- "Before the beginning, after the great war between Heaven and Hell, God created the Earth and gave dominion over it to the crafty ape he called man. And to each generation was born a creature of light and a creature of darkness. And great armies clashed by night in the ancient war between good and evil. There was magic then, nobility, and unimaginable cruelty. And so it was until the day that a false sun exploded over Trinity, and man forever traded away wonder for reason." — Samson
Season One of Carnivàle premiered on September 14, 2003.
Season one is best described as a prologue. The entirety of the season existed to set up events and establish characters for later seasons. As such, the episodes, while layered and intricate, only added to the show's mystery rather than trying to explain it. Season one begins with Ben Hawkins, a young Oklahoma man who just happens to be an escaped convict, burying his mother. A traveling carnival, Carnivale, chances by the scene, and the leader of the carnival, a midget named Samson, is eventually convinced to let Ben remain with the carnival. As Ben finds out later, it was actually Management, Carnivale's mysterious and unseen proprietor, who orchestrated picking Ben up in Oklahoma. Management, in a decision which clearly bothers many of the carnies, diverts the carnival from its usual northward course and begins to head south, where a Methodist preacher named Justin Crowe in Mintern, California is undergoing some profound revelations. He discovers that he has supernatural powers (ranging from telepathy, to telekinesis, to the ability to force an individual to relive his or her greatest sin), and takes this as a sign from God.
Justin, however, is not the only gifted individual. Ben is also possessed of the ability to heal people, a talent which he believes is a sin due to his mother's religious fanaticism and one that he keeps well hidden. Ben's gift is not a secret to everyone in the carnival, though, and he is soon approached by both Lodz, the vaguely sinister blind mentalist, and Apollonia, the comatose and mute tarot reader. Apollonia seems almost frightened of Ben, whereas Lodz is keen to teach Ben how to use his powers. Justin, on the other hand, is discovering the full extent of his abilities on his own. After a disastrous fire at newly-opened Dignity Ministry, he embarks on a journey of spiritual renewal, which variously takes him to the brink of suicide, through his own checkered past, and to an insane asylum. While contemplating suicide, he realizes that he's possessed his powers since he was a child, when he murdered a man that was chasing him and his sister. His sister, Iris, suppressed the incident and kept Justin in the dark concerning his true nature.
While Justin is in the asylum, coping with this knowledge, Ben is trying to escape the nightmarish dreams that plague his sleep. He is tormented by dark dreams of a man covered in a tree tattoo chasing him through a cornfield, as well as horrific visions of World War I. More importantly, though, is the fact that he shares these dreams with Justin. Not only are both Justin and Ben are troubled by the same dreams, but they're also present in each other's dreams, though they've never met in real life.
As the season draws to a close and both men grapple with their natures, Ben and Justin find themselves with no other option than to accept what they are. Ben must use his gift of healing to the full extent in order to resurrect Ruthie, the snake charmer, killed by Lodz acting under the orders of Management. Management forces Ben to act by revealing that it was Lodz who killed Ruthie, prompting Ben to kill Lodz and use his death to resurrect Ruthie. Meanwhile, Brother Justin, who has returned to Mintern, is shocked to discover that it was Iris who burned down the church, and thereby murdering several children as a form of sacrifice for him. In a confrontation with Norman Balthus, Justin's adoptive father, Justin finally acknowledges his nature as a creature of evil. Thus, Ben and Justin are now aware and partially in control of their respective powers, but clueless as to their roles in the world.
Lastly, there is Sofie. Sofie is the daughter of Apollonia, the tarot reader. Sofie, able to communicate with her mother telepathically, grew up in the carnival, reading the cards aloud for her mother's clients. Apollonia keeps a tight leash on Sofie, both intentionally and otherwise. Throughout the course of the season, we learn that Sofie's mother fell into a coma upon giving birth to Sofie and, more importantly, that Sofie's father raped Apollonia. Sofie is forced to watch her mother's memory of the incident, and sees that her father is covered in an elaborate tree tattoo. To make matters worse, when Sofie decides to leave the carnivale, Apollonia attempts to kill her, by locking her inside their trailer and setting it on fire. Jonesy, the carnival's foreman, rushes in to try to save Sofie, whom he loves.
The season ends with Sofie, Apollonia and Jonesy all caught in the burning trailer, Lodz dead at Ben's hands, and Justin starting to accept his destiny.
|1||1||Milfay||September 14, 2003|
|2||2||After the Ball Is Over||September 21, 2003|
|3||3||Tipton||September 28, 2003|
|4||4||Black Blizzard||October 5, 2003|
|5||5||Babylon||October 12, 2003|
|6||6||Pick a Number||October 19, 2003|
|7||7||The River||October 26, 2003|
|8||8||Lonnigan, Texas||November 2, 2003|
|9||9||Insomnia||November 9, 2003|
|10||10||Hot and Bothered||November 16, 2003|
|11||11||Day of the Dead||November 23, 2003|
|12||12||The Day That Was the Day||November 30, 2003|
|Season 1 | Season 2|