Seriable’s Mark Jones reviews Carnivàle 2.09 “Lincoln Highway, UT”
Ben hits another roadblock as he races to rescue Scudder and find Varlyn Stroud in “Lincoln Highway, UT” but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty going on. There are some emotional highs accompanied by a few shocks, disturbing and otherwise, which keep this episode on its toes, but it’s not going to be the favourite of anyone who finds it hard to be interested in the fact that Jonesy is knocking boots with Felix’s daughter.
The most memorable aspect of this episode is far and away Jonesy being tarred and feathered, after the disgruntled husband of the woman who died in the Ferris wheel incident hunts him down, and his eventual healing by Ben. While it’s unclear who was responsible for the failure of the wheel in the previous episode it’s all too clear in this one who’s going to pay. Being “tarred and feathered” is an idiom often used though less often visualised on television (at least outside of cartoons), but it’s hard to imagine how the makers of Carnivàle could have made it any more believable, or genuinely distressing. Painted with hot tar and feathered with an old pillow, the combination of the visuals and the acting (both Tim DeKay and Carla Gallo put in a fine performance) create a wince-inducing experience.
There’s a silver lining to Jonesy’s trauma, however, as Ben sees the buzzards circling his dying body in the desert. Spotting Libby in the road on his way to see Stroud, he decides to help her instead and they attempt to take Jonesy to the nearest hospital. When he starts foaming at the mouth 17 miles outside of Cheyenne, Ben decides it’s time to put his unique talent to work again and makes the preparations to heal the dying carnie himself. The fact that Ben brings him back to his previous state is not the heart tugging moment, but when Jonesy realises that he’s able to walk properly again. His debilitating leg injury has been an important aspect of his character throughout the series and there’s a sense that, as with Samson, his relationship with his co-worker has now moved onto more stable ground and that Ben now has a new loyal companion. In a sense, Ben heals Jonesy in a similar way as he did to his boss, allowing them move on from their troubled pasts.
Though Ben gets delayed as he tries to catch up with Varlyn Stroud, we are able to see what Justin’s henchman is getting up to on the road. Through the eyes of Ben in one of his dreams we see Stroud as he pumps Scudder full of morphine in a seedy hotel. The use of a handheld camera in this sequence is particularly effective, giving the audience the impression that we’re watching through someone’s eyes before it’s revealed that we’re in fact seeing it through Ben’s eyes. Ben’s new ability to see actual events as they happen and not just cryptic visions helps add some momentum to the episode which otherwise might have felt like it didn’t do much to push the plot forward this close to the season’s finale.
Meanwhile, Brother Justin continues to be impressed by his new maid and Iris takes matters into her own hands when Eleanor just can’t let it go that she thought she saw the devil within the minister. As always Justin has a few good lines, such as mocking the words of Jesus Christ (“blessed are the meek” he says with a derisive chuckle), and another gruesomely memorable scene where he makes Norman grind one of his teeth out as punishment for laughing at his failed attempts to woo Sofie. Evil as he may be, even if he’s oblivious to it himself sometimes, Justin’s heroic status is reinforced to his followers when Norman tries to shoot him at one of his speeches and he takes a forgiving stance in front of the audience and press. It’s Iris who is the one getting her hands dirty, though, as in a memorable picnic with Eleanor she beats in the woman Justin once made vomit coins. Eleanor is finally talked into believing that she didn’t actually see the devil in Justin but jokes about telling him anyway. Iris’s overprotective urges kick in and when Eleanor’s putting their things back in the boat, Iris picks up an oar and does the deed. Justin may have the edge when it comes to demonic superpowers but it’s the moments like this that remind us that his sister is just as crazy and just as evil.
One interesting and important occurrence which seems to slip by in this episode is Ruthie’s discovery of a message that was left for her while she was possessed by Lodz. The message written in lipstick on her mirror informs her that Sofie is the “Omega”, another intriguing hint that there’s more in store for her than mopping Justin’s floors. Although it’s not clear whether the message will eventually reach Ben, and it seems odd that Lodz wouldn’t make it clear that the message should reach him, or is just for our benefit, it’s good to see Ruthie’s link to the dead being explored further.
The bits inbetween the big moments might not make for a truly classic instalment but “Lincoln Highway, UT” offers up its fair share of memorable scenes that rank with the series’ best. It may feel a bit light on the Ben and Samson, and a bit heavy on the Jonesy and Libby but the episode, or at least the images from it, linger in the mind for longer than most.
8/10 Seriable Stars