Seriable’s Mark Jones reviews Carnivàle 2.06 “The Road To Damascus”
It’s time for a good old fashioned slow dance in the sixth episode of Carnivàle‘s second season, literally and metaphorically. While the dancing part comes about halfway through “The Road to Damascus,” overall it offers the slow pace but solid plot development that was the trademark of the first season’s best episodes, as well as plenty of background color thanks to a fresh bunch of carnies.
Considering the fast or at least faster, if at times uneven, pace the second season has been travelling at, the fact that most of the episode sees the carnival take a break to offer a helping hand to a rival carnival which has fallen on hard times might seem like a bit of a stumbling block. However, it works really well providing an interesting way to resolve a few issues within the carnival while pushing the plot forward in a natural way.
One of the most important parts of ‘The Road to Damascus’ is Sofie and Ben’s encounter in the front of his truck while the rest of the carnies are getting to know each other at an impromptu shindig. Over the course of the second season the pair have gradually been getting closer, following the unceremonious dumping of Ruthie, and this episode sees them do more than just slow dance together, after they’ve slow danced together. However, before they get close Sofie is distressed by another vision of her mother, but Ben makes the apparition vanish once again demonstrating his spiritual healing powers. Once Apollonia is out of the way it’s time for the two to get down and dirty in one of the most important scenes of the show. The true significance of their fornication won’t become apparent until later in the series, but the fact that their lovemaking seems to have the power to control the heavens is more than just a coincidence or a crude illustration of Sofie reaching her climax. And if the rain seems out of place, it is as it’s first time it has rained in the show, ever, at least apart from in one of Ben’s visions. The change in the weather ends as Brother Justin’s show begins on the radio, another example of the yin and yang of good and evil.
The weather isn’t the only thing that’s changing and the episode is a turning point for the second season as Ben decides to go it alone after learning that Varlyn Stroud is ahead of him. Sofie also decides to go her own way — and if her recent radio listening habits are anything to go by she’s headed in Brother Justin’s direction.
The other main event is the moment when Tommy Dolan reads out Iris’ confession, which it turns out is his own. It’s a great twist and a decent pay off for anyone who has been paying attention and connected the dots between Dolan taking dictation for Iris’s confession and Justin’s psychiatrist having his own writing manipulated back in season one, during Justin’s spell in the mental institution. The conflict between the part of Justin that still believes he’s doing God’s work and the plain evil Justin come to the fore again as it seemed he genuinely wanted his sister to suffer for her crimes yet didn’t want her to be arrested. This is more in line with his character’s complexities at the end of the first season, though at this point is a little bit confusing. Inconsistencies aside, as Dolan is arrested it becomes apparent just what a likeable character he’s become even if he did seem like the stereotypical sleazy journalist at first.
For an instalment that lacks a lot of action a lot of things come to a head including, in addition to the more important plot points, Felix and Rita Sue’s marital troubles. Everything seems to fall apart for Felix as he confesses to losing his bet to Rita Sue and gets into a fight with Jonesy after he sees his fellow carnie’s growing affection towards Libby (after Libby turns down the affections of the still unwelcome Burley). The underlying tensions explode and are made more dramatic by the rainfall and it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for Felix even if he did bring it all on himself. As well as the drama there are a few enjoyable comic moments punctuating the episode including Felix’s mid-stream encounter with an elephant and Lila discussing a fellow bearded lady over a reefer.
The excellent choice of music which underscores Ben and Sofie’s love making and Felix and Stumpy’s brawl is also worth a mention, Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing”. It may have been used many times before in many other shows but it works so well for these scenes and is another example of music from the era being used to great effect.
Some closure is offered to those wanting to know how Lila’s curiosity over Lodz’s disappearance would turn out, though not as effectively as it might have been. At the dance inside the tent Lila seems quick to forget her former lover, as quick as Ben was to fall out of love with Ruthie, when she wins the attentions of a carney from the Daily Brothers outfit, but it is later on when she’s in her tent that the professor returns, kind of. She thinks someone is at her door but there doesn’t appear to be anyone there, at first, and for a brief second it looks as if we can see the shadow of Lodz, then Ruthie enters her tent asking to see the boy in a weird accent (presumably meant to be an impersonation of Lodz’ unique timbre) and with Lodz-like milky white eyes. We don’t get to see the outcome as Ruthie collapses, but there promises to be an interesting conversation between her and Lila when she comes to.
There’s very little not to like about this episode, with plenty of good plot and character development as well a few good twists and turns. The meeting of the two carnivals offers some new recruits, even if it seems a bit late in the day to be adding fresh background color, and it looks like the He-She is going to be the new Gecko/occasional comic relief (as Gecko never made it to the second season and conveniently no one seems to be asking about him or even mentioning him in passing). Dolan’s confession is another highpoint for the show and there’s an increasing sense that Ben is heading into the lion’s den.
8.5/10 Seriable Stars