I love the thought of sitting in a writer’s room where milk is pitched as the central conflict for an episode. One of those ideas that gets dismissed if considered hastily, or puffed up beyond recognition after rewrites, it’s the scaled back version that provides the most creative return. Nothing fancier is required. Bloodshed can be spilled over milk. Dairy can carry an episode.
The milk in question on this week’s Damnation is needed for ice cream, and when the bankers fail to import barrels of milk, Creeley inspects the local offerings.
Creeley’s relationship with Bessie takes a few hits this episode but the first has him reminding her that their relationship’s strictly business. If he doesn’t want romance, this is the way to avoid mixed signals, but under the parameters of business, Creeley’s next move is to go after the vulnerable African American family in town. For someone who’s supposed to be forward thinking, he’s not color blind, and breaking up the farmer’s strike is officially his priority.
For those goals, putting a wedge between the corn and dairy farmers is smart. It’s not something viewers could’ve fairly predicted, since this is the first we’re really hearing about this split between corn and dairy, but milk goes bad. Corn can be stored. That’s a clever, easy disparity to exploit.
The other hit to Creeley’s relationship with Bessie comes from Seth, when he tells Amelia the truth about his brother (I’m glad the show didn’t stay stubborn and let him remain tightlipped).
Without explaining what’s behind their present rivalry (besides the girl from Seth’s photo), Seth gives us a big piece of the puzzle this week by telling us Creeley is his half-brother and that, growing up, Creeley lived in a brothel with his mom, who worked as a prostitute (suddenly Creeley and Bessie’s partnership gets a lot more Freudian). Seth would later protect him from their abusive father, and it’s his understanding that Creeley’s tough guy persona is an act.
What’s great about this not entirely ringing true is that Seth’s not lying. When he calls Creeley soft he believes it, which is how we get his genuine reaction to the gunfire at the end of the episode. Seth didn’t think Creeley had it in him, and meanwhile Seth is losing his leadership at a very important juncture, when the farmers refuse to lower their weapons on his command.
The biggest question this episode leaves us with is whether Seth was carrying. It’s tough to imagine him being unarmed in this situation, but he just told Amelia he’d put the cause before his brother. The whole time Creeley is taking out the farmers, Seth has a clear shot and doesn’t take it. Creeley counts on his brother not shooting, and in turn, leaves Seth alive, providing some empty excuse. A last, second shot of Seth having a gun would’ve been lame, but I’d love to know whether he was packing or didn’t have a choice not to shoot.
The cones may be a little worse for the blood, but the bankers got their ice cream.
Other thoughts on “The Emperor of Ice Cream”:
- Sheriff Don not intervening in Creeley and Seth’s standoff was classic sheriff. It’s also great (in a sarcastic sense) to see the paper’s such a public joke. Amelia may have finally whipped DL into shape (and explained what a pen name is to him), but that just means her efforts have a new target, in the paper’s editor.
- Bessie’s money is not secure in that brothel and if the weird noise was the Madam watching from her peephole, there’s going to be no down payment for a house.
- The brothers can’t resist throwing digs at each other and Seth pointedly asking Creeley to read the farmers’ demands was cold as ice.
Damnation air Tuesdays at 10 PM EST on USA Network.