Season 1 Episode 1


Aired Sunday 10:00 PM Sep 14, 2003 on HBO
out of 10
User Rating
205 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

An 18-year-old, Ben Hawkins, is taken in by a traveling Carnivale after his mother passes away. An evangelical preacher receives a sign that leaves him awakened to the possibility of mysterious powers.

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  • Let the freak show begin!

    The first episode introduces us to the main characters and gives a sneak peak to the poverty-ridden era of the 1930s in America that we see from the carnivale people's point of view.

    Carnivàle begins very slowly and the pace of the show remains that way. That is why some people will jump the gun and decide that this show is boring. But those who decide to immerse themselves to the world of Carnivàle will be rewarded.

    Milfay is a good episode but the series gets better when the plot thickens, so to speak. Watch this and get sucked in to the world of the show that is Carnivàle!moreless
  • Strange, stranger, strangest

    A very strange, awkward but good episode. I wouldn’t call it the BEST pilot ever because it starts just very slow and confusing, but it gets much better towards the end.

    It all begins very strange, first some people dig up a dead body and then they destroy someone’s house. As strange as it was, the story continues in a church where an old lady steals a coin of some kind and then when she starts praying with the pastor she starts to puke out lots of coins. I was like, WHAT? I didn’t get who or what was the pastor, he comes back later in the episode where it rains on him, blood I think it was. I was totally confused.

    So anyway, a guy is brought to a house and a woman looks at him and thinks he’s cute, she asks a mind reader to reads his dreams but when he looks into them he sees some big horrors about a man running from something….or something.

    So the dude, he begins to act rude against everyone and nobody really likes him, until he goes to a woman who’s child had just died. He’s able to make her calm and realise he’s dead, then the woman finally lets lose of her dead son (which was touchy scene)

    So then, another freak called Sophie goes out of the city, they don’t want freaks over there and try to rape her. Ben is able to save her and they sort of fall inlove. She wants to read his cards and so she does. THAT”S where the goodness of the episode really begins. When it all gets explained a bit, so his powers were that he could bring back dead things to live. His mother said he was a Satan’s child and thought he was cursed and that’s why he hid his powers.

    At the end of the episode, the young man goes to a girl who couldn’t walk. He puts his hands on her legs and is able to cure her.

    The episode was impressive, specially the end. A big part of the episode was too weird and I wasn’t able to get it.

  • *** Spoiler-free *** Wonderful style and high-end production ; fascinating universe and mystical story ; freaking good characters and performers

    I read that when Milfay was first aired back in September, 2003 it received raving reviews for its style. However it's only in 2005 that I watched it. Its universe instantly fascinated me and I couldn't resist its charismatic and freaky characters. A circus had never been so surreal and astonishing. Moreover even if Tim Burton's Big Fish was released on January, 2004, a film with similar elements, it didn't ruin all the things that made Carnivàle's pilot such a wonderful surprise.

    First the timeless battle between good and evil can only mesmerize the audience when it's so well told. Indeed the episode begins with a dark close-up on Samson's face, a dwarf brilliantly played by Michael J. Anderson who appears to be the second in command. Moreover the opening credits are amazing, insanely creative and probably the best I have ever seen. So the very first minutes you should be fully immersed in the show imaginary but contemporary world.

    The other elements which convinced me of the production cult status were the performers and characters. The acting's level is astounding and the different profiles so twisted that like a wormhole they shake your feelings and make you realize how much you want to learn more about them. How did they become who they are ? Do they have any plan ? But contrary to Heroes the men and women in Carnivàle have a Freaking Factor™ that is hard to surpass. From dream reading to fortune telling and alchemy the number of fantasy and esoteric topics covered is impressive. Some mystical scenes inspired by the seven deadly sins should also shock you thanks to their seamless visual effects and marvelous direction.

    Last but not least the two arcs developed obviously have connections so it makes the story even more enigmatic. When are they going to collide ? Who's Management ? Who's Ben Hawkins father ? What about the strange case of Brother Justin ? This episode arose so many intriguing questions that I don't conceive for a second that someone could resist watching the first season.moreless
  • I give it a lower grade mainly because the filmmakers are indulging in my time with the slowness of the pace

    Why does this remind me of “Grapes of Wrath?”

    Uh, because it takes place in the 30’s during the depression? Because Hawkins, an Okie from the Dustbowl, travels from Oklahoma to California? Because there’s a nursing woman whose baby recently died? Could they take any more ideas out of the Steinbeck classic?

    Production values are very high, but interest level not so much. There’s a bunch of sidebar footage that’s supposed to give mystery to the storyline, but it doesn’t mainly because the story doesn’t resolve much in the end. What we’re left with is the kid can bring dead beings back to life. If that’s so, why wasn’t the baby brought back to life when he picked it up?

    The high production values and good acting doesn’t exonerate a slow pace. I have a problem with the female lead, “Sofie.” I suspect there’s going to be a romance between her and Hawkins, but they don’t seem to have any chemistry. On top of that, her face is a little “mannish” looking. Also, I don’t care for the way the supporting characters are after Hawkins to join them so badly. Yeah, yeah, the “man at the top” wants him, but there’s a little too much pursuit of him in the episode. And I don’t understand why Hawkins doesn’t immediately take them up on the offer. I mean, where else does a starving guy with no transportation and no plan have to go? Maybe no wages, but at least he could get fed and have a roof above his head.

    One other problem. I’d be more willing to believe a guy can make someone come back from the dead than a woman spewing coins out of her mouth. That little number just suspends belief and brings the storytelling to a screeching halt.

    Anyway, I have more problems with the storytelling than anything else. However, the premise looks like a good one if they can keep the antics within some sort of credibility.

Bobby Preston

Bobby Preston

Tommy Crane

Guest Star

Jenna Boyd

Jenna Boyd

Maddy Crane

Guest Star

E.J. Callahan

E.J. Callahan

Lean Man

Guest Star

Amanda Aday

Amanda Aday

Dora Mae Dreifuss

Recurring Role

John Savage

John Savage

Henry Scudder

Recurring Role

Don Swayze

Don Swayze

Tattooed Man

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (2)

    • Although Ben's mother's farm is supposed to be in Oklahoma, in some of the long shots mountains can be seen in the distance.

    • Brother Justin is shown listening to Orson Welles as The Shadow on the radio. Although The Shadow premiered in 1930, Orson Welles didn't play the part until 1937 - three years after the 1934 setting of the show. James La Curto and Frank Readick Jr. alternated performing the role in '34.

  • QUOTES (8)

    • Jonesy: Talk to Management about the hick?
      Samson: Yeah, I talked to him. $34.87 in the kitty; we're already choking on the nut. The last thing we need is another belly to wash. You know what he says?
      Jonesy: What?
      Samson: "He was expected."
      Jonesy: Expected? What the hell's that supposed to mean?
      Samson: I stopped asking that question a long time ago.

    • Brother Justin: Latter-day versions of the vile plagues that rained on Egypt, The fires that consumed Sodom and Gomorrah. Scourges of the Old Testament, yes, but even now, brothers and sisters, even now, drought and pestilence fester in the very heart of this great land. Titanic sandstorms, the likes of which man has not seen since the days of the prophets. And I ask myself, what are these things? What are they, if not evidence of God's fury? What are they, if not harbingers of the Apocalypse? And yet...and yet, as I walked to church today, these troubled thoughts were soothed by a balmy wind. And as I looked out upon the endless acres of rich, untilled earth, I realized, brothers and sisters, that this is truly the promised land and that we are indeed blessed.

    • (Sofie is reading Ben's cards)
      Sofie: The magician, reversed. You have a great talent or ability.
      Ben: Uh, reversed?
      Sofie: Upside down. It means it's been wasted, unfulfilled. A gift you've hidden from others.

    • Sofie: You know, the people in these towns, they're asleep. All day, at work, at home. They're sleepwalkers. We wake them up.

    • Samson: The point is, Kid, I'm about to make you the offer of a lifetime.
      Ben: Hey, stop calling me Kid. Okay? My name is Ben Hawkins.
      Samson: Well, Ben Hawkins, how would you like a career in show business?

    • Samson: Let's shake some dust!

    • Brother Justin: Eleanor, I see you at my sermons and you pray so hard it breaks my heart. But my words.. they wash over you like water over a stone.
      Eleanor: No. No.
      Brother Justin: We all each of us carry within us the seeds of our own salvation and our own damnation. You do believe that, don't you?
      (Eleanor nods then puts a hand to her mouth and coughs up coins similar to the confessional bowl out on to the carpet)
      Brother Justin: Kneel. Now. Pray with me, sister. Pray. Kneel and pray!
      (After a pause, Eleanor joins him on bended knee)
      Brother Justin: Please, dear Lord. I have sinned.
      (Eleanor tries to repeat, but coughs up more coins)
      Brother Justin: I have sinned!
      Eleanor: (falteringly) I have sinned.
      Brother Justin: Merciful Father, forgive me. (after more coins come, he rushes over and holds a quivering Eleanor) Enough! Enough!

    • Samson: Before the beginning, after the great war between heaven and hell, God created the Earth and gave dominion over it to the crafty ape he called Man. And to each generation was born a creature of light and a creature of darkness, and great armies would clash by night in the ancient war between good and evil. There was magic then. Nobility. And unimaginable cruelty. And so it was, until the day that a false sun exploded over Trinity, and man forever traded away wonder for reason.

  • NOTES (2)

    • The episode won 2 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Art Direction for a Single-Camera Series and Outstanding Costumes for a Series.

    • Music in this episode includes:
      The Hall Brothers: The Wrong Road
      Cab Calloway: Six or Seven Times
      Annett Hanshaw: You Wouldn't Fool Me, Would You?
      Duke Ellington and His Orchestra ft. Adelaide Hall: Creole Love Call


    • When Jonesy and Samson are seen in the truck and listening to the radio, "More Important Than Gold," President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first Fireside Chat, is being transmitted. It was transmitted on March 12, 1933.

    • Samson: I met Caruso and Dempsey. I made eyes with Theda Bara.

      Samson mentions three celebrities who were all extremely popular in the 1920s. Enrico Caruso, 1873-1921, was an Italian opera singer, who performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York for 16 years. Jack Dempsey, 1895-1983, was a heavyweight boxing champion. Theda Bara, 1885-1955, was a silent film actress and a sex symbol in her time.

    • This episode features an excerpt of "The Shadow," a radio show about a crimefighting hero. The program in question is The Silent Avenger, which originally aired on 3/13/1938.

    • Roustie: Slang for roustabout. This is a term given to workers on the Carnivale, handymen who maintain it.

    • Rube: e.g. "He's a rube". A rube is someone who is considered to be easily fooled, or susceptible. Someone like this is easy prey in the Carnivale.