Seriable’s Mark Jones reviews Carnivàle 1.02 — “After The Ball Is Over”
In Twin Peaks it wasn’t until the middle of the second season that things started to get really dark, introducing the idea of incest into the Laura Palmer storyline. But right from the beginning of “After the Ball is Over,” it’s clear that Carnivàle is a show that’s not afraid of plumbing the depths of human depravity, and it’s easy to forget we’re only two episodes in.
There are two significant instances where this darkness becomes evident, making for some shocking and really powerful television. The first is early on where Brother Justin spies on his Sister taking a shower, via a mirror. It’s just a quick look and a troubled expression but it’s enough to flag the inner turmoil in this character and is more proof that Brother Justin isn’t the perfect preacher he appears to be on the surface. However, the moment which really leaves an impression is found in Brother Justin and Templeton’s vision, where the minister reveals the businessman’s indiscretions with a young boy at Chin’s Chinese brothel. The semi-naked boy is sat on the bed while Templeton caresses his skin, making the viewer’s skin crawl in a way that not many TV shows can, or want, to do.
It’s not just the content of Brother Justin’s journey with Templeman that is so distressing but the nature of the journey itself. In a sort of waking dream, Justin, seemingly without trying, and like the Ghost of Christmas Past, takes Templeman on a journey to Chin’s, revealing his darkest sin. These visions appear to be one of his powers and seem to be more than the vision from God that he experienced previously. Templeman is driven so mad by what he’s seen that he later commits suicide in his car, in a beautifully shot scene where the vehicle and the driver are silhouetted against the setting sun, with just the brief flash of the gun and the slumping figure to indicate his death.
More straightforward dream sequences play a big part in this episode and it begins in a diner where Brother Justin and Ben Hawkins meet for the first time. They are joined by several other significant characters, a man in a tuxedo and a soldier, and the only line of dialogue is “every prophet in his home,” spoken by the waitress at the end before the window explodes. What it does for the story is play with the idea that Ben and Justin are inevitably going to meet at some point, and alleviates any tension this might create by having them meet in their dreams. Unlike shows such as LOST, it demonstrates that it wants the audience not to worry about reaching the next answer, but to get absorbed in the story as a whole. The question of who the other two men are introduces something else to think about, with clues which appear later on, hinting at their identity.
The second dream is just Ben’s and doesn’t involve either of the characters but expands upon his nightmarish visions of World War I. In this instance, he sees a bear in the dream wearing a very specific hat, which is later seen hanging outside of Management’s trailer. The first dream is a sign of things to come, whereas the second is a code that Ben, along with the audience, will gradually unlock revealing the secrets that he suddenly becomes aware of.
There are clues, and answers, aplenty, and in another great scene Ben comes across the supposedly non existent baggage trailer, in which he discovers a number of objects belonging to the mysterious Henry “Hack” Scudder. These include a tuxedo just like the man in the dream was wearing, and it’s not hard to add two and two together. It’s exciting, no doubt, and appears to be the first step on a treasure hunt of clues as he picks a picture that seems to have some significance to him. However, it isn’t long before we find out that the woman in the picture was his mother; a sign that the question of his parentage is going to be a big issue in the overarching storyline. The foetus in a jar as Ben enters is another great bit of weirdness, though it doesn’t appear to have any deeper meaning, that unsettles the viewer — but it’s when it turns to look at the camera as Ben leaves that is the real icing on the cake.
Once again Clancy Brown steals the show with his performance as Brother Justin, and its fair to say it’s one that’s not going to let up as with every new twist of his character he seems perfectly tuned in to it. While Brown steals any scene he’s in, any moment between Lodz and Samson is always fun to watch as well. Though Lodz lingers in the background he has insight into what’s going on and is quick to realize Ben’s potential, a point which he and Ben disagree on, leading to some tense conversations between the two of them. Both Michael J Anderson and Patrick Bauchau deliver pitch perfect characterisations, and those deep shadows and the ever present bottle of Absinthe on Lodz’ table all help to weave an incredible atmosphere.
Two new characters are introduced in the form of Felix, the husband of whore and cooch dancer Rita Sue, and Brother Justin’s superior Brother Norman. While Felix is a likeable rogue who adds some more color to the proceedings, Norman will prove to be a more important part of the puzzle. These two characters really complete the cast and give the show a really interesting palette of personalities to work with going forward. Norman’s introduction may be fairly brief but he has one of the most memorable pieces of dialogue in the episode as he waxes lyrical about Babe Ruth;
“In desperate times the good lord looks over the flock and chooses one man to inspire the multitudes. One man to accomplish the impossible, one man to offer hope where there was only hopelessness. And who are we to judge the wisdom of the almighty?”
This sets bells ringing in Justin’s head as he comes to realize his own powers and what he believes is God choosing him as some kind of saviour. It’s also not the only time Babe Ruth is mentioned, and as Norman is marvelling over his 700th home run so is Samson, much to Jonesy’s annoyance, adding to the authentic feel by bringing in a reference to a real historical event and placing it firmly at a specific point in time.
We also learn more about the relationship between Sofie and her mother Apollonia who features heavily in the conclusion of “After the Ball is Over,” when the comatose woman manages to find her way to deliver a message to Ben Hawkins – “you’re the one”. After she speaks to Ben she collapses, doing him no favours, making him more of an outcast than before and ensuring that his initiation into the Carnival isn’t going to be an easy one. Not only does she display real powers, which few people are able to do in this show, but also alerts Ben to his own “chosen one” status.
Anyone who thought that the first episode was slow isn’t going to have their minds changed with the second instalment, which again refuses to pander to the adrenaline junkies of serialized television. This could either be seen as weakness or a strength. For those who get the show, it’s part of its appeal. For anyone who isn’t hooked by the premise or enthralled by the magical version of the 1930s that they’re presented with, then it’s certainly going to be a turn-off.
However, the pace is deceiving and a lot happens in this episode and it ends by hinting at one of the biggest mysteries to come, which is the question of who is “Management”? There’s been references to this mysterious leader since the beginning and it becomes a bigger issue at the end of “After the Ball is Over,” as Ben sees the hat the bear was wearing in his dream outside of Management’s trailer. The scene then fades out, leaving us to wonder how it is all tied together.
8.5/10 Seriable Stars