Damnation: One Penny | Season 1, Episode 3 | Rating: 10/11
I admit it, I’m fully invested in this show. Great story, great music, great characters and great acting. This week’s cold open is a father and mother in the middle of America’s Heartland watching their boys play baseball. As they talk about their prosperity, the camera closes in on the Black Legion robes hanging in the closet. It’s all as American as apple pie.
Damnation is truly mining the dark side of the American dream and never is that more evident than with the Black Legion. Known as a “more brutal” arm of the Ku Klux Klan, the Black Legion were both pro-white and anti-union, so their confluence here makes perfect sense and in the broader sense of our current political climate, their appearance is timely. This week the bank is foreclosing on the Riley family farm and trying to auction off their belongings in addition to their home. Creeley dresses up Bessie like a respectable woman and takes her to the auction to make a big show of goodwill by buying some of the Widow Riley’s belongings and returning them back to her. Unfortunately, he makes two missteps: the bank already has an agent there to buy up everything for cheap and bringing Bessie – a Black woman – dressed up to this public event garners the attention of the Black Legion.
On their ride back to town, they are stopped by the Legion who takes Creeley while Bessie manages to get away. And now it’s time for our revelation of the week: Delia (the owner of the whorehouse where Bessie works), is Bessie’s stepmother’s sister. She also appears to be a lesbian (this is a very progressive 1930s Midwestern town). Delia tells Berryman that she won’t spy on Creeley and Bessie for him and also calls him out for marrying her sister rather than being with the woman he loved, Bessie’s mom. We see him turn over the picture of his late wife while looking at a photo of Bessie’s mother, so it’s no surprise that he goes to save Creeley when Bessie comes knocking at his door asking for help. He does leave Creeley hanging in the wind (literally) for a bit before cutting him loose. Chalk it up to being an overprotective father.
One thing I haven’t been very detailed about is Connie Nunn and her mission to track down Seth. After killing some strikers last week, Connie has adopted Brittany, the daughter of one of the men she killed. In a scene straight out of Flowers in the Attic, first she slaps Brittany’s hand while eating because she isn’t eating like a lady and then she tells Brittany to refer to her as her mother. At the very least, it seems that Connie is going to teach young Brittany how to take care of herself and with Connie far from a shrinking violet, by the time she’s finished that little girl will know how to take a life. Connie just better hope she’s not training the girl who’s going to kill her one day.
Seth and Amelia are trying to save the Riley farm because they realize that if the leader of their strike not only dies but also loses his farm, the other farmers will think this striking business is just too big of a risk. The bank has enough money to drive up the price even if everyone pools their money, so they figure out a way to keep the price down and it’s rather ingenious. All of the striking farmers attend the sale, convince the auctioneer to sell everything off in one big lump and then Mrs. Riley bids one penny. After that, the farmers pull out guns – all cleverly hidden in boxes painted to look like bibles – on the other bidders and the Rileys are able to buy back their farm for that one penny. Obviously this was a chess move and a clever one, but the game has just begun.
When it comes to their relationship, Seth is also playing a game of chess. After she sees Creeley (whom Seth calls “The Strikebreaker” at the auction), Amelia wants to know who he is to Seth and who the girl is in the picture. Seth deflects pointing out that the details of her past are also murky. These two are a great team, but it’s obvious neither has been fully upfront with the other. Seth does come clean that he used to love the girl in the picture, but he says that Creeley is the reason she’s dead and her death is the reason he’s on this mission to break the banks and help the people rise up. I don’t doubt that this woman’s death is what drives him, but Creeley blamed Seth for her death. So who’s telling the truth? And could this simply be the story of two brothers who once loved the same girl? To be continued…
About The Music
Each episode usually features about two songs and this week my favorite was “There’s A Light” by Shirley Ann Lee. It hovers somewhere between gospel and blues with a production quality similar to a phonograph’s which is why, I assume, it was chosen for the show since the phonograph was invented in the late 1800s and with widespread use in the 20s and 30s. The song was originally recorded in 1968 and was re-issued in 2012 by the Numero Group, a label dedicated to unearthing and releasing obscure artists who had little commercial success in their time.