1x01. "Milfay"

written by Daniel Knauf
directed by Rodrigo Garcia

original airdate: September 14, 2003
running time: 57 minutes


That night, the carnival is lit up, packed with patrons and bustling with activity. Ben walks around, taking in all the attractions offered, among them a firebreather, a swordswallower and the Gay Paree -- a Hootchie - Kootchie Show, or 1930's version of a strip act. The Gay Paree is run by Felix "Stumpy" Dreifuss. His wife and two teenage daughters are the act. Ben isn't quite sure how to react to the topless and near-topless women flirting with him from on stage, so he leaves. Outside the tent, he overhears a conversation between a talker and another man. They're haggling on a price for a night with Stumpy's wife Rita Sue. Ben, more confused, finds solitude away from the noise of the carnival. Sofie appears to return to his jacket. When Sofie asks if Ben's coming on permanent, Ben acts derisively and says he's no carny. Sofie says that the people in the towns they visit are asleep, but the carnival wakes them up. Ben thinks on this for a second, then Sofie offers to read his cards, free of charge. "Maybe later." he replies.

More dreams. A man running through a cornfield, pursued by another man, heavily tattooed -- a tattoo across his chest is of a tree. A World War I soldier ducking an explosion. A ring with a Masonic seal. A fetus in a jar. A woman surrounded by darkness, her mouth agape. A smoking skull. Two bloody or burned legs, concealed from the knee-up. A clock that reads 2:25 with the pendulum ticking rapidly back and forth. A close-up of the Tattooed Man, his face resembling Brother Justin. Many soldiers dead in a bunker. The neon sign for Mr. Chin's explodes in a shower of sparks. And more.

Justin opens his eyes.

He had fallen asleep reading. Across from him, Iris is sewing and listening to the radio program The Shadow. Justin leaves the room and wanders the streets of Mintern. He walks past a campsite. Migrant workers and peasants socialize, sing songs and try to keep warm over fires. Eventually, Justin finds himself outside of Mr. Chin's, a brothel. A Chinese woman approaches him and suggestively runs her hands over his clothes. He grabs her arm and she shouts angrily at him in Mandarin.

Then, it begins to snow. The streets are suddenly empty. There are no cars or people in sight. Justin looks up at the sign for Mr. Chin's. It flashes complacently in the snowy night. Then, he feels blood drip on his face. And his palm. As it rains blood, Justin opens his arms in supplication. The neon sign for Mr. Chin's explodes in a shower of sparks. Justin falls to his knees, hands clasped together, praying. He opens his eyes to see that he's surrounded by pedestrians. There is no snow. No blood. The sign for Mr. Chin's is still intact.

It's the day after and Ben is assisting with dismantling the carnival tents and loading up the trucks. Sofie spots him and offers him a second chance on that card reading. Ben accepts. They sit inside her trailer and she shuffles her tarot cards. She reads his past by dealing three cards facedown. They will be revealed to be The Moon, "indicating confusion and exposure," Death, "not a harbinger of bad fortune but of transformation," and The Magician, reversed, "a great talent or ability wasted, unfilled; a gift hidden from others." As Sofie turns the cards upright, her insights cause Ben to remember when his "talents" first manifested:

Ben, roughly age six to eight, is stroking a cat. Flora is disgusted. The cat has been dead for three days. She takes it from him, despite his resistance. It meows. She screams and drops it and it walks away. She tells him that the Lord takes what's his and man has no right to take it back. Young Ben watches as his mother places the cat in a sack and holds the sack underwater. She sobs and tells him that he's marked by The Beast. Then, Present Day. Flora is dying. She picks up a cross from the table beside her bed and holds it to her chest. She waves her son away from her. "Keep your hands off of me. You filth! You filth!"

Sofie asks Ben what he's hiding. She places her hand on his. Suddenly, Ben sees the face of Brother Justin coming out of the darkness. "Tell me!" he screams. Ben bolts from his seat and runs out of the trailer. He runs through the carnival grounds and into the crops, where he sits and starts to weep. Maddy Crane, a crippled girl that Ben had spotted earlier during the carnival, is sitting in her wagon close by. She asks him why he's crying and he goes to her.

MADDY: "Gremmie says y'all are marked."
BEN: "They ain't marked. They're just people, that's all... How long you been like that?"
MADDY: "Forever."
BEN: "Does it hurt?"

The girl nods. Ben turns. He hears Samson calling for him. The carnival is leaving. When Ben doesn't answer, Samson says to hell with it, and the trucks begin to depart. Ben turns back to Maddy and places his hands on her legs. She watches as he struggles to drain her of the pain. The crops around them turn black. He sprints away from the crops, to the road, and jumps on the back of a truck. He climbs up top and collapses. The truck speeds him away from Milfay. Back in the field, Maddy is standing upright on her own legs. She runs back to her farmhouse, limping a little as she goes. The remaining crops whither and die...