Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Some thoughts on--and questions about--"Carnivale"

When "Carnivale" appeared on HBO in 2004, I thought it was the most interesting show I had ever seen on television. But it confused me, and I had trouble taking in all the plot details and the barrage of symbols. Though the show mesmerized me, it also frustrated me and made me feel a bit stupid.

I waited and waited for the second season, then forgot about it. Then, later, I tuned in and discovered I'd missed the first two episodes. I decided to watch them via On Demand, but managed to miss it again. Missing five minutes of "Carnivale" sets you back hopelessly, so I had nothing to do but wait until the second season was available, in toto, via On Demand. When it became available, I watched the first four episodes, but waited too long to watch the next four (our On Demand system has since changed, giving us warnings about how long a show will be available). So I rented the last eight episodes.

"Carnivale" was so hard to follow (for me, anyway), and to watch it with such lengthy delays between seasons and episodes, as I did, made matters much worse. Last night, I watched the unintentional last episode (the show was abruptly cancelled after two seasons), and came away more confused than I was before.

If any of you is a "Carnivale" fan (and I am very much a fan--I love this show), perhaps you can help me out. Why did Sofie kill Jonesy? (Was it because she knew she had a mission and could not return to the Carnivale?) Why did the corn die when Sofie touched Brother Justin in the corn field? Was Sofie's being named the Omega a feminist statement?

"Carnivale" was originally conceived as three "books," each lasting two seasons. So we were treated to Book I, but we will never see Books II and III. War and nuclear testing were on the horizon, but all that is never to be.

If you have never seen "Carnivale," I highly recommend you rent both seasons (twelve episodes each). It is one of the best shows I have ever seen. Though discussions of the show always tend to center around the Knights Templar (something else I know little about), I think Gnosticism is the major framework for the story, which takes place in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. The characters in the Carnivale are unforgettable, as are Brother Justin and his sister Iris (played by Amy Madigan). Some of the episodes are visually stunning, the soundtrack is very effective, and the writing is first-rate.

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