Tony Tost’s Depression-era series about strikebreaking in Iowa had me at hello but now, just four episodes into its freshman season, Damnation S01E04 is a God-damned near perfect hour-long.
In addition to an amazingly well-balanced Unity of Opposites perfectly pulling the story in all the right directions by forcing characters to make impossible choices, Damnation contains some of my favourite lines of dialogue all year.
Written by Michael D. Fuller (Rectify, Quarry) and directed by Rod Lurie (Hell on Wheels) The Emperor of Ice Cream sees negotiations commence between the farmers and the bank. While Preacher Seth does all he can to unite the striking farmers, his brother – strikebreaker Creeley does his damnedest to divide and conquer.
SARAH JONES COMMANDEERS DAMNATION S01E04
And yet with all the underhand politics, the skilled use of psychology, the shootings and the near-constant, heavenly bluegrass banjo delivered via vinyl on old gramophones or mesmerising Gospel/country slave songs, The Emperor of Ice Cream’s best scene lasts a New York minute. And it is reserved for the brilliant and beautiful Sarah Jones.
Her character, Amelia Davenport confronts newspaper editor and “dickless old fart” Burt Babbage for not printing the real strike news as he’s in cahoots with the bankers.
The dialogue is verbatim, but the slugs are my guesswork:
Amelia storms into Babbage’s office, followed by reporter DL Sullivan.
So, what’s your excuse – corruption, cowardice or just plain idiocy?
And hello to you, little lady.
Why are you suppressing news of the farmers’ revolt?
I simply print the news that’s worthy to print.
Amelia, please! Mr Babbage…
Does your husband know you’re here?
Why, do you need him to protect you from me?
You have a responsibility to tell the truth…
I have a responsibility to sell papers, dear.
The farmers’ plight is just… sad.
It’s difficult enough for people to live
through an actual depression without being
subjected to its printed equivalent.
PAUSE as Amelia nods and looks around the office, thinking.
I grew up around men like you.
You have your nice suit and your expensive desk…
and six months after you’re dead
no one will ever remember you lived.
HOLD on Babbage’s mortified REACTION SHOT
I look forward to forgetting you.
AMELIA exits the office.
And that, my friends, is closure!
Note how Babbage’s words – calling Amelia “little lady” and “dear” and reaction “Ha! Hardly” not only spur her on but also subconsciously make us root for her character.
Strong female characters don’t only come from Themyscira. Nor do they have to kick ass to be powerful. They just have to know their own minds. This short, calm scene is as satisfying as any feat I’ve seen Wonder Woman or Black Widow perform.
Of course, a lesser actress may not have done the scene justice, but get the writing right, and your TV show has a much better shot.
The moral of the story, if you wanna write strong female characters, watch Damnation S01E04 and learn.
If you wanna learn about world building for your TV show, watch the pilot and read this.
Damnation continues on Tuesdays on USA Network.