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Milfay is the first episode of the first season of Carnivàle, and the first episode overall.
Co-Starring: Don Swayze (Tattooed Man)
Featuring: Jenna Boyd (Maddy Crane), E.J. Callahan (Lean Man), K Callan (Eleanor), Frank Collison (Jasper), Gigi deLeon (Prostitute), Ryan Hansen (Young Ben), Joshua Harto (Junior), Lucinda Jenney (Flora Hawkins), Jack McGee (Bulldozer Driver), Matthew McGrory (Giant), Bobby Preston (Tommy Crane), Brett Rickaby (Talker), Ted Rooney (Flasher), Joe Unger (Red)
Uncredited: Jane Adams (Mother of Dead Baby)
We begin with a terrified man (who will later be revealed as Scudder) being chased through a stormy cornfield by a menacing man whose exposed chest is covered in an elaborate tree tattoo. His face is mostly hidden by his long, dark hair and he moves after his quarry methodically, sure that he will catch his prey. And with a flash of lightning, Ben wakes from this dream and the real show starts.
Ben Krohn Hawkins, farmhand, fugitive, and fatherless. His lot worsens significantly as his mother succumbs to dust pneumonia minutes after he wakes from his dream. While Ben struggles to bury her body, a traveling carnival passes by the scene and offers him a hand. Faced with the prospect of abandoning Ben to the approaching law enforcement, Samson, the carnival's general manager, relents and agrees to shelter the young man.
The carnival "shakes dust," as Samson says, and sets off on the road. During the journey, Samson tells Jonesy, the head roustabout, that Management, Carnivàle's mysterious and unseen proprietor, said that Ben was "expected." Neither Jonesy nor Samson know what to make of this. Ben is as much a mystery to them as he is to Professor Lodz, the carnival's blind mentalist. Lodz, bored by the long drive and coerced by his girlfriend, Lila the Bearded Lady, decides to read Ben's dreams. His dreams, however, prove traumatic to the professor, who is inundated with images of cornfields, trees, severed appendages, World War 1, and others.
Upon waking, Ben has cause to wonder whether he's actually left his dreams, finding himself surrounded by carnies and circus freaks, including giants, Siamese twins, lizard-men and contortionists. Having been raised in an extremely inhibited and religious fashion, Ben is taken aback by the carnies.
At this point, we meet the show's other lead: Brother Justin Crowe, a fiery Methodist preacher living in Mintern, California. Justin and his sister, Iris, notice a down-and-out dustbowl immigrant (an "Okie") named Eleanor stealing from the donation plate. Justin confronts her in his spacious home, only to have her begin spewing up silver dollars. As we'll later realize, the dollars were illusions which Justin unconsciously caused. One of his abilities is to force people to confront and witness their greatest sin. Eleanor, who had been possessed by greed, was beset by money vomiting out of her mouth. Justin, of course, believes that it is an act of God, and starts praying fervently.
Ben, meanwhile, is doing a poor job of making friends at the carnival. In fact, the only person he seems able to even talk to is Sofie, the tarot reader. She offers to read his cards, but he declines, most likely motivated by both his intolerant upbringing and his growing awareness of his supernatural abilitiess (which we have yet to see). Samson tries futilely to convince Ben to join the carnival full-time (at Management's behest), but Ben is similarly reluctant.
As Ben tries to adjust to his new surroundings, Brother Justin has a profound vision outside Mr. Chin's, the local whorehouse/gambling hall. The sky rains first snow, then blood and a cross appears in the neon lights of the Mr. Chin sign, prompting Justin to assume that God wants him to procure the property and build a church.
Ben eventually relents and has his cards read by Sofie. The reading is an awkward one, for both parties. As Sofie reveals each card, Ben relives powerful memories associated with each one. The first two cards evoke Ben's memories of accidentally resurrecting a dead cat, and having his mother subsequently drown it. Ben's mother, Flora, berates him for being "marked by the beast" and firmly avows that "God takes what's his. Man don't take it back." We also realize that Ben could have healed his mother, and only her own religious stubbornness prevented him. But as Sofie turns the third card, the Magician (indicating a great talent that Ben has hidden from others), and inquires as to Ben's hidden ability, Ben is accosted by a vision of Justin with blacked-out eyes demanding "Tell me!" and he bolts from the trailer.
Sobbing, he flees from the carnival, and finds himself in front of a local girl confined to a wagon, a sweet kid who loves the Ferris Wheel and whose legs are crippled by a painful condition. Resigned, he kneels down and places his hands on her shins.
The next shot is Ben, running desperately back towards the carnival as it pulls away, and pulling himself up onto the last truck. The little girl is standing next to her wagon, her legs completely healed, as the entire field of green surrounding her wilts and dies.
- References to both Scudder and Management throughout the episode
- Lodz wants to take the carnival south, which Samson initially rejects until Management tells him to do the same
- The card that Sofie picks up in the trailer is The Magician, reversed
- Ben uses his powers to spiritually heal the delusional mother, and to physically heal the crippled little girl, who would later cause a riot when she identifies him in Tipton
- Justin uses his powers on Eleanor, unaware of what he's doing
- Lodz no doubt realizes Ben's identity after watching the boy's dreams, and probably recognizes the opportunity to use Ben to get closer to Management. His insistence on taking the carnival south is probably due to a desire to force a confrontation between Ben and Scudder (whom Lodz can sense).
- Lodz is also revealed to be an absinth drinker, which is why many carnies think he's somewhat delusional
- Sofie has issues with her mother, and with Jonesy
Dream Sequences and Visions
- In Ben's opening dream, we see, variously:
- Scudder being chased by the Usher through a cornfield
- Scudder retreating from Bruno the bear in World War 1
- a hand (possibly Ben's or Boffo's) holding a Templar ring (probably Boffo's) bearing the motto "In Hoc Signo Vinces" ("By this sign you shall conquer" in Latin)
- Scudder, in a black tuxedo, and Belyakov facing each other in the diner
- Sofie turning over the Magician during Ben's tarot reading
- the funeral procession in Tipton
- Ruthie with a snake during one of her acts
- Scudder popping his top hat
- a dead lamb
- a photo of the Babylon mining crew, focusing in on Scudder's picture
- Apollonia's rape by the Tattooed Man
- a picture of Felix's gun on a pillow next to four bullets
- a picture of Lobster Girl from Gunderson
- Ben waking up from a dream with no arms or legs
- more scenes from the trench during World War 1, featuring Belyakov aiming at Scudder
- a shot of Dora Mae's funeral
- During Lodz's look into Ben's dreams, he sees:
- Scudder being chased through the cornfield by the Usher
- Scudder crawling through a doorway in the WW1 trench
- Belyakov cocking his gun and walking through No Man's Land
- Carl Butridge, dead and with a pickaxe in his chest
- Scudder, facing an off-screen Belyakov, in the diner
- a body being eaten by an off-screen Bruno
- In Justin's dream sequence, we see:
- Sofie's tarot reading for Ben reveals:
- The Moon (signifying confusion and exposure)
- we see Ben, as a young child, cradling a kitten that has been dead for several days, which comes to life when his disgusted mother takes it from him
- Death (harbinger of transformation)
- the memory we see is of Ben's mother drowning the kitten, and claiming that Ben is marked by the Beast for having this power
- The Magician reversed (a hidden talent or ability
- once again, we see Flora on her deathbed calling her son "filth" and refusing to let him touch her
- when Sofie presses Ben about his secret, Ben is accosted by a vision of a black-eyed Justin yelling "Tell me!" at him
- The Moon (signifying confusion and exposure)
Behind the Scenes
Allusions and References
- During his opening sermon, Brother Justin makes reference to the "days of the prophets" which, in hindsight, is an obvious allusion to his avataric mantle.
- Flora Hawkins: God takes what's his. Man don't take it back.