Seriable’s Mark Jones reviews Carnivàle 2.08 “Outskirts, Damascus, NE”
“Outskirts, Damascus, NE”, also known as the episode where Ben becomes more articulate. The previous episode had plenty of major plot developments but this instalment shifts into an even higher gear, as does Ben’s tongue, setting the stage for a showdown between Ben and Brother Justin as the series gets closer to its finale.
Picking up where we left off, management is still choking Ben but it seems to be as much to provoke him as it is to bestow upon him another vision, and more importantly his “boon”. This transferral of power has a wide-reaching, not to mention disturbing, effect causing Brother Justin to collapse on the floor in a jibbering heap, while Brother Norman tries to say something which I’m guessing is “the power of Christ compels you”, and even making Scudder’s legs wobble. It’s not a bad moment, and shows what a big deal the event is, though verges slightly towards being comical. However, it’s still creepy to watch. More than sending out spasm inducing shockwaves the boon transferral has another, equally startling, affect – it frees up Ben’s tongue.
Now he has Management’s knowledge and powers he gets all articulate, helping to move the story along quite quickly not to mention explain some of the things which may have confused viewers up to this point. While his new gift of knowledge is an important part of the show’s mythology, his sudden and detailed explanations to Samson feel a bit on the nose but are nonetheless welcome for those who haven’t, as well as those who have, been paying attention. It’s a bit of a sudden shift for Ben’s character as well, who’s up to this point been charmingly monosyllabic.
Ben also glosses over some of the more interesting aspects of Management’s death, like his ascension or the fact that he leaves behind his own version of the Shroud of Turin. But it means, in addition to the healthy dose of fictional mythology, we get this link straight back to the New Testament, reminding us that the events that are happening in the show have their roots in the events of the Bible, something which is easy to forget. All the religious references aren’t just there to help us understand the main characters better, it’s part of their history as well.
Management’s final moments also yield some great lines like the following in Ben’s vision:
“A dark heart dwells where branches meet, anointed dagger plunge thee deep”
“By the hand of the Prince, the prophet dies, upon his death, the Prince shall rise”
As quoted by Ben to Samson from Management’s book. These little incantations add something to the feel of the proceedings that non-rhyming words wouldn’t and are akin to Twin Peaks‘ ‘Fire Walk With Me’ chant.
Of course, Samson is upset about Management’s death though seems to be over his grief by the end of the episode. Again, this is another thing which happens at an accelerated pace, but it gives Ben a chance to demonstrate his new found powers to Samson, proving a point and deepening the bond between them. Ben makes the mysterious baggage trailer, that was first seen in the second episode, appear for his boss, the closest thing he can do to bringing Management back. It’s a nice call back to the first season, sealing off an important chapter in the development of Ben’s character. There’s also some added mystery as the spooky foetus disappears while Samson is in the trailer. Samson’s realisation and his deal to help Ben (and their bet) is a beautiful thing and a stirring moment, offering some serious pay off for the sometimes uncertain relationship that has been developing between the two of them.
Although his attitude seems to change quite quickly, Michael J Anderson really knocks it out of the park with his performance and there’s enough building on previous threads of the plot to make it feel legitimate. Firstly, there’s more validation for Ruthie’s ability to see the dead in this episode as she tells Samson about her situation, in the process lending credence to Ben’s story about Scudder being kidnapped. Then, following a tragic accident on the Ferris Wheel, Samson watches as Ben uses his powers to take life from a dying girl’s mother so that she may live. It’s worth the quickened pace just to get to the point of Ben and Samson’s strengthened allegiance and it would have made a great ending, especially when he instructs Jonesy to drive as fast as he can because he’s got silver riding on it. However, there’s better to come.
Back at Brother Justin’s house, it appears he has a new maid. He looks lustfully at her rear end as she scrubs the floor, her face obscured, but for some reason decides not to pursue his urge. The maid then turns around to reveal she is in fact Sofie. There have plenty of clues that she was heading in the direction of the preacher, but the fact that she’s ended up in his employ is a strong reveal which implies there’s going to be plenty of drama and twists in the final few episodes. Working for Ben’s nemesis and not to mention a man with a tattoo (which has now been horribly scarred into his body) design shared by the man who raped her mother.
With Sofie gone, Apollonia dead, Ruthie relegated to the sidelines and Lila not having much to do now, the real-life soap opera-esque elements of the plot back at the carnival are largely dominated by the Dreyfuss family and Libby’s involvement with Jonesy. While these scenes have their moments, and most of the time the best ones are amusing rather than emotional, they don’t contribute anything to the much more exciting mythology of the show. However, they help to keep the show grounded reminding us that amid all the magic there are real people, living real lives, who just want to dance the Cooch and aren’t aware that their fate lies in the hands of a chain gang escapee and a demonic priest.
There’s one odd scene which sticks out as well, where Varlyn Stroud is witness to a Bonnie and Clyde-style couple who try to rob the gas station he’s calling Brother Justin from. Fresh from literally “taking a powder” to his injured hand he steps out to witness the couple’s attempt and shoots them, and then proceeds to shoot the gas station attendant as well. Random is what it is, but nonetheless amusing. While we’re clearly meant to make the Bonnie and Clyde connection, the events surrounding their death are well known and they died early in 1934, so presumably the couple are just copycats.
Overall, “Outskirts, Damascus, NE” doesn’t feel like a traditional episode of Carnivàle but in many ways this is a good thing, delivering some of the high impact excitement that’s more prevalent in shows like LOST. Of course, it could be argued that some of the over explanations have a touch the Hurley’s about then, i.e. the sudden and glib explanation that the whispers on the Island [SPOILER] were actually ghosts trapped there [/SPOILER], but ultimately it avoids any confusion going forwards and will allow the viewer to fully enjoy the significance of the events to come.
9/10 Seriable Stars