Damnation Season 1 Episode 1 Review: Sam Riley's Body

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From my view, Damnation has a lot going for it. 

The political history of the United States is always worth discussing, and the series features an incredibly talented cast. In a last-minute casting decision, Irish actor Killian Scott replaced Rectify's Aden Young bringing his worthy talent to American audiences.

You can also find him on Irish series Love/Hate airing on Netflix to discover why I consider his arrive on these shores such a treat. Logan Marshall-Green, Sarah Jones, Melinda Page Hamilton, and Chasten Harmon, in what could be her breakout role, also star. 

Preacher Seth at the Cemetery - Damnation Season 1 Episode 1

As I write this review of Damnation Season 1 Episode 1, I've seen the first four episodes of the series. There is a clear benefit to that, and it's one I'll share as I offer insight not only into the premiere but why you should continue to watch this new USA series from Tony Tost.

First, the appearance of Marshall-Green in his cowboy hat can be a bit misleading. Together with the vast somewhat barren vistas of what is supposed to be 1930s Iowa (by way of Calgary, Alberta), it might call to mind a western in the traditional sense.

This is not a western. Marshall-Green's character (not named that I recall from the premiere) of a strikebreaker sent to quell the uprising of farmers against the bank and businessmen price fixing in their town is from Wyoming. Maybe.

The Strikebreaker - Damnation

We don't learn much about him during the first hour, but what we do discover is he will go to any lengths to do what his employers ask him to do. He cannot read, but will reach out to local whores to work as his secretaries and sexual partners while paying them well, and he gathers the right information needed for any task.

While Creeley is willing to kill to accomplish his job, we also discovered it's not something he's willing to do without some form of payment. Pain and scarring are how he atones for his sins, and if he started down by his waist, by now he's sporting a number of dead in his wake.

Strikebreaker: So what are you? Some kind of grifter whore?
Bessie: That's exactly what I am.
Strikebreaker: Oh, you're gonna grift plenty out of me, but only if we stay alive.

Using Bessie as his current "assistant" will add much to the story. Not only is she the only whore on the canvas who can read, probably the only one smart enough to think of things like escaping the room with Creeley's boots and the evidence held within, but she has deep secrets of her own, too.

Bessie the Whore - Damnation Season 1 Episode 1

She's not afraid to bargain nor is she afraid to stand up for herself. She doesn't ask too many questions but knows when to ask the ones that matter. There are clues to her secrets hidden in the premiere I wouldn't have captured without a second viewing, and that is the case across the board with Damnation.

The other mysterious man in town, Preacher Seth, brought with him a woman just as enigmatic. The only thing that makes the pair even more interesting is how little they appear to know about each other.

Amelia: Why are you shutting me out?
Seth: I didn't know I was.
Amelia: For two years, we've been going from town to town, trying to start a revolution, trying to get the working man to stand up for themselves, and you still won't tell me anything about who you are or where you're from.
Seth: We agreed we wouldn't talk about our pasts.
Amelia: We're burying the bodies of three men we just killed. If that doesn't top what you've done in the past...
Seth: It doesn't come close.

Spending the past two years crisscrossing the country inciting riots so the average men and women would stand up for themselves, they rely on each other 100%, but don't know 100% on whom they're relying.

Seth isn't a preacher and Amelia is much more than a conman's wife. She's skilled at writing and does so under the pseudonym of a learned doctor who appears to be the expert on what the couple is peddling. 

Despite Seth's lack of collar, he's not so bad at giving advice, and easy to see he's attempting to atone for something. But what? 

Amelia: What do we say if someone comes by here?
Seth: Goldenrod for a winter garden. Unexpected beauty pleases the Lord.
Amelia: You're actually starting to sound like a man of God.
Seth: Good because I sure as hell don't feel like one.

Passing out Pamphlets - Damnation Season 1 Episode 1

Whether or not he's bearing the scars of his kills like his brother, but the end of the premiere, he has two of his own, albeit in self-defense. He also has a woman, a private investigator named Connie Nunn, following in his footsteps inciting her own brand of terror and hunting Seth for the death of her husband.

Connie is a cool criminal with a chip on her shoulder for what Seth did, but without apparent remorse for any of the deadeye dick slayings she carries out while singing a sickeningly sweet song to get men fighting and killing amongst themselves.

Her story will be slow to come to a boil, and even four episodes in we'll still be scratching our heads about her purpose and drive. She'll still be out in the massive United States, hunting.

The kind of storytelling Damnation introduces us to is rich and detailed. There is very little said that will not lead somewhere else. Most lines have a distinct purpose and only if you're paying very close attention will you realize the satisfying payoff.

Firing up the Strikers - Damnation Season 1 Episode 1

To be completely honest, my busy schedule sometimes makes it difficult to concentrate to that degree, but on rare occasions, I find myself gripped by performances and dialog and want to get it all.

My second viewing was that kind of experience. Everything from Creeley asking about Sam Jr. chewing toothpicks to Preacher Seth remarking at Sam Sr.'s house after his death about something a wise man once did affected the actions of the men we learned later were brothers.

Preacher Seth: I believe a miracle is nothing more than a moment of God's attention. A man named Martin Luther argued against the corrupt authorities of his day. He wrote down his argument and then nailed it to the door of a church and he called down a miracle.
Sam Jr.: What'd you have in mind?
Preacher Seth: A revolution.

I have no doubt there will be much to learn about Connie through her actions as the episodes close in, as will we discover why Amelia is traveling the country rabble-rousing with Seth rather than making more out what must be a higher academic education.

With so many characters, only if there is a second season can many more characters and their pasts be revealed. Of the topics, everything from capitalism, threads of communism, the labor movement, white supremacy, faith, and women's place in a man's world are all on the table in some capacity.

Cheers to You - Damnation Season 1 Episode 1

The heart of the story is between the two brothers, but it's unclear if they're as different as they appear to be or if they might wind up on the same side at some point. There are too many clues leading them toward each other than away.

It seems unlikely that so many have-nots can ultimately stand on the side of the haves. Is that how these stories usually play out? 

Damnation is an ambitious project with all the pieces needed to tell a complex and compelling story. Now we need to sit back, pay attention and see if it plays out that way.

What did you think of the premiere of Damnation? Will you be tuning in again? Hit the comments!

Sam Riley's Body Review

Editor Rating: 4.25 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.5 / 5.0 (10 Votes)

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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Damnation Season 1 Episode 1 Quotes

Girl: What are you striking against?
Seth: The American economic system.
Girl [Laughs]: How are you gonna do that?
Seth: By breaking the system's back, one asshole banker at a time.

Girl: How'd you get me off the hook?
Seth: I spoke in parables.
Girl: What?
Seth: I lied.