Seriable’s Mark Jones reviews Carnivàle 2.04 — “Old Cherry Blossom Road”
Compared to the previous episode “Old Cherry Blossom Road” feels a bit like another misfire where maintaining the atmosphere of the first season of the show is concerned. While there are a few interesting developments in the story department, the cinematography, pacing, and even some of the acting are a little bit off at times, but it still offers a few chilling moments as Ben discovers more about his roots.
The main event is Ben’s discovery of the Crone who, it turns out, is his grandmother. Potentially, this could have been a high point for the series but unfortunately is another moment that falls a bit flat, though does still offer up plenty of creepiness. Foreshadowing in “Almogordo, NM” becomes clear as, like the statue of the Virgin Mary, she has her eyeballs gouged out (which would seem to suggest the Baby Jesus represented Scudder rather than Ben), but unlike the virtuous Mary Ben’s granny is apparently a Confederate flag owning racist with the image of an African-American being hung on her bedroom wall and her deceased husband the pallbearer for the founder of the KKK.
When the show shocks and does it well, revelations like these can really be great moments, but in this episode they just feel a little awkward. If anything it calls attention to the fact that so far it’s been an incredibly white show and for one that deals in depraved acts it has yet to address the racial tensions of the time (however given the seemingly stereotypical nature of his cousins, this might not be such a bad thing). Apart from establishing that Ben’s family is less virtuous than he is, the end result of the reunion is that he’s given his father’s knife, which it seems he must use to kill Brother Justin. It also turns out that the Crone clawed her eyes out after murdering her family on the night Scudder was born, but it’s another nuclear bomb that doesn’t create the mushroom cloud of creepiness it could have done.
Ben’s visit also yields a clue on his mission to find Scudder when he finds a death mask of the man himself. The moment when the mask briefly opens its eyes, causing Ben to drop and smash it, is a lot creepier than most of what the Crone has to offer. It does however conform to the new pattern of a clue being found which, with little need for any further investigation or thought, leads our hero on to another step on his journey, giving him the name “Evander Geddes” and Address “Creed, Oklahoma” (surprise, surprise the name of the next episode) of the next person he’s going to visit on his search for Scudder.
After the beginning where Brother Justin’s bestial abilities in the sack can be heard while Norman lies awake in his bed, the episode is quite a dull one for the minister. Apart from his vision of Ben trying to kill him, which causes him to act out physically during his speech, he doesn’t really do a lot except have a typically creepy chat with his Sister about the secrets they’ve been hiding from each other. His new lackey Varlyn Stroud brings some more action to the table though, blowing up the Templar lodge that Ben had visited previously and conveniently finding a phone to contact his boss while the building blows up in the background.
In terms of the acting, the main cast may suffer from one of the less interesting scripts of the series so far but still deliver. It’s the less familiar characters which stand out as being uninteresting and flat, a rarity for characters in the series, even the minor ones. First off there’s Ben’s cousins who stray slightly more to the comical side of the hillbilly scale than the serious or truly scary, and then we have appearance of the Crone who just doesn’t feel as frightening as she could (the eyes are freaky but not completely convincing). Back at the Carnival one carney known as Burley, whose moustache deserves a sideshow all of its own, gets more screen time than usual. He isn’t a new character by any means though you’d be forgiven for thinking so, lurking in the background like a less memorable Osgood. Burley’s presence seems only to serve as a source of drama for Felix and Rita Sue as he comes looking to get the same treatment that Jonesy did. The character isn’t funny or interesting but is dislikeable and the overall effect is quite jarring. And there’s also the post coital Celeste who looks like she can’t decide whether she’s just had the best night of her life or an experience nothing short of a full frontal lobotomy will be able to remove from her mind.
Aside from Ben’s meeting with the Crone and all that reveals there aren’t many major developments, there are however plenty of intriguing minor ones. Ruthie’s sighting of another ghost sticks out (though disappointingly Lodz’s appearance from last time doesn’t seem to have amounted to anything), this time in the form of an ominous looking dark figure lurking around the camp and later standing behind Sofie. The third she’s seen and by far the most mysterious, there seems to be a clue in the fact that the appearance of the spectre is accompanied by the smell of smoke, something which Sofie was awoken by previously. The last episode ended with Sofie being woken up by Brother Justin on the radio and the strange figure is another sign that there’s more in store for her than digging holes. However, rounding out this episode is another important point in Ben and Sofie’s relationship where he sleeps beside her to comfort her after she opens up to Jonesy about her mother trying to kill her.
Some small niggles include the cinematography as the increased camera movement present in the second series is more noticeable in this instalment and it’s quite well lit, scenes like Ben’s first encounter with Crone might have benefited from being a bit more shadowy. The pacing felt off kilter as well, faster than normal though not a lot really happens, at least not more than usual. That being said, even a flawed episode of Carnivàle is still a fine way to spend fifty minutes and Ben’s journey to his family home was an interesting blend of The Waltons and the X-Files episode “Home” that’s a memorable point in the show’s history, but not as good as it could have been.
7/10 Seriable Stars