8.4
2,085 votes
Carnivàle

Carnivàle

HBO 2003

Set in the 1930s Dust Bowl, 18-year old Ben Hawkins finds himself all alone in this world when his mother passes on. But a travelling Carnivàle takes him in. We also see the story of Brother Justin, a priest who is trying to find his way in the world. Little do Ben and Justin know, but they are to fight in a biblical battle. With help on the side and Justin with his sister, they find out which side each are on and try to battle with the other for what they believe.

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The 10 Best Episodes of Carnivàle

Carnivàle - S1E12

#1 - The Day That Was the Day

8.42

Season 1 - Episode 12

Faced with a crisis of life-and-death proportions of whether or not to cure Ruthie from a snake bite, Ben turns to Lodz for advice, and he ends up talking with the mysterious and unseen entity, Management, for the first time. Meanwhile, Stumpy and Rita Sue strike a deal with each other, and Jones, to save their marriage. Samson covers for Ben when a Texas Ranger comes looking for Ben in which Samson learns that Ben is a fugitive for a murder charge which he did not commit. Sofie settles a score with Libby and Jones by seducing Libby in order for Jones to find out after learning that he's been seducing Rita Sue. But the consequences are when Sofie finds herself in the grips of Apollonia's fury for this sapphic act. In Mintern, Reverend Balthus and Brother Justin contemplate the former's "greatest evil," with the latter pondering the prospect of salvation versus damnation among his congregation.

The episode was rated #1 Best episode of Carnivàle from 160 votes.

Carnivàle - S2E12

#2 - New Canaan, CA

8.32

Season 2 - Episode 12

In the cliff-hanging season finale, Samson devises a grand plan by scheming with Ben, Jones, and the entire troupe to lure Brother Justin to Carnivale for his confrontation with Ben. Meanwhile, Stroud wants to protect Justin who correctly suspects that the carnival is setting a trap for him. Sofie finds herself locked in a dark shed after she tells Justin her conflicted thoughts about where her loyalties lay, and soon becomes terrorized by ghostly visions of her mother. Rita Sue is touched by Samson's generosity of giving her the money needed to pay off Stumpy's loan shark. Later, the final confrontation approaches when Brother Justin persuades Iris to overcome her fear of heights by riding the Carnivale Ferris Wheel where Jones traps both of them in for Ben to drain Justin's powers, and Ben performs his most important healing of Reverend Balthus, leading to Ben and Justin finally meeting face-to-face, and the visions of Ben and Justin becoming full circle. At the same time, Joney sets out to rescue Sofie from Stroud, but soon realizes (way too late) that she has made her choice to which side her loyalties are.

The episode was rated #2 Best episode of Carnivàle from 131 votes.

Carnivàle - S2E8

#3 - Outskirts, Damascus, NE

8.21

Season 2 - Episode 8

Ben and Samson have a heated argument over some bad news that Ben tells him about the death of Management, and Samson learns from Ruthie about seeing Stroud abduct Scutter. Ben suggests that they must track down Stroud at once so he will lead them to Brother Justin. Meanwhile, Iris and Justin back a local politician while Justin reveals his evil side to Reverend Balthus. Back at Carnivale, Rita Sue tries to play hardball with Bud, Stumpy's debt collector, by showing him who's the boss. Libby shocks her parents by revealing that she and Jonesy got married after a drunken night out, which prompts Stumpy to stage a dinner with them. In New Canaan, Wilfred Talbot Smith arrives with more bad news that he's interpreted a bad sign for Justin that his enemy has the power to destroy him with a special dagger. Lila offers to support Ruthie over her recent emotional status. At Carnivale, Jones is blamed for an accident when a car on the Ferris wheel collapses, and Ben resorts to draining the life force from a young woman to save the life of her son. At the end, Sofie finds a new job: as the new house maid for Brother Justin.

The episode was rated #3 Best episode of Carnivàle from 132 votes.

Carnivàle - S2E9

#4 - Lincoln Highway, UT

8.19

Season 2 - Episode 9

While driving down a desolate highway in rural Utah on his trail of Stroud, Ben comes across Jones and Libby, the victims of a vigilante group blaming Jonesy for the Ferris wheel accident, leading to Ben to try to heal Jonesy. Back at Carnivale, Ruthie has another possession by the deceased Lotz who leaves a lipstick message that Sofia is the Omega. Lila then tries to reach the deceased Lodz. At the Canaan camp, the invalid Reverend Balthus takes a shot at Justin during his fiery political sermon, and when chaos breaks out, Justin shocks the crowd with forgiveness. Meanwhile, Iris takes Eleanor on a picnic where she makes the mistake of confining in Iris that she suspects that Brother Justin is actually a demon, and Iris pays her back by revealing that she already knows... and then kills her. Sofie finds salvation in her new work for Brother Justin. On the road, Stroud lets the morphine flow for the captive Scudder, while Ben tries to get a head on Stroud's whereabouts.

The episode was rated #4 Best episode of Carnivàle from 135 votes.

Carnivàle - S2E7

#5 - Damascus, NE

8.16

Season 2 - Episode 7

When Carnivale finally arrives in Damascus, Ben gets closer to finding his father when another vision of a man with the shredded face leads him to the town's seedy hotel. Ben then goes to investigate further, and finally meets his father, who is working as a clerk at the hotel. Meanwhile, Bishop McNaughton arrives at Brother Justin's new residence at the Temple of Jericho at New Canaan where he puts Justin on notice about the content of his sermons. Back at the Carnivale, Jonesy cannot get the departed Sofie out of his mind, while Libby and Rita Sue continue their war of words. With Ben unaware that Stroud is on his trail, Ben learns more about who he is when he brings Scudder to Management. He learns that Scudder is Management's evil opposite. Also, Libby and Jonesy finally 'get it on' over their growing attraction to each other.

The episode was rated #5 Best episode of Carnivàle from 125 votes.

Carnivàle - S2E11

#6 - Outside New Canaan

8.15

Season 2 - Episode 11

When Samson announces that the carnival's next stop is in the Christian camp of New Canaan, California, both Lila and Stumpy challenge his authority. Jones arrives back with the troupe and gives Samson the information what he and Ben found about Brother Justin. Meanwhile, Libby urges Jones to reveal the secret of Ben's powers to the rest of the troupe, despite Samson's protest. While Ben infiltrates Justin's ministry camp to look for him, he finds Sofie being baptized as a new converts when a new tragedy rises from the pond... in the form of the murdered Eleanor. Later, Justin is startled by a development in the migrant camp when Samson and Jones arrive and persuade Iris to let them set up shop there. That night, when Ben wants to make his move to kill Justin, Jones intervenes and urges patience.

The episode was rated #6 Best episode of Carnivàle from 127 votes.

Carnivàle - S1E11

#7 - The Day of the Dead

8.11

Season 1 - Episode 11

With Management's blessing, Lodz hatches a devious plan to "reach" Ben, who is vulnerable after letting his guard down after his night of seduction with Ruthie. Rita Sue upstages Catalina's debut routine in the Gay Paree tent. Meanwhile, Sofie reads Stumpy's cards and doesn't like what she learns, and Ben learns that some wounds aren't easy to heal. In Mintern, Reverend Balthus is concerned about the influences surrounding Brother Justin, as well as some fiery allegations that Tommy Dolan threatens to make public that the fire that burned down Chin's was an inside job. For her part, Iris proves she'll do anything to advance her brother's career and reveals that she was the one responsible for the fire in order for Justin to turn to his dark side.

The episode was rated #7 Best episode of Carnivàle from 163 votes.

Carnivàle - S2E2

#8 - Alamogordo, NM

8.04

Season 2 - Episode 2

Ben travels on his own to Alamogoro to seek out Father Kerrigan, a former preacher residing in a lunatic asylum, and who knew his father who tells him to beware of a mysterious tattooed man that both Ben and Brother Justin see in their dreams. Back at Carnivale, Stumpy continues his pursuit of Rita Sue and Libby's well being by gambling. Ben finds a distraught Sofie wondering on the road and brings her back to the troupe, while nobody realizes that although Sofie's mother is dead, her ghost (whom only Sofia and see and hear) still lingers around her. Still worried about the missing Lotz whereabouts, Lila looks through his trailer and finds that he couldn't have left at all. Sofie's comes to a decision about where she stands with Carnivale by doing some manual labor, which upsets the other men in the company. Meanwhile, Stroud breaks out of prison to begin his mission for Brother Justin. In Mintern, Justin and Iris start to make groundwork on the location of his latest ministry, the Temple of Jericho, while Dolan continues investigating the Dignity Ministry fire. Also, Justin starts paying late-night visits to Mintern's Chinatown, to a tattoo artist...

The episode was rated #8 Best episode of Carnivàle from 139 votes.

Carnivàle - S2E10

#9 - Cheyenne, WY

8.02

Season 2 - Episode 10

Following another one of Ben's visions, he and Joney set out to find Stroud and they soon arrive in the Wyoming state capital where from a discarded newspaper in a recently vacated hotel room, they finally learn the name and location of Ben's nemesis. Back at Carnivale, Libby struggles to stick to her alibi that Jones concocts for them, but lets the story about Ben slip to her mother. Samson then has a heart-to-heart talk with Libby about Ben's magical abilities. At Justin's ministry camp, Stroud arrives and finally meets his evil master face-to-face. There, Wilfred Talbot Smith intercepts a near disaster for Justin and reneges on a deal with Scudder, who plans an escape... but Justin does a little backseat driving. Also, Iris discovers that Sofie is actually Justin's illuminate daughter, while Stroud increases security for Justin.

The episode was rated #9 Best episode of Carnivàle from 127 votes.

Carnivàle - S2E4

#10 - Old Cherry Blossom Road

7.99

Season 2 - Episode 4

Still held captive in the moonshiners camp, Ben meets his blind and elderly grandmother who reveals some family secrets and a mysterious face of death. Meanwhile, Lila confides in the rest of the riggers that she suspects Samson was responsible for Lotz demise. Jonesy instructs Sofie to dig a large hole in the ground. In Mintern, Justin continues his mesmerizing evil sermons to his Temple of Jericho congregation where he has a seizure when he has a vision of the threat that Ben poses to him. In Los Moscos, New Mexico, Stroud reports his progress to Justin who advises him to turn his search to looking for Ben Hawkins. Iris tries to cover-up her own secrets from Dolan while imploring Justin not to keep secrets from her. Ruthie continues to see visions of the diseased Lotz and Apollonia, while Stumpy's moneymaking schemes begin to wear on Rita Sue and Libby.

The episode was rated #10 Best episode of Carnivàle from 133 votes.

Carnivàle - S1E7
#11 - The River
7.96
Season 1 - Episode 7

While Brother Justin rediscovers his "birthright" on the banks of a river, Iris gets some unexpected support from an attentive radio reporter, named Tommy Dolan, whom offers to spread the word about Brother Justin's parish. At the carnival, Rita Sue and Stumpy argue over their family's future where she, afraid that the family will end up on the breadline, argues with Stumpy over leaving the carnival and moving to Hollywood. Meanwhile, Ben and Ruthie go hunting for snakes to use in her act, and Ben is forced to use his powers to heal Ruthie's simpleton son, Gabriel, after he injures himself, at a cost of several dead fish. Also, Samson goes to work on the bally, and Libby and Sofie see stars (and romance) on the western horizon.

The episode was rated #1 Best episode of Carnivàle from 180 votes.

Carnivàle - S2E5
#12 - Creed, OK
7.95
Season 2 - Episode 5

When the Carnivale stops outside Creed, Oklahoma, they receive an uninvited visitor: Varlyn Stroud who begins asking questions to Jonesy, and later to Samson, about where to find Scudder. Meanwhile, Rita Sue bails out Stumpy for his $400 gambling dues, but he bets (and loses) all of the money on a big fight anyway. In Mintern, Justin pushes Dolan to make a decision while Iris confesses to Dolan about being the one responsible for the ministry fire. Back in Creed, Ben pays a visit to an elderly mask-maker for information about Scudder, which turns into a literal nightmare. Ruthie confides in Sofie about her visions of seeing dead people, including Lotz and Apollonia. Sofie also finally reads tarot cards for Ben who thinks he finally knows where to find Scudder. At the end, Justin receives a mysterious gift: a death mask of himself and when he puts it on... he sees Ben.

The episode was rated #2 Best episode of Carnivàle from 131 votes.

Carnivàle - S1E10
#13 - Hot and Bothered
7.94
Season 1 - Episode 10

Brother Justin returns to Mintern from his stay in the asylum to chart out a new direction for his ministry. At the Carnivale, Samson's loss is Lodz's gain when the blind mystic takes Samson's place as the liaison to Management. Libby catches on to her mother's deception of her lustful fling with Jones, while Sofie accuses Apollonia of "breaking the rules" when she forces Sofie to tell the truth to their tarot clients about their bleak futures. Ben and Samson come up empty in search of information about Scudder's whereabouts when they visit one of Scudder's hangouts; a men's club called the Templars Club. Stumpy takes his lumps in enlisting a new dancer, a Mexican waitress named Catalina, whom he runs into during a drunken bender in the troupe's New Mexico town. Also, Lodz and Lila wait for Ben to finally succumb to sleep, with a little of Ruthie's help, so Lodz can probe Ben's dreams.

The episode was rated #3 Best episode of Carnivàle from 159 votes.

Carnivàle - S2E6
#14 - The Road to Damascus
7.93
Season 2 - Episode 6

On the road to Damascus, Nebraska, Samson and the troupe stop to help when they run into a rival troupe that has fallen on hard times. In Mintern, Dolan tries to help Iris and Justin find a solution to their legal problems while Iris is surprised when she learns of Justin's real plan: to frame Dolan for the ministry fire. Back at Carnivale, Rita Sue learns that Stumpy lost all of their money with gambling while he and Jonesy come to blows over Rita Sue. Ben and Sofie decide to explore their growing romantic relationship with sex when she tells him that she intends to leaves Carnivale and wants him to come with her. Also, Ruthie appears to have a psychic connection with Lotz when she briefly speaks in his voice to Lila. Also, Ben finally decides to go on ahead towards Damascus when he learns from Sampson about Stroud who's on Scudder's tail.

The episode was rated #4 Best episode of Carnivàle from 127 votes.

Carnivàle - S2E1
#15 - Los Moscos
7.93
Season 2 - Episode 1

As the spiritual powers of Ben Hawkins evolve, the entity Management reveals it's identity to Ben, (the Russian soldier in Ben's dreams) and then exposes him to a vision of the cataclysmic disasters (a nuclear explosion) that awaits the world if Ben doesn't identify and conquer his nemesis: Brother Justin, the creature of darkness. In order to do this, Ben must find his father, the elusive Henry Scudder, who holds the knowledge of the preacher's identity and location. In the aftermath of the fire which killed Apollonia, Samson covers for Ben by claiming that he died in the fire to get rid of the Texas Ranger still hanging around the troupe, and Samson helps Ben hide the dead body of Professor Lotz, while Lila becomes concerned for the missing Lotz well being. A distraught Sofie runs away, leading a guilt-ridden Jonesy to assemble the carnies to go out looking for her. Meanwhile, Brother Justin's radio sermon has employed two new "apostles"; an occultist named Wilfred Talbot Smith, who aids Justin that he must kill Henry Scudder to become a true immortal, and a prison inmate named Varlyn Stroud whom is also "called" by the mesmerizing Justin's voice. Reporter Tommy Doyle continues to investigate the Chin's ministry fire, while Justin and his sister Iris use the radio to continue to spread the word, drawing throngs of weak and impoverished masses into their spiritual web, while Reverend Balthus suffers from a stroke.

The episode was rated #5 Best episode of Carnivàle from 149 votes.

Carnivàle - S1E9
#16 - Insomnia
7.88
Season 1 - Episode 9

Ben tries to stave off the torments of his dreams by staying awake, but the lack of sleep is taking its toll. Meanwhile, Samson looks to drum up new business by resurrecting several tried-and-true scams, including "turtle boy" and "man eating chicken". Lodz warns a distrustful Ben about the dangers of not practicing his "gift." Sofie worries that her mother is losing touch with reality after she has a vision about her father raping Apollonia. Ben marvels at Ruthie's new snake-charming routine, and Lodz's psychic act gets a jolt from a mysterious source. In Mintern, Iris reaches out to Brother Justin over the radio airwaves who's still in the asylum, and Tommy gets a surprise reaction when he makes a pass onto Iris.

The episode was rated #6 Best episode of Carnivàle from 155 votes.

Carnivàle - S1E2
#17 - After the Ball Is Over
7.85
Season 1 - Episode 2

A practical joke which has him clean an old dirty trailer leads Ben to a piece of the puzzle of his past - a tuxedo-clad man named Scudder who Ben keeps seeing in his dreams and who may be his long-lost father. Meanwhile, Brother Justin and his sister Iris have a conversation with Justin's mentor, Reverend Norman Balthus, which makes him realize that he has a gift that he must put to use. With the help of a vision that comes to him at the right time, he persuades the owner of the local brothel Mr. Chin's to allow him to turn it into a house of worship for the local migrants. At the Carnivale, Sofie continues to tend to her comatose, telepathic mother, Apollonia, after their upsetting run in with Ben, whose powers can help, or harm.

The episode was rated #7 Best episode of Carnivàle from 237 votes.

Carnivàle - S1E1
#18 - Milfay
7.85
Season 1 - Episode 1

Oklahoma Dust Bowl, 1934. 18-year-old Ben Hawkins is a young man whom lives with his physically sick, God-fearing mother. After his mother dies from a long illness, Ben unceremoniously buries her in the back yard of his home which is then repossessed for outstanding late payments. Ben is taken in by a traveling carnival troupe (titled Carnivale) and becomes acquainted with the residents whom include the kind-hearted dwarf owner Samson; his right-hand man and head rigger Clayton Jones; Gypsy tarot reader Sofie; the bearded lady Lila; girlie tent owner Felix "Stumpy" Dreifuss, his wife Rita Sue whom Felix solicits to some of the patrons, and their two teenage daughters Libby and Dora Mae; Gekco the Reptile Man; snake charmer Ruthie; Ruthie's son Gabriel, the low-IQ strongman; and conjured twins Alexandria (Alex) and Caladonia (Cat). Ben is revealed to have strange mystical powers of clairvoyance and healing which worry Professor Lodz, the blind mystic of the traveling troupe. Meanwhile in the small town of Mintern, California, an evangelical preacher, named Brother Justin Crowe, receives a sign when a woman vomits up silver coins that disappear before his eyes, that leaves him awakened to the possibility of mysterious powers that he has and it somehow gives him a psychic connection to Ben, both of whom have never met.

The episode was rated #8 Best episode of Carnivàle from 308 votes.

Carnivàle - S1E6
#19 - Pick a Number
7.80
Season 1 - Episode 6

Thirsty for payback after the murder of Dora Mae Dreifuss, one of the chooch dancers, Samson and the rest of the carnies, including Stumpy Dreifuss and Rita Sue, get caught up in an obscure, but fascinating phenomenon called "Carnival Justice" to root out the person responsible. Meanwhile, Ben's dark adventure in the mine shaft ends where Lodz welcomes him back into the fold. In Mintern, Brother Justin, highly distraught over the mysterious fire that destroyed Chin's and killed six homeless children, leaves the town and wanders in the wilderness, where he meets a group of hobos around a camp fire where one of them is an undercover reporter.

The episode was rated #9 Best episode of Carnivàle from 189 votes.

Carnivàle - S1E5
#20 - Babylon
7.79
Season 1 - Episode 5

The carnival finally arrives in Babylon, a tapped-out silver mining town in rural Texas with few inhabitants. Samson tries to improve the troupe's spirits with a night of revelry at the local bar while Sofie and Libby (one of the chooch dancers) get closer and decide to attend the local cinema. Eventually, a group of restless miners arrive in time for the chooch show, but with drastic consequences when they start a riot. Meanwhile, Ben has an enlightening experience at the bottom of a mineshaft where he has a vision of the mysterious Scudder fighting in the trenches of World War I.

The episode was rated #10 Best episode of Carnivàle from 192 votes.

Last updated: dec 16, 2020

Comments

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Back in the beginning of 21st century there was no show on tv that was brave enough to protray good vs evil, Carnivale was the first show to take on this matter and it was doing it brilliantly and this is why the story and drama feels so fresh and unique while you watch and there is no bullshit filler, its just business. After Carnivale so many supernatural shows aired on tv but they all followed because of Carnivale's fanbase. Shame it was canceled and that's because of HBO's financial decisions and nothing to do with show's quality.

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Awesome! Too bad it was canceled

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What were your plans for what would have come in the four unmade seasons? DK: Like I said, I’m not going to claim I knew the minute detail. Season three is five years later. We find Jonesy—he survived his gunshot wound and is pitching for a professional baseball team. His wife [Libby] is a typical baseball wife back in ’39. The carnival is completely split up; everybody’s gone their separate ways. The only vestige of the carnival as it was is Ben and Samson, and they’re working at another carnival, still on Management’s trail. Then on the Brother Justin side, we find he’s become this incredibly politically influential radio preacher. And there’s Iris and Sofie, and they’re both in this fight. He’s a shell, almost, and these two women are in a power struggle over who’s controlling Brother Justin. Sofie is Brother Justin’s wife. Of course, she’s his daughter, but he doesn’t know that. She knows that. She could bring him down pretty easily, but she’s afraid of herself now, too. Then we introduce, in the very first episode, you see this 4-year-old kid come running up and hugging Brother Justin, saying “Daddy.” Is this Brother Justin’s child, or is this Ben’s child, because they both had relations with Sofie? That would kind of tee us off to the second one. That would take us through the war. And then the first half of that would be, “Avengers assemble,” winds of war calling them together, gotta get this group back together again. Ben’s like, “This isn’t just about me. This is about us.” And pulling everybody out of their lives and answering this call, and moving into going to Europe to try to acquire these documents or… I knew they were going to be talismans. What they’re going to need when they’re engaged in this war. Then there’d be a confrontation of some sort at the end of season four. Then taking us to the end, it’s all about the [atomic] bomb. It’s all about the Manhattan Project and worrying about it, finding out what it is.

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Sad that the unique ones die so quickly sure it was a plain good vs evil but its execution was great and it was one of the few shows that kept me from watching anything else during the week or so it took to finish it. Its really good and really worth my time.

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This show could have been a milestone if HBO didn't cancelled it after two seasons!

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Seriously not happy about the cancellation of this series. It was solid, highly entertaining and unique. I absolutely loved watching this show and will miss it. I cant believe it got cancelled.

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diamond sad that cancelled in two seasons

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Great show, very underrated. Mystery and good vs. evil works perfectly.

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One of my favorites!

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This was by far one of my favorite series on HBO. They ended it way too early.

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