Magazine article Variety

Damnation

Magazine article Variety

Damnation

Article excerpt

TV REVIEW

Damnation

Drama: 9 episodes (4 reviewed); USA Network, Tues., Nov. 7, 10 p.m.

Starring: Killian Scott, Logan Marshall-Green, Christopher Heyerdahl, Sarah Jones

The second episode of "Damnation" pivots on a striking scene: A protest group of shabby farmers walks into a small Iowa town, carrying handmade signs and chanting slogans. The signs demand unity, a living wage, a compassionate economy: "United We Stand," "Grow Your Own Food," "We Need Fair Prices." It's a show-stopping set-piece, set to Laura Marling's "Devil's Spoke," a similarly timeless banjo number that reminds the listener, "All of this can be broken." The demonstration is achingly familiar; it could be happening in your town square right now. But "Damnation" is set during the Depression, in a rural landscape feeling the first signs that this way of life is becoming extinct. The new USA Network show bills itself as an untold history of the American labor movement, and in moments like this, the romance and power of that statement are made flesh.

The trouble with "Damnation," if it can be summed up into one problem, is that the show is a clear homage to HBO's golden-age drama "Deadwood," which brought context and color to the Western in a way that still feels indelibly brilliant. "Damnation" leans on many of the older show's devices - twinkly, ethereal banjo; a brothel populated with a couple of tough, no-nonsense ladies; the expletive "cocksucker"; even a protagonist named Seth, torn between violence and goodness. But ultimately this is quite a different show. "Damnation" is set 60-odd years later - outside the context of American expansion, the Civil War and the gold rush - and in a very different part of the country. Iowa isn't exactly the Wild West, no matter how many cowboy hats the characters wear. Yet there's at least one thing "Damnation" has in common with "Deadwood": The outside world doesn't care much about what happens in the characters' small towns, making for a lawlessness that fuels the plot.

The first episode introduces unconventional preacher Seth Davenport (Killian Scott), a gifted orator with radical politics and a tortured set of ideals. That is to say, he's a rabble-rouser - and the town has been thus roused, with corn and dairy farmers uniting in a strike until prices are raised for their produce. Hardscrabble farmers like Victor (Arnold Pinnock) dump the milk from their cows into trenches to hold the line in a stalemate against the banks. But some desperate farmers try to cross the makeshiftpicket lines to sell their goods in town, only to meet with fierce opposition from the strikers. This creates a scenario in which, more than once, gun-waving skirmishes erupt over smuggled barrels of milk. …

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