Damnation: A Different Species | Season 1, Episode 7 | Rating: 9/11 |
Is there anything more sinister than a bunch of rich, white men sitting around a table? After picking up Creeley from the whorehouse, Martin Eggers-Hyde drives him to a gathering of what are clearly important and menacing men. Along the way, they stop briefly in front of a chain-gang while Hyde questions Creeley about Bessie calling him from the brothel and so he can threaten him with the thought of being sent back to prison. Then the show introduces us to Tennyson Duvall (Zach McGowan): the man behind the curtain. But he’s no bluffing Wizard of Oz. Duvall is a wealthy industrialist who’s interested in progress at any cost. That’s why he’s funding Hyde and the strike breakers, and it also turns out he’s connected to Amelia’s father’s factory, which is experimenting on its workers. The noose that seems to be tightening around Seth and Amelia and the town of Holden looms even larger.
Adding to that is the appearance of Connie Nunn in Iowa. Again pretending to be a widow of a strike breaker to garner sympathy, Nunn comes to the church and befriends Amelia and Sam Riley’s widow. Her “daughter” Brittany, inadvertently gives Amelia an idea of how to prolong the strike by hosting a farmer’s market at the Riley farm to bypass having to go into town. Everyone except the dairy workers agrees to participate. The bank robbery gave them enough money to help the farmers and Amelia instructs them all to pay the minimum on their loans each month to keep the sheriff from being suspicious, but they also have to keep the strike going to get the bank to cave completely. With Creeley gone and the old banker, Calvin Rumple, having left town a new banker, John Dyson (Morgan David Jones), is installed and while he also frequents the whorehouse, that’s where his similarities to his predecessors end. He brushes off Bessie citing her calling Hyde and getting Creeley into trouble and then he enlists the Black Legion to help him break the strike by giving money to their leader, Melvin Stubbs. Bessie sees Stubbs in his Black Legion garb without his hood on so now she’s wanted by them and on the run. Berryman doesn’t even fully realize the threat that Stubbs poses both as a candidate and leader of the Legion and if they find out Bessie is his daughter that will be one more strike against him as sheriff.
We also get the story of Connie’s husband and how he died and it ties directly to Amelia. Amelia is also a widow and her first husband, Sal, was killed by an undercover strike breaker (Connie’s husband) who locked a bunch of strikers in a church and set it on fire. At the time, Amelia’s husband was working with Seth which is how they met, and it’s implied that Seth killed the undercover strike breaker. Damnation continues to connect these characters in interesting ways. Connie and Amelia’s losses are linked but also in exact opposition.
Creeley spends the episode stuck at the dinner party from hell. It’s like an early American version of Get Out. There’s one other Pinkerton like him in attendance, Remy Johnson (Thomas Nicholson), and it’s obvious that they’re being fattened up and assessed by the other men, even though Remy is too clueless to realize it. Creeley does impress Duvall with his homespun straightforwardness throughout the day but, eventually, the evening turns into a Mandingo fight with Creeley and Remy forced to fight. Wanting to be rid of Creeley, Hyde slips Remy a knife which turns it into a fight to the death: Remy’s death. Because Creeley won and impressed Duvall, Hyde is forced to keep him alive but now offers Creeley an impossible task: kill his brother and he won’t have to go back to jail.
Damnation‘s complexity comes from the interconnectedness of its characters which – in any other show – would feel like a soap opera, but also from how it links the various historical movements that are happening in the time period. Any other show would focus on the racism of the Black Legion or industrialism vs. the end of agriculture or strike breaking and the Depression. Damnation elevates the tale of two estranged, grifter brothers by plopping it in the center of a story about industrialism, moral ambiguity and the changing American landscape.
Logan Marshall-Green is killing it as the show takes us back and forth from a soft, emotional Creeley in 1924 to a hardened killer just a few years later. This week’s flashbacks to Seth meeting Cynthia and the beginning steps towards the man we see today are heartbreaking not because of Cynthia’s innocence, but because of Creeley’s. Seth falling in love also foreshadows him leaving his brother behind and the demise of their relationship, so it feels less like the beginning of a love story and more like the end of their brotherhood. The fact that Damnation grounds its audience in those personal emotions while so much else is happening thematically is what makes it great storytelling.
Another random moment from the “I didn’t know this was a thing back then” files: Duvall is building a sex toy for women because he believes that women will perform their household duties better if they are sexually satisfied. That’s industrialism I can get behind.
There was a moment when this moody song seemed to foreshadow Creeley’s end. He may not have been buried literally, but he’s going to have to bury his emotions if he wants to make it out of this predicament with Hyde.