In other genres, outlaws are criminals. In westerns, outlaws are cool. Everymen, who fight dirty and protect their property, they follow codes, and can be guilty of the vilest of crimes, but that’s how you survive the Wild West.
When you look at how westerns are staged, conflict is visceral, personal, and face to face. While Holden has been the perfect stage for such warfare in Damnation, the show has hinted at a force behind the farmer’s strike, one that’s unwilling to show its face. Damnation’s real beef is with the wealthy, and “A Different Species” looks at how deeply the rich are involved in what’s going on in town.
The idea of class conflict isn’t new to westerns, and there have been plenty of wealthy bad guys before, but Damnation’s rich baddies aren’t local. The Duvall family aren’t mustachioed caricatures, and the way they use the farmers for their personal business is extensive, invisible, and cruel. These are the law breakers you can’t remotely stand, and if Damnation gives away some of its capacity for fun, it does so to tell a serious story about power.
Very little happens this episode compared to what you imagine will take place, but that’s where the real threat lies. Starting with Creeley being picked up and brought to meet his employer, Mr. Tennyson Duvall (Black Sails’ Zach McGowan), everything about this meeting is designed to put him on edge. Another young man, Johnson (Thomas Nicholson) is there, with a similar story to Creeley’s. The Duvalls took him out of jail early. He’s led to a dining room table to eat, and no one else joins them, but a group of men watches from the balcony above. This is Hansel and Gretel and their victims are being plumped up.
When Creeley and Johnson are invited to go hunting, you’re sure the trip is about to become Richard Connell’s short story, “The Most Dangerous Game.” The story was published in 1924, and a knowing joke is made about their prey being human, but quickly switches back to elk.
What’s really hammered in throughout “A Different Species” is power’s connection to sight. During the drive to the Duvall’s, Creeley is forced to watch a chain gang, as a reminder of his obligation to them. When he gets dressed, people watch through two-way mirrors, and when Seth learns that Duvall is testing military uniforms, while men are still wearing them, he spots the doctors performing the tests safely behind glass.
Both brothers are fighting back with their own versions of sight: Creely with the sight of a gun, shooting the prison guards on his way back to Holden, and Seth with the “better version of himself” that God sees, according to Cynthia’s father’s sermon in a flashback. The rich asked for a fight between brains and brawn but it’s a fight between the righteous and the sinners they’re about to get, with their shared interest in knocking the wealthy down.
Other thoughts on “A Different Species:”
- Since Creeley blames Seth for Cynthia’s death, it would make sense that we get to meet Cynthia in flashback the same day Connie shows up at the church, to endanger Abigail’s life. Connie knows the fire that Abigail’s referring to, when she brings up how her first husband died. Does this mean Seth was the undercover strike breaker who caused it, or is Connie relating to Abigail more than serves her revenge, which, in an eye for an eye, requires killing Seth’s wife?
- Being a small town covers some of the coincidences, but there’s a lot of “everything’s connected” in this show.
- So far there’s no indication that Creeley had anything to do with Cynthia’s death, besides warning Seth how easy their dad could find her, but Seth had a chance to take precautions.
- With Bessie in danger and Creeley stuck in a “Sophie’s Choice” over killing his brother to gain his freedom, Sheriff Don’s research into the Duvall family could seriously come in handy.
New episodes of Damnation have moved to Thursdays at 10 PM EST on USA Network.