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Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue
2003-12-05 tracking life & times section
Carnivale another HBO original
Cletus Turner

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Television has certainly changed over the years. From Ozzy and Harriet to Cosby to Touched By An Angel, network television has given us quite a lot to watch. Some shows have been forever imprinted on our minds. With the whole "Who Shot J.R." story, the ending episode of M.A.S.H., or Kunte Kente and Roots certainly embossed on our minds the essence of good television.

Carnivale isn't a bigger hit only because it's on HBO. That movie network's original series have always been, as it's promos say, "provocative and entertaining." With such series as OZ and Six Feet Under, HBO has been a pioneer of original programming. With Carnivale, HBO continues this trend.

Carnivale follows the lives of a traveling carnivale as well as a preacher named Brother Justin, played by Clancy Brown. The main characters are Justin and Ben Hawkins, played by Nick Stahl. Ben and Justin are connected in some way, but the audience still doesn't understand the exact reasons.

Justin has watched his ministry grow, his church burned to the ground with orphans inside, and been placed in an asylum over the course of the season. We have also watched his strange powers grow. He, by will, forced his doctor in the asylum to write his teachers for him since the asylum wouldn't allow him to have a writing instrument.

We have watched Ben struggle with his own powers. We have seen him heal a little girl's legs so that she can walk, heal Gabriel's arm, stop a sand storm and dream dreams of Justin. Ben has forced himself to stay awake rather than dream the dreams. Somehow the dreams have allowed the elusive Management and Lodz, played by Patrick Bauchau, to have some sort of control over the boy. Ben finally got to meet Management, but the person was behind a curtain and speaking in a hoarse whisper so that he or she couldn't be identified. Management and Lodz have been conspiring to use Ben and his abilities in some way. Exactly what they want is a mystery.

Justin and the man who raised him, Reverend Norman Balthus, played by Ralph Waite, have been having problems because when Balthus baptised Justin, he saw blood instead of the holy water. Justin finally confronted Balthus in the final episode. Justin forces Balthus to see his "sin." Both are shocked when they see Balthus' sin is saving an orphaned Justin and his sister Iris, played by Amy Madigan. Justin asks Balthus to use a candelabra to kill him. Balthus runs from the church and we see Justin's eyes are completely black.

We also have found out the lengths Iris will go to to further her brother's ambition. Iris was the one who set Justin's church on fire because she thought it was "holding him back." Justin doesn't send his sister away, instead, he plans to use the one person who might know what happened to further his own plans. A reporter who has followed Justin and has connections with radio is the one person to come forward with the information that Justin's car was seen outside the church just before it burned. Justin offers the reporter exclusive rights to whatever happens in the future and the reporter accepts the offer.

Whatever you might say about this strange, unusual, yet highly entertaining show, you cannot say it is boring. Each week over the season, Carnivale has pushed its plots along at a fairly even clip. Even though it seemed there were just more questions rather than answers, the audience is treated to three dimensional characters that you can get to like or hate. The character of Ben is so good that when he is pushed to a desperate act to save Ruthie, you understand why he chose that path. When you can follow a characters thought processes, that is a well-written character. Stahl is perfect as Ben and gives a studied, intricate performance. There isn't one moment that you doubt the turmoil the boy is in and what the consequences to his soul might be.

Justin is one of the most complete characters on the series. We know now that he is something more than we thought, but only toward the end of the season. We have seen confusing messages as to what Ben and Justin are, but we don't stop for one moment to complain that things are too confusing. Instead, it has made the audience want more. What is Management? Up until just a few weeks ago, we never even heard Managements voice. Now, we don't know if it is a woman, a man, or something unworldly. Not knowing hasn't made us angry or want to stop watching.

Iris is still an enigma. What are her goals? We know she wants Justin to succeed, but there seems to be something else lurking there. Amy Madigan breathes such adoration into Iris that it's almost like she is in love with her brother.

Recently, a story was on the internet stating that Carnivale might become a regular series. Now, it seems all but assured. After all, the characters of Sophie, Apollonia, and Jonesy are in a harrowing situation and might all die. Lodz might be dead at Ben's and Ruthie was dead, but suddenly breathed at the end of the finale. What will happen? Only the writers know for now, but this is one series that has me and many of my friends hooked.

4 3/4 suns

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