Seriable’s Mark Jones reviews Carnivàle 1.10 — “Hot and Bothered”
The Carnies head further south in “Hot and Bothered,” a fairly packed episode which sees Brother Justin return to Mintern and Samson and Ben try to track down Scudder. Its New Mexico setting makes for a colourful change of scenery and is the set-up for plenty of drama, even if most of it only affects the private lives of the carnies.
“Hot and Bothered” isn’t a phrase just used to describe the weather, and its effect in this instalment but hints at the underlying sexual tensions that are boiling away in the carnival. The most notable hook-up is Ben and Ruthie but Libby also stumbles upon Rita-Sue and Jonesy getting busy in the shower after dark and something almost happens but doesn’t between Jonesy and Sofie.
Ben and Ruthie’s union was inevitable, not to mention necessary for the story, and while it’s a tender moment it’s a bit creepy as well, as they do the deed after she comforts him about his bad dreams in kind of a motherly way. Putting aside the dark undertones and the fact that Ben had to have a reason to fall asleep sometime, it doesn’t seem wrong or forced on the surface, though also doesn’t feel as significant as it might have been.
There are some character-deepening developments between other couples in the show as well, namely Jonesy and Rita-Sue and Jonesy and Sofie. While continuing to see Rita-Sue behind closed doors, or at least behind closed shower curtains, Jonesy has an opportunity to take his relationship with Sofie a step further but stops before things go too far, a move which indicates he really does care about her. Their encounter is the result of Sofie’s increasingly strained relationship with her increasingly deranged mother, and there are hints that more is to come on this front in the future.
Adding to the list of sexual yet soap opera-like elements is Felix’s night out where he gets into a bar fight and ends up bunking up with a Mexican woman, who he subsequently hires to dance the cooch with Rita Sue, spelling out more troubled times for his marriage.
Aside from her tender moment with the former baseball player, there are some intriguing hints that suggest a greater destiny for Sofie which ties in with the Scudder mythology. In the previous episode it was revealed that her father was the man with the tree tattoo and in this one the mysterious man becomes a more prominent figure. Not only does he appear before Ben when he drifts off to sleep but he’s also seen, at least to the audience, as part of a mural painted on the wall of the Templar Lodge.
As well as this, the member of the lodge that Ben and Samson encountered at the entrance, suddenly appears before Sofie to tell her “every prophet in her house,” which refers back to the dream at the beginning of “After the Ball is Over,” connecting her to main arc in quite a significant way. At this point there’s too little information to go on to draw any real conclusions but its joining these dots that gives the audience something to think about while other mysteries are explained in a more direct manner. This episode also plots another point on the arc of Apollonia’s descent into madness as she “breaks the rules” by sending Sofie visions of the dark side of customers’ futures in a particularly disturbing reading.
The main thread running through ‘Hot and Bothered’ where the main mythology is concerned, however, is Ben and Samson’s journey into town to see if they can find out more about Scudder’s whereabouts. There’s no hesitation when Samson asks him on the trip, which shows a level of trust that just isn’t there with Lodz. Although Samson might not be as altruistic in his actions as he’s letting on, he certainly seems to be as clueless as Ben where the significance of the boy’s visions are concerned. Samson is the more entertaining personality by far where him and Ben are concerned, but the scenes with them in the car are fun to watch and it’s good to see Samson warming to Ben with sense that the trust Ben feels for his boss is reciprocated.
It’s also true of many of Samson’s actions, especially with Sofie as well, that he can come across as a caring father figure when he’s not telling people what to do. This makes him a more sympathetic character than Lodz who doesn’t seem to have as much regard for his fellow carnies’ well being. During his conversation in the car on the way back, he offers up quite a big chunk of exposition regarding the history of the carnival and how management came to be involved in the first place. Once again there are references to the “old country” and bad things happening, “badder than you can imagine, badder than anyone can imagine,” but the little man offers no hint as what these could be. As well as these casually delivered answers, there’s a steady drip of tantalising clues we’re given when they’re inside the Templar lodge, such as Phineas Boffo watching them from a window as they leave, but no startling revelations.
One of my favourite Ben moments, however, although a small one, is when he’s back at the Carnival and trying not to sleep in a filled bath tub, only to be rescued by Gabriel, who carriers him to Ruthie’s trailer, clearly still grateful for Ben healing his arm. In a way this moment indicates one of the strengths of the episode, the little moments between characters which show who they care for and where their loyalties lie, with the biggest reveal in this respect coming right at the end.
Brother Justin’s return is the other main event, and in true creepy Justin Crowe fashion he sneaks back into his house in the dead of night, putting his hand over Iris’s mouth to stop her from screaming before waking her and kissing her on the lips. Now that both he and Iris are on the same page, it’s revealed that she knew about Justin’s powers and his destiny since they were children, making her seem like a much more dark and burdened character compared to the subservient sister she seemed before. There are some scenes with Justin and Tommy Dolan where the minister is reluctant to appear on the radio — but the really good stuff comes near the end when Justin gatecrashes a sermon given by Brother Norman. Riling the crowd up after he shows an aptitude for reading peoples’ minds, he starts to assemble his army and when he insists that Normal baptise him, the holy water cuts into his forehead making it bleed. It’s a simple effect but works really well, especially coupled with the terror in Brother Norman’s eyes.
There may be a lot going on compared to previous episodes, but overall it doesn’t hit its marks quite as well as those that preceded it. The stuff with Samson and Ben is interesting and offers some exciting clues, but there are no massive developments, or at least none that felt massive, where the story is concerned. The ending where Lodz is talking to management, while keeping us up-to-date with the man behind the curtain’s plans and suggesting that nothing good is going to happen to Scudder once they find him, lacked the impact that it might have had if the episode ended with Brother Justin’s triumphant and terrifying return to his flock. That being said, it’s an important scene topping off an episode where we’re once again given a few answers as well as plenty to think about.
7.5/10 Seriable Stars