For Those Who Came In Late: A Summary of ‘So Far’
It is 1934. The Great Depression has clasped its cold, dry hands around America’s neck. The country waits listlessly in the eye of the hurricane between the two Great Wars of the 20th century. Against this backdrop, Ben Hawkins and Brother Justin Crowe are learning their true natures and destinies as creatures of Light and Dark – avatars of God and satan, born into each generation.
Crowe and his lemonfaced sister, Iris, are children of the Methodist church. Crowe, a minister with a seemingly-caring heart, has taken up the plight of the nation’s poor and migrant population and has amassed a small army’s worth of followers via the newfangled medium of radio. Oh, and he happens to be a creature of Darkness. Beneath his Man of God facade lies swiftly-growing evil.
Ben Hawkins, the son the previous generation’s creature of Darkness Henry Scudder, is a fugitive from a chain gang and an accused murderer. He’s surly, and unkempt. Oh, and he happens to be a creature of Light. He has found refuge with a traveling carnival owned by the last generation’s creature of Light.
Both Justin and Ben are seeking Henry Scudder – creature of Darkness and father of Ben Hawkins. Should Justin find and kill him, he will become the Usher – a figure who will “usher in” the Apocalypse.
On with Le Show!
Alamogordo, N.M. (Carnivale, S2 ep. 2)
“[Neibuhr] also wrote The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1945), where he described in theological terms the basic struggle in society between the children of this world, or the “children of darkness,” who admit no law beyond their will and interest, and the “children of light” who acknowledge the law.” – Avihu Zakai, The Irony of American History. Reinhold Niebuhr and the American Experience
Iris: “Sometimes I think you get lost in your own importance.”
Justin: “You mean my work?”
Iris: “The Lord’s work.”
Justin: “…Yes, of course.”
You and I reside in an Age of Reason. Advances in science and medicine have vanquished numerous diseases, explained a great many mysteries of the universe, and connected us across vast distances in ways that even Brother Justin with his “Church of the Air” could only dream of. Atheist thinkers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens freely argue for a Godless, non-religious world and a growing number of individuals have openly embraced that point of view.
You and I reside as well in an Age of Magic. Despite science’s many advances and the percentage growth of self-identifying atheists/agnostics, religious faith of all stripes remains potent and popular among billions of people worldwide. Many of the scientific advances we read about may as well be magical, given both their difficulty level and their arguable insubstantiality. When scientists argue for concepts like “string theory” they are, as often as not, arguing for a belief without proof.
Like us, the people of Carnivale live in both ages – between the advances and absences created by science, between the transcendence and the tribalism enabled by religion and the spiritual impulse.
Reason and magic collide in the opening moments of Alamogordo, N.M. as Justin Crowe makes another broadcast over the radio waves.
Justin: “Some of you are warm by the fireplace, the children sleeping upstairs. Many of you are cold and hungry, carried down the highway like autumn leaves in a stream. But all of you have one thing in common: deep inside, you are alone. Alone when we are torn from the womb. Alone when we die. Alone when we stand and face judgment. All who have come before us, and all who will follow after – a thousand million souls, all alone. And yet, I feel you here with me. I am no stranger to your hopelessness. Your sins. The Bible tells us we were made in the glorious image of our Maker. We are no less perfect than He. And yet we look to Him for absolution when instead we need only look into ourselves.”
Here, cloaked in the vestments of the Christian religion, we have a man seemingly advocating the embrace of reason. Only, the “reason” that Crowe is advocating for – a turning away from God and toward the Self – isn’t really “reason” at all. We’re helped to this conclusion by the fact that Crowe is now undeniably one Evil
MotherSisterf*cker, but there’s more to it than that if you’ll allow me a moment to indulge one of my patented Digressions:
You don’t have to be religious to understand how dangerous Crowe’s words are; you just need to understand the dangers inherent in worship. When we worship the Self above all else it tends to lead to pain, destruction, and Ayn Rand dating websites. If we venerate the Self above all we risk the loss of moral perspective. It is the difference between “could” and “should.” it is the difference between “why?” and “why not?” This has nothing to do with religion per se, and everything to do with the natural impulses of humanity to find something/someone to “worship.” As usual, someone else can sum it up much better than I can:
“[I]n the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship… or some inviolable set of ethical principles is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.” – David Foster Wallace, Kenyon Commencement Speech, 2005
We see this basic idea dramatized in Alamogordo, NM during the vision of Celeste pulling open her shirt and clawing at herself for Justin’s eyes – the natural end result of the sort of self worship Justin seems to be preaching – the kind of worship that will eat us alive. This is animalism exposed, a savage unleashing of the worst aspects of our Selves, no longer held in check/counterbalanced by the effort to look outward, to seek a meaning larger than ourselves in the family and community around us. This is what Brother Crowe truly advocates, and it is genuinely frightening.
…Wow. That’s a lot of words.
What goes down during Alamogordo, NM? Ben Hawkins locates Father Kerrigan, a man driven insane by his encounter with Ben’s father, Henry Scudder. Sofie continues down her darkening literal and figurative road, and Justin gets a big ol’ apocalyptic tree tattooed on his chest, signifying his status as the show’s long-teased Usher. In between these developments are scattered the usual assortment of wonderfully Lynch-ian images, obtuse hints and religious references that Carnivale deploys so well. With Jack Bender back behind the camera Alamogordo provides both visceral and intellectual dark delights.
In the wake of her mother’s death and Jonesy’s dismissal of her, Sofie seems to be coming apart at the seams. We meet her in this episode walking zombie-like along a country road, without any clear sense that she knows where she’s going or why she’s going there. And accompanying her on her trek, as much a hovering presence in death as in life, is her mother Apollonia – you can see her shadow, veiled like the dead, trailing just behind her daughter. The notion of the dead trespassing among the living on earth is shored up again in this episode as Ruthie’s “old flame,” a man named Skeeter, appears to her at the carnival but is revealed to have died years beforehand.
Sofie’s storyline seems headed toward an increasingly-dark-and-troubling place. She’s been the victim of attempted homicide, courtesy of her mother, she’s been largely disavowed by the man she emotionally wounded, and now her image is blatantly associated with that of the Usher – the figure who will bring about the End of Days. If we needed any more confirmation that Sofie is the child of Justin Crowe, I think we just received it. And if SHE needed any more confirmation that things are darkening quickly, she got it in the form of the Tarot card waiting for her in Lodz’s trailer – the Nine of Swords, also known as the Lord of Cruelty:
“If this card is shown in an upright position, it can mean deception, premonitions and bad dreams, suffering and depression, cruelty, disappointment, violence, loss and scandal. However, all of these may be overcome through faith and calculated inaction. This is the card of the martyr and with it comes new life out of suffering.”
Will Sofie emerge from her crucible possessing a “new life”? That of an avatar? Signs point to: Yup.
Kerrigan: “Crone time comes. Life comes to an end. Life, death, life. The words of the crone.”
Ben finds Father Kerrigan, the ex-Templar chaplain, in an insane asylum where the man’s spent his time obsessing over the Usher. As is typical of this show, we don’t get much in the way of clarity regarding just what happened to him but we do get a number of juicy hints like the words above. Kerrigan repeats them over and over like an incantation. At first, I interpreted those words as I heard them – “crone time.” But there’s another way to hear those words as well:
“Krohn time comes. Life comes to an end. Life, death, life. The words of the Krohn.”
Why does that make a difference? Well, we’ve just learned that Ben Hawkins has a middle name, and that name is Krohn – pronounced in more-or-less the same way that you’d pronounce “crone.” Is Kerrigan referring to Ben’s family name? I look forward to finding out.
During his time with Kerrigan Ben appears to “heal” him of his terror, which is a new and interesting development in his abilities. Maybe I’m overthinking things (SHOCKER!) and Kerrigan calming down was simply the result of ordinary human compassion on Ben’s part, but it struck me that a man who can heal the sick and the lame, who can raise the dead, would probably also possess the power to heal men’s souls. Is that crazy? It’s probably crazy. After all, there’s no evidence that using this power has “cost” anything, in the way that physical healing takes a toll on the life around him. Still, it’s worth keeping in the back of our heads – as is the vision that accompanies the potential healing.
“And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” – Mark 16:17-18
The flashes of imagery that Ben receives when he touches Kerrigan’s hand are, as the Germans say, Uber-f*cked up. Scudder tears into a snake with his bare teeth, smears an occult symbol on the ground as if attempting to cast a spell, and then we cut to the frankly seriously-disturbing shots of Kerrigan huddling butt-naked in the corner of a room while gnawing on the dead, headless length of another (the same?) snake.
I’ve got no idea what the symbol that Scudder creates is “supposed to” signify in terms of the narrative in the show, but I’ll note that it’s the same diamond shape featured in the show’s logo. I’ll also note that snake’s blood has “traditionally” been considered a means of achieving immortality/longevity in ritual magic.
The Gospel of Matthias makes another appearance in this episode (I wrote about this Gospel’s real-world history in last week’s column) as Justin Crowe is seen reading from it, and we see that the show’s Creepy Tree has been placed in the book as an illustration. Are we supposed to believe that Matthias’ lost Gospel was written in California? Of course not. So apparently the tree we’ve seen depicted so many times in this show has appeared more than once, in more than one place.
The Gospel seems to be written in a form of Old English that isn’t easily translated by a layman like me. Most of the text is a repetition of the mythology-speech that Samson gave in the Season 1 premiere, about a war between God and the devil, about God’s gift of the earth to “the craefty aepe he ceallain mann.” The text also quotes from the Book of Revelation, referencing the casting down of satan. And then the text pretty much deenerates into a series of WTFs for me. Those of you with more smarts than I can try to puzzle this piece out:
“Fordy wass of wundrian sen Manliley and arelil fyrhtu.
“By seon ne bean had God hiw the earth butan He had hrw mann, “se craefty aepe.” Butan His frumu, God scieppan that the war between God and Aeovall gelaestan hwa alyfan saetan and aeovill to beon? Weo aeovill fordy magan no freo beon. And weo freo beon, Mann magan na ceosan to ceosan God.”
Ben: “So let me give you what I got.”
Management: “It would be an abomination.”
Well, we have an answer to my question from last week: Why does Ben “tempt” Management, aka Lucius the Russian From Ben’s Dreams, aka a creature of Light, aka Sir Lucius Leftfoot the son of Chico Dusty? Because Management is tempted by Ben’s power to heal. Now we have a new question posed just as quickly: why would Ben’s healing of Lucius be an “abomination”? We also get a little more information on what the Usher is/represents:
Management: “Samhain. Necrotus. Khaybet, Lord of Shadows. A thousand names in a thousand books, but they all mean the same: the Usher of Destruction.”
Suddenly Ben’s detour to that random-seeming Day of the Dead festival doesn’t seem so random. Samhain is a Celtic festival of harvest marking the turning point from the “lighter” part of the year – summer – to the “darker” half, winter. It supposedly incorporates elements of a Festival of the dead. See: the Day of the Dead festival that Ben visited last season. Given this, the painted boy we saw there did likely represent the chasing away of death/winter/Whathaveyou and death’s inevitable return. That’s a pretty handy metaphor for Carnivale’s newly-established threat: the coming of an eternal winter, a nuclear winter.
The name Khaybet is an Egyptian term that, like Samhain, isn’t “evil” but rather a representation of a larger idea. Khaybet is an Egyptian term meaning (more or less) “shadow”. Egyptians believed that shadows were and/or were linked to their souls (recall earlier in the episode, where we see Apollonia’s Khaybet walking alongside Sofie on the road).
Alamogordo ends with the revelation of just what Justin’s been doing, sneaking out at night. The show nicely leads us to believe that he’s been indulging in some sweaty snugglebunnies in secret before revealing that he’s being tattooed. The final moments of the episode reveal that tattoo to us and the sight of the Usher’s tree adorning Crowe’s (very naked) body is a sweetly-sinister stinger of an ending and confirmation that Crowe has become/is becoming/always was the Usher. As Management proclaimed earlier, “he is flesh.”
Tune in next week as I try and tackle two episodes back to back, and as you’re again given the opportunity to vote: Cancel or Renew?