Seriable’s Mark Jones reviews Carnivàle 2.11 “Outside New Canaan”
As Carnivàle approaches its last spin on the Ferris wheel, “Outside New Canaan” sees Ben and Jonesy assess how the ground lies in Justin’s camp while the minister’s affection for Sofie turns into anger as he realises that she knows his nemesis and then rejects his advances. Meanwhile, tensions run high at the carnival and there’s a definite sense that a storm of biblical proportions is about to burst. Following a bit of an uneven episode things pick up a week after we see Ben and Jonesy roll up to New Canaan.
Although this is a bit of a convenient time lapse, giving time for any grief Ben has for his recently departed dad to disappear and skipping over the part how they actually got into the heavily secured site, it does allow the story to move on to more interesting matters. After a week of working at the site, Ben manages to infiltrate Justin’s house while Jonesy heads back to the carnival to update Samson on their mission. Then, after managing to blag his way into the house, Ben is startled by Brother Norman but the incapacitated minister clearly senses something about him as he looks to the upper floor of the house indicating for Ben to go that way.
When up there he is rumbled again but this time by Iris. She too seems to realise his true purpose and though she reacts abruptly to his trespassing allows him to go on his way, but not before laying his axe on Justin’s pillow and dropping a major hint about where Ben can find Justin. Later on she’ll deny his presence in the house to the Minister, suggesting that she’s put her own plans to kill him on the back burner and is quite happy for Ben to do it.
Sometimes it feels like Ben gets a little too close to Justin without being rumbled, especially at Sofie’s baptism, as we know that Justin knows what he looks like from his brief experience with the death mask. It’s a bit like Windom Earle walking past Dale Cooper outside the elevator of the Great Northern in Twin Peaks but does seem like a necessary move to alert Sofie to Ben’s presence in the camp. The baptism is a big moment as well as Justin has another one of his fits when Ben draws his knife and the body of Eleanor is discovered floating downstream, injecting some excitement into the scene and allowing Ben to get away unnoticed but also without achieving his goal.
When Sofie finally catches up with Ben he tries to explain to her about his quest, but her devotion to Justin sees them go their separate ways which doesn’t bode well for their relationship. However, later on Sofie will witness Justin’s little trick with the security men and the axe, and find Ben’s death mask, planting the seeds of doubt in her mind. Ben and Sofie aren’t the only ones with unresolved relationship troubles and though times have been tough for the Dreifuss’s there are signs of a happy ending to their domestic dramas when Jonesy returns to the carnival.
The end of the story arc which started with Libby and Jonesy getting married is signalled when when Rita Sue looks on their reunion and Felix comments “y’know baby you’re really going to have to get over him one of these days”. For a character whose best comments are normally comical it’s a well delivered and insightful line spoken like a man who’s facing his mortality because of his inability to pay his gambling debts. Not only does Jonesy’s return show Rita Sue that he’s not the jerk she thought he was, and there’s no doubt that he does care deeply for Libby in this episode, but the revelation that Ben saved him and healed his leg too has a significant affect on their attitude towards him, as it does on the whole carnival. Jonesy doesn’t take the decision to reveal the truth lightly and the impact of the moment comes from the way it’s used to settle a dispute between Lila and Samson.
There were signs at the beginning of the episode that Lila had every intention of being as much of a pain as she could to Samson and when she garners the support of her fellow carnies to stand up to him, creating doubt about their boss’s potential deceit and irrational series of destinations, things culminate in her storming into management’s office. Things play out in an enjoyable way as it becomes apparent that even Samson isn’t sure what’s going to happen or what he’s going to say, but that’s where Jonesy comes in. After Lila’s announcement that the trailer is empty it seems like things are over for the carnival.
However, the former baseball player turns it around by removing his leg brace, running through the crowd and showing off his once deformed leg. Not only does it save the carnival but it’s a turning point for the show as a whole, the carnival is no longer just a carnival but a travelling army for Ben as well. How the carnies react to Ben after learning his secret is set up to be an emotional moment, but for now Jonesy showing off his healed limb certainly gives a firm tug at the heart strings.
Falling in to the less emotional category are the scenes with Justin and Sofie on the porch towards the end. Carnivàle has always been up there when it comes to toe curling moments, but Justin making his move on Sofie is surely up there with the most curling of them. Justin’s intentions towards her have been fairly clear for a few episodes and as they sit on the porch with Ben and Jonesy hidden just around the corner he moves in for a kiss. Sofie thankfully rejects him, sealing her fate, but that point when Justin leans in certainly gives Luke and Leia’s famous incestuous kiss a run for its creepy money.
However, it at least puts an end to Justin’s fawning over Sofie which had reached a slightly cringe-worthy point with his comment “see how she cuts the crust from the bread, it’s almost too perfect to eat” on her sandwich making abilities earlier in the episode. ‘Outside New Canaan’ does everything a pre-finale episode should. It’s not the best episode in the show’s canon but holds the promise of a memorable season (and what is unfortunately a series) finale setting things up for the long-awaited showdown between Ben and Justin.
8/10 Seriable Stars