Damnation Episode 4 Review: The Emperor of Ice Cream

Damnation can be a little frustrating when it isn't focusing on its best characters.

This Damnation review contains spoilers.

Damnation Episode 4

Did the sparse landscapes, religion and faith in God in 1930s America make people more trusting of each other and susceptible to banks and corporate sharks? I’d venture yes, and unfortunately, too many in the general population haven’t made much progress since. Then and now, self-proclaimed God-fearing folks are easily agitated. One too many people still need a shepherd to tell them what to think, say, and do almost daily.

Damnation is chockful of scoundrels, scapegoats, and false prophets. Four episodes later, I’m still waiting for a specific character to turn in a standout performance, or a few characters to make it a relay race that’d keep me on the edge of the living room sofa. I bought into the biblical and religious motifs and expected the writing team and actors to locate me in a place that is both familiar and new. Just as there are different versions of the bible, I’d be open to various interpretations of scriptures and folktales.

Damnation is in my wheelhouse as a previous reviewer of similar shows. Comparisons are inevitable. Everyman pitted against a formidable foe makes me think how I would’ve battled and hopefully scored a few points toward their eventual weakening or demise. I love watching a great villain on screen and rooting against them. How did s/he become who they are when they first appear in the frame? Viewers needn’t be inundated with too much backstory, however, the writing, directing, and acting must be seamless and believable. No winking and nodding as if we’re privy to an inside joke.

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I’m not disappointed, but I’m growing impatient. What are my main gripes? I’ve not been a fan of Creeley’s since the pilot episode. Two recent dastardly guys who come to mind in comparing the actor’s performance and my expectation. Frank Griffin on Godless on Netflix as portrayed by Jeff Daniels, and Malachi Strand on Longmire, portrayed by Graham Greene II. Tony Tost wrote and produced Longmire, so he’s no stranger to attracting notable actors in pivotal roles. The original luster on Seth Davenport’s character is starting to dull. I thought he’d carry a heavier load on the show, but that’s not been the case. The actress who plays Amelia leaves a lasting impression more times than not. An actor is more than recited dialogue. An actor’s entire body is his instrument, and I wish Seth and Creeley would get on board with this proven edict.

The show deals with the weight of poverty, and low to no expectations apart from three meals a day and a weekly bath. Are humans so simple that an ice cream cone is enough to distract and persuade them to abandon their strike? If we’re dealing with children, common and exotic ice cream flavors might soothe them until it’s eaten or melts. I’ve a problem with the episode title because an emperor usually is a strong-willed tactician. Archibald is a cowardly granny’s boy. There needed to be something noteworthy about both the ice cream shop and its proprietor. What’s Archibald’s personal and emotional stake in Holden County? He’s not the only businessman in town, so he has to be motivated by something besides money.

Damnation, like most television shows, has an ensemble cast of leading, supporting, and non-speaking roles. Shows get into trouble when they turn on the hydraulic lift and rotate the circular stage, perhaps in an effort to be fair, to less developed ideas and characters. Each character must stand on their own when bathed in the sometimes unforgiving spotlight.

Are we closer to understanding the animus between Seth and Creeley after tonight’s childhood flashback? Their interpersonal relationship changed over the years, but there’s a slight hardening to Creeley’s inner life. He’s running from ghosts of the past, acting out, and keeping a tally of his victims on his torso. He’s still scarred by his abusive father and his initial upbringing in a brothel. No doubt he’s comfortable residing with Bessie in a whorehouse surrounding by working girls reminiscent of his mother and their life together.

Familial relationships are rarely easy because of shared experiences, conflicting memories, and inevitable grudges we hold until death. Creeley’s still living in the shadow of his father’s leather strap trying to prove he’s become a tough Wyoming man. Seth suffered their father’s abuse too, but his formative years were different from his brother who never learned to read and move about in the world as he does. Maybe it’s jealousy that burns deep between the siblings, or something heavier and darker we’ve yet to discover.


3.5 out of 5