Seriable’s Mark Jones reviews Carnivàle 2.03 — Ingram, TX

Following a slightly disappointing episode, Carnivàle’s second season seems as if its hitting its stride with ‘Ingram, TX’, as it feels more like the original series just with a little added momentum. There’s a bit less exposition and a bit more background color plus some trademark dark moments that send a chill down the spine and a shudder through the stomach.

Ben’s mission in this instalment doesn’t really bear fruit until towards the end, and before that he’s offered some assistance by some otherworldly forces. Picking up a thread from the early episodes of the show, Ben asks Sofie to read his future as a friendly gesture towards her. Aside from showing that he’s warming to Sofie (he even manages to crack a smile), it sets the stage for his discovery of a clue relating to the crone. Sofie tells him to burn the deck and when he’s doing so he discovers one that made it through the fire, “La Passeur” (which according to Google translate and various other online dictionaries means “The Ferryman” or “smuggler”, make of that what you will). The card features the familiar image of a tattooed man and the charred bodies of Ruthie’s snakes bring to mind the strange ritual from the vision in the previous episode. Questioning Sofie about the card she says she’s never seen it before, suggesting that some mysterious force is guiding him, in addition to Management.

Strange forces are at work on Ruthie as well as she sees more ghosts, this time the more exciting, though fleeting, reappearance of Lodz. Putting aside the fact that Ben’s dumping of Ruthie seems a bit abrupt and doesn’t really make that much sense (at least in the context of the story), there’s a bit more of a payoff of her being brought back from the dead, as it would seem her ability to see ghosts would be a side affect of her resurrection.

In each episode it seems there are particular moments crafted to illustrate the differences between Ben and Justin in relation to how they use their powers. In the case of Ben in this episode it’s something that has nothing to do with the over-arcing plot but is just a great defining scene that speaks a lot about his character. Continuing his search for the crone in Ingram he is stopped by a crippled old man on the road. The man offers up his, as he puts it, retarded daughter to Ben, pimping her out for a couple of dollars. Ben, clearly disgusted, refuses and for a second it seems as if he’s going to use his powers to take the man’s life and heal the daughter. Laying his hand on the man he doesn’t kill him but rather makes him see the error of his ways. The man genuinely seems to be affected by Ben and promises never to do it again, it would seem that Ben helped to heal his soul rather than the more violent alternative.

Justin, on the other hand, couldn’t be more twisted in the way he uses his powers. Celeste, the blonde woman he fantasized about previously is now in his employ as a maid. Deliberately spilling a glass of milk he instructs her to clean it up, while down on her knees he tells her that it looks like she’s about to pray. If it wasn’t clear where the scene was going, the camera moves up to Justin’s smug face while we hear the sound of a zipper being unzipped as Norman helplessly looks on. His actions speak for themselves and while Ben shows mercy and kindness, Justin becomes increasingly intent on satisfying his own desires and tormenting those around him.

Less important yet none-the-less interesting developments occur between some of the other relationships in the carnival, as it appears Felix has got himself in some financial trouble and Jonesy reminisces about growing up with Sofie and regrets the distance that is now between them. While these things might not have such a big impact on the story in the greater scheme of things they do help to keep the show grounded, plus any time we get to see Felix, especially when he works his patter on the cooch show audiences, is always entertaining and usually yields a few good lines (in this case it’s “I do not pedal flesh, I sell dreams”).

There are some tense moments towards the end as Ben runs afoul of a settlement of homeless people who will prove to be another link to Scudder, but not before they’ve tried to bury him alive. Wandering about the backroads of Ingram our hero comes across their camp and while investigating the strange surroundings, filled with objects like dolls with nails in their heads and diagrams of artificial human eyes, he inadvertently sets off a tin can alarm and before he knows it is strung upside down. The end result is that after taking his few possessions they try to bury him alive, but after realising he’s connected to Scudder start frantically digging him out.

Yet again avoiding another potential cliffhanger situation it becomes clear Ben is safe before we move back to the Carnival where Ruthie decides to follow Lodz’s ghost. Ending up in his trailer, now occupied by Sofie, we get the sense that he’s still living there in some form. This suggests that the smoke Sofie smelt at the beginning of the episode wasn’t her imagination and is one of several indications that the dead can still influence the living from beyond the grave, something which first became clear back in “Pick a Number“. After Ruthie leaves, first covering Sofie with a blanket, the radio appears to tune itself to Brother Justin’s broadcast, causing her to awake before the credits start rolling.

A much stronger instalment than its predecessor, ‘Ingram, TX’ progresses the story at a more relaxed pace and offers plenty to shock and a little something to amuse, a good mix when it comes to Carnivàle. Ruthie’s ghostly visitations add a nice air of mystery as well and we’re left wondering what the future holds for Sofie, apart from dropping spanners and flirting with Ben.

8.5/10 Seriable Stars

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