie even after she arranged matters so that he’d find Libby and her in flagrante delicto purely to hurt him. You will note that she doesn’t even thank him for saving her life. I took this as early evidence of her evilness. Alright, I suppose she was a little distracted be hearing her mother’s death throes in her head but since Apollonia was the one who set them on fire in the first place, which Sofie can really only assume to have been an attempt at filicide, I wouldn’t think that she’d be all that upset about it.
Of course once it dawns on Sofie that she’s all alone she suddenly feels just terrible about hurting people! Despite the fact that it didn’t really happen long enough ago for her change of heart to seem at all convincing, and since she didn’t get a chance in that time to talk to Libby or Jonesyshe didn’t have an opportunity to realise how she’d hurt (either of) them.
I really don’t like Sofie most of the time. I wonder if I’ve ever taken such a great dislike to a relatively sympathetic fictional character? Probably. I hate Carrie in Sex and the City a lot of the time (and don’t even get me started on Aidan), and similarly could not stand Susan in Desperate Housewives. I really didn’t like Riley or Dawn much in Buffy either. Perhaps my venom towards Bernadette in the film version of The Jane Austen Book Club would also count? I do wonder if I would like Sofie more under different circumstances, because I do believe that different viewing conditions can lead to quite different opinions. I bet that I wouldn’t like A Hard Day’s Night anywhere near as much if I ever watched it when I wasn’t hungover, and I actually warm to Carrie if I’m in a despondent mood (but not a grumpy one). I think that I’d probably be more sympathetic towards Sofie if I’d been bereaved or betrayed recently, and sometimes I can understand where she’s coming from, it doesn’t stop me from getting annoyed by her most of the time…
At least Sofie’s bitchiness has some positive consequences, to start with the fact that I got to watch Libby flouncing around being all heartbroken and cute. I was excited from the very first suggestion of a bond forming between Libby and Jonesy in the wake of Sofie’s actions. It’s just so deliciously fucked up! Not only are they united by the fact that they were both obsessed with Sofie, Jonesy was having an illicit affair with Libby’s mother not so long ago. I couldn’t help laughing slightly at Jonesy’s sweet promise to keep Libby’s secret, telling her that what happened between her and Sofie will be just between the two of them, because it clearly isn’t a situation between just the two of them- Sofie is implicitly involved in their burgeoning relationship, and the spectre of Rita Sue is never far either. Jonesy certainly has a hard time getting Sofie out of his head, the scene in which he was staring at the baseball reminiscing about young Sofie whilst refraining from helping her even though she was clearly struggling was great, it managed to convey his hatred and bitterness very simply.
Minnie the Moocher is a great dancing song in and of itself, but it was also an excellent choice as the soundtrack to the shy yet overtly-sexual interaction between Libby and, a once again, sweaty and oily Jonesy. Rita Sue’s face when she walked in and saw Libby attempting to do her sexy dance at Jonesy was just so wonderfully pained, and some great interaction between the two women followed. I feel so bad for Rita Sue even though she is being so selfish. I somehow get the sense that she’s not just aching for herself though, she seems to be crying for Libby (for being brought up in this world) just as much as for herself.
Libby clearly feels very unloved and unlovable, which is hardly surprising considering that her life mostly consists of being sold by her father for gambling money. When she sees the “perfect” father who’s insistent that his children get to enjoy themselves as thoroughly as possible ‘riding and riding’ (said in a way that really reminded me of Juliette Lewis in Natural Born Killers by the way) she can’t help feeling despondent. However, I think that the way that she pouts and whines about it was obviously calculated, she’s clearly angling for attention from Jonesy. I love the fact that this ideal parent is later seen emerging from Rita Sue’s boudoir, I think that was a great little touch.
The moment when Libby and Jonesy finally start dancing together at the party was lovely. Jonesy isn’t much of a dancer due to his leg injury but he doesn’t even think of refusing to dance after he’s defended her from Burleigh. Their dancing is rubbish, but they seem very sweet together. However it’s clear from her face that Rita Sue’s heart is completely breaking as she watches them together. When Jonesy walks into the dance tent Libby uses it as another opportunity to flirt with him, there’s something about her flirtations having to occur whilst she’s dancing for a tent full of men that’s simply heartbreaking. Jonesy looks enraptured anyway, and they manage to sneak off and finally consummate their relationship. I think the sex scene was beautifully shot, and the imposing form of the carnival (forebodingly represented by the Ferris wheel) remains in frame. They were clearly pretty nervous, fumbling with their clothes, and Libby made my heart ache,
“Put it back there… I’ve never tried. I don’t want you going where the Johnnies go. I want it to be special.”
Libby and Jonesy end up drunkenly getting married soon after, which was actually just fanfuckingtastic. As was the fact that when Jonesy wanted to rush back because he didn’t want to keep the boys waiting, Libby echoed this same sentiment without thinking. She woke up gasping the next morning when she saw the ring, as if she’d just woken up from a nightmare. Rita Sue’s response wasn’t all that different actually- she seemed completely gobsmacked.
I could kind of understand why Jonesy was asking Libby to cover herself up, since she is pretty much half-nekkid most of the time, and it seemed as if he was trying to explain to her that her body (and by extension herself) shouldn’t be considered worthless. However, he really can just fuck off with his moralising tone, as she promptly told him to- and she definitely hit below the belt by comparing him unfavourably to Felix. She’s wonderfully catty a lot of the time. This kind of marital discord theme continues with Libby getting really annoyed with Jonesy’s snoring. This incredibly domestic scene is interrupted by them getting kidnapped by the angry relatives of the victims of the accident with the Ferris wheel. The contrast between them lying in bed and Jonesy being beaten up by men who’ve been driven mad by grief and forcing Libby to watch was terrifying enough, but it gets much, much worse as they proceed to cover him, and even fill his mouth, with hot tar. I was doing my starey face of despair and pouting at the screen, hoping that the show wouldn’t kill Jonesy off but also thinking that it would be a great twist if they did.
When the scene opened on Libby in distress next to Jonesy’s charred body I was certain that he was dead, but it turned out that he was somehow still alive in utter agony. It made Felix’s comment that he was off getting sunburned seem horribly ironic, especially as they were in fact stuck in the middle of nowhere under a blazing sun. Libby had no way to help him, she tried to pull the tar away from his skin but merely succeeded in almost pulling some of his skin off. So she just tearily promised anything she could offer- to stop dancing, to do anything he wants- if he just please won’t die. Then the camera pans out and reveals that he’s actually in even more pain, since he’s also bound. Libby’s relief at the sight of a car is tangible, as is her fear that it won’t stop. When she realises that it’s Hawkins in the car she seems overjoyed and hugs him tightly, revealing her tar/blood stained once pretty dress. Hawkins is able to save Jonesy(and thankfully Libby obeys him and gets out of range so it doesn’t end tragically as it very well could have), and it turns out that getting tarred and feathered and almost dying is not only a great way to fix a marriage but also a quick way to get Jonesy looking all hot and oily (or rather tarry) again.
Hawkins swears them to secrecy about these events so Jonesy insists that he and Libby don’t tell everyone that they were attacked by crazy people (which could conceivably be twisted into a non-fatal situation) but that they got drunk and arrested, because that sounds much better. Jonesy then decides to accompany Hawkins on his mission for convoluted presumably plot-driven reasons, and leaves poor Libby desolate and alone, and desperate to go along with them.
I really like the cootch family storyline, not only does it allow some light relief compared to much of the show because they’re not particularly involved in the overarching good vs. evil storyline so they’re easier to identify with (I can’t imagine Justin, Management, Hawkins and Scudder playing silly thinking games on the road for example). They’re also deeply interesting, engaging characters in their own right too. Felix really does swear very well when angry, it’s most entertaining (I especially like him telling people to watch their mouths and then calling them a piece of shit). I really loved the little scene in which Rita Sue was ‘beering’ herself up, and her embarrassment about doing that of all things in front of her husband (whilst she has no problem with stripping in front of a room full of strangers) was adorable. I also loved that she was outraged at the idea of stripping (or even ‘just’ dancing) for kids, and her indignant “You been drinking wood alcohol again?” to Felix had me giggling. Felix’s response was gold too: “Don’t demean what I do!”, rather than even a plea to not demean what she does (it kind of reminded me of Dean’s equally ridiculous “Don’t objectify me!” response to Bela’s suggestion of angry sex in Supernatural). Felix went on to explain that he doesn’t do anything so crass as to peddle flesh, he sells dreams, but Rita Sue never seems to buy a word of what Felix says. It’s a good thing too since he talks a lot of nonsense, he’s not really the greatest liar though especially when he brackets statements with ‘sometimes’s, that always points to lies. (Unless it’s Sometimes You Have To Work on Christmas (Sometimes)). Samson’s admonishment that “You could put a church dress and a bonnet on Rita Sue and it ain’t gonna be clean. Matter of fact it might even be dirtier!” made me laugh, it’s definitely true.
Felix’s idea of the ‘lunch box’ was seriously grubby, although props for the terrible punning in the name. He’s very funny, especially with his faux-business speak; arguing that they need to manifest their diversity (beyond stripping and prostitution). No matter how likeable he seems he is in fact at this point selling his wife (and, to a lesser extent, his daughter) for gambling money which just isn’t cool. I did love the fact that when Libby offers to do ‘the lunch counter’ (how she’s so innocent as to not understand the name is something of a mystery) he takes one look at her sweet, open face (with the impossibly wide eyes) and promptly decides that it was a very bad idea. I honestly don’t think that she made the offer like that as a ploy to get him to drop the suggestion, I think that she’s just so lonely at this point (and missing Sofie so much) that she doesn’t really care.
Felix’s excitement about the Lewis match was infectious, he’s so likeable that it’s easy to overlook his terrible behaviour and blatant racism (the term ‘eight ball’ had me confused for a little while). It’s hard not to like someone who tells Osgood that he’s really got the corner on stupid though. It was kind of nice to know the outcome of the match, and know that Osgood and Hawkins would be given a chance to laugh at Felix later, and the show seemed to be making the point (a little too loudly) that making racist comments will lead to losing all your money. It made me think that perhaps this was all a fake out and Felix was trying to find a way to convince everyone to bet that Lewis would lose so he could take their money. So when he made his little speech to Rita Sue at the end of the episode claiming that he had bet on Lewis (and that he didn’t care what colour a boxer was) I almost believed him and was getting very excited. However it just didn’t add up, after all he had clearly been upset by the outcome of the fight, and was muttering about the fact that he shouldn’t have bet on a Hebe. Burleigh and the other rousties thinking that Felix is a bit of a prat was vindicating to an extent after that, but since they’re hardly any better it isn’t all that satisfying!
I loved the way that Rita Sue used sex as a weapon entirely self-consciously to get Felix to admit to her how much he owes in gambling debts. However, she’s clearly an idiot. I don’t understand why she’d give him all her money (yes she should have her head examined), since it clearly isn’t something that would go well. I can forgive it though, because it leads to the wonderful image of a man fucking a whore (we’ll leave aside the fact that she’s his wife for the moment), whilst stuffing her freely given money into his pocket. Felix continues to lie about the outcome to Rita Sue (claiming that he used all her money to bet on Lewis winning the fight), but she’s clearly not buying it and is just so bitingly sarcastic towards him.
I’m not entirely sure why Rita Sue had a load of alligator trivia at her disposal, but it was just so randomly wonderful and further proof of her extreme awesomeness. In desperation she pushes her goading of Felix to extremes to get him to admit that he lost all their money and starts giving away all their belongings, and then completely incongruously throws even more alligator facts into her tirade. Felix really doesn’t deserve anyone this great, he’s as amusing as hell but he’s not a very good husband, father or friend. I could understand his rage at Jonesy (Jonesy’s affair with Rita Sue did damage their family life considerably) but attacking him for dancing with Libby simply wasn’t acceptable- especially since he valiantly pronounces that his little girl ain’t for sale. There’s a certain level of hypocrisy which even I’m uncomfortable with. It’s pretty obvious that Jonesy’s a complete sap and has feelings for Libby as well, he clearly isn’t trying to negotiate an hour or two with her. Also attacking a man with a leg brace hardly seems fair, although I can’t imagine Felix being overly concerned with that point.
Libby and Rita Sue’s relationship continued to be fraught, and they had a brilliant layered discussion when Rita Sue was trying to co-ordinate their mirror dance. It’s true that Libby to an extent is a mirror of Rita Sue, she’s been brought up to emulate her mother and even bleached her hair. Her taste in men is clearly reminiscent of her mother’s too since they’re both attracted to Jonesy. She is adamant that she isn’t merely Rita Sue’s doppelganger though, and in fact defiantly breaks out of the routine in order to show off when Jonesy drops into the tent. I think the costume choice was purposefully something which didn’t particularly suit Rita Sue as well, which added to her embarrassment (also only wearing one stocking and one glove looks stupid no matter how gorgeous you are). Rita Sue seemed incredibly pissed off, to the point that she even pointed out Jonesy’s presence to Felix which could result in violence quite easily.
I think that Felix may have achieved a new low in attempting to pay for his dental surgery with an offer of ogling Rita Sue. Rita Sue was disgusted with him for that, but when Bud turns up to collect the money that Felix owes him she’s suddenly quite happy to use her wiles. She was wonderfully calm and collected- telling Felix to just shut up and giving Bud permission to slap him around if he felt like it, but to talk to her about serious things instead. With a tilt of her head and a flutter of her eyelashes she attempts to reason with him by pointing out that there’s a Depression on (just in case it had somehow escaped his attention). Bud’s rejection followed by Libby’s marriage to Jonesy probably didn’t do a lot for Rita Sue’s self-esteem. I do really think that although she is clearly feeling sad for herself, since she loved Jonesy and it obviously hurts to see her daughter with him, she is also sad for Libby since she wanted better for her than one of stripping and prostituting herself and then marrying a roustie and settling in the carnival for life. I seriously loved every minute of the loaded interaction between mother and daughter, and it was a great contrast to Felix’s reaction to the marriage which mostly seemed to be regret at the fact that the show would be losing a dancer.
I’m glad that Rita Sue retained the ability to intimidate Jonesy even after all of this, and that she remains tightly controlled- making the situation about important issues such as money and the concept of family, rather than giving into her anguish. Libby is totally awesome too (she’s more like her mother than she realises or would like to admit), and has the power to shut Felix up completely. Libby managed to make it abundantly clear that she wasn’t going to let anyone walk all over her or decide what she will do (as if she’s livestock of some kind), be they a parent or her husband. She decrees that she will carry on dancing (with caveats) but not prostitution until they have enough money to pay off Felix’s debts and ‘if any of y’all don’t like it you can take a flying fuck at the man in the moon!’. The response to this outburst is predictably stunned silence, but then Felix attempts to smooth things over by pointing out that there’s pie. You’d really think that Supernatural would have been able to put me off pie by filling it with negative associations, but dammit I always want pie.
I took a strong dislike to Burleigh, but I loved that Rita Sue refused to show him that he intimidated her. The fact that he was trying to negotiate sex with her whilst she was sewing of all things just made it seem even more out of place and ridiculous. Burleigh is pretty easy to hate, he’s clearly a lummox- misunderstanding ‘rhetorical’ as ‘retardical’, for example. The scene where Rita Sue ended up shakily aiming a gun at Felix whom she thought was Burleigh revealed how much he had actually intimidated her however. I was immediately convinced that Burleigh would soon start harassing Libby, and that it would be a very bad idea for him to do so. I was very glad when Jonesy jumped to Libby’s defence at the party and punched Burleigh out since he totally had it coming. Once Jonesy and Libby get married Burleigh is incredibly rude about Jonesy being attracted to her, which seems to smack of hypocrisy somewhat. Burleigh continues to try and be insulting by growling that he doesn’t fuck whores, but Libby responds sharply that that’s only because they refuse to service him.
Even though Libby promised Jonesy and Hawkins that she’d keep Hawkins’ healing powers a secret she caves and tells her mother the truth about what happened in the wake of Rita Sue’s taunts about her missing husband, her jibes are pretty low- she calls him a cripple and says he wasn’t that good in bed anyway. It doesn’t matter though because Rita Sue doesn’t believe her, and for some reason goes blabbing to Lilah. Lilah is really insincere as soon as she’s got the information about Hawkins which could help her get Lodz, merely blandly assuring Rita Sue that she was a good mother. Rita Sue is also pretty cruel to Libby later, saying that Jonesy probably found a nice, decent girl who doesn’t strip for a living. This really smarts because it’s hardly as if Libby chose this lifestyle.
Rita Sue gets incredibly stressed at Samson for dragging them to New Canaan since her show can hardly do much in a religious town and she’s desperate to make money so that they can pay off Felix’s gambling debts. They have been forced to play in a religious town beforehand, where they ended up doing a Revival act, but that wasn’t quite the same- the carnival didn’t set its sights on an obviously devout settlement in that case. I love the interaction between Rita Sue and Samson- Rita Sue generally displays unwavering loyalty to Samson unlike many of the others, but she feels unable to follow him in this case.
Sofie also eventually gets some interesting character development too, and I think that Clea DuVall is a great actress (FYI she played the invisible girl Marcie in the Buffy episode ‘Out of Mind, Out of Sight’, and the fact that she managed to give a memorable appearance in such a role speaks volumes I should think). I wasn’t surprised that Hawkins was the one who found her when she went a-wandering, as it echoed her looking after him in the beginning of the series. Most of her interaction with Hawkins made me like her a little more too actually, she just tended to act a lot nicer around him. I really liked the idea of Sofie becoming a roustie, and her determination to actually do something made me like her, at least briefly. I just like her attitude- that digging a pointless hole beats curling up and dying, and wanting to work so hard that there’s nothing left of her but the work. I was getting all ready to laugh my arse off at Sofie killing someone with a dropped screwdriver, sadly however that moment never came. I think that the importance of the Ferris wheel and the (im)possibility of it breaking down was set up well though.
The Rousties are real bastards to Sofie. Whilst I can definitely see where they’re coming from (come on, I hate the bitch) I do think that they ought to be a little nicer to her- after all her mother did just die. Even the one guy who bet that she would last out and finish digging the hole turned against her. Although Sofie is adamant that she won’t go back to reading people’s fortunes tarot cards keep appearing everywhere. Nobody seems too concerned as to where they keep appearing from, it isn’t really the most mysterious thing that happens but I would expect a little puzzlement. When Sofie eventually agrees to read Hawkins’ fortune for him Apollonia appears to her again (which was very freaky, especially with her strangely deep voice) and tells her that Sofie was always the one who read the cards. I’d kind of suspected that Sofie did have psychic abilities of her own, rather than just a telepathic link with her mute mother, but I’m not sure why she wasn’t aware of this. Apollonia’s haunting of Sofie is very eerie, perhaps because you get the sense of Sofie’s desperation- she truly cannot escape her mother. The moment when she appeared in Sofie’s bed was honestly terrifying.
The fact that Management is revealed to be tangible (there’s an arm, I saw it!) early in season two was interesting, especially in terms of furthering the plot, but quickly made him seem less creepy. The fact that his voice also seemed less spooky and more wheedling (I wasn’t aware that he was voiced by a woman though) also added to this. However, the reason for this clicked into place in later episodes, it wasn’t an oversight but a shift towards the revelation that Management was actually a dying man and an Avatar of light (and therefore not to be feared). His face was even eventually shown, which would have been rubbish if he was supposed to be maintaining his mysterious identity, but by that point he seemed more like a sympathetic character.
I was very glad to see that Management and Samson were still on good terms (and I love Samson referring to Management as ‘(the) Man’). Management had pulled a fake out by pretending to be all chummy with Lodz (whose name I still think ought to be pronounced ‘Wudj’) and humiliated Samson by kicking him out of his trailer. However this was all just a ploy to get Hawkins to kill Lodz. Whilst that isn’t necessarily cause for happiness, it’s nice to know (or at least assume) that Samson was in on it the whole time, and that they maintained a good relationship. The idea of them being on the outs with each other was a little jarring since Samson does seem to make a good right hand man for Management, especially as he’s incredibly knowledgeable about everything (although possibly that’s a role that he only fulfils entirely when he’s monolouging in season premieres). That’s a neat little twist that wouldn’t have ever been realised had the show been cancelled after the first season, and although by the end of the second season there are plenty of hints as to where the show would have gone it’s still incredibly frustrating to know that there would have been all sorts of twists and turns that are probably never going to be realised. I still want to know what Inara’s not-suicide kit in Firefly was too!
The death of Lodz does show that Hawkins has already acclimatised to the Carnie way of life and various customs. For example when he buries Lodz he leaves something with the body, having learnt this from Dora Mae’s beautiful funeral when everyone present left something precious of theirs with her body. It’s also clear that he understands what Samson means when he says that he’ll be the one to ‘pick a number’ (for Carnie justice!) for Lodz’ murder. Samson is completely rubbish at covering up the Lodz situation, it’s comical but I have to assume that it comes from his anger because otherwise it seems very out of character. When instructing everyone to search for the missing Sofie he doesn’t cover his tracks and tell people, at least cursorily, to keep an eye out for Lodz too. This raises Lilah’s ire and makes her suspicious of him. A lot of the time I don’t really like Lilah, but here I can find some sympathy for her (even though to be honest she’s probably better off without Lodz). Plus I like her pretty dresses.
I loved all the Ruthie/Hawkins interaction, and not just because I really love Ruthie. It was a wonderful commentary on talking at cross-purposes. Ruthie thought that they were having a nice, sweet moment thanking him for ‘looking after her’, whereas the audience is aware that Hawkins is actually fretting about murdering Lodz for Ruthie’s life. I was hoping that some sinning would commence after this nattering, but sadly I was disappointed. Nick Stahl also managed to look good all sweaty and oily in that scene too, I’m wondering if this is a fact that applies to all men? It probably does when you consider that Nick Stahl isn’t particularly attractive with his squished monkey face. He does get some awesome ripped dungarees though, I really want some, as well as some suspenders and Rita Sue’s tailor. I’m glad that Ruthie at least had some comfort from Samson (who really is such a sweetie even if he tries to hide it) about her situation with Hawkins. I did think that Ruthie was being a bit of an idiot for starting doing her show again after almost dying from a snakebite, and I clearly had a point since she was almost strangled by one of her snakes shortly afterwards.
Strangely enough Hawkins started to get pretty skittish when Ruthie was talking to him about death. He’s incredibly transparent most of the time, and simply an awful liar. He hardly seems like the type of person you’d want the fate of the world to depend on. I mean he’s clearly an idiot half of the time, apparently not possessing common sense, a knowledge of any basic fables or fairy tales or even a working memory. I imagine that any pudgy toddler could tell him that if a creepy old guy accompanied by a disturbing little girl demands that you get out of your truck for whatever reason, you shouldn’t do so. Nonetheless I do love Hawkins, and he just manages to be this strong moral force, like in this instance when he makes the old man promise not to sell the young ‘retarded’ girl (who one assumes is his granddaughter) for sex anymore, and you really believe in the old man’s remorse here. Coming into contact with Hawkins somehow has this effect on people. It reminded me of the time when Hawkins forced the freaky mechanic to fix the Oakie’s truck and stop being such a bastard to them (without letting them sell their family heirloom to him for practically nothing), even though it was Samson’s money that he was using to do so and it would take him ages to be able to pay him back for this. Some things are just important. It’s a good parallel, especially because that also occurred in the wake of Hawkins being an idiot- not realising that people who smile too much at you and pepper their speech with endearments or ‘son’s are clearly out to fuck you over.
Presumably due to Hawkins killing Lodz to save Ruthie, she starts being possessed by him. It’s something that seemed unlikely to end in puppies and rainbows even from the beginning. Her new (occassional) psychic abilities and attempts to interact with Sofie made me think that perhaps she was going to become the new Apollonia to Sofie, but I think that the powers were just a result of the transformation and/or manifestations of Lodz’s powers. Even when not possessed by Lodz she has some powers, for example being able to see dead people, but when this happens she sees them as live people so she gets very confused by this power. She starts to think that she’s going mad- well I’d imagine that dying will do that to a person. I loved that Samson’s response to her despair is trying to organise a show for the carnival with it. It turns out that the reason she’s freaking out is that she thinks that she had a vision of Scudder (whereas she really did see him and he is alive), and she really can’t cope with the idea that ghosts have cars.
When Hawkins goes off in search of ‘the crone’ Krohn (did I mention that I love homonyms?) it was fairly evident that it wasn’t going to go well. I mean Ben Hawkins in close proximity to a crazy old woman who likes to attack dolls? He exhibited some pretty stunning idiocy rather quickly- worrying about setting off a cacophony when he’d just been screaming for attention and was in fact in the middle of shouting his credentials at the top of his voice (i.e. the fact that he’s neither the law nor a poacher). He then gets so freaked out that he runs off into the unfamiliar woods in the dark, and manages to get kidnapped by some proper hicks, who come complete with monkeys and a whipping fetish. They were even drinking moonshine out of jam jars, they were truly awesome. In a surprise twist the hicks end up saving Hawkins (by unburying him) once they find Scudder’s trinket which he had on him, I love their response to the discovery too- they’re very, very freaked out. They had reason to be I suppose, since Emma Krohn the crone sews Lee’s mouth up as punishment (which really has to be one of the best crazy old lady punishments ever).
It was an interesting twist that she turned out to be Hawkins’ grandmother, which in turn made his hick tormenters his assorted relatives. She also turned out to be much blinder than even Lodz what with being completely eyeless. She seemed relatively benign at first, Hawkins was getting on reasonably well with her and was sweetly leading her down the stairs to the shock of everyone else (understandable since the last person who came down those stairs was Lee who came down at a gallop in terror because his lips had been sewn together). She quickly displays an unpleasant temperament however, although really one ought to expect that when making the mistake of interrupting the ramblings of crazy old folk. It becomes clear that she’s actually very dangerous and insane when she attempts to stab Hawkins after he accidentally drops his father’s ‘death’ mask. She can’t actually do it, it isn’t obvious whether she’s stopped by an outside force or if she just can’t bring herself to do it- although my bet would be on the former. She ends up giving him the knife, but really Hawkins is far too trusting- despite his misgivings he closes his eyes when she asks him to (and nearly gets stabbed for his pains).
It also transpires that she was the one who killed her husband and her other children (no wonder she didn’t want to talk about it) and clawed her eyes out. I told you she was creepy. Hawkins being disparaging about his hick relatives seemed a bit hypocritical, alright he doesn’t seem to have a penchant for kidnapping or monkeys particularly but he’s a total hick (and plenty of the Carnivale crew refer to him as such). They tell Hawkins that he’s always welcome to come back since there’s always room for kin at the table, and strangely this doesn’t appear to be a joke. What they think could induce him to voluntarily spend time with this lot escapes me, and apparently Hawkins. I think he’s probably especially pissed off since they ruined his one good t-shirt, and he has to go around wearing a stabbed, bloody top for a while. By the next episode it got replaced, but I don’t think that that would be particularly unlikely to actually happen so I’m not considering it an error. Thankfully they didn’t hurt his dungarees.
Hawkins’ next stop on his hunt for Scudder is the disturbing man who made Scudder’s death mask. He managed to endear himself to me slightly by insisting that there’s always time for hot cider and good company. His creepiness shone through though, especially due to his obsession with children (especially dead ones) and dolls, as well as the fact that he sounded worryingly like the paedophile from Family Guy. I knew that Scudder was blatantly still alive, and I’m not sure why Krohn told Hawkins that he was dead. I suppose she might have just done it to be cruel, and anyway she was insane. It also seems plausible that she really did think he was dead, which would explain why Scudder wanted the mask created in the first place (especially since she’d appreciate something she could feel rather than need to see). I did wonder if perhaps Scudder was holed up at another carnival since that would provide quite a good way of hiding oneself simply because it allows people to move around the country swiftly and constantly, without them having to cough up the money for doing so.
The way that the mask maker told Ben that he has a very interesting face seemed to smack of a creepy obsessiveness. His description was fairly accurate however, Nick Stahl does have an interesting face and sunken eyes. Despite this guy’s weirdness I really think that Hawkins ought to attempt to display some social skills, rather than just bellowing at him to do what he wants right now. The fact that Hawkins seems oblivious to the fact that he’s been drugged is further evidence of his idiocy. The mask maker’s own mask stuck in a weird expression was priceless, and I loved grumpy drugged Hawkins headbutting him, as well as the fact that he had more concern for Hawkins’ ‘interesting’ face than his own safety. I do feel that pouring plaster all over someone’s face might stop them breathing or possibly blind them though.
This is possibly (but probably not) explained by the suggestion that it was all a dream. Hawkins vainly tries to find proof of the ordeal but he cannot, and the mild mannered man is reasonably convincing in his bewilderment. Many weird events (especially if they occur at the beginning of an episode) often turn out to be Hawkins’ (or possibly Justin’s) dreams, but they’re also often prophetic. I was really hoping that it had actually happened, and that there was a secret workshop hidden somewhere, which seemed reasonably likely when it was revealed that Justin’s broadcast had influence here. The surrealism and uncertainty of the whole thing were brilliant. When Justin received a box at the end of this episode I was pretty sure I knew what it would contain. Not a dick in a box, but a hick- or at least a mask of his face. In fact it was even better, Hawkins’ mask somehow had a link with Hawkins’ eyes allowing Justin to see through them which definitely suggests that the mask making escapades did really happen. Justin ends up breaking the mask, which links him with Hawkins really since he broke Scudder’s mask pretty recently too. Hawkins’ mask started bleeding when it fell apart though, which was different. Maybe this was an homage to his brilliance, which results in wonderful lines such as “Hawkins, quit your gawkin’!” getting said.
Once Hawkins returns to the carnival he proves once again that he just isn’t all that bright. Stroud posing as a Sheriff informs him that the carnival is closed, so he bums around with Stroud for literally all of two seconds in an attempt to show that he isn’t working at the carnival. He then screws it up entirely by wandering on into the carnival before Stroud has gone, which makes him incredibly suspicious of course.
The interaction between Hawkins and Sofie didn’t annoy me particularly since they are quite sweet together. However Samson really didn’t seem impressed when he witnessed Sofie kissing Hawkins’ cheek and there’s a real sense that things starting up between them probably wouldn’t go too well. Samson tries to convince Hawkins of this, using the argument that if they get involved it’s going to end up sucking for her since Hawkins is almost certainly going to die soon. He demands that Hawkins stop being so bloody selfish. Although I suppose he does have a point I think that he could be a little nicer to Hawkins, and anyway that line of argument seems more likely to get Hawkins running for comfort while he can still get it! Sofie finally agreeing to read the cards for Hawkins brought the welcome return of Sofie’s sexin’ visions, this time featuring Sofie and Hawkins. Although he claimed that he wasn’t privy to this vision I’m pretty sure that he was lying.
The desert-based visions were well-shot, and reminded me a little of the White Room idea that was used in Angel. I didn’t really put together all the desert-based visions with the ‘false Sun’ of the atomic bombs until I read about it. Perhaps this would have been made more explicit in later seasons, for people like me who hadn’t even heard of the town of Trinity. Certainly when I watch Carnivale there’s one show that I end up thinking of quite a lot- Pushing Daisies. Whilst I do like that show a lot I have to acknowledge that it really does seem to be ripping off Ben Hawkins’ storyline- i.e. having the power to bring people back from the dead but causing others to die by doing so. Certainly Pushing Daisies pursues this in a much more fun and fluffy way, but I think that in the end the drama and despair of Carnivale is much more satisfying, and I’m worried that I’m now not going to be able to enjoy Pushing Daisies as much anymore.
Like Ned from Pushing Daisies Hawkins doesn’t know why he has these abilities. He seems far more wary of them then Ned though, possibly because he never got the opportunity to save his mother who warded him off, and because he hasn’t worked out how to make money from saving people unless it involves an annoying Christian Revivalist tent. He’s also plagued by people pushing and pulling him in different directions regarding his powers, and horrific nightmares. This leads to him being far more of a reluctant hero than even Ned, although I think painting him as the most reluctant hero is a little unfair. There’s always ridiculously lazy bastards like me after all.
The card reading and subsequent vision seems to have drawn them closer together, Hawkins doesn’t seem particularly surprised to find Sofie in his van. I suppose this could also be evidence of his general dimness as well though, he doesn’t really show any concern about the fact that a distressed woman has turned up unannounced nor does he do anything appropriately soothing. I did actually feel kind of bad for Sofie, since Hawkins couldn’t adequately explain to her why he couldn’t just leave everyone else behind and disappear with her- although that still presents no reason as to why she couldn’t run off anyway. They get to bond over their Daddy issues, and I loved the point blank way Sofie says that if she ever meets her father she’d cut him down dead for raping her mother. Hawkins manages to actually get around to being vaguely comforting and is really sweet to her, assuring her that nobody could hate her (I forgive him for this blatant lie) and goes around calling her “Sof”, unconsciously mimicking Jonesy.
The fact that Sofie and Hawkins get on well enough for Sofie to want Hawkins to run away with her makes sense, because neither of them fits into the carnival way of life properly. Hawkins is a newbie and Sofie later reveals that she wasn’t born into this way of life either. They both seem a little too normal, I suppose making them doubly liminal- they are clearly different to the people in the towns that they visit who are enchanted by the carnival but often fear and hate the people who bring it to them. Sofie’s place within the troupe was relatively secure when she had a place reading people’s fortunes with her mother’s help, but with her mother’s death Sofie doesn’t know what to do with herself and feels increasingly isolated (unsurprising since she chased away her two best friends). She attempted to become a roustie, but she really sucked at it. Hawkins is seen as too normal and dopey by a lot of the Carnivale folk; he is grudgingly accepted but he doesn’t quite fit in properly. This is deeply ironic since Hawkins and Sofie both possess mystical powers greater than those of anyone else around (except possibly Management)- although their abilities certainly would be unlikely to connote acceptance, under any analysis they are different from pretty much everyone else. I suppose it is the awareness (in Hawkins case) and suggestion (for Sofie) of these powers which makes them separate themselves off from the others more and more, and leads them to find solace in each other.
Since Sofie seems to become instantly likable and vibrant around Hawkins I really enjoyed this storyline, and felt much kinder towards Sofie for a brief while. The fact that she was constantly being set upon by visions of Apollonia and others, such as a freaky little girl, who I think may have been channelling Apollonia made me feel kind of sorry for her too. Sofie seems almost sweet when she’s wandering around barefoot looking traumatised by a small child with her horrible little doll (Carnivale may have succeeded in giving me a phobia of dolls), and the repetition of the phrase ‘every prophet in her house’ was mystifying but certainly created a sense of foreboding. The connection with the dolls and so on made me wonder if Apollonia was related to Emma Krohn somehow, it wouldn’t have really surprised me if Hawkins and Sofie had turned out to be siblings. However, the wacky incest quotient was to be filled in other ways- whilst Hawkins and Sofie must have been related somehow through his great-great-possibly some more greats-grandparents it isn’t really close enough to be shocking.
Once again Sofie claims that she’s leaving the carnival. I was suspicious since we’ve definitely heard that song before, and getting rid of an annoying character (even though she wasn’t being too bad at that moment) seemed like too much to hope for. Sofie manages to fit in a good bit of fun first anyway, despite her attempts to fight it. Hawkins eventually drags her out of the van to have their only little private dance, ‘I ain’t no Fred Astaire but I like this song!’, and despite the fact that they’re all fumbles and awkwardness they seem to enjoy themselves. I seriously cherish a decent dancing partner who’ll make a bit of an effort to dance, even if they aren’t particularly brilliant at it. Then they eventually kiss! I knew the game they were playing even if they weren’t aware of it- psychic chicken. Since they’re both ‘special children’ it was only a matter of time before one of them had a vision and started screaming. Sofie won, or I suppose lost, since she was afflicted first. Hawkins, sensitive as ever, told her that she’d just gone slightly insane since the fire and shouldn’t worry about it. Obviously his visions are bonda fide, but hers are the delusions of a crazy woman.
Hawkins and Sofie end up reminiscing about the (not all that) old days and snuggling, which was really adorable. The scene took a turn for the hot surprisingly fast, and I discovered that Nick Stahl actually has a rather attractive back. Their sex scene was wonderfully intercut with Jonesy and Felix’s mud fight, which leant a touch of the surreal to the proceedings but also made things seem even more frantic and corporeal. The fact that Sofie’s orgasms apparently have the power to affect the weather and bring much-needed rain seemed pretty ridiculous (wasn’t there a hammy X-Files episode with a woman whose emotions changed the weather?). Later events reveal that she’s the Omega, and the idea that two powerful forces coming together cause this level of tempestuousness does make sense. Hawkins was surprisingly coherent mid-coitus, perhaps that somehow makes up for his general lack of sense. Jonesy stumbling into them after his fight and their sexploits must have hurt him somewhat, even if his attentions have now shifted towards Libby. I loved the scene of Sofie frolicking in the rain afterwards, and I’m glad that they at least got to have some happiness. It’s nice that Hawkins got over his fear and hatred of sex pretty quickly.
After all of this though Hawkins finally decides to set out alone, as it really seemed that he was going to have to do for quite a while. This also allowed the format of the show to change somewhat which I think can only be a good thing. Just when the two major storylines (Hawkins’ and Justin’s) seem close to converging, the show is split into different storylines- Hawkins’, Justin’s and the carnival’s. Even a really good show can start to become stale if it consistently seems to be doing the same things- even if they are interesting and disjointing techniques. It’s always nice to see a show experiment with that, even if it doesn’t always work perfectly like with season 6 of Buffy, and to constantly throw the audience off-kilter by playing with expectations (I think Weeds does this well for example). The fact that he didn’t even wake Sofie up to say goodbye was lame and cliché beyond belief though. Of course this leads to her disappearing off all by herself (as she had said she would) and Hawkins not knowing that she’s off in the big wide world all alone. If he’d at least said goodbye and explained in even the most vague terms what he was doing she might well have agreed to wait at the carnival for his return, or they could have made alternative plans to meet. I think that Samson was a bit unfair to Jonesy in the wake of Sofie’s disappearance, whilst I do think that Jonesy could have been nicer to her I can understand his anger towards her and I don’t think that he was responsible for her choice to leave. I also really didn’t think that the show suffered from the lack of her while she was (briefly) absent.
The meeting with the other carnival, The Daily Brothers, was interesting. They suddenly seemed so exotic and different, after being acclimatised to the Carnivale troupe. They didn’t appear to actually be lousy with midgets, but they did have an elephant! The elephant was excellent in and of itself, but the scene where a drunk Felix stumbled off to pee and then discovered that the elephant was next to him was comically brilliant. I think if that had happened to me I would have run off screaming. Suddenly there was double the carnie fun- I especially liked Bree Walker as Sabina as well as her rubbish “transvestite” husband Bert (with probably the worst costume ever). Sabina’s eloctrodactyly more than made up for Hawkins’ loss of the lobster gal, and the fact that she used to be married to Samson was intriguing.
Charlie Lewis (I think the first black carnie on the show?) seemed really fun too (especially when laughing at Burleigh or perving on Lilah), although he disappeared off very quickly. It was nice that Carnivale took these others in, I suppose Samson felt a little responsible after all since it was possibly his taunting of Stroud which led to the fire at The Daily Brothers carnival. The fact that the Carnivale characters started hanging out with their Daily Brothers counterparts was fun and believable, I especially liked Lilah getting stoned with a gaggle of women and swapping beard gossip.
Sabina perving over Samson was pretty funny, as was their gropefest. It took on a new significance when it was revealed that she was doing it under Management’s orders as a way to prevent Samson getting involvled in the action that was happening in his trailer with Scudder and Hawkins. The idea that Sabina and Samson had been good friends with Management suggested that he was once capable of being fun and pleasant, but had just been warped by his illness and self-imposed isolation. The situation between Sabina and Samson led to some animosity between Bert and Samson, and Bert attempted to threaten Samson. However Samson busts out a huge knife (much bigger than Bert’s of course) from his cane. It was hilarious, Dr House really needs to look into getting one of those I feel…
Hawkins continues to be woefully unintelligent out on his own. It’s apparently inconceivable for the letters ‘H’ and ‘S’ to appear near each other on a sign without them being a divine indication of the presence of Henry Scudder. He does actually manage to track down Scudder, and the mere fact that the landlord was building a model of the Eiffel tower had me convinced that there was going to be some violence soon just so that the painstaking work put into the model would count for nothing once it was smashed and ruined. I was right about the violence, but strangely the model remained intact. The landlord directed Hawkins to Scudder’s old apartment with the puzzling advice that the door’s always open. The reason for this soon became clear- the room was occupied by three ageing, incredibly foul whores. They were utterly brilliant, especially in the way that they were completely disinterested even when all the fighting broke out right in front of them. Stroud punching a mirror would definitely have to hurt, and you’d expect some reaction!
Hawkins was treated to a vision of Scudder mutilating his face with acid in a bid to remain hidden. He then displayed impressive reasoning skills, which really seemed quite out of character, and discovered his father working downstairs. Stroud started aggressively chopping at the door that they were behind, and who doesn’t love a Shining reference? Sadly I don’t think anyone around was called Johnny… It was even funnier when the frightened landlord revealed that he’d had a key the entire time anyway. Hawkins almost managed to kill Stroud (but not quite) by healing Scudder and giving him his face, and I suppose his identity, back. Although Stroud didn’t perish at least this healing had the positive effect of making Justin violently ill. Perhaps it made him feel a little remorseful for his actions too, because really “what a day to lose the maid”, so he probably shouldn’t have raped and beaten her to the point of insanity.
I’d almost forgotten that Management, or rather Belyakov, was ‘The Russian’ in Hawkins’ dreamscape. The subtle reminded of that fact finally made me clock that clearly he was the ‘bad man’, the father that had tried to kill Iris and Justin. Hawkins really had to use all his tricks to get Scudder to agree to come and meet with Management, and ended up sounding like the parent of a small child the way that he was promising to protect him. Hawkins was appallingly rubbish at protecting Scudder from Management as it turned out, in fact for a long time he mostly just shouted “let him go!” a lot which was entirely ineffectual. Eventually Hawkins jumped into the fray and stabbed (the deformed) Belyakov an excessive amount causing him to bleed blue all over the place (which nobody seemed to think was odd). He was somehow actually still alive and managed to impart some wisdom to Hawkins, who was clearly in dire need of it.
Hawkins stabbing Justin in a vision was apparently enough to give him heartburn and a fit, he hardly seems like the toughest villain ever. He then goes on to completely suck at explaining the situation to Samson (I think that Management needed to impart a little more wisdom). Samson must be getting a tad suspicious at this point, every time he leaves Hawkins alone in that trailer he kills someone and then blames it on one of Management’s diabolical plans. Apparently the whole Scudder thing was part of the plan, Management had never wanted to kill him just wanted to use him as a pawn to ensure that Hawkins killed Management. I feel as if there could have been an easier way to get Hawkins to kill him though- he could have just annoyed him endlessly, or taken responsibility for Ruthie’s murder or even just explained the situation and asked Hawkins to kill him. I don’t understand why he couldn’t have passed on this knowledge to Hawkins without dying either, but perhaps Hawkins’ full powers couldn’t manifest with a previous avatar of Light still extant. Hawkins was far too gleeful at pointing out that he’s the ‘Prince’ being referred to. Samson was not impressed by this line of reasoning, and merely responds that Hawkins is a ‘dumb hick son of a bitch’. Fair.
Predictably nobody bothered to tell Hawkins that Sofie had left. That whole storyline seemed a little too cliché. It was weird to see the same old Hawkins in his battered dungarees suddenly being knowledgeable and muttering to himself a lot, and I’m not sure that it quite worked, at least initially. He does quickly move on to sounding manic but somewhat more intelligent which is good, although all his talk of ‘ascending’ sounded like utter bollocks, especially since it was never explained, stolen straight from Stargate. Since I’m not much of a Stargate fan (although obviously anthropologist Daniel Jackson was alright) that isn’t really a good thing. The image of Hawkins doing research with loads of books open around him was a little jarring, it’s too weird to have him suddenly be incredibly smart and it’s sad to think that this will compromise his adorable personality. I think that Firefly achieved a better version of this kind of character development with River and her sanity.
Samson goes around waving a shroud of Management’s at Hawkins, intimating (I suppose) that Management was a reincarnation of Christ. It’s never made clear exactly what or who these avatars are, the idea of avataric blood (which is apparently blue, I don’t know if that’s supposed to be a reference to royalty but that could make sense with all the references to Princes) suggests that the power is somehow kept in the family. It seems to be suggesting that both Scudder and Hawkins are therefore descendents of Christ, and that Management and Hawkins are both manifestations of God. This seems like a far more pro-Christian message but since the show also has an evil preacher who uses religion to serve his evil purposes, I’d say that the show comes out more neutral on the subject of religion than overwhelmingly positive. Hawkins is adamant that he is exactly what Management was (whatever that may have been) but Samson vehemently disagrees, ‘I’ll tell you one thing you ain’t: my friend’. I can totally understand why Samson is mad at Hawkins but it’s imperative that he get over this anger and start helping Hawkins like Management wanted. This is why Management should have involved him more, rather than sending Sabina to distract him. With Management’s death noone is officially in charge of the carnival anymore, and Samson quickly falls into doing just what Jonesy had thought he was doing all along- using Management’s name to instil fear and order people around.
The Ferris wheel eventually did break, as the show (as well as Stroud) had been hinting that it would. Hawkins listened to one woman’s prayer, ‘Please God, take me not my son’, and he obeys. His ability to drain one person’s life force and turn it over to somebody else’s suggests that he is in fact the avatar of God. I have a feeling that Pushing Daisies will never get as dark or as theological as Carnivale. It didn’t seem like a good situation for the little boy though, and I wondered if Hawkins had just orphaned him and sent him into the difficult kind of life that Hawkins himself had had, but then a loving father came bounding along to assuage these worries. All of this seemed to have a positive effect on Samson and Hawkins’ relationship, and they made up pleasantly. Whatever Hawkins is supposed to be the (re)incarnation of, he’s certainly a trustworthy type of avatar rather than one who wants to surround himself with mystery and misdirection. Hawkins spits when he shakes hands and agrees to make 50 cent bets, isn’t that what people want out of their mythical heroes? In the wake of the Ferris wheel tragedy everyone quickly readies themselves to get out of Dodge post-hastey.
Hawkins takes off by himself in order to track down Scudder, but when he comes across Libby and Jonesy just after they’ve been attacked it’s immediately obvious that he’s going to put aside his mission momentarily and save Jonesy. This is a large part of why I love Hawkins. I also loved him getting all shouty and authoritarian, and people actually listening to him for once (although I was a little concerned at him ordering Libby to drive off since I can’t recall any evidence of her being able to). It was nice to finally get to see a flashback of Jonesy playing ball, and it was a subtle reminder of his past career. Hawkins uses his powers to kill a load of birds with his mind, a useful talent and indicative of a sensible appreciation of irony since Jonesy was covered in feathers, and heals him. I was really glad that he saved Jonesy but I do think that it is a bit weak as a plot devise since it’s like a get out of jail card that can be utilised at any time, and gives far too much of a sense of security since it’s unlikely that any of the main characters will die (in a permanent way). It can lead to too many twists and turns in a way that stops feeling interesting but just becomes par for the course, like in season two of Heroes.
Hawkins doesn’t get a ‘thank you’, but at least gets an awed ‘why?’ and both Jonesy and Libby are clearly thankful. I loved the way that Hawkins simply brushes away the fact that what he’s done is clearly impossible by stating that ‘everything’s impossible until it ain’t’ which is a wonderful truism. After this explanation the first thing that Jonesy thought of was his leg, I’m not sure if he was about to demand that Hawkins heal it now or perhaps berate him for not doing so, but he cuts open his trousers and realises that his leg has in fact been completely healed along with the rest of him. I can completely understand why he is so happy about it, but I feel that a man whose just been brought back from the brink of death to spend his life with his beautiful young wife ought to be ecstatic whether or not he has a leg brace. Since it’s Jonesy I don’t really mind though, and enjoyed all his whooping and running about.
Hawkins didn’t even seem to be pissed off about losing time when he should have been hunting down Scudder and Stroud, although perhaps he ought to be. Jonesy didn’t even seem to see the irony in asking where the fire is when he questions Hawkins on his fast driving. Jonesy then insists on coming with Hawkins, presumably as some kind of thank you gift. No proper explanation of this is given beyond ‘I don’t know, it’s just something that I gotta do’, nor is there one for why Hawkins accepts. I mean it doesn’t sound completely implausible that he’d agree (especially as he didn’t have time to argue and just wanted to get going) but at least a cursory explanation such as strength in numbers or indeed in Jonesy’s arms would have been nice. Jonesy does prove to be especially useful in one area- not sounding like a hick and therefore making people co-operate with them a little more. However, Jonesy quickly gets pissed off with Hawkins’ caginess and the lack of information he has. I think it’s a little hypocritical to whine about this though when he’s the one who forced his (admittedly sometimes helpful) presence on Hawkins for nebulous reasons.
The German hotelier they stumble across was absolutely brilliant with his no-nonsense attitude and bitterness, “This isn’t the fucking Ritz, this is Cheyenne, Wyoming”, and then blathering on about a variety of topics including a fat American woman, the weather, Jonesy’s gun and his theory that Stroud and Scudder are scummy druggies. He insisted on blathering loudly even when they were attempting to be stealthy, but as it turned out there was no need for subtlety since Stroud and Scudder were already gone. I feel that Scudder’s place in the show’s mythology was never fully explained. Scudder was supposed to be an avatar of Darkness and was apparently trying to kill Management (unless of course Management made that up too, but I don’t think so, or if it was purely in self-defence which is possible) but Scudder doesn’t seem particularly evil, the only thing he did was steal Lodz’s eyesight and that was a fair exchange anyway. Mostly he just seems scared and worried. I understand that Justin as the Usher was supposed to be more evil than previous avatars, but it doesn’t seem difficult to be more evil than the mostly benign Scudder.
Libby ends up blabbing the secret to her mother who doesn’t believe her and repeats it to Lilah who is clearly intent on bringing Lodz back to life. I think that would have been an interesting plot twist that I wish the series had had time to explore, although at the same time it would be a bit pointless if Hawkins were able to go about resurrecting anyone at any point, and would present a lot of plot issues since noone would really need to fear death. Samson apparently heard Rita Sue talking about this to Lilah, and I don’t understand why he didn’t at least attempt to intercede and shut her up. Samson does attempt to comfort Libby at least (who, even after all she has been through, is still utterly terrified of Management’s trailer). It’s really nice for Libby to know that somebody believes her, and Samson can offer some real empathy since he has seen a horrific tarring himself. To be honest I really think that things could be a lot worse for Libby since she’s just witnessed a miracle, and she doesn’t need to be so angry at herself for blabbing especially since noone believed her. I think she probably just needed to let some of her emotions out since she had been through so much in such a short space of time, and Samson is such a sweetheart (to her and Sofie especially) and pops up at exactly the right time.
The random German guy turns up at the carnival, and blusters angrily about people calling him Fritz when his name is Klaus, which I loved. However his message (the newspaper that Jonesy and Hawkins had found with information about and a picture of Brother Justin) to Samson probably could have been sent via telephone or telegram easily. I guess they might have had literally no money as Samson is the one who has to pay him the ten dollars. I’m not quite sure why Samson was so rude to him though since he was doing him a favour, was America pretty anti-German during the 1930s? I thought that it didn’t become so til during the second world war, but I suppose in the wake of the first world war there might also be some anti-German sentiment.
Lilah is comically over-sexed (there was a moment when I honestly thought she was going to attempt to lure Samson off), and I think that’s part of why she befriends Ruthie when she realises that Ruthie may be being possessed by Lodz. She starts forcing her company on Ruthie more and more, clearly in an attempt to sex Lodz-in-Ruthie up, which really is all kinds of wrong when you think about it. Lodz leaves a message for Ruthie on the mirror, that Sofie is the Omega, but it’s never properly explained. It suggests that she is the end, and also possibly the opposite, but this really did need further explanation. I loved Ruthie’s disturbed expression as she rubbed this confounding message off the mirror and started at her wobbly reflection and clearly contemplated her distorted sense of self.
Lilah wakes up and discovers that possessed Ruthie has been performing cunilingus in her sleep. Lilah is quite happy to take advantage of this and it’s played for laughs really with Lodz’s ridiculous endearments and Ruthie’s confusion upon waking. However it really is a horrible violation of Ruthie by both Lilah and Lodz, and it wasn’t helped by the fact that Lilah was an utter bitch to her when she woke up. I’m pretty sure there was a vaguely similar Xena episode where Xena and Gabrielle finally kissed because one (or perhaps both) of them was possessed by someone or other. I just prefer my “lesbian” storylines with less possession and more consent personally.
The first episode included an absolutely perfect scene between Iris and Justin that was just so charged and tense, and was achieved without a word. I love Amy Madigan so freaking much, I wish more women in their 50s decked out in unbelievably frumpy outfits and bonnets could somehow be as sexy as her. I adore Iris’ voice as well, it just seems to change and almost warble so perfectly in a way that conveys her vulnerability and determination, and she has a beautiful singing voice.
She really brings so much to the scenes between Iris and Justin, there’s the suggestion of evil and incest but it’s never quite affirmed. The creators of Carnivale seemed inclined to producing scenes which could be interpreted in various different ways, and instead of providing a way to read these scenes they seemed determined to leave them open. This can work quite well for a film or a book, but can be a little frustrating in a television show because it makes it quite hard for the story to move on, in terms of Iris and Justin’s interaction it works pretty well though. The mystery surrounding them just seems impenetrable, not only for the audience but for them too. I do think that the show can occassionally be clunky, but I can overlook that because most of the ideas and language of the show (as well as the cinematography and score) are just so brilliant, and wonderfully dark and twisted.
One thing about their relationship that I found especially confusing (at least initially) was their choice to continue to use the language of Christianity even when they’re alone together. Justin still speaks of himself as on a ‘religious’ mission, and doesn’t seem to be doing so in an ironic way. Of course his aims could be interpreted as religious in a sense, but it still seems a little odd. I wonder if perhaps it was a conscious decision as an attempt to comment on the secret or double lives of the clergy and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Christians/religious people in general. Choosing to have the avatar of Darkness portrayed by a Minister (even if no deeper meaning was meant) cannot help but seem meaningful. I took it as certainly meant to convey a warning about believing too heavily in anything, and being too eager to hope. Maybe that’s partly due to reading Dune recently though.
I was a little bewildered as to how Iris managed to transition so quickly from an attitude of ‘I do everything for you, you never have to ask’ to ‘if you want me to do this you’re going to have to ask’ in about five seconds, but since it led to a powerful scene I don’t really mind. Later when Iris gives a heartfelt apology to Justin for not being able to give him what he wants I knew exactly what she was referring to- remorse. She can’t feel sorry for causing the deaths of the orphans because it set all the following events in motion.
I loved Iris’ ambiguous, yet clearly evil, smirk when she brought Celeste into their home as their new servant. Iris and Justin seem to constantly be embroiled in complicated power plays, and whilst it isn’t entirely clear what she hopes to achieve by including Celeste (to lead Justin into temptation and thus further evil or perhaps to sexually satisfy him while continuing to tempt him herself and thus retain power?), it’s clearly a loaded move. Justin also starts frequenting Chin’s, the local house of ill repute. It’s a place which seems to offer an odd range of services, including ones performed by small boys. I feel that getting a giant tattoo of a tree without any evidence of explanation or even a vague sketch probably isn’t a service offered all that widely however. I’m a little peeved that no explanation was given for how the (supposed) whore was involved in what was going on, and hope that some development was imminent rather than the mere fact that she was foreign and exotic being enough. There seemed to be a suggestion that Chin’s might have some relevance to Justin’s powers back in season one in terms of his first vision, although that might just have been because it gave him useful information with which to blackmail people.
I seriously adored Justin’s dirty sketches, the idea of nymphomania being a symptom of evil (still not making any David Duchovny jokes) is a little played out, but I think it worked pretty well here because it made Justin seem creepier, especially because the idea of an over-sexed member of the clergy seems jarring enough even when they aren’t evil masterminds as well. Justin definitely seems to have an obsessive personality disorder, his waffling about salt was amusing since it was so random. He may have a milk obsession too (which is nicely incongruous too, and reminds me a little of the germ obsessed Mayor in season three of Buffy), however he’s clearly willing to sacrifice his beloved dairy products for a higher purpose. His completely insincere “Oh dear” when he knocks over his glass of milk just tops off the ridiculousness of his ploy to get Celeste on her knees in front of him, where she then cleans his boots for him. It doesn’t end there though, there’s a slightly random exchange where he asks her if her mother taught her to pray and she affirms it, which may or may not be enquiring as to whether or not her mother taught her how to give blowjobs, and then suddenly everything gets steamy.
Justin is incredibly cruel to Norman (but it’s great to watch). He starts of relatively tamely, merely taunting him by claiming to be better than Jesus. However, he quickly moves on to getting off with Celeste in front of Norman (she seems to be so in awe of Justin that she doesn’t question it), or having sex so violently in the room above Norman that the ceiling seems in danger of collapsing. As soon as Justin calmly tells Iris that he doesn’t think that Celeste is working out as a maid she seems a little panicked, it’s clear that she’s expecting something. However I think the weeping maniacal, battered naked woman in the corner surprised even her. In light of this Justin’s calm smile and seemingly kind welcome to her replacement become positively chilling.
Justin’s interaction with Norman sometimes follows a similar pattern to that between Justin and Iris in that he continues to use the language of Christianity, and to affect concern. Here it seems as if he’s trying to mock and demoralise Norman however, so it doesn’t seem as ambiguous. It must be very troubling for the devout man who raised Justin to hear his ideas twisted and spat back at him, plus the use of such language makes it just a mite more difficult to pin Justin as evil I suppose. Justin clearly hasn’t thrown off all of his (former?) religion’s hold on him, the way he stiffens when the Bishop talks about the ninth circle of hell being reserved for betrayers was a good indication of this. There are moments though, like when Iris eavesdrops on Justin talking to Norman, when he just seems so sweet and vulnerable- and it certainly seems as if the religion he was brought up with still has a strong hold on him. It would be possible to interpret things as meaning that Justin honestly thinks he’s on a mission from God, but I think that he is derogatory enough about Jesus and God whilst being aware enough of the dark nature of his powers for this to not be the case, although the allure of this idea could still colour his perceptions. Justin’s mockery of the Bible I think supports my argument that he doesn’t think he’s on a Godly mission. He claims that he never really liked the Bible, beyond the good use of repetition and laughs heartily at the ridiculous notion that the meek shall inherit the Earth.
I’m not all that well-versed in religion, so there may be greater symbolism to things that I miss. For example, I assumed that the tree (both tattoo and actual) was supposed to represent the Tree of Knowledge (as apparently it was). However, when Justin finds it and takes it as a marker for where to build his new temple (and New Canaan) I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be a reference to Moses being told to build the temple on Mount Sinai. I can’t remember a reference to a tree then, but I assume that Mount Sinai is covered in olive trees so it might be relevant. Justin also certainly has an interesting concept for the new Garden- it’ll come complete with radio towers! Just more proof that technology truly is the work of the Devil.
Brother Justin has an excellent command-y voice (in contrast I think that most of the time his demonic voice sounded rather lame). In fact his voice is so great that he gets to be on the radio! The idea of the ‘Church of the Air’ seemed pretty funny, until the way that Justin was utilising it was revealed. In fact he was actually corrupting Biblical verse by using it as a cover to get his message to his archangel to kill. The notion of the manifestation of evil using religious material like this is suitably creepy, but coupled with the image of him going to sleep with a crucifix over his bed it’s just deliciously twisted. I really liked the fact that the scene in which Brother Justin uses his radio broadcast to command Stroud to murder was immediately contrasted with the image of a nun in bright white. Not only is this a nice cut, it also makes the audience a little uncomfortable because they are forced to question the inherent goodness of such a character and image, since the supposedly kindly Methodist Minister has already been revealed to essentially be the Devil.
The choice to make the Usher a Russian-born naturalized American was interesting, although tempered by the ambiguous morality of Iris and the fact that their father Lucius Belyakov was an avatar of Light, I took it as clearly trying to point out the fact that Ayn Rand is evil. Clearly.
Sadly demonic radio powers don’t seem to cut both ways, it’s quite amusing to see the Antichrist and his servant communicating by telegraph though. Almost as innocuous as telegraphing was Justin’s rants against banks and the ‘craven men’ who run them, or the ‘alphabet soup’ of federal assistance. Justin’s servant, Stroud, can clearly be identified as a tool of evil since he goes around whistling far too much. I hate people who whistle, they all ought to be shot. Stroud manages to make a lot of people very uncomfortable, he totally freaks Jonesy out by intimating that he’d damage the ferris wheel. It made me think about just how much I’d hate the responsibility of running a ride, I wouldn’t want people’s lives in my unsteady hands… Whilst Stroud is good at putting people on edge I really don’t think that it he displays an effective method for getting information from people- pissing people off rarely works. Pissing Samson off leads to him squinting and informing Stroud that the rival show is ‘lousy with midgets’ though, which did make me giggle.
Stroud is shown to be a ruthless and ingenious adversary. I liked his admonishment that the best way to follow someone is to get ahead of them, and he put it to effect well. He manages to kidnap Scudder, and there was a random but brilliant scene of a couple of thieves trying to hold up a gas station that he happened to have stopped at. They were hilarious with their faux-politeness and wild eyes, and Stroud shooting them and everyone else had me giggling probably a bit too much. Hawkins ‘haunting’ of Stroud was pretty damn brilliant too.
I loved the inclusion of a fictitious gospel (the Book of Matthias), but I was sometimes honestly shocked as to how Carnivale managed to get on television considering the way it treats the subject of religion. I know that it’s now only a few short years later, but in the wake of recent FCC craziness (as mocked by Studio 60 repeatedly) I wonder if Carnivale wouldn’t be getting heavily protested by the Christian Right if it was airing now. Or perhaps it did at the time? I was pretty surprised to find out that Daniel Knauf, the creator, is Catholic (although all the anti-Catholic jokes started to make more sense). Carnivale often includes some very powerful (and perhaps disturbing) religious imagery, for example Ben’s vision of Justin forcefully praying in Latin and achieving the destruction of the image of the Virgin Mary, with the image of a young Christ turning to him for salvation.
I loved the line, ‘Folks hold their prophets to pretty high standards. Even in California’. I love Dolan quite a lot, and like him I could eat breakfast three times a day. I adored Dolan for a lot of reasons in that breakfast scene, amongst them: for talking about unwed mothers without any negative stigma; for talking about the charred flesh of children whilst savagely cutting his breakfast; for actually suspecting a woman of murder (television doesn’t do that enough, Dexter thus far I’m looking at you) and for quickly switching back from the topic of murder to breakfast, specifically toast, and confusing the hell out of the poor waitress at the same time. I love toast too. ‘A toast to toast, I love toast!’
Dolan ends up hardcore stalking Iris, he really looked like a cigarette advert! I do think that he’s pretty quick to convict Iris (not that he’s wrong), especially considering that he had feelings for her. Although he did see her drive off into the middle of nowhere and burn a pile of her clothes I feel that there is a margin there for some doubt. I wonder if Dolan’s claim that they didn’t hang women in California in the 1930s was factually true, or if he meant that it was very unlikely that Iris would be executed for her crime? Dolan seemed like he was trying to assure himself of that in an attempt to make himself feel better.
I couldn’t quite understand Justin’s decision to make Iris’ arrest so public within a Church setting, especially straight after her leading the choir. It seemed like such a choice would reflect negatively on him and his church. Then I quickly tweaked that the plan was actually to accuse Dolan, but the set up was ludicrously simple. Dolan started reading out Iris’ statement, and wasn’t allowed to finish thus making it seem that he was confessing. I feel that Dolan might have been able to make people understand the circumstances once things had calmed down a little, but instead he was never heard from again. It is plausible that Justin had enough control over the police and public opinion by that point anyway. It was incredibly cruel of Justin to not let Iris in on the plan, she really had thought he was going to force her to turn herself in. As a result she was livid, even though she had been granted a reprieve. She simply couldn’t conceal her anger at the fact that he’d made her feel penance and turn to a higher power for salvation. At least this proved for her that she didn’t need to worry that Justin had taken Dolan into his confidence and now preferred him to her.
My Russian language skills, formidable as they are since I can count to ten, don’t extend to knowing what she called him in her anger but I’d bet on something akin to ‘motherfucker’, and in a pretty good accent too. I love the “coded” nature of non-English swearing on American television, it’s not so important on cable shows like Carnivale where swearing is allowed, but on other shows it can be really fun. Sometimes shows make up their own inventive swears, such as Red Dwarf‘s ‘smeg’, Young American‘s heartfelt ‘shut your crumpet’ and Gossip Girl‘s brilliant ‘motherchucker’. Extremely British swearing is generally acceptable on American television too, so Buffy was often full of ‘bloody buggering hell’ and so on, and the word ‘berk’ can be thrown about willy-nilly. ‘Berk’ isn’t really considered to be excessively rude, at least not by anyone I know, but the discovery that it’s actually Cockney rhyming slang for ‘cunt’ (Berkley hunt) makes the fact that it’s fine to say on American television deeply amusing.
Iris seems to have decided to pursue her evil agenda with renewed vigour in any effort to get the stench of penance off of her. This is evidenced by her casual dismissal of the new maid as being ‘nervous’. I suppose it’s always possible that that was a 1930s synonym for ‘raped and battered to insanity’ but somehow it seems unlikely. As she mutters to Norman, Iris is determined to ensure that she remains continually necessary to Justin so that she isn’t left behind by him when he reaches success. Her monologuing didn’t seem at all grating to me, because it demonstrates perfectly how she’s unravelling and panicking. She seemed to manage to steel her nerves well, by the time Justin’s writhing around on the floor in agony clutching at himself after Hawkins attacked his tree she merely widened her eyes, whereas Eleanor at least had the decency to scream and drop stuff. She explains the event away to Justin later by telling him that he just had one of his spells, I was trying to remember if he often seemed to be having epileptic fits that I’d somehow blanked out of my memory, but I think she meant it was one of the times in which he was obviously possessed. Eleanor ends up seeing him thus and is adamant that she saw the Devil in Brother Justin.
Eleanor just seems like such a simple religious woman with hard-held notions of good and evil that it’s almost impossible for Iris to convince her that she didn’t see such a thing. However Iris perseveres and utilises every trick she can think of, including a lot of patronage, to sway Eleanor around to her point of view (and also to remind me that I’ve always hated people who say ‘look at your face’, unless they’re referring to a picture). Despite having convinced Eleanor that she never saw anything demonic Iris ends up killing her for suggesting that she would tell Justin about all of this because he’d enjoy it as a joke. This made me wonder if Justin did somehow think that he was doing God’s work, or perhaps have some kind of split-personality thing going on, where sometimes he was possessed by the persona of the Usher and sometimes was a perfectly nice preacher. This would also explain his continued use of the language of Christianity, even in ways that don’t seem ironic, and his occasional kind treatment of Norman.
However, Iris’ subsequent behaviour is somewhat confusing. She claims that she wants to expose Justin and is secretly working against him. It’s possible that she says so in an attempt to toy with Norman, but her later behaviour adds credence to her claim. I suppose it could have been battering Eleanor to death that made her have a change of heart, or perhaps she was always working against Justin- and in fact only killed the orphans in an attempt to set all these events into motion too quickly to somehow stop Justin coming to power. If she truly did mean to betray Justin it could explain why she (and in turn he) continued to use religious language, because not only would it still have a hold over her she probably wouldn’t be able to discuss his evil plans properly. Either way it’s something which certainly needed to be properly explored and wasn’t.
I really loved the cut from the dance tent with the supposedly sinful Rita Sue and Libby stripping to Brother Justin’s church tent. It was a nice juxtaposition, and illustrates well the insidious evil nature of Justin purporting to bring salvation and goodness. Due to his position in the clergy he has a full arsenal of weapons at his disposal which one assumes an avatar of Darkness wouldn’t normally have. He can really whip people up into a religious fervour and cannily utilise ‘the good’. This, I think, explains in part the decision of the Carnivale creators to make the Usher a religious man- when Justin discovered his path he felt that God had abandoned him. As Justin himself points out, ‘what is the Devil himself if not a fallen angel?’, I think that it was this knowledge and ability which made him an excellent choice as the Usher, rather than it being meant as an attack on religion and religious people. This doesn’t sometimes stop me being convinced that sometimes the creators of Carnivale were sometimes thinking that religious fanatics deserve what they got if they allow themselves to be duped however. Justin also takes a strong stand against the Church authorities influencing his radio sermons, and does it in a way which backs them into a corner and makes it very difficult to argue against him- all while boldly comparing himself to Jesus. I loved his superiors’ response to this, they were clearly terrified (in the same way that the hicks were in abject fear of Krohn) of someone who seemed to have so much passion and integrity.
However Brother Justin does something which I don’t think the type of person he’s impersonating would ever do in the way that he mixes politics and religion. He is opportunistic and false; eager to take advantage. Justin later claims that the separation of Church and State was invented by the Devil to stop Christians running their own country (the US belongs to Christians, who knew?). He decides to get the extremely irritating Val elected which I really suspect would require a knowledge of the dark arts since the man has such an annoying voice. ‘Porcine patsy’ was an excellent description of the man who goes around blaspheming in front of Justin all the time and says things like “Goddamn atheists!” without a hint of irony. Val seems entirely stupid, he doesn’t bother to question why Justin’s suddenly being so nice to him now. Personally I think that Justin rather liked the irony of making Val dependent on the Oakies, who he’d so despised, for votes. Justin might just like keeping him around to insult him too, I loved the repetition of the pig theme when he starts rhapsodising about his bacon sandwich (and he displayed excellent recall of Biblical verse still).
A couple of episodes after Sofie left the carnival it is revealed that she’s Justin’s new maid, that was a twist that I didn’t see coming. Sofie doesn’t really fit into the facade of asceticism which Iris has tried to create, she’s full of that vibrant, fun energy which she used to use to wake people in sleepy towns up, and looks prettier than she ever had before now that she’s all cleaned up. Sofie gets mildly told off by Iris when she attempts to take Justin his breakfast with crazy extravagances like butter, sugar, milk and, of all things, flowers. However Sofie is not cowed and puts the flowers back on the tray, determined to spread some simple joy- and Justin seems to really appreciate it. Norman reasserts his good guy status by at least attempting to warn Sofie about the situation she’s walked into, and happily snickering at Justin when he appears to be unsuccessful in his flirtations. Since Sofie is by no means a timid girl who is awed by Justin and his religious importance like the previous maids it seems unlikely that Justin would be able to trap her.
Norman somehow gets a gun from somewhere- a chain of events that I think really needed some sort of explanation- and attempted to shoot Justin. Justin’s style of commanding people in the aftermath was incredibly over the top, and I would have thought that it might actually turn people against him but it clearly didn’t. The people beating up Norman were frightening in fact, especially considering that he’s an elderly invalid. Suddenly Sofie ended up joining in the applause for Justin, suggesting that she’d already been taken in by Justin’s bullshit. Although I think in part she was just impressed by his treatment of, and kind words about, someone who reminded her of her mother. Justin’s response to Norman was really quite mild in fact, he merely told Norman that he was very disappointed in him. Norman still manages to take a brilliant sadistic pleasure in witnessing Justin’s ‘episode’ when he bodily reacts to Hawkins healing Jonesy.
It turns out that Sofie is indeed a complete idiot, and is already pronouncing Justin ‘a great man’. I was certain that Hawkins would walk in on them in bed together eventually. Justin manages to be fairly endearing after he’s already duped her, which seems like a bit of a waste. He does seem to have a good enough handle on her to effectively con her, he plays up his slightly naughty side. When he hears her swearing he tells her that vulgarity isn’t a sin against God but against polite society, and that polite society ought to be tolerated since they make large contributions to him and even swears in front of her. The fact that he gets turned on by her beating the carpets is a nice nod back to his earlier masochistic tendencies (he displayed a penchant for whipping himself), and apparently signals his evilness.
Iris and Sofie finally get a chance to bond, I don’t understand why Iris thinks that Sofie is an unusual name (unless she was perhaps commenting on the spelling, which she doesn’t seem to be) but at least it allows an in into conversation, as well as some of Sofie’s history. Iris asks her if she’s Jewish and Sofie casually replies ‘not that I know of’, and explains that her mother was Roma. I liked that Iris doesn’t seem shocked by this, or care that they have a Gypsy maid. It was nice to have a vaguely decent mention of Roma in a television show, even if it was very brief, in contrast with the gypsy curses and ridiculously clichéd characters of Buffy andAngel.
I liked that Sofie at least remembered to try to be evasive and protect herself, it didn’t last that long but Iris is pretty convincing. Sofie starts telling her about her childhood, but I can’t hear the words ‘St Paul, Minnesota’ without hearing Johnny Cash singing Big River in my head so I might have missed something. It was nice to get a glimpse of Sofie’s early life, and I think the casting for mini-Sofie was excellent. The big reveal was that Justin is in fact Sofie’s father, and upped the wacky incestual ante since he’d been lusting after his own daughter. I liked this twist a lot, especially because giving Iris this sweet niece who’d suffered so much because of Justin seems to give Iris something more to make her want to fight against Justin. However it also means that Justin didn’t recently become a rapist or obsessive, and one must surmise that his evil tendencies were never latent (at least for long periods). This calls into question why Justin never realised that he was evil before, since surely he would have questioned such actions? Therefore it adds credence to the idea that Justin has an almost split personality, sometimes being possessed by the Usher persona but not always (assumedly these memories would be repressed at other times). It’s very frustrating because I bet this would have been addressed and answered in later seasons.
One thing that I really liked about the episodic nature of Carnivale is that it allowed sections of the story to be tied together thematically. For example in the episode in which Sofie’s Roma identity is very important because it allows Iris to identify her as Justin’s daughter, Rita Sue also gives a throwaway mention to some gypsies that Felix claimed ambushed him years ago. I doubt that that would have become important (although it’s always possible) but it gives the episode a nice, connected feel.
Justin reveals that he was aware of Iris and Norman’s plan to thwart him. This, and Iris’ reaction to it, make me think that Iris was telling the truth although that certainly isn’t definite. It still doesn’t explain at all why Iris would turn against her brother at all. I really don’t think there was any call for Justin to call her a dried up old spinster, that was just unnecessarily rude. They ended up having a completely fucked up version of a family meal, full of hatred, and then Justin invites Sofie to sit down and eat with them, and only Iris was aware that Sofie is indeed family. Stroud also starts perving on Iris a lot, it’s possible that Justin gave him permission to harass her after her attempt at betrayal. Stroud wasn’t actually all that forceful however, he mostly just talked about her frillies.
Justin gets very excited about the notion of killing Scudder himself with his own two hands, and Stroud seems almost paternalistic in his encouragement of this simple joy. Justin gets really angry at Wilfred for discouraging him from killing Scudder immediately, which is stupid of him because Wilfred clearly knows what he’s talking about. He claims that Justin shouldn’t kill Scudder while he’s drugged because that means that he won’t receive his mysterious ‘boon’ (it sounds almost like a computer game at this point), at least it seems that Stroud’s horrible treatment of Scudder, keeping him drugged, inadvertently granted Scudder a reprieve. I suppose that Justin’s anger at having to restrain himself illustrates that he’s becoming more demonic and straying ever further from his religion.
It turns out that Wilfred and Scudder know each other of old, and Wilfred makes a horrible deal with Scudder. He offers to kill him (so that Justin cannot and therefore will be denied his boon) if Scudder reveals the whereabouts of some manuscript. Scudder acquiesces but Wilfred refuses to keep his word and kill him saying, “Sorry old chum but we all have to give the Devil his due”. Scudder gets really angry and actually manifests some evil powers, in a really well-shot scene which made excellent use of colour. I don’t understand why he didn’t do that earlier, perhaps he needed to be really angry. If he was willing to let Wilfred kill him I don’t understand why he didn’t attempt to kill himself instead.
Wilfred’s mutilated body was pretty scary, so I think that Stroud should have had more concern for his own safety when he found it rather than being amused. Justin’s subordinates bitching about whether or not they get paid, “We’re volunteers, we don’t get paid jackass”, was a nice bit of light relief. I always like these insightful little asides which look at characters like that which are often seen as one-dimensional. The West Wing also made good use of that, such as having the Joint Chiefs discussing coffee idly before the President walks into the room and then suddenly standing to attention and becoming very serious and professional.
Quickly we’re back into the action again, with a scene that seems like a vision due to the bright colours and surreal quality of it. However it is not merely a vision as Scudder is in reality brutally killed by Justin who was hiding in the back of his getaway car. I’m still a little confused, if Scudder was an avatar of Dark surely he ought to be Justin’s ally? I’m not sure if Scudder was a rogue avatar and therefore an anomaly, or if all avatars have to kill off their predecessor to gain some kind of boon (this would mean that the boon is most likely knowledge since that’s what Hawkins gained from killing Management) and are therefore perhaps pre-programmed with hatred towards said predeccesor. Hawkins soon finds Scudder’s decapitated head with his face stuck in a scream of terror, which I imagine would fuck him up quite a lot. He doesn’t move to bury it or even inform Jonesy of his find. At least this indicates that Hawkins’ powers don’t present a get-out clause for every situation, as he is unable to heal Scudder with only his head.
Hawkins and Jonesy manage to infiltrate Justin’s camp at New Canaan with amazing disguises- a couple of hats. Jonesy acts in a comically shifty manner, and I’m surprised that they weren’t thrown out immediately. It appears that Hawkins must have explained everything (about Scudder, Management and the avatars in general) to Jonesy, who displays an uncharacteristic level of acceptance. I loved Hawkins incredibly lame recon mission, and his deadbeat “Is that so?” to a follower’s assertion that he’d be surprised at the number of people who want to kill Brother Justin. Hawkins develops a brilliant plan for killing Brother Justin- he decides to smuggle a knife in some wood into the house. Meanwhile Sofie was flouncing around wanting to be baptised, I was really hoping that Hawkins would be able to come and rescue her from this drudgery, or just kill her. Either way.
Hawkins, as usual, was wonderfully sweaty and wary, darting about the house. He bumps into Norman who decides to trust him for no good reason and try to help him. I suppose by this point Norman must have been so desperate that he’d take any chance, but I don’t understand why he didn’t at least try to communicate with Sofie properly now that he’s able to at least write notes. All of Hawkins’ wanderings around the house seemed rather unlikely- he takes a blood stained shard of a broken mirror as incredibly interesting, incriminating evidence although it isn’t really. Despite the fact that he’s been inside the house for ages the guards don’t appear to have raised the alarm or mentioned anything to Iris who then discovers him. Hawkins and Iris enjoy some utterly random and non-sensical interaction, which results in Iris dismissing him from the house and cherishing the hatchet that she makes him leave behind, which just seemed incredibly odd.
Hawkins concocts a brilliant new plan, involving getting baptised. I think there’s just something wonderful about someone who’s apparently supposed to be the avatar of Christ reluctantly getting baptised as a ploy to murder a preacher, and to a lesser extent any people in pristine white robes clutching weapons ought to be celebrated. It’s at this point that he discovers Sofie, and the two of them stare meaningfully at each other for a while before Hawkins disappears. I’m glad that Sofie was completely distracted and thinking about sex as she was about to get baptised. The baptism (and indeed the pond) were somewhat ruined by Eleanor’s corpse floating past- which seemed somewhat ominous.
Hawkins manages to catch up with Sofie later and gets a chance to display his inability to explain anything simply and succinctly. His opening line, “The preacher, he’s evil!” wasn’t the best beginning, but following it with the insistence that it must be true because it happens in his dreams was catastrophic. Then he heads into television cliché land with “He’s not who you think he is” which roughly translates into “blah-di-blah, do not listen to what I have to say”. Sofie is, of course, as annoying as one can be. She follows Hawkins into played-out clichés by asserting “you don’t know him, he’s a good man!” and then refusing to listen to any of Hawkins’ rational arguments once he finally thinks to use them.
When Sofie returns to the house Iris sees that she seems a little disturbed, and tries to soothe her by talking about how overwhelming being reborn is. Iris becomes rather flustered when Sofie explains about the discovery of Eleanor’s body, perhaps she feels some remorse about the fact that her sins are coming back to haunt her niece. Iris feigns shock and despair, and quickly sets about ‘explaining’ the situation away as a drowning, which only serves to make her sound guilty. When she discovers that Justin claimed her death was a suicide she decides to go along with that line of reasoning. Meanwhile Sofie seems to be barely paying attention to Iris anyway, she merely wants Iris’ reassurance that Justin truly is a good man after everything that Hawkins said.
It transpires that Iris kept Hawkins’ hatchet as a sort of test. She left it on Justin’s bed and discovered that when he touches it it physically hurts him. Not only does she get to cause him pain but she’s discovered a potential ally in Hawkins. Later Sofie hears Iris and Justin talking in Russian and seems to suspect that Hawkins was correct, there is a subtle difference between being Russian and being evil but Hawkins had informed her that Justin’s Russian too. However I’m not really sure why they were speaking in Russian since they hardly ever do, it just seemed a tad too convenient for Sofie to overhear them. Sofie also sees Justin toying with some of his terrified subordinates which seems to convince her that he isn’t a good man, and perhaps the fact that he basically has a huge army living in abject fear of him starts to seep into her brain and demand consideration. The thing which finally incriminates him is Hawkins’ death mask which she finds, and his over-zealous response to it- demanding information from her. He quickly realises that intimidation is the wrong tactic and aims for sweetness and light but it’s already too late. Sofie attempts to lie her way out of the situation, but does let slip that his name is Ben.
Justin drops the topic and once again gets Sofie to sit down with them, this time explicitly saying ‘just like a real family’ and trying to get Sofie to sit next to him. Justin exudes creepiness and is especially cruel to Norman- denying him Sofie’s assistance and taunting him for being unable to feed himself properly. Iris takes her own type of revenge on him when he has to go and answer the telephone by ordering Sofie to clear his plate and rapidly feeding Norman. Her frantic, fearful behaviour certainly suggests that Iris’ attempted betrayal of Justin wasn’t a fake-out. She also confides in Norman what she discovered about Sofie, although I still don’t understand how she’s so certain that Sofie is Apollonia and Justin’s child unless the was also privy to the vision. Justin’s previous obsessive behaviour (presumably with a noticeable sexual tinge) towards Apollonia was known by Norman, which makes me wonder why Norman wasn’t more concerned about Justin. Surely he ought to have done something about it long ago? Then again he obviously had strong paternal feelings about Justin and Iris, and may have felt unable to punish or betray them (like Dexter’s foster father).
Jonesy leaves Hawkins to his own devices and quickly returns to the carnival, where Libby is overjoyed to see him and prove to her mother that he really didn’t leave her. Rita Sue seemed genuinely happy for Libby for about a whole second, or perhaps she was just awed by his return. As Felix tells her almost kindly, ‘You know baby you’re really going to have to get over him one of these days’. Samson continues to ignore Lilah’s demand for information of, or searches for, Lodz which is probably what makes her so desperate. She whips most of the carnival up into a frenzy, resulting in her descending on Management’s trailer and discovering, of course, that there’s noone there. It seems as if everyone is about to turn on Samson because they suspect him of having lied to them always. Jonesy has to reveal to them that Hawkins fixed his leg (which is a much less impressive story than the true extent of the healing that Jonesy underwent). It’s not the most believable story, Rita Sue actually swoons, but Jonesy and Samson manage to convince them and rally the troops to back Hawkins up.
Sofie is utterly rubbish at being deferential, in both actions and tone, which I actually rather liked. Nonetheless Justin is excellent at getting her to obey, and manages to get her to sit with him outside. Hawkins never does discover them in bed together, but he does have to endure listening to Justin sweet talking her rather well since he’s managed to pick up on Sofie’s intuitive nature and her doubts. Apparently the mere presence of Hawkins’ knife causes Justin physical pain, which must have been somewhat gratifying- especially when listening to Justin’s murmurings about the hand maidens of Christ and trying to kiss her. Thankfully Sofie did at least pull away and appeared to have not been completely taken in. Jonesy randomly pops up from nowhere and stops Hawkins from taking the opportunity to kill Justin and save Sofie, claiming that it would be suicide. Hawkins doesn’t care that he would have been killed, and is adamant that Sofie cannot necessarily take care of herself in this situation.
The notion of the Usher being terrified of carnivals (and I’m going to go out on a limb and assume clowns too) was pretty funny. Iris claims that she wants to go along with the idea and have a carnival because it will amuse the children, but that somehow seems odd. I would imagine that most devout people then were rather suspicious of carnivals. I have a feeling that she just enjoyed the idea of tormenting Justin really. Either way Samson and Jonesy manage to be polite and vaguely convincing in their appreciation of Brother Justin, and succeed in getting a decent payment for the event. Iris is so deliciously mean when she wakes Justin up to his ‘surprise’ and waxes poetical about how wonderful the carnival will be for the children. Justin gets fairly lyrical too, sternly claiming that she’s ‘gathered them together in a place called Armageddon’.
Sofie was really surprised by the sight of the carnival, which isn’t odd. She also seemed to be experiencing a lot of anguish though, probably because she realised the futility of her attempt to escape from it. Her awareness of the carnival is accompanied by incredibly jaunty music, which soon takes a creepy turn when she’s presented with yet another vision of Apollonia. The vision leads her to Justin rather than to the carnies, and she gets to glimpse his mysterious tattoo. I didn’t really understand why Sofie was still there, after all the evidence pointing to Hawkins being right. Justin even presents her with an opportunity to kill him by handing her a blade and baring his neck to her, ostensibly to cut a loose thread. I think that this wasn’t supposed to indicate a lack of self-preservation, he just wanted her to torment herself with the fact that she had the opportunity to kill him and didn’t.
Samson’s rant about martyrdom was absolutely amazing, because he’s right. The idea that killing yourself for an idea is better than living and effecting change is a bad one. This topic was discussed in the third season of Supernatural– Dean finally acknowledged that the Winchester men seem to have an addiction to boldly laying down their life, and he heartbreakingly (and entirely hypocritically) forbade Sam from following his lead. I think it’s pretty easy to understand where the (W)incest analysis of Supernatural comes from- Dean essentially does what the noble lover of many tragic tales does- he gives away his life, and soul, to save the person he loves most in the world. It’s just that this person is his brother, who seems equally fucked up, enough that he’s eager to do the same thing if necessary, especially since his girlfriend died and he has pretty much noone else in his life. Anyway, in terms of Carnivale, Samson compares Hawkins to Jesus and John the Baptist amongst others, and demands an explanation as to why Jesus couldn’t just come down from Heaven and spit in people’s eyes. Samson would write the most awesome Bible fanfiction ever.
Hawkins seems pretty concerned about Sofie being left with Justin, explicitly worrying about her being in his house, harking back to all the ‘every prophet in her house’ references. Everyone is suddenly really nice to Hawkins- especially Rita Sue who is honestly thankful on Jonesy’s behalf. I thought that everyone would be rushing at him demanding that he heal small ailments, but they’re all actually really decent. Lilah is still very bitter about everything, but not even Burleigh wants to join in her rebellion anymore.
The interaction between Rita Sue and Lilah in the show is interesting. Rita Sue doesn’t seem to like Lilah all the much since she’s such a scheming bitch, and Rita Sue is pretty loyal to Samson. However they seem to need each other because they simply need decent female companionship. As a result they tend to be bitchy and rude to each other half of the time but not even need to forgive each other the next time they want to gossip. I love the fact that they can switch from gossiping about unimportant details to discussing murder in the blink of an eye (and I’m glad that Catalina’s disappearance at least got a brief mention in one of their discussions, it definitely wouldn’t have on The West Wing).
Samson, and others, repeat that Sofie is ‘one of them’, she’s a member of the Carnivale troupe and therefore she’s savvy and good. Justin also seems to be reinforcing this idea by telling her that she can’t leave her past behind, but unbeknownst to him her past actually has other connotations which relate to him. I don’t really like this fatalistic attitude, and it was over-emphasised a whole lot in the last episode. Justin’s attempt to get Sofie to come over to the dark side seemed to mostly consist of just exhibiting his black eyes and demonic nature. She holds out against these lures and tells him to go to hell, to which he oh-so-wittily replies “I’m bringing it here!”. I get a little bored when I can predict half of the dialogue of an episode. Sofie gets dumped somewhere by Stroud, and has to put up with visions of Apollonia laughing chillingly at her predicament.
Samson points out that people flock to Justin basically because he offers them pretty words, which I think is a fair analysis, an argues that people ought to flock to Hawkins instead because he’s the real deal. I definitely think that a lot of Carnivale can be taken as an attack on organised religion and a warning to distrust it, whilst not denying the importance of individual faith. I feel that Samson must have spent way too much time with Hawkins however because he comes up with an utterly awful plan. The first part involves getting everyone to come over to their side by providing a better religious option than Justin by performing miraculous feats of healing for them. This wasn’t an awful plan I suppose, but luring people over to your sect seems like the kind of thing that would take a little time. The second part of the plan was to strap Justin into the Ferris wheel so that Hawkins could suck his life force dry and use it for the impressive healing. Getting Justin into the Ferris wheel would provide a problem anyway. I think that the show was fairly inconsistent in terms of whether or not Hawkins can control whose life force he sucks out to channel into the person he heals, but if he was able to completely control it he wouldn’t have needed to send Libby away when he healed Jonesy. It can be argued that Hawkins has learnt to control that better over time, and that in this case he will mostly be draining Justin’s life force, but if he accidentally kills someone else that’s just an unavoidable accident since Justin’s death is the most important thing. Anyway, it just seems like an excessively lame way to kill the Antichrist, and therefore immediately looks unlikely to work.
At least Hawkins picks up on some of the flaws and seems rather sceptical. Samson’s immediate response is to assure Hawkins that they wouldn’t get blamed for Justin’s death. I love that this was uppermost in his mind, but actually it is a reasonably important thing to consider since New Canaan’s full of Justin fanatics who would probably be very happy to kill them all if they suspected them of trying to harm Justin. Even if Hawkins doesn’t care about dying for the cause he ought to spare a thought for the others.
Jonesy and Libby start having a serious discussion about their relationship which seems a bit weird under the circumstances. They’re both pretty sweet, especially when Jonesy gets excessively happy about the fact that he can tell what’s on Libby’s mind. She demands an assurance that he’s not still after Sofie, which he gives, but he doesn’t ask her to promise the same thing which I find a little weird especially after all of Libby’s waffling along the lines of “oh, I just can’t go on feeling like this…”. Basically now that Libby has a nice, strong husband it’s unthinkable that she could be attracted to a woman apparently.
Iris’ wistful claim that she ‘thought we were children of God’ suggests that initially she really did think that her and Justin’s actions were for the good and that she came to realise that they weren’t later on. She claims that she wishes she made better decisions, as well she might after all the murdering she’s been doing. She also states that her sins are beyond remorse or redemption, which I’m pretty certain isn’t consistent with Christian theology. Then she adds, ‘I’m going to hell, and if I’m very lucky my brother will be waiting for me with an embrace’, which I’m taking as evidence that she went along with Justin for as long as she did simply because she loves him so much, and that she’s pretty fucked up with all the murder and incest even if she started to feel bad about it.
Samson pops by the house to see Iris, and picks up a generous $250, and seems to have purposely brought the ‘freakiest’ carnies. He may have done so to impress her but I would love to think that he did it at her request because she wanted to torment Justin as much as possible. Iris continues to simper that the carnival is for the children, to which Justin merely raises his eyebrow. I reckon that he’s aware that she’s trying to annoy him, but it also seems hypocritical for her to want to entertain the children since not long ago she was happy to set a load of orphans on fire. Stroud pops up, and he and Samson face off again- Stroud saying ‘I’ll be damned!’ which is probably true. I also liked his repetition of the phrase ‘on the road’ because he used it in almost exactly the same way as Sal in On The Road, which I’m still feeling a lot of love for. Justin, when discussing the Ferris wheel, states that his sister ‘has a dread fear of heights’. With pretty talk like that I’d feel happy to let him be in charge even if he is evil, especially since it reminded me The Princess Bride‘s Dread Pirate Roberts.
I’m not entirely sure what Justin was planning to do with Sofie, perhaps to use her as a bargaining chip. Jonesy and Hawkins certainly don’t seem overly concerned with Sofie’s plight, but then again they really can’t focus on her since they have to think about the bigger picture. I love that Hawkins now has the authority to shout at Jonesy and Samson without them getting pissed off at him! Apollonia (if it really is her) reveals Sofie’s conception to her- Apollonia was really pretty when she was younger but that isn’t the main point, Sofie finally learns that Justin is her father; the man who raped her mother. So Sofie is revealed to be the (or perhaps a) prophet, and Apollonia turns into another, black-eyed, Sofie who taunts the actual Sofie (there was a similar but better scene in a third season episode of Supernatural called ‘Dream A Little Dream Of Me’ which was utterly fantastic). This seemed like a pretty good representation of a split personality- with both good and evil versions of Sofie present on the screen. If Sofie does indeed have an evil side which she mostly repressed for a long time, as I posited about her father, it would go a long way to explaining a lot of her bitchiness.
I loved that Rita Sue had no qualms about admitting that she was in the wrong, and concedes that Hawkins is definitely one of their own. She also cracked me up by relating Felix’s attempt to have their show somehow at the New Canaan carnival- he thought that getting Rita Sue and Libby to wear long johns under their clothes and calling it the Dance of Salome would somehow make it acceptable. One has to admire perseverance. Samson gave Rita Sue all of the $250 that Iris paid them, which just doesn’t seem right. It’s very kind of him to help her out, and the Dreifus family probably should be reimbursed for not being able to do their act, but he could do so without handing over basically everything that’s in the kitty. I think it was just so the writers could over-emphasise the point that certain people are ‘one of our [Carnivale’s] own’ and should therefore be considered as practically family and taken care of.
I liked that Hawkins recalled Sofie’s words about waking the ‘sleepwalkers’ from their dreary lives in boring towns, and it serves to make her stint as a Christian seem more bizarre. She clearly was proper carnie folk! Hawkins gets all psyched up for the (very bad) plan, and Justin also seems very enthusiastic. He decides that he must flesh out whatever the carnival’s plan for him is and heads off to do so. I liked that Iris and Samson managed to get rid of all the gunmen who follow Justin around mostly by just speaking to his pride and suggesting that he might be afraid of more armed invalids. Justin drags Iris onto the Ferris wheel with him, I suppose to use as insurance, thinking that people are unlikely to hurt her. Perhaps this explains why Iris has a fear of heights in the same way that Justin has had nightmares about Ferris wheels since childhood, they somehow knew that this would happen (it wouldn’t be that unlikely since they both have Avataric blood). Perhaps Justin developed a morbid fascination with carnivals, and that’s why he became obsessed with Apollonia in the first place. Justin gets very verbose and pompous which tends to impress people, so I loved Ruthie’s simple response to him, ‘what a prick’ she murmurs in disgust.
Hawkins has a complete disregard for showmanship- he turns up in his usual dirty clothes and instead of allowing the fancy introduction he demands that everyone shut up and turn off the music. He then straightforwardly demands information about who is suffering from what. It seems ridiculous that it would be this easy to kill Justin since he’s something more than a run of the mill human. Justin seems to become afflicted with whatever Hawkins heals, which never seemed to happen before- although Hawkins healing anyone usually makes Justin ill so perhaps different rules apply. Jonesy recklessly breaks the wheel himself this time, and cheerfully smirks up at Justin- it seems a tad unfair to the other riders! I understand that they’re basically collateral damage, but I don’t see why Justin couldn’t have been goaded into taking the night’s inaugural turn on the wheel solo (or just with Iris) so as not to put others in danger. Justin manages to stop the wheel however, and Samson’s “oh shit!” face is priceless.
Hawkins finally gets around to healing Norman which is a remarkably good idea, since he probably would have a lot of useful information. Hawkins really ought to have done it earlier though, because Justin bursts into the tent and starts running about killing people. I’m not entirely sure why he went on this murderous rampage, but I suppose evil creatures don’t really need an excuse for it. Finally Hawkins and Brother Justin end up in the field that they’ve both been experiencing dreams and visions of for so long, and it turns out that it comes complete with a creepy scarecrow! It really reminded me of ‘Scarecrow’ (the early Supernatural episodes had incredibly lame titles, but they got a lot better in season two and three when they started baldly ripping off song, album and movie titles) and I want to rewatch all of Supernatural so much if I ever get time. Hawkins disguises himself as the scarecrow (mightily fast in fact), and really embodies everything that horror movies are made of- in fact the sight of Nick Stahl’s head bedecked with a straw hat was freaky enough.
Justin’s tattoo finally turns out to have a use- it deflects Hawkins’ magical knife. However Management’s information and all the tree visions prove their use, and Hawkins is able to mortally wound Justin by plunging the knife into the exact spot (Justin’s arboreal heel if you will). It turns out that Justin also bleeds blue, so it must be a characteristic of all avatars. I’m puzzled by the fact that noone ever seems to have noticed it or commented on it, especially as Hawkins seems like the type of chap to get stabbed and battered up fairly frequently. I suppose it could have been a change that happened only when their powers began to fully manifest, or even just since the previous avatars died, but I still think someone ought to have noticed blue blood at some point.
I didn’t find Stroud’s singing particularly offensive (unlike his evil whistling), but I was glad when Jonesy burst in and beat him up, I did say that Stroud ought to take more care when hanging around his kidnapping victims. Jonesy finally gets to come to Sofie’s rescue and be the hero for her that he always wanted to be, but it’s too late now since he’s married to Libby. In fact it’s definitely too late because apparently Sofie’s evil now and she shoots Jonesy! That was a pretty awesome and unexpected conclusion to that arc, especially in the face of all that ‘one of us’ jibber-jabber. I’m certain that Jonesy’s not dead though, he’s one of those characters (like Wesley in Angel) who is alive until proven dead in triplicate because they have an uncanny ability to survive being burnt alive or having their throat slit and not receiving medical or mystical attention for a good long while. Poor Libby felt properly abandoned though when Jonesy didn’t show up, but at least her and Rita Sue were finally being nice to each other.
Hawkins didn’t die either which was excellent. Instead of feeling for his pulse Samson just stuck a mirror in his face and was jubilant when he saw Hawkins’ breath misting the glass. He may not have been a martyr but he’s certainly treated like one- being hoisted up on everyone’s shoulders and left stretched out in a darkened trailer. I wasn’t sure at that point if Justin was supposed to be dead or not since I thought that I could see him breathing… In any case the whole thing seemed a little fruitless when you consider the history of these avatars- they’re always replaced by a new version to fight the same fight over and over again. Due to the historical setting of the show the audience is aware that the Usher isn’t going to bring about literal Armageddon, but what the Usher and the Omega are leading to is the end of days which ushered in the horrific “Age of Reason”, beginning with the explosion of the atom bomb. At the end of the finale Sofie drains the life of the all-important cornfield and restores Justin to life. Sofie apparently has completely gone over to the dark side at this point, and it’s a stark contrast to her claim that if she ever met her father she’d cut him dead.
Dammit all, it’s just such an unsatisfactory ending and I really wish the show had had an opportunity to continue and explore everything that it hinted at. I’m pretty certain that I’m being incorrect in referring to Justin as ‘the Antichrist’ since that must be Sofie’s role as she’s the Omega, but he seems like such a caricature of the Antichrist, and so frustratingly little is known about the role of the Omega. I really wish that that could have been explored more, and there was so much possible depth to be plumbed in terms of the complicated relationships between Sofie, Iris and Justin- as well as the now incredibly doomed love affair between Sofie and Hawkins. I suppose there’s always the slim hope that Carnivale will come back in another format and these things will be answered and explored, so I’m glad that Daniel Knauf hasn’t given too much away. A few years ago I would have been desperate for cannon titbits, but these days with the Buffy comics, Serenity getting made and that -verse also continuing successfully in comics and the long after the fact X-Files movie (still refraining!) who knows, other than a psychic like Sofie, what Carnivale treats might be in my future? Here’s hoping!