Episode 101 of USA’s Damnation ended with the question that gives Episode 102 its title: “Which side are you on?”— and it was strung around the neck of Sam Riley’s corpse. This week’s hour opens with Seth arriving home to Amelia covered in Sam’s blood after crucifying him to the bank’s entryway in the center of town. And if that image wasn’t enough to get his wife worried for his sanity and soul (“It felt like touching God,” he says), Seth’s cowboy brother Creeley successfully plants that seed by episode’s end.
Catch up on all that and more with our Damnation highlights below.
Seth loses himself further in his cause, clerical collar intact.
While it’s now become clear that Seth’s preacher garb is a ruse to help spread his message of the working man’s revolution from sea to sea, he still has a dedicated congregation in the farmers of Holden, Iowa. Speaking from the pulpit, he successfully rouses anger in his audience by blaming the treatment of Sam’s body on the other side -- the bankers, the shop keepers, the ones with the money. Specifically, he pins this on the cowboy who’s hired by those power-players, Creeley. (Little do the farmers know that that man is Seth’s own brother.) He restarts last week’s chant to “break their f---ing backs” and calls for a “plague” of strikes and blockades on their small town. It’s just the sort of sermon to get one’s mind set on revenge and war, but, as local journalist DL Sullivan points out, it’s a message that’s only being heard by those in the pews; no one in town knows the truth of how the bankers and shopkeepers fix the prices of their product to keep their farmers from making a livable wage.
Just as Sullivan is explaining this to Seth, however, a pickup truck with black-hooded men standing in back pulls up to the exiting churchgoers, shotguns raised. They fire off a few rounds, clipping some in the congregation before driving away. But Seth has a surprise for them up his sleeve: he reveals his pistol, takes aim, and shoots one of the Black Legion shooters down. His congregation is surprised yet again by their preacher’s unorthodox nature, but it’s just the visual they need to know that he means business and that he will protect them. Soon enough, they rally with weapons and picket signs of “Fight or Starve” and head into town to spread the truth of the bankers’ wrongdoing.
Seth enacts revenge on the Black Legion men.
Taking to the streets of Holden, Seth proclaims that he and the farmers -- dozens of whom are weaponized and flank him on either side -- don’t want this strike, but that it’s become a necessary response to the price fixing. The farmers know full well that towns just outside of Holden pay their farmers two or three times as much as they’re making; such statistics is news to the townspeople, and they seem to fall in support of the farmers’ efforts. At the mention of the Black Legion, however, one particularly sizeable butcher by the name of Myron Eddins gets noticeably squeamish, and leaves the town square. Seth gives the public speaking reins to Preston Riley, Sam’s cousin, and sneakily follows Myron into his shop.
Inside, Myron is hiding in the kitchen with his rifle drawn, waiting for Seth on the other side of the threshold’s fogged window. But Seth out maneuvers Myron and tricks him into shooting one of his pigs; just as Myron realizes his mistake, Seth brutally comes down on Myron’s collarbone with a meat hook and forces him to talk. When asked who sent the Black Legion to shoot them down after the day’s mass, Myron insists they sent themselves and that they simply don’t want the farmers to be striking. Seth cocks his pistol and puts it in Myron’s mouth: “If you want to see your family again, from this moment forward you’ll tell me every single move the Black Legion is going to make,” he says. “And if you let one word slip sideways, God’s body in the form of your wet brains will be splattered across these walls. Understood?” Myron concedes, and Seth removes his pistol.
“Now rejoice,” he says, “the long hard walk to salvation has just begun.”
Sheriff Don Berryman is in pursuit of Seth and Creeley while harboring a secret of his own.
While he doesn’t yet know that they’re related, Sheriff Don Berryman clearly doesn’t care much for Seth or Creeley. While he at first believes it was the latter who nailed up Sam Riley’s body, Creeley -- who we now know is on call for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency -- hints that the Sheriff should be considering the body’s religious undertones. He then sets his sights on Seth and his wife, Amelia. He catches up with his suspect’s wife as she’s off to a local pond to rid her home of the evidence: a bloody hammer. She’s wise enough, however, to conceal it in a picnic basket under an assortment of dried, homemade biscuits. While the sheriff doesn’t catch on to what’s in the basket, he still corners her for some good ol’ intimidation. They part ways with the sheriff promising that he’ll find Seth on his own to give him a talking to. Once he’s gone, Amelia goes to the pond and throws the hammer as far in as she can; unbeknownst to her, Creeley is in the woods nearby, watching her every move.
That doesn’t mean that Sheriff Berryman is done with Creeley, however. He turns to his favorite prostitute from Madam Della’s brothel: Bessie. Until now, his special interest in her has just seemed the infatuation of a doe-eyed patron, but, it turns out, Bessie is his daughter. Bessie -- the prostitute who can read (and who in this episode gets a newspaper subscription to cut up clips reporting about the nation’s widespread strikes) -- is the “half-dark bastard girl” of the Sheriff himself, and Berryman turns to her for information on Creeley’s intentions. Berryman enters the room, and Bessie goes cold and steely. “I haven’t exactly shown it, but I do have love in my heart for you,” he coos, but he’s only met with glistening hatred in his daughter’s eye. He pushes further on Creeley’s work in town, but she doesn’t budge. “Tell you? You know me, Sheriff. I don’t do nothin’ for free.”
We get hints about Creeley and Seth’s dark history.
Mostly through his ongoing conversations with Bessie, Creeley slowly reveals that he and his brother used to be all the other had in this world and that they didn’t always want the other’s blood. “What went wrong?” Bessie asks. “Everything,” he says.
The mystery to their shared history continues when later that same day, Creeley breaks into Seth and Amelia’s home. When it’s clear that he’s alone, he begins rummaging through their bedroom and after going through the dresser finds an old photo of Seth and a young red-haired woman that catches him by surprise. He looks at the photograph, horrified. Next time we see him, he’s sitting in the dark at the Davenport’s kitchen table, waiting for Amelia to come home. Looking her up and down without a blink, he advises Amelia to take her cause elsewhere and to leave Seth in Holden. She doesn’t know anything about her husband because he refuses to share himself with her.
“You’re going to find out who that demon really is,” Creeley warns. “Do you really think that I’m going to believe you over my husband?” she asks. “No, no I don’t. You see, I tried warning her about Seth, too. She didn’t believe me either.” And with that, he tosses the photograph of a young Seth on the kitchen table and leaves. Amelia looks at the photograph, haunted by Creeley’s words, and hides it in a book on her dresser just in time before Seth comes home. “Are you OK?” she asks upon his arrival. He wordlessly embraces her, and though she kisses him back, it’s clear Creeley’s words hang heavy on her mind. Creeley, coincidently, is watching them from the kitchen window; seeing the confusion and hurt on Amelia’s face, he knows his work there is done, and he walks off into the night.
- We learn through the letters that Bessie reads for Creeley that his employer goes by the name of Martin Eggers Hyde, PhD., and that he wants to, at all costs, stop the foreign invasion of communism in the United States working class. We later meet Hyde in the flesh in Des Moines, Iowa, where he holds a meeting with banker Calvin Rumple. Referring to the strikers as “unwashed rural masses,” the young, rich man with blonde, slicked hair assures Rumple that there’s no need for concern about the strikes, and that the evolution of America’s industries will replace the farmer with the machine. He believes the strikers will slowly fall off, victim to survival of America’s fittest.
- DL Sullivan entrenches himself further in the protests this episode, though it’s unclear if he will use the material and the interviews he’s gathering to report at the local Tribune or if he’ll use his real-world sources as inspiration for his first novel.
- Connie Nunn is back and out for blood on the continued hunt for Seth. Entering the striking miners’ headquarters in Harlan, Kentucky, she finds their leader, Gil Butler, and, holding up an image of Seth, asks him if he knows this man. With no straight answer in sight, she takes her guns and shoots Gil and his two comrades dead, leaving Gil’s daughter alone to grieve her father’s death. Is Connie quickly proving to be Damnation’s most deranged sociopath?
- Though we haven’t seen much of Martha Riley since her husband’s death, she does have an inkling that it was Seth who’s behind the crucifixion. She corners Amelia one day and demands answers: Did Seth do it? “Because if he did, I want you to thank him for me. I never cared for Sam’s strike. Or Seth’s sermons, for that matter. I was raised in a good home, you see. I was taught to know my place and not call attention to myself. And look where it’s gotten me. My husband’s dead. My son’s in jail. And now this.” She hands Amelia a foreclosure notice on her farm. “Whatever it takes to bring these sons of bitches down, do it.”