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Carnivàle/The River

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The River
Season 1, Episode 7
Airdate October 26, 2003
Production Number 107
Written by Toni Graphia
Directed by Allison MacLean
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Lonnigan, Texas
CarnivàleSeason One

The River is the seventh episode of the first season of Carnivàle, and the seventh episode overall.





Plot Overview

Perched on a high bridge above a raging river, Justin contemplates suicide, and much to the dismay of the crowd he's accrued, he jumps. Upon waking, he finds that it's night and he's washed up in a dark forrested marsh. He's accosted by two children, claiming to have survived a train crash and to be fleeing their father (who is an "evil man"), who assume that Justin is an assassin sent by their father. Justin manages to grab the sister, only to have the younger brother fly into a rage and snap Justin's neck telepathically. Justin re-awakes on the bridge, once again ready to jump, but now aware that the two children were in fact Iris and himself. The incident was a memory he'd suppressed. The authorities surrounding him cart him off to a mental ward.

Ben, in an incident engineered by Lodz and Lila, discovers that Ruthie was also one of Scudder's lovers. In a confrontation with her, Ben and Gabriel begin to fight, and Ben accidentally breaks Gabriel's arm. Realizing that he was acting like an idiot, Ben patches things up with Ruthie and secretly heals Gabriel's arm.

Libby, reeling from the recent death of her sister, convinces Felix and Sofie to leave the carnival with her and go to Hollywood. Rita Sue is far more practical, and realizes that the carnival is a somewhat steady job during a depression and refuses to leave. In the end, Felix finds it too hard to desert his wife, and Libby is forced to give up on her dream.

Meanwhile, in Mintern, Tommy Dolan has struck up a relationship with Iris, and convinces her to go on air and speak about Brother Justin. Dolan also manipulates councilman Val Templeton, on air, into donating $3000 to the Dignity Ministry. One night, when Dolan manages to get Iris tipsy from wine, Iris reveals the story of the train crash that she and her brother survived when they were children, implying that she remembered the incident while Justin did not.


Arc Advancement


  • Apollonia and Sofie read Libby's cards. It's clear that what Sofie is relating to Libyy is not what Apollonia is seeing. The first is The Fool, which stands for "unavoidable mistakes due to one's own ignorance." Sofie tells Libby it means she's "carefree" and "light-hearted." The second card is The Chariot, reversed, which stands for conflict, disputes, and defeat by one's enemies. Sofie lies and tells Libby that she dealt the card wrong, and that Libby is destined for fame and fortune.


  • Justin regains the memory of the first time he used his powers, which was to kill a man. He realizes that his powers are not visions from God but rather his "birthright."
  • Ruthie admits to having been bitten by a cottonmouth snake in Ft. Worth once, and how Scudder spent the night with her until she got the venom out of her system. Ruthie believes that Scudder merely sat with her till she was well, but Lodz reveals to Ben that Scudder healed her surreptitiously.
  • Lodz realizes that Ben is learning to use his avataric abilities without his help, and the professor is furious.
  • Libby dies her hair blonde. This is what passes for plot development on Carnivàle.
  • Dolan develops an obvious attraction to Iris, although she appears completely unaware of this. She will later use it to manipulate him when Justin returns. Iris, on her part, is also taken by Dolan, and claims that she didn't get a chance to listen to his radio broadcast (even though she did) just so that he'd come over and play it for her.
  • Sofie reveals to Libby that she doesn't know her own birthday. Since Sofie's birth was seemingly so traumatic on Apollonia, triggering her comatose state, she doesn't remember the exact date that she gave birth.


  • When planning their departure, Stumpy tells Libby that they can go anywhere "except Texas." In season 2, it will be revealed that Stumpy has large outstanding debts to a loan shark in Texas.

Dream Sequences and Visions

  • Justin's experience in the river and with the two children is actually a suppressed memory of his resurfacing. The two children are Justin (Alexei) and Iris (Irinia). The train they were riding crashed in the California Sierras, stranding them in the wilderness. Both children refer to their father as an "evil man," and believe he has sent assassins to kill them. Irina alleges that they are only to trust someone who is a "man of God." This is the same question they ask Norman when he stumbles across them in the forest. When Alexei snaps Justin's neck, this is the first manifestation of Justin's avataric powers.


The Show

Behind the Scenes

Allusions and References

Memorable Moments

  • In her brother's absence, Iris takes the time to smell Justin's well-used whip.


  • Iris Crowe : In Russia, there's a saying: 'Pray to God, but row for shore.' Faith and action. That's how I live my life, Mr. Dolan.