USA Network’s Damnation takes the oldest story in the book – the man against The Man – and updates it to dustbowl Iowa.
The bleak, prohibition-era series, set in 1931 to be precise, centres on two brothers with similar murderous methods on opposite sides of the labour movement. And after the fantastical American Gods and Preacher, it makes for a breath of authentic Americana.
Preacher Seth Davenport – one of many aliases – is not all he seems; he and his beautiful wife, Amelia have spent years travelling The States playing modern-day Robin Hoods (with a touch of Bonnie and Clyde) trying to start a blue-collar uprising against the rich, the powerful and the elite. In this case, banker Calvin Rumple, who looks uncannily like Conan O’Brien.
WHAT MAKES USA NETWORK’S DAMNATION SO DAMNED GREAT?
Seth, played by the brilliant young Irish actor, Killian Scott (Love/Hate) is a gifted, Bible-quoting orator who keeps a gun in his pulpit. Amelia (Sarah Jones – Alcatraz) is a talented writer and pamphleteer in the age-old American tradition of Thomas Paine, writer of Common Sense. It’s no wonder the show features a genius wordsmith; for USA Network’s Damnation is the brainchild of poet and Walt Whitman Award winner Tony Tost while James “Wolverine“ Mangold produces.
Seth’s brother, Creeley Turner (Logan Marshall-Green – Prometheus) is in the employ of another American stalwart – The Pinkertons; Creeley is a man out of time, a cowboy dinosaur that should have become extinct 50 years hence, but he makes an excellent enforcer and agitator for the anti-communist mob. The two brothers don’t come to blows in the pilot, but they seem physically matched for when they do eventually slug it out.
The pilot of USA Network’s Damnation begins and ends with murder and crucifixion and has everything you could ask for in between. Political intrigue, crossed picket lines, strikebreakers, betrayal, sex, whores, guns, profanity (mouths drop when Seth says “fucking” in church at a funeral) a curious investigative journalist and stunning Albertan landscape doubling for quasi-dustbowl, depression-era rural Iowa.
Throw in Christopher Heyerdahl (Hell on Wheels, Tin Star) as Holden, Iowa’s moonshine racketeering sheriff, Melinda Page Hamilton as Connie Nunn – the widow of one of Seth’s victims bent on vengeance and the highly watchable Chasten Harmon as mercenary prostitute Bessie Louvin and all the agents of disorder are already circling our antihero, making for compelling, if slow-burning, viewing.
Damnation shares many similar themes with one of the greatest shows ever made – HBO’s Deadwood. Both shows feature protagonists named Seth, torn between violence and goodness and determined to save a community by any means necessary.
Both show’s town centres are muddy thoroughfares, feature a brothel, a line-up of sassy, intelligent, grifter whores and haunting, banjo-laden scores.
At its core, Damnation is the story we’ve been telling for millennia – capitalism versus socialism and, in the light of Trump and his country’s brewing civil war, never has America needed this cautionary tale quite so much. Will it make a difference? No, but by the end of the first hour, you’ll want to down tools and stick it to Team Coco, too. It’s only Common Sense.
Unfortunatootely, USA Network’s Damnation will probably never hit the dizzy heights of HBO’s much-missed Deadwood, but I can see it becoming an underrated cult classic.
USA Network’s Damnation airs on Tuesday nights. A Deadwood feature film is looking more and more likely but in the meantime, if you like rootin’ tootin’ shows, check out Godless on Netflix.