CARNIVÀLE: 1.08 Lonnigan, Texas — REVIEW


Seriable’s Mark Jones reviews Carnivàle 1.08 — “Lonnigan, Texas”

Although “Lonnigan, Texas” doesn’t offer a subplot which will expand the mythology as dramatically as “The River,” it opens with another of Ben’s dreams which itself offers a few more pieces of the puzzle. The dream seems to follow on from his last vision in the mines of Babylon and instead of being on the battlefield witnessing the mauling of the mysterious Russian sniper by Lodz’s bear, he is now in a medical tent seeing the extent of that man’s injuries. These include the absence of both of his legs, an arm and an eye, injuries gruesomely created with some pretty realistic looking make-up work. The next stage of Ben’s dream sees him awake in a similar condition while being watched over by Brother Justin. And finally, he wakes to find he’s been dreaming. It’s another memorable sequence that offers food for thought, at least once the episode has finished because as usual we’re not left to dwell on the vision.

There are two main threads running through this episode, Ben’s mission to try and sign up a new act for the Carnival and Brother Justin’s incarceration in a mental institution. While Ben’s story isn’t the most exciting plot in the world, there are a few important things to take away from it: the significance of Phineas Boffo’s ring and the wanted poster for Ben’s murder. The latter point poses the most immediate problem, as for the first time it’s suggested that the law may actually catch up with Ben, who has managed to allude capture so far. In some respects it seems that introducing, or at least reminding us of, this element of danger could have been done sooner or more often, but there’s no doubt having Ben trying to evade the law as he was taking the first steps on his journey would have been an unnecessary distraction.

It also raises the question of his character, making us doubt slightly whether he’s good or bad. On the one hand, we know he’s wanted for murder, on the other, he’s shown signs of redemption which in “Lonnigan, Texas” takes the form of paying for a new tire for a poor family stuck at a gas station. Unfortunately, his good deed doesn’t look as if it’s going to pay off as the poor man he helps snatches his wanted poster which also offers a reward for Hawkin’s capture.

Then there’s the matter of Boffo’s ring, as when Ben touches it, it triggers another vision, with quite a jarring affect in the middle of a fairly laid back instalment. It’s shocking because it happens so suddenly, but also because of the monastic chanting, images of the mail-clad knights and clashing swords it contains, taking us further back down the mythology route to the days of the Knights Templar.

Brother Justin’s stay in the asylum also offers some excitement with scenes like his interview with the unnamed psychiatrist in his padded cell. The crazy soft-spoken Justin is almost as fun to watch as the confident minister delivering a sermon, and the power of suggestion in his voice is subtly revealed as he influences what the psychiatrist writes in his notes. Justin notes, without looking at his pad, that he spelt excitation wrong and leaving the cell the psychiatrist realises that he did in fact make an error, which he corrects seeming only ever so slightly miffed.

The cinematography in “Lonnigan, Texas” stands out from the previous episodes, and Jeffrey Jur‘s previous work on the show (with the exception of three episodes, he’s been Director of Photography on most of the series so far), not necessarily because it’s better but because of its use of light. It’s not that the sun has been completely absent from the world of carnies, but the light it generated never really felt like a feature until now, with the show revelling in the darkness of its shadows. However, there are a number of instances where light as opposed to darkness is used to great effect, contrasting with some sinister goings on, creating a creepy atmosphere.

A prime example is the scenes with Brother Justin in the Asylum. While you might think a mental institution in a show so dark would be dimly lit and like the set out of a horror movie, it’s actually well lit with sunlight pouring in through the windows. This is especially true in Brother Justin’s cell where the mellow glow of the lighting contrasts with the minister’s cryptic ramblings, which hint that now he’s aware of his powers he’s able to control them.

Another instance that springs to mind is near the beginning, where Sofie and Jonesy are playing catch against a pastel coloured backdrop like they were characters in an impressionist painting. As the camera pans quickly following the softball, occasionally cutting to a long shot, framing them with the carnival in the background, the audience is really drawn into their conversation which quickly turns into an argument about Jonesy’s opinion of Libby. The almost idyllic, at least as idyllic as the desert can be, backdrop makes for an engagingly pleasant scene underscored by some tensions which show regardless of bad weather or dark magic the carnies still have their own personal problems to deal with.

As far as character development goes, Sofie is the one doing the most evolving as she continues to grow more confident, agreeing to participate as a warm up act for the cooch show, and closer to Libby. There’s a sense of her loyalties shifting from Jonesy to Libby though, as she argues about her new friend with the former baseball player when a comment he makes is taken as an insult. Up to this point he’s always seemed like a father figure to her and now, as with Apollonia, her new found friendship is leading her to become more independent. Meanwhile, Brother Justin, while temporarily incapacitated in a straight jacket, shows sings of a greater awareness of his powers, referring to himself as “the left hand of God” and “his will made flesh,” but doesn’t claim that he’s either a Christ or Satan-like figure. Ben, however, is still reluctant to receive any guidance from Lodz which may help him understand his own gift better.

With the exception of badgering Ben a little at the beginning and going down on Lila, distracting one Carney worker from his sweeping, the episode is fairly light on the Lodz. However, he does turn up for a killer ending as it turns out he’s in cahoots with the mysterious management, a fact which Samson is clearly unaware of. Deeper mysteries aside, Lodz isn’t the only one getting laid in this instalment, and in a more significant turn of events Felix convinces Jonesy to sleep with his wife Rita Sue, as their relationship continues to face complications. Jonesy and Rita Sue’s tender moment isn’t played for laughs though, and it’s quite a touching scene where she caresses his scarred knee cap, before moving on to other parts of him.

As with the episode before it, “Lonnigan, Texas” sets up some really interesting hints at future answers to mysteries and mixes it with a bit more action and an interesting visual style which helps it to stand out. The significance of the masonic symbol on Boffo’s ring, that is also seen on Scudder’s medal (which Samson is seen toying with towards the end), what Lodz is talking about with management (who we hear speak for the first time) and exactly who the limbless man is, are a few of the intriguing mysteries put forward that we’re left to ponder.

8/10 Seriable Stars

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