This Damnation review contains spoilers.
Damnation Episode 7
Tonight’s episode of Damnation, “A Different Species,” toggled between the moneyed industrialists that orbit Tennyson Duval, and scientists destroying lives rather than creating remedies and furthering science. At the conclusion of the episode, I didn’t know if the two worlds were connected or would eventually intersect. This is problematic seven chapters into the first season when more than half of the show’s puzzle ought to have been revealed. Viewers know that Duval’s funding the strikebreakers and Black Legion with the sole purpose of financially crippling and dispersing the farmers. Without food, home, and a livelihood, the poor locals would have no choice but to leave Holden County or remain as indentured servants.
I asked several questions in last week’s review, none of which have yet to be addressed retrospectively and I venture won’t be in the future. Should the show be renewed for a second season, I’d like to see a singular focus on the original premise of two brothers at odds with each other. Family dramas take on various forms and not as always expected. Compared to other period dramas, Damnation seems not inauthentic, but a light Western with religious and/or spiritual subtexts. By contrast, Peaky Blinders hits seven out of ten ideal markers for a captivating period drama about a family oftentimes at odds with each other.
Class, power, and money are at the heart of this show, and this chapter drives it home with the chemical testing on homeless vagrants for the greater good of science and industry. Creeley and Remy Johnson are out of their element at Duval’s dinner table, among his hunting party, and unknowingly being spied upon through a two-way mirror by men who think of them as cattle. Both are white trash one generation removed. Would it be fair to expect an examination or commentary on class and race on this show? What’s happened thus far is the creative team putting it on display for astute viewers to draw their own conclusions. The different species are the haves and have-nots.
What do I want, really, from this show? I want it to rise above an out of town play making its rounds in regional theatres before hopefully landing off-Broadway or Broadway. I want to live vicariously through some of the characters as they make mistakes, learn lessons, and make progress. I want less of Chekhov’s gun and more tactile feeling of touching woven fabrics and tapestries hanging on the wall or buried in a rusty chest. I want to anticipate and be both right and wrong about storylines and character motivations. I want to talk to the television screen as if the characters could hear me and make an impromptu change.
A challenge with a small number of main characters on stage or screen is that they’re expected to do more of the heavy lifting. Longmire is a good example of a Western with a handful of unique characters against a vast backdrop that hit its stride within the first year. If Damnation wants to be a character-centered drama, it’ll need to add realistic and seemingly unbelievable complications for its sophomore year, rather than being simplistic. The John Steinbeck novel elements are present, they just need to be amplified to keep current viewers and to attract new ones.