We’re three episodes into USA’s epic Damnation, and the shared, twisted history of Seth and Creeley is still unclear -- but we get a closer look at the damage done in “One Penny.” In this hour, we also get introduced to one of the real villains behind the Black Legion hood: his name is Tanner (Bradley Stryker), and he seems about as against Seth as he is Creeley. Catch up on that and more highlights from episode 103 below.
We open with the banks auctioning off bankrupt farmers’ property -- but they get more than they bargained for with Creeley.
While it’s clear that Creeley is working for his client, Dr. Eggers, to help stop the farmers’ strike in its tracks, he’s still a cowboy, and he still knows how to step on the toes of authority figures. Here, it’s Rumple’s turn.
The first big scene this episode brings the people of Holden County together to auction off Pete and Pam Collingworth’s farm after their deaths. (Presumably, the pregnant Pam succumbed to her illness after Creeley shot her husband and set up Sam Riley Jr.) From the start, Rumple is a heartless man. The elderly and feeble Granny Collingsworth clings to her family’s heirloom bible, but he tears it from her hands and sets it up for auction.
There’s someone else in the crowd on Rumple’s side, as well: the blue-suited Tuck Tandy, who is on duty via Dr. Eggers to purchase up all the property he can on behalf of an unnamed benefactor. That, however, is unknown to Creeley, who in as showy a fashion imaginable drops two crisp $20 bills for the heirloom bible just to return it to Granny Collingsworth, who, even with the help of Sam and Amelia, couldn’t outbid Tandy for the keepsake. “Now ladies and gentlemen, you must allow the American financial system do its great patriotic work,” he bellows over the crowd. Despite playing it off as a well-intentioned public relations tactic, Creeley is met with fury from Rumple, who tells him that Tandy was meant to buy that bible on behalf of Eggers.
Bessie, who is wearing a new yellow dress that Creeley bought her, is also at the auction. Just as she and Creeley are about to slip away after his little song and dance, Amelia stops her, whispering in her ear. “How does it feel to be carted around town by a psychopath?” she asks. But Bessie doesn’t miss a beat: “You tell me -- at least I’m getting paid for it.” With that, they leave, but the episode’s director, Rod Lurie, makes sure you see the extended look of disgust the still-unknown Tanner shoots their way upon exiting. Trouble is headed straight for them.
Tanner is living the “American Dream,” and making both the brothers’ lives hell.
When he and the rest of the Black Legion aren’t shooting up member’s of Seth’s weekly congregation, it seems Tanner is setting his sights on others outside society’s norms. (See: Creeley Turner traipsing around Holden with a black prostitute.)
Tanner is introduced in the episode’s opening segment, which shows him and his wife, Tessa, watching his kids play baseball in their backyard. He surprises his family with a crate of cream soda that he snuck off the truck while working; we gather he loads trucks and delivers goods for a living. “If this isn’t the American dream, I don’t know what is,” he says.
We also gather that he and Tessa are proud members of the Black Legion; their black robes hang alongside nooses in their back shed. That’s why it comes as little surprise later in the episode when he sneers at Bessie and Creeley in disgust. He’s so disgusted, in fact, that it isn’t long after the Collingsworth auction that he and a gang of black-hooded, weaponized cohorts surround Bessie and Creeley as they’re parked alongside the road reading Eggers’ latest letter.
Creeley immediately goes into hero-cowboy mode and gives his pistol and his keys to Bessie, telling her to drive off and leave him if things go south. And, boy, do they go south! Immediately after approaching the hooded men and laying in a few sly digs, Creeley is hit over the head with the butt of a gun and falls unconscious to the ground. Bessie drives off in hysterics. Creeley isn’t lucky enough to get away, and the next time we see him, he’s strung up by the neck in a darkened barn, surrounded by members of the Black Legion and staying conscious only thanks to a milk crate where he can ease the strain on his neck with his toes. To repent for promenading around with Bessie, they all leave him there hanging for the night to decide whether he wants to die or if he wants to flee town and never show his face in Holden again.
Bessie is falling for Creeley -- hard.
It might be his immaculate brawn, his dashing good looks, or just his overall badassery, but Bessie is problematically smitten with the cowboy who’s paying her to read his letters and have sex with him.
Upon being gifted the dress, she swoons when he tells her that she should get used to being treated and done up like a “respectful woman,” and upon returning to Madame Delia’s brothel after her run-in with the Black Legion, she stands up for him, warning Delia that her highest paying customer may not return due to her spying on them. Of course, we know the real reason he might not return is because he’s strung up by the Black Legion, and that has her even more distraught. Once alone in her room, she takes a swig from her bottle, telling herself, “Don’t be a mark, Bess. He’s just another John.” But it’s clear from the look in her eyes that she doesn’t quite believe it herself.
She decides to save Creeley. Stealing her co-workers car, she drives over to see her father, Sheriff Berryman, to ask for help. He’s baffled as to why the disappearance of the one man he hates most in his town is a bad thing, but she persists. “He’s the one person in this town who looks at me like I’m an actual human being,” she says. He eventually caves and goes on to save him -- but more on that later.
Amelia confronts Seth about the photograph Creeley gave her, and eventually gets answers.
The previous episode ended with Creeley sneaking into the Davenport’s home and warning Amelia that she should leave Seth and take his cause elsewhere, and even worse, he intimated that he will be the death of her -- just like he was for the unnamed red head in that old photograph. Of course, this doesn’t rest easy with Amelia, and their first scene in Episode 103 has them getting ready for the Collingsworth auction when she first says something. She asks Seth if he and the strike breaker had ever crossed paths before, and he again makes the excuse of not wanting to talk about his past. “Yes, and I don’t like to cook, but I do it,” she says in perhaps the episode’s best comeback. “It doesn’t matter either way. I’m not the man I used to be,” he assures.
It’s clear that’s not good enough for her, and after the Collingsworth auction, she approaches him again, showing him the photo Creeley left. “He said that killing was your god-given gift and that he tried warning her, too. Who is she?” Seth simply responds that the strike breaker is getting exactly what he wants by dividing and weakening their cause. “That’s not an answer,” Amelia says. They’re interrupted by the announcement of the next day’s auction: the Riley farm. Martha was not able to save it after last episode’s foreclosure.
“One Penny” wraps, however, with some answers. After the Riley auction, Amelia finds Seth as he’s reading from a bloodied bible. “Her name was Cynthia Jo Rainey,” he concedes. “She played Chopin on her grandmother’s piano. She loved to read from Shakespeare's comedies and this bible. She was my first glimpse of goodness in this world, and she's rotting in the ground because of that strike breaker. Everything I’m doing, all of this, is to right that wrong.”
Berryman saves Creeley from certain death.
Reluctantly heeding the words of his daughter, Berryman goes and clears out the barn that Creeley is being held captive in, only first giving the Black Legion an opportunity to flee the scene. So when he enters the dark barn, it’s just him, a lamp light, and Creeley. He uses that opportunity to ask some questions about his true identity. Sure, Rumple hired Creeley through the Pinkerton agency, but they both know he’s a middleman to some “mighty business interests.” “I work on behalf of American security and prosperity,” Creeley responds, insisting that that’s all he can say unless he wants to get killed. “Do you want to live?” Berryman asks. He surprisingly seems to relate to Creeley’s morose answer: “The impulse comes and goes,” he says. “I know what you mean,” Berryman admits. He then kicks the crate out from under Creeley and lets him strangle himself under his own weight to the point where we think he might let him hang there for good, but he shoots him down in the knick of time. Leaving Creeley there gasping on the barn floor, Berryman tells him that if it were up to him, he’d have let him die. That indicates, at least, the power that Bessie (and guilt) have over the man.
Seth saves the Riley farm.
And finally, the episode’s climactic Riley farm auction is where it also gets its namesake, because Martha Riley miraculously buys her entire farm back from the banks for that titular one penny. Seth and Amelia know that they can’t get the money needed to buy the farm back the good ol’-fashioned way, so thanks to Amelia’s ingeniously scheming mind, they decide to fix the property’s price much like the banks have been doing to the farmers. To do so requires some guns and knives hidden in cigar boxes painted to look like bibles, and the ability to threaten with a point to the ribcage.
Seth pulls up to the Riley auction with his full congregation in tow, and they’re all armed with their “bibles.” Just as the auction gets underway, he convinces the auctioneer to offer up the farm and all of its possessions to one interested bidder, and that’s when Martha Riley herself steps up offering one penny. While she’s at first laughed off by the town’s wealthy elite who have gathered there, Seth and his followers then unsheathe their weapons and dare anyone else to make another bet higher than that. No one does. The price is fixed, and the auction is settled. Martha gets her farm back. “Sam was right! We can win!” she exclaims, embracing Amelia. But not if Mr. Tandy has anything to do about it. “That crazy bitch just signed her death warrant,” he says, glaring Amelia’s way. We’ll have to wait to see which prediction comes true next week.
- We’re not quite sure what it means at this point in the series, but it’s worth noting that while paying a visit to Sam Riley Jr. in the county jail we A) learn that Deputy Raymond Berryman is beating his newest prisoner and B) see Seth mysteriously tear a “wanted” poster from the sheriff’s wall. The paper called for the arrest of a man named Lew Nez for bank robbery.
- Berryman seems to be losing his grip on power and possibly sanity, staying up late nights drinking and thinking of his one true love, Bessie’s mother. (He instead married Madame Delia no-good sister.) That’s not to mention he’s spending long periods of time talking himself up...to his dog.
- And Connie is as crazy as ever. Turns out, she “saved” Gil Butler’s now-orphaned daughter, Brittany, and is training her to be a “bad man” killer herself. In public, she insists on keeping up appearances as a mother and daughter. While Brittany is still depressed about her father’s death, Connie brushes her feelings aside. “Together, you and I will rid this land of all its bad men.” They’re off to Detroit to continue taking down society’s slimeballs. We also learn that Seth, as she tells it, tied her husband up in the back of his car and set the car on fire. His past is getting darker and darker by the minute.