Thursday, September 15, 2011


Carnivale went off the air many years ago (like most shows I talk about), and is a fascinating study in how to inadvertently create a great story.  If you haven’t seen it, the story is supposed to be about Ben Hawkins, a man with the magical ability to heal and resurrect people by stealing the life energy of other living things.

Running from a murder charge and having nowhere else to go, Ben takes up with a travelling carnival.  That’s where the brilliance of the show was supposed to be.  The people at the carnival were all mysterious and magical and their lives were painstakingly researched.  We learned a lot about the family where the wife and daughters were all strippers and prostitutes.  We were drawn into ancient secret societies and terrifying ghost towns.
This moment gave me the willies for a week.
Honestly, it was all rather boring.  The real brilliance was in the subplot about the bad guy they just threw in for the heck of it.

While Ben Hawkins was the hero of Carnivale, the villain was Brother Justin.  What made Justin so fascinating was that he (and we) didn’t even know he was the bad guy until the very end of season one.  We see him using his powers to help those less fortunate than him (the poor and the orphaned), only to tragically fail time and again.  It’s only near the end of the last episode of season one that he is painfully forced to see that he’s evil at his core.
"But, I don't wanna be the bad guy!"
It’s horrifying.  It’s heart breaking.  It’s brilliant.  It cemented Clancy Brown as one of my favorite actors.  Season two’s story doesn’t begin to do it justice.

Oh, and Ben Hawkins kills some birds.

His friend, Jonesy, is tarred and feathered, is dying from his injuries, and Ben has to decide between saving his life and saving the life of his own father.  Ben takes Jonesy out to the desert and waits for the vultures to circle, then he takes the life force of the birds and uses them to heal his friend.
Hm.  Tough choice.
Title: Carnivale, Season 2, Episode 9, “Lincoln Highway”
Genre: Television
Severity: 3 (seven birds minus one mitigating factor)
Date: 2005
Description: Several vultures are seen circling then, later, lying dead on the ground as their life force has been taken and used to save Jonesy.
Mitigating Factors: A lot of different things have died to help others in the show: fish, a field of wheat, even another person.
Aggravating Factors: None.

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