I cannot believe how much the plot was advanced on Carnivale tonight. It almost felt like a series finale at times, and at times like perhaps too much was being given away, a complete departure for this uber-mysterious show. You got not only the final revelation of both Hank Scutter and "Management" in the flesh, but Justin/Alexi's finally revealing himself to be a man of demonic Father Coughlinite/Hutton Gibsonite politics every bit as evil in the earthly realm as he is in the spiritual.
But still, of course, so much is left unresolved. I'm most intrigued with the business of the death masks. Was Scutter trying to somehow scald off some kind of mask when he disfigured himself, or did he merely disfigure himself to try to elude "management" or some other horror that was chasing him? Other than that, there was no further reference to a death mask except in the initial dream sequence. The intriguing thing about this dream sequence - beyond the fact that Iris was wearing a death mask - was that she ended up being the agent of Justin's destruction.
The fundamental question at this point though, is simply who's good and who's evil? Or, to use the argot of the superfan geeks who post here, (not that I'd ever, like, hang out there or anything) who is the CoL (Creature of Light) and who is the Creature of Darkness (CoD), and who is working for which side? Up until this episode I'd taken it for granted that "management" was the previous generations CoL, or at least was interested in the defeat of Brother Justin. Now I'm not so sure. Perhaps all along he's simply been manipulating everyone, most especially Samson, in order to defeat Scutter. If Justin truly is mangement's son (and remember that Iris described her father as "an evil man" when the priest found her and Justin), and the CoD/CoL designation moves simply from father to son, then that would make management the previous generations CoD. That would mean that despite the seeming huge gains of the episode - finding Scutter, killing Justin's henchman - we are a still quite a few huge twists from the end here.
The invention and brilliance of the writers, producers, and actors of this show have not flagged for a moment. I can't believe anything like this is on "TV". It's sort of what everyone hyped Twin Peaks to be and pretended it was. It's not just surrealism. (I saw blogger Gerard van der Leun once say that the visions in the show were just symbolism without meaning, which only means that he wasn't paying attention.) It is, if I'm right, a complex, deeply rendered, system of fantasy on a par with Tolkien.
Which brings me to the question, why is this not the most popular HBO Show? I swear to God it's not affected contrarianism or anything, but my ranking of HBO shows is just about the exact inverse of their popularity and their ranking by critics. The most well-respected and heavily-watched seem to be: The Sopranos, which I find to be a tiresome Goodfellasesque demystification-of-gangsters retread that's gone on far too long, Six Feet Under, which for all its studied weirdness is really just a Party of Five type family problem solving drama, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is a more mean-spirited version of Seinfeld moved to LA and with a less likable main character. I loved season 1 and 2 of The Wire, back when it was hard to even find anyone who'd heard of it. Now it's getting media attention, just when it's getting into a Sopranos like bloat of too many plotlines and minor characters. Other than Carnivale, my favorite drama is Deadwood, and it's hard to find anyone who's heard of it. I love both Entourage and Unscripted, and the kids seem to dig them too. But aren't two meta-Hollywood comedies a bit much?