Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Carnivale wrapped up its second season this week with a powerhouse of an episode. Readers of this blog will likely find my continued praise for anything HBO-related to be biased, but I pledge complete honesty when saying it was one of the best hours of television this pale-faced geek ever saw.

I was critical of the early part of this season. I used all the same words that others who dislike the show use: "slow," "confusing," "nothing happening." But a little voice in the back of my head kept saying, "Hold on, wait. It's all set-up. If the conclusion is good, it'll all be worth it." And it was! What a ride of a season. Eclipses anything done in the brilliant first season.

Some shows preach characters above all but rarely follow-through. Carnivale does. Despite all the other-worldly activities, the freaks, the violence, this show still took tons of time this season to follow the continued fucked-up-drama behind Stumpy's family. It wasn't all stripping and drinking this time. A shylock plagued them for half the season and the ghost of their dead daughter, never once named directly, was evident in all their motivations. Sofie's storyline, from grief and rejection early in the season, to depression and obsession midway, to a hint of a hope and an outward display love (finally) between her and Ben, followed immediately by her defecting from the Carnivale and joining the bright white religious side. Every change made sense, thanks to the sharp writing and powerful performance, and it was a wonderful thing to watch. Her importance in future seasons will continue to grow.

And, finally, there's Ben and Justin. Finally! In the same scene together without dream-swirlies anywhere in sight. Their "final battle" brings the show back to the first minutes of the first season, a beautiful moment that I'm sure made every single fan want to leap out of their seats and scream "YESSS!!" But not before sitting down and watching what happens. The show was barreling to a conclusion and, with dread, I wondered if the series would just end with this episode. The story seemed almost done. But like any really great story, there's always room for a sequel.

There's a great moment, towards the end of the episode, when after the climax, the screen goes black and stays that way for half a minute. I remember thinking, that could be the end of a novel right there, the cliche The End... ? But then the show came back, with a shocker!, to set up the third season.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention my favorite episode of the season, "The Road to Damascus." Written by Nicole Yorkin and Dawn Prestwich, two apparently hilarious women. The episode is chock full of humor and startling character moments as two carnival's meet on the road and stop for some drinks and dancing. It's actually a break from the main thrust of the season but all the character stories come to a head, especially the fate of Tommy Dolan and the relationship between Ben and Sofie. An elephant wanders around the tents in moments of comic gold and a freak rainstorm sets up the finale of a great, great episode.

With Carnivale and SciFi's Battlestar Galactica, science fiction (or science fiction/drama in BSG's case and magic realism in Carnivale's) is really, truly, back on TV in top form. Writers and readers of the genre should flock to these shows: they deliver all the serious and emotional content our evolved senses crave.


zw said...

Carnivale is indeed awesome, but it suffers from the same problem I see over and over again in fantasy - characters are friggin' dumb. Hawkins especially. I suppose you could say that, in a world where nothing necessarily has to make sense, why should the hero show any?

There's also the whole good vs evil thing - yay, Justin is eeeeeeeeevil. Motivation? Feh, that's for people who aren't eeeeeeeevil. Carnivale kinda works better for me as a dramadey, but then, most things do.

Deadwood, now... woo! Chars there rarely suffer from "I'm-a-fucking-moron" syndrome, and when they do something overly stupid, it's believable as a character saying "Fuck it", rather than "Duh".

You know, we could stop fellating HBO, but what else is there? Besides Adult Swim, obviously.

tragedyanne said...

i'd have to agree about deadwood. i'm not much of a fan of westerns myself but this show is an exception.

and oh yes, adult swim. hehe.

Elad said...

I disagree about Ben, Kevin. I think he's come a long way as hero. It's true, he was willing to sacrifice himself to kill Justin. You can't forget: Motivations run deep in this show. Remember the dream/nightmare sequence that Managment showed Ben in the first episode of the second season? The one with the nuclear test? Ben is trying to prevent whatever the hell that was (from his point of view) by stopping Justin at any cost.

But, yeah, Justin's motivations are kinda like "Huh?" But I think that's the point. He's shrouded in mystery and that's part of the fun. Like when he pulled the wool over Tommy Dolan's eyes. That was a perfect Justin moment.

As for Deadwood, I must plead ignorance. Haven't seen any episode. Don't know why. I know, I know. I'll get to it, soon. Maybe I'll download or just buy the first season DVD and do some marathonin'. I love that!

Anonymous said...

I think you're right on track and not many people are willing to admit that they share your views. 2 lost season is an AWESOME place to discuss LOST.

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