Seriable’s Mark Jones reviews Carnivàle 2.02 — Alamogordo, NM
After an exciting if exposition-heavy season opener, things settle down a bit in “Alamogordo, NM” as Ben goes in search of more clues from a man named Devin Kerrigan and Brother Justin breaks ground on his ‘Temple of Jericho’. It’s not one of the series most shining moments, but closes a chapter of the Carnival’s story as at the end they head off for Ingram, Texas, leaving behind the burnt remains of Apollonia’s bus and any hope for Lila of finding Lodz.
One of the more intriguing strands in “Alamogordo, NM” begins when Brother Justin reaches out to prisoner Varlyn Stroud through a secret message transmitted through his radio broadcast. The prisoner, who we know little about, with the help of Justin’s voice escapes confinement and is the first of his “apostles” we’re introduced to. After walking out of jail he stops by the Hawkins’ old farm and proceeds onwards to kill Tipton’s sheriff for his badge and find more clues regarding Scudder’s whereabouts. The idea of Justin gathering his Apostles via his radio show is an interesting one that poses more danger for Ben, and Stroud posing as sheriff promises to be problematic for him in the not too distant future.
Aside from beginning the construction of his new temple, Brother Justin pays a visit to his mysterious Chinatown mistress again. Before it seemed as if she might be a prostitute, however in this episode it becomes apparent she’s a tattoo artist, albeit one that inks her customers naked. The audience doesn’t need to see the big reveal to know what the image is going to be and the final images confirm Brother Justin’s status as the new (and at this point butt-baked) tattooed man.
It’s the clear the rendezvous isn’t just about sexual satisfaction, but there’s evidence of this becoming a growing issue as the subject of Justin’s jealousy over Dolan’s feelings for Iris, not to mention Justin’s general distrust of the reporter, is also dealt with in a scene early on. The minister’s unsatisfied desires are clearly becoming more violent, and at his ground breaking ceremony we see inside his mind’s eye as he mentally undresses one of his flock, making her claw herself and draw blood, suggesting darker deeds to come.
One of the strengths of the previous episode was the scenes where Ben confronted Management, but his encounter with the dying Belyakov in this instalment falls a little flat. Not only does it seem a bit wishy washy to have Ben go back in after being told to stay away, but there’s just not the same tension that was there the last time. A little light is shone on Management’s previous comments of the boy tempting him when he refuses to be healed by Ben, but the moment the damaged hand emerges out of the curtain and is quickly withdrawn doesn’t feel as exciting as it could have been.
Prior to this, Ben’s search for Kerrigan ended in St Dymphna’s Convalescent Home where he found he was one of two people, the other being Hack Scudder, that was allowed to see him. There’s plenty of great, and disturbing, imagery that we get from Ben’s visit, starting with his waking vision of hearing Brother Justin in the home’s chapel. The creepiest part of the sequence has to be when the baby Jesus, on a statue of the Virgin Mary (with gouged out eyeballs) and her son, turns its head towards Ben, once again drawing attention to his Christ-like status. His second vision, which is completely more disturbing, is when he tries to heal Kerrigan in order to get him to speak only to be rewarded with images of a naked Kerrigan being part of some ritual with Scudder that involves biting the heads off snakes. It’s not the most thrilling vision the show has to offer, but the image of the foetal-positioned former chaplain with a snake dangling out of his mouth is a hard one to shake.
Disturbing images aside, the upshot of Ben’s visit are the acquirement of clues in the form of a picture of the tattooed man and some poetry jotted down from Kerrigan’s ramblings. It’s these two things that make the supposedly all knowing Management realise the situation is worse than he realised and enters into a fit of despair which ends with him reiterating to Ben that there’s no time to waste, though it seemed as if that was evident enough before.
It’s on Ben’s way back to the carnival that he has another kick in the rear where pursuing his destiny is concerned, as he comes across the atomic bomb test site from his vision in the previous episode. While we don’t revisit his premonition in its entirety, we do hear the warning siren to indicate that in the future it’s going to be the location of the detonation of the nuclear weapon. It’s also part of a tit for tat pattern that’s been emerging since the last episode where Justin discovers one thing and Ben discovers another, or in this case Justin finds the site of his Temple of Jericho and Ben finds the site where he’s got to stop the bomb going off, drawing parallels between the two of them. These discoveries can seem a little coincidental but they serve to illustrate the fact that Justin is one step ahead of Hawkins, and with one apostle at his disposal already his lead is becoming greater.
After stopping to take in the view, Ben carries on his way coming across a wandering Sofie, who is oblivious to the fact that she’s gone walkabouts. Sofie may have managed to offend the two people who cared most about her at the carnival, but Ben’s discovery of her on the dusty road sets the stage for a romance between the two of them, verging closer to a more mainstream romance than the pairing of him and Ruthie, a relationship where the flame seems to have suddenly gone out. Now that her main purpose has been fulfilled, giving Ben someone to care enough about that he’d bring them back from the dead, she now starts seeing ghosts to give her something to do. There’s a hint that this could have more significance in the future, but for now the scene where Samson offers to stand in for her ghost date is kind of sweet.
In terms of the general ambiance, there’s something that doesn’t sit quite right with “Alamogordo, NM”, and this episode is probably the least immersive so far. There’s the absence of Lodz’ whose presence at this point is starting to feel missed, and not just by Lila, and some issues with the plotting seeming a little more formulaic as Ben hops from point A to point B in search of clues and people. In some ways it becomes more obvious in this episode than the last that Carnivàle has changed compared to season one. After the impact of the exposition filled and visually impressive “Los Moscos” has faded and the dust settled, it’s clearer that the series is trying accommodate a more mainstream audience though still retains the key elements of its unique style, even if everything’s happening a bit faster for the benefit of those whose attention span couldn’t handle the slow pace before.
It’s not the most satisfying instalment of Carnivàle, but is a set up to more interesting future episodes. We see Tommy Dolan getting closer to discovering the truth about the ministry fire, Ben has another location to visit in his efforts to track down Scudder and the audience are left in no doubt about what Brother Justin’s naked behind looks like.
7/10 Seriable Stars