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A Finale To Savour
by Joan Lau, New Straits Times (December 14, 2004)

It's curtains for the first season of hit HBO series Carnivale tonight but avid fan JOAN LAU just knows it'll only leave more questions than answers! IF you are not a fan of the hit HBO series Carnivale, please do not read on. Or maybe you should. Then you may want to kick yourself for missing out on this fascinating series that's set in a travelling carnival.

The series reminds me of the movie Freaks which I watched quite a while back while I was still a member of the Kelab Seni Filem Malaysia. I cannot remember the storyline now but the sense of shock and horror I felt still remains to this day.

I guess what frightened me was that the "freaks" in the movie were probably real. After all, the movie was a black-andwhite offering probably made in the 1930s. Up till that time, I had always thought carnival freaks were fakes. Bearded woman? Probably stuck some hair to her chin. And midgets? They are not freaks - just, well - midgets.

A few months after watching the disturbing movie, I came across a book on freaks in my favourite bookstore. Complete with pictures. Oh boy - that was truly disturbing. And no, I did not buy the book even though it seems like I kept "bumping into" freaks that year.

Fast forward at least 16 years and we have Carnivale. I wasn't sure I'd take to it at first - after all, my viewing taste has become so much more sophisticated. I don't know about you but I'm hardly affected by blood or gore in the movies anymore thanks to the work of directors like John Carpenter, James Cameron and gang.

But you know what? I got sucked in right from - are you ready? - the trailer for the series. It was so exciting: a boy with special powers he is trying to hide, a pastor who shares his nightmares, the many different characters who make up the travelling carnival, death, magic. Wow.

As the first season of Carnivale progressed over the last two months, more and more was revealed about the characters. There's Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl) who is only just learning about his remarkable powers - he is on a quest to find out who or where Scudder (John Savage) is.

Everybody at the carnival seems to want a piece of Ben and he, in turn, wants just a peaceful night's sleep.

He shares these recurring nightmares with pastor Brother Justin (Clancy Brown) and as we head for the season finale, it is becoming clear to me that they are different sides of the same coin.

But wait? Is Ben really the good guy and Brother Justin from the dark side? It seems too obvious but the whole thing is panning out that way. My favourite character in the series is the midget carnival boss Samson (Michael J. Anderson).

He may be ironically named but I believe Samson is indeed like his namesake. His is the strength of spirit that keeps the carnival together. Even though he seems to have been displaced by the wily blind mentalist Lodz (Patrick Bauchau) in the eyes of Management (okay, don't ask - everyone is already asking who or what is Management), he still keeps an eye out for everybody's welfare.

The series is so beautifully put together and so is the editing. A couple of episodes took my breath away (favourite episode so far is The River where Brother Justin's past is revealed!) - some people say the show is creepy because it talks about evil but I don't find that to be so. For me, the horror comes from the unseen and unknown.

And yes, I have been in a tizzy the last couple of weeks because I knew - yes, indeed, I most certainly did - that this day, TODAY, would come. It's the finale of HBO's Carnivale and I just know (because it is a series, duh!) we won't know the answers to the questions that have been sitting in my head the last two months.

It's going to be back-to-back episodes tonight and I know it will end in a cliffhanger. Oh boy, those guys at HBO are such teases but I'll be there watching the show tonight and hankering for Season 2!