This Damnation review contains spoilers.
Damnation Episode 5
Holden County isn’t big enough for Seth and his brother Creeley because they keep bumping into each other at the most inopportune times. I don’t know if one of the glaring problems between them would be solved with additional land or set pieces. Each succeeding episode seems to move further away from the central conflict of two brothers at odds with each other and themselves.
I bought into show’s premise of good versus evil set against an arid Midwestern backdrop, but the creative team hasn’t thus far utilized all resources at their disposal. There are ways to employ the weather, the outdoors, ailments and diseases of the era as a character and story obstacle that could temporarily share the focus with the primary cast members. The show’s hook is the farmers’ strike and if and how their spirits will be broken.
When the spotlight predominantly shines on a handful of characters, I expect a payoff which I’ve not always received five episodes into the inaugural season. The show would benefit if additional elements were introduced and sustained in bits and pieces throughout the chapters. Sam Riley Junior is in jail without his mother or uncle having ever visited him. The brothel is a familiar set piece that only functions as Bessie and Creeley’s bedroom. I’m not advocating that the show be formulaic. Seth and Creeley’s collective backstory unfolds in flashbacks, a standard element in most creative writing. I’d like to see a more integrated, balanced, and nuanced show in the near future.
I experienced tonight’s episode more as a diversionary placeholder than continuous building blocks leading and misleading me toward the season finale. The traveling carnival didn’t add anything to the story of the farmer’s strike with its opposing factions. The bank robber’s arrival was probably meant to be mysterious or foreboding, but in hindsight was contrived. How did Lew know that Seth would still be in town without having been in contact with him for several years? 1930s America there are working phones, electric vacuum cleaners, and USPS postal mail. Their shared history is that Seth, Creeley, and Lew grew up together in Wyoming under the control of an abusive macho father figure.
Critical information was revealed into why the brothers don’t like each other. Viewers understand that Creeley requested Holden County knowing that his brother would be masquerading as a preacher. Creeley’s ticking clock was absent in the previous four episodes. The genealogy secret was solid, but what Seth allegedly did to his brother is monumental. On the storyboard and perhaps in early script drafts, Creeley’s character was written with great motivation that would contrast his brother’s artifice. If this had been included in the final scripts, it would’ve given the actor a meatier role.
“Den of Lost Souls” is the title of tonight’s episode. Who are the lost souls, I wonder. In a biblical, religious setting, I think of a den of iniquity – the brothel. The traveling carnival on paper I imagine was to be a sinister band of freaks and misfits. The rides, games, and tall tales entertainment for the locals. The fortune teller was a door that creaked open into their inner monologue. Will it be business as usual once the carnies leave town? What will the locals do in their absence?