UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Courtesy of HBO


Depression-era carnival and its patrons are shown with earthy authenticity

By Patricia Ingold


overflows with magic and mystery — perhaps too much for its own good.

This two-season drama series is set in the American Dust Bowl of 1935 against a backdrop of rising fascism and communism. In this atmosphere of gloom, a touring caravan of carnival performers stops at the side of the road where 18-year-old Ben Hawkins is burying his mother and trying to save the family farm. Hawkins — with few options left — joins their ranks. Soon, his secret gift is revealed: his touch has the power to heal.

Meanwhile, a parallel story unfolds in California where Methodist minister Brother Justin Crowe believes God has chosen him to serve the Dust Bowl migrants. He too has a supernatural power; he is able to reveal people’s worst sins simply by touching them.

The two stories intertwine with yet more supernaturalism. Hawkins and Brother Justin are both dreaming about the same characters. Eventually the two storylines merge on a ferris wheel in New Canaan, Calif.

What does it all mean? That’s the trouble with Carnivàle — it can be baffling. But confusion is a minor complaint. Carnivàle is otherwise glorious. Its sad landscapes depict the Dust Bowl experience of ruined farmers and disabled children fated to be carnival “freaks.”

The carnival itself includes all the usual suspects: the bearded lady, the blind mentalist, the snake charmer. But they aren’t mere attractions — they’re an engaging family of social misfits who fear destitution as much as the farmers they seek to entertain.

For a series that’s been accused of being too magical, herein lies its real enchantment: peel away the layers of prophecy, mythology and hocus-pocus, and there remains an engrossing Depression-era drama about people surviving tough times the only way they know how. And that’s no magic trick.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image