Thursday, July 20, 2006

Carnivale: 1x02-1x05

In my review of the pilot, I talked about the fact that this series has a very unconventional structure, based more around mood than a traditional plot or character development. Watching a lot of longform TV shows has changed my perception of narrative cinema. With a few notable exceptions, the character development in a 90-120 minute film feels woefully inadaquete next to the richness that comes from many seasons of a TV show. So, I began to see film as more about conveying mood, creating unique visual/emotional moments. The joy isn't in finding out the plot details, it's about enjoying the story as it unfolds and getting lost in the visuals and music. Films like The New World or Wong Kar-Wai's stuff are all about this.

So, watching Carnivale it's interesting to see a TV show that goes for this same feeling. The show draws on the mystery structure that's driven stuff like Twin Peaks and Lost, however what you take away from it isn't so much what happens as you do the dusty ambience of the depression era. The pacing is very relaxed, but I don't see that as a problem, it's refreshing to see a show that doesn't feel the need to give you a cliffhanger every ten minutes. This kind of pacing just wouldn't be possible on a network.

However, there is narrative progress here and things are getting interesting. I really liked seeing Justin build the church out of Mr. Chin's. What seemed like a random pretty dream sequence in the first episode turns out to have a deeper meaning. One of the most powerful scenes here was the sequence in which Justin confronts Templeton with his sin, the two of them seemingly stepping into a parallel dimension. I'm not sure if the black world he finds himself in ties into the black world that Samson was in in the first scene of the series.

That opening monologue set up a confrontation between good and evil, but at this point it isn't clear where Justin and Ben fall on the continuum. Justin seems to be doing good, by creating the church, but he's also clearly got some issues. Ben's clearly got talents, but there's a lot of potential for him to use those talents for selfish ends.

The show's unique because it's got a lot of supernatural stuff in it, but isn't done in a typically sci-fi way. This doesn't feel like a superhero story, rather it's closer to Unbreakable in that the character has extraordinary powers, but lives in an utterly ordinary, even depressing world. The powers here are treated more as a religious experience than something supernatural. The influence of traditional morality is heavy on the series. Ben is someone who grew up in a very traditional environment and is struggling to function in the world of the Carnivale, where traditional social norms do not apply.

So, I'm liking the series, but I'll need to see a couple more episodes before I can go into major discussion of its themes and character.

Related Posts
Carnivale: 'Milfay' (1x01) (7/16/2006)

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