|Created by||Tony Tost|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||1|
|No. of episodes||10 (list of episodes)|
|Production locations||Calgary, Alberta, Canada|
|Running time||41–54 minutes|
|Distributor||NBCUniversal Television Distribution|
|Original release||November 7, 2017 –|
January 18, 2018
Damnation is an American period drama television series. The series was ordered on May 12, 2017. The series is a co-production between Universal Cable Productions and Netflix. Netflix streamed the show worldwide outside the United States, where it aired on USA Network. The series premiered on November 7, 2017. On January 25, 2018, it was announced that the series had been cancelled after one season and was removed from Netflix in 2023.
Set in 1931 amidst the American labor wars of the Great Depression, Damnation follows Seth Davenport, a man with a violent past who poses as a preacher as he rallies townsfolk to stand up against greedy industrialists and the corruption of the local bank, sheriff's department, and newspaper. He is opposed by Creeley Turner, an ex-con who works for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency and has been hired by a rich industrialist to stop Davenport's strike. Neither the townsfolk nor the industrialists know that Seth and Creeley are estranged brothers.
According to creator and showrunner Tony Tost, Damnation is "1/3 Clint Eastwood, 1/3 John Steinbeck, 1/3 James Ellroy. That is, it takes some characters you’d normally see in a tough western, plops them in the world of Grapes of Wrath, and places them in the sort of pulpy paranoid narrative you see in Ellroy’s novels."
The Farmers' Holiday Association campaign for a farm strike in the early 1930s was the event on which the story is based; the Iowa locale in the series is based on Plymouth County, Iowa, during this time, the strike and related events in the county seat of Le Mars, Iowa, and rural areas of the county beginning in early May 1932. This was also the period when the penny auction became a common farmer tactic.
A coal miners' strike at the same time in Kentucky, known as the Harlan County War or Bloody Harlan, is the basis for that element of the plot. The Sheriff J. H. Blair and Florence Reece are historical characters, with Reece's folk song "Which Side Are You On?" (performed in the second episode) being inspired by Sheriff Blair's actions during the Harlan County War.
The Pinkerton Detective Agency, which employs Creeley Turner and the William J. Burns International Detective Agency, which employs Connie Nunn, are real agencies that focused on strikebreaking in the 1930s.
The villainous Black Legion vigilante group in Damnation is based on the 1930s militant fascistic paramilitary group of the same name. The Black Legion terrorized ethnic, political and religious minorities throughout the Midwest, targeting labor organizers and striking workers in particular.
Originally, Aden Young was set to play the lead role, but he dropped out due to creative differences and was later replaced by Killian Scott.
|No.||Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date||US viewers|
|1||"Sam Riley's Body"||Adam Kane||Tony Tost||November 7, 2017||0.91|
|A local farmer strike, led by the enigmatic Preacher Seth Davenport in Holden, Iowa becomes a powder keg when a strikebreaker named Creeley Turner shoots one of the farmer leaders, Sam Riley, in cold blood. Three thugs from Chicago try to kill Preacher Seth and his wife Amelia. In Kentucky a William Burns detective named Connie Nunn is on the hunt for Preacher Seth, whom she believes killed her husband. The strikebreaker, Creeley, turns up at the local brothel and hires prostitute Bessie to act as his secretary, since he's illiterate. Creeley then kills a second farmer and frames Sam Riley's son Sam Jr for it. When Sam Jr is arrested during his father's wake, Seth decides to confront Creeley and we learn that the two men are estranged brothers. Seth decides to send a message to the town and Creeley and the town's local banker, Calvin Rumple in particular; he crucifies Sam Riley's body across the front of the Savings and Trust building in town, with the sign "Which side are you on?" hung around his neck.|
|2||"Which Side Are You On?"||Adam Kane||Tony Tost||November 14, 2017||0.77|
|Creeley investigates what his brother's life is like now. Cub reporter D. L. Sullivan collects the townspeople's opinions on the strikes. The anti-union vigilante group Black Legion make an appearance at the church and shoot at the parishioners. Bessie pays off the local newspaper editor, asking him not to publish anything about Sam Riley's death or crucifixion and she begins to collect information on strikes across the country. Nearby in Des Moines, corrupt banker Calvin Rumple meets with the mysterious Martin Eggers Hyde, Ph.D., the man who has assigned Creeley to stop the farmer strike. Hyde instructs Rumple to begin auctioning farms to the highest bidder. Connie Nunn continues her search for Seth while sabotaging the miners' strikes in Harlan, Kentucky. She kills a strike leader, orphaning his young daughter Brittany. Seth organizes a protest march with the farmers and hunts down one of the Black Legion members but refrains from killing him when he sees a cross formed from light on the floor. It is revealed that Bessie is the sheriff's illegitimate child. Amelia meets Creeley when he breaks into her house and warns her to leave Seth and take her cause elsewhere. He leaves her with a photograph of a younger Seth with a mysterious young woman.|
|3||"One Penny"||Rod Lurie||Tony Tost||November 21, 2017||0.79|
|Amelia questions Seth about the strikebreaker and his past but Seth is evasive. Calvin Rumple has begun foreclosing and auctioning farms, including the farm of the late strike leader Sam Riley. Creeley and Bessie, as a blossoming interracial couple, come to the attention of the racist Black Legion who ambush them and take Creeley hostage. Amelia hatches a plot to save the Riley farm; painting cigar boxes to look like bibles and hiding weapons in them. The Black Legion string up Creeley in a noose in a shed and tell him to leave town with Bessie. In Ohio, we learn that Connie Nunn has taken in Brittany, the orphaned daughter of the Kentucky miner strike leader, and is grooming her to be her daughter and protege. Connie informs Brittany that her husband Leonard was tied up in a burning car in Arkansas and left to die. Bessie tracks down Creeley and guilts her father, Sheriff Berryman, into rescuing Creeley from the Black Legion. Seth, Amelia and the farmers take their fake bibles to the Riley farm auction and threaten the auctioneer and potential buyers, allowing Martha Riley to buy back her farm for one penny. Seth tells Amelia that the young woman in the photograph is Cynthia Jo Rainey and that Creeley caused her death.|
|4||"The Emperor of Ice Cream"||Rod Lurie||Michael D. Fuller||November 28, 2017||0.81|
|Connie Nunn arrives in Detroit, where Earl Donahue is leading an autoworker strike. In Iowa, Calvin Rumple tells Creeley that he's arranged to have milk delivered to the local ice cream vendor to stop the strike. When a bootlegger's truck arrives at a blockade outside of town, Seth and the farmers figure out that they are smuggling milk. They terrorize the men in the truck and send a message to Rumple and Creeley. Amelia confronts newspaper editor Burt Babbage for not covering the farmer strike and reveals to D. L. Sullivan that she's the secret author of the pamphlets that have inspired him. In Detroit, after Earl Donahue's wife and child leave the house, Connie kills Earl and other strike leaders discovering that one of them had seen Seth and got one of his pamphlets in Iowa. Seth tells Amelia that Creeley is his half-brother and that his mother was a prostitute. Seth says Creeley "doesn't have an ounce of grit". Creeley pits the corn farmers against the milk farmers, with Victor, one of the dairy farmers, agreeing to deliver milk to the ice cream shop. When Victor makes the milk delivery in town under Creeley's protection, a shoot-out occurs. Creeley kills several armed corn farmers with stunning quickness and accuracy while claiming to act in self-defense. A stunned, blood-soaked Seth cowers while Creeley stands over him, telling his brother "people change".|
|5||"Den of Lost Souls"||Eva Sorhaug||Julia Cohen||December 14, 2017||0.50|
|In Des Moines, Creeley meets with his handler, Martin Eggers Hyde, who warns Creeley that he'll return him to prison if he doesn't stop the strike. He tells Creeley that he's hired someone to kill both Seth and Amelia, but refuses to reveal the assassin's identity. In Holden, Amelia and DL Sullivan decide to start an underground newspaper to spread the truth about the farmers' strike. Creeley searches for the hired assassin, telling Bessie that he needs his brother alive. As Seth practices his shooting to prepare for a showdown with Creeley, he hears someone break into his house. It's Lew Nez, a childhood friend who is also a wanted outlaw. As Seth and Lew terrorize the corrupt banker Calvin Rumple, Creeley tries to warn Amelia to leave town. When she refuses the warning, Creeley locates the bodies of the three thugs from Chicago who Seth and Amelia killed in the first episode. At the carnival, the hired assassin is revealed to be an elderly vacuum salesman. He follows Seth and Amelia, but can't distinguish between them and Lew (also in disguise as a preacher) and another woman. Just as the assassin is about to shoot, a child screams, seeing the corpse of one of the Chicago thugs on a ferris wheel. The assassin's bullet hits Lew in the arm. Both Seth and Lew chase the assassin into a nearby cornfield while Creeley warns Amelia to leave town because he knows where the bodies are buried. Seth tracks the assassin to a barn, where the assassin gets the upper hand. But before the assassin can kill Seth, Creeley arrives and knocks out the assassin. At gunpoint, Creeley tells Seth that he's going to turn him in to the authorities because he's done being punished for Seth's sins.|
|6||"In Wyoming Fashion"||Eva Sorhaug||Kevin Lau||December 21, 2017||0.61|
|In an extended flashback, we see Seth, Creeley, and Lew in Wyoming a decade earlier. The three young men worked as hired guns for Seth and Creeley's short-tempered father Gram Turner, helping him clear the land for an oil company. In Iowa in the present day, Creeley at gunpoint accuses Seth of being a fraud and framing him for murder. But before Creeley can take Seth to the authorities, Lew Nez arrives and Creeley is forced to drop his weapon. Food distributor Melvin Stubbs announces his candidacy for sheriff. In another flashback, the younger Seth tries to protect the timid Creeley from their father and is beaten for it. Gram takes Creeley to a homestead house for his first kill, telling him he can finally put a notch on his gun. In the present day, Creeley awakes from being knocked out by Seth and Lew. He's been left without his gun or boots. He arrives at the brothel to regroup, telling Bessie that he'll never be free of Eggers Hyde unless Seth confesses to the murders Creeley was arrested for. Sheriff Berryman arrests Creeley for the body on the ferris wheel, though Creeley says it was Seth, claiming that there could be more bodies under his church. Sheriff Berryman arrives at the church and finds the bodies Creeley has placed there. Amelia strikes a deal: since Sheriff Berryman needs the farmers' votes to beat Melvin Stubbs in the election, she bargains for extra time to find the real killer. While Sheriff Berryman and Amelia come up with a cover story, Seth and Lew rob the bank in order to help fund the struggling farmers. Creeley witnesses this from his cell in the sheriff's station and Seth acknowledges his brother while fleeing with Lew. In a final Wyoming flashback, as Seth recovers from his beating at the hands of their father, Creeley cuts his own side out of guilt of his first kill, giving a notch to himself instead of his gun. In the present day, Creeley returns to the brothel after being released by Sheriff Berryman, only to find Martin Eggers Hyde reading the underground newspaper and waiting for him. Bessie watches as Creeley is driven away by Eggers Hyde to an uncertain fate.|
|7||"A Different Species"||Alex Graves||Nazrin Choudhury||December 28, 2017||0.67|
|Parked near a prison work gang being beaten by vicious guards, Martin Eggers Hyde voices his displeasure at Creeley's work in Holden. Seth and Amelia discover that a man named Tuck Tandy tried to buy up both the Riley farm and a fertilizer plant in a nearby county. When Amelia distributes the bank robbery money to farmer wives at the church, the murderous Connie Nunn and Brittany arrive, posing as the widow and orphan of a miner's strike leader. Creeley arrives at a remote stable, where he meets industrialist scion Tennyson Duvall and a fellow Pinkerton agent named Johnson. Seth explores the fertilizer plant, discovering that workers there are enlisting homeless men for secret chemical tests on military equipment. Creeley's excursion with culminates in a staged fight between Creeley and Johnson for the rich men's entertainment, during which Creeley is forced to kill Johnson. Hyde gives Creeley a new assignment: Creeley must return to Holden and kill Seth in order to secure his freedom. In Holden, a new banker named John Dyson strikes a deal with the Black Legion on behalf of the Duvall family: Dyson will provide money and a machine gun to the Black Legion if they can stop the farmer strike. The Black Legion unmasks himself, revealing himself to be Melvin Stubbs, candidate for Sheriff. Bessie is caught watching this and she runs away into the dark cornfield with the Black Legion chasing her. Amelia reveals to Connie Nunn that she's also a widow and that her first husband was killed by a strikebreaker in Marion County, Arkansas, the same location where Connie's strikebreaking husband was killed. Seth gives Amelia paperwork from the fertilizer plant and Amelia realizes that her father's textiles company is involved in the Duvall conspiracy. On the way back to Holden, Creeley sees the same prison gang and vicious guards. He shoots and kills the two guards from a train, allowing the prisoners to run for freedom.|
|8||"The Goodness of Men"||Katie Jacobs||Rayna McClendon||January 4, 2018||0.63|
|Seth and Amelia discover Bessie in the church, hiding from the Black Legion after having discovered the Duvall family's grand industrial plans for Holden. The Black Legion turn up at the church looking for Bessie, but Seth and Amelia hide her. Creeley returns to town and meets the new banker, John Dyson, who has hired the Black Legion to provide security and who presents Creeley with papers that guarantee his freedom if he kills Seth. Bessie tells Seth and Amelia what she has learned, and in return they offer to protect her. Melvin Stubbs, the Black Legion leader and leading candidate for sheriff, shows up at the farmers market and threatens the farmers and Martha Riley's son Sam Jr, while Connie tries to take care of a sick Brittany. Seth finds out Stubbs' plan to stop the farmers' strike by publicly lynching Sam Jr. Seth informs Sheriff Berryman of this plan, but the sheriff shrugs it off as big talk. Creeley shows up at Seth's house to kill him, but Bessie intervenes before he can; Creeley and Bessie share their first kiss. The Black Legion turn up at the brothel looking for Bessie and search her room, discovering Duvall information and a photograph of Creeley and Seth from their Wyoming days. DL and Amelia spread their underground newspaper at her father's factory. In a series of Wyoming flashbacks, it's revealed that Cynthia Rainey and Seth were lovers, and that Seth's father ordered his sons to clear out Raineys off their land for an oil company and as such Seth plans to run away with Cynthia, but Creeley tells their father of this, who then attacks Cynthia. The Black Legion prepares to hang Sam Jr. in the middle of town. The farmers try to stop them, but they use the banker's machine gun. Seth is discovered trying to help Sam Jr. and Creeley watches as the Black Legion prepare to hang Sam and Seth.|
|9||"Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground"||Kate Dennis||Julia Cohen & Michael D. Fuller||January 11, 2018||0.52|
|In a Wyoming flashback to 1924, Seth's father murders Cynthia Rainey and her preacher father, and Seth murders his father and his men in retaliation. Seth prepares to shoot Creeley, but can't bring himself to do it. Instead, he frames Creeley for the murders. Back in the present, as Seth and Sam Jr are being hanged, Creeley intervenes and saves them. Amelia tells DL that her industrialist father used to hire strikebreakers to attack workers when she was a little girl, setting her on her political path. With the Black Legion seizing the town, an outgunned Sheriff Berryman gets his daughter Bessie out of town, while Seth, Creeley and the others retreat to Martha's farm and prepare for retaliation from the Black Legion. Amelia and DL are captured while trying to head back into Holden, and taken to Stubbs. Connie is shocked to discover that Seth didn't kill her husband. Scores of Black Legion show up at Martha's farm and begin to attack. Meanwhile, the Sheriff reveals the truth to Bessie about her mother, who was not a prostitute like she assumed, but a singer known as Memphis Pearl. DL tells Amelia that he's dedicating his book to her as they try to escape from the Black Legion, but despite some impressive sharpshooting from DL, the two are caught once again. At Martha's farm, the Black Legion begin to overwhelm the resistance, until Victor sets off dynamite. However, one of the Legion members uses the machine gun, and the farmers and others are forced to retreat inside. Preston Riley creates a diversion with a tractor to allow Seth to destroy the machine gun with a grenade. Seth and Creeley make a grim discovery, however, when DL's body is dragged to the farm by a horse, with a message from Stubbs telling Seth that they have Amelia and Seth must hand himself over or she'll die next.|
|10||"God's Body"||Adam Kane||Tony Tost||January 18, 2018||0.63|
|After the events of the night, the townspeople count their losses. Bessie reveals that she's figured out that this isn't the first time the Duvall family has paid strikebreakers to clear land: the Duvall family owned the oil company that paid Seth and Creeley's father to clear land in Wyoming in the 1920s, and have thus been responsible for all the tragedy in Seth and Creeley's lives. Seth decides to hand himself over to save Amelia and "stop the past from repeating itself". Connie, Creeley and the Sheriff head into town with Martha Riley and a badly wounded Preston, killing several Legion members on the way. Creeley finds the new banker dead. Seth finally meets Martin Eggers Hyde, PhD when the Legion take him to Stubbs' base at the radio station. Eggers Hyde forces Seth to denounce everything he stands for, live on air, after threatening to shoot Amelia. Amelia urges Seth not to do it, but Seth tells her that he used to be a hired thug like his brother Creeley and then goes ahead with the speech. During the speech, the townspeople, led by the Sheriff and Creeley, storm the radio station and rescue Seth and Amelia. Seth promises Creeley that he'll confess to murders he framed him for if they get out of their situation alive. The farmers arrive in town and the Sheriff arrests Melvin for kidnapping Amelia and killing DL. Amelia unknowingly reveals to Connie that she's the one who killed Connie's husband. Seth, with help from Sam Jr., encourages the townspeople to vote against Melvin Stubbs, though Stubbs ends up winning by 7 votes anyway. Creeley and Bessie prepare to leave town, but are interrupted by Tennyson Duvall and Martin Eggers Hyde, PhD. Amelia expresses regret for having encouraged DL to join the cause after his landlady delivers his manuscript to her. After releasing new Sheriff Melvin Stuff, former Sheriff Berryman murders Stubbs and his Black Legion members after they threaten to hurt Bessie, not knowing she is his daughter. Duvall, Creeley and Eggers Hyde drive to a remote location, and Duvall shoots Eggers Hyde, much to his surprise, because he has "risked the Duvall's good name" with his actions in Holden. Creeley is offered Eggers Hyde's job and he accepts. Seth takes to the airwaves again and gives an inspiring speech, encouraging people to fight back. Creeley returns to Bessie while Connie visits Amelia, who she now knows to be her husband's killer. When he gets back home after his radio speech, Seth discovers a bible covered in blood, but it is not revealed whose blood is on it.|
Reviews for the show were positive to mixed. Alan Sepinwall wrote: "Tost and company do a nice job illustrating all the people in the story — usually women — pushing up against barriers that go beyond economics...The men dominate the story because of the era and the type of show this is, but the women feel much more complex and original. Emily VanDerWerff wrote that at Damnation's center "is a world and time period that TV hasn’t ever explored as thoroughly as it could, and it’s clear that all involved (but especially creator Tony Tost) have done their research. The same growing pains that nearly all dramas face are clear and evident, but Damnation has a setting and point of view...Slow-moving and enamored of its own darkness as Damnation is, there’s something vital and real in the show’s insistence that the United States’ institutions have failed and are only looking out for themselves." Alexis Gunderson compared Damnation favorably to Netflix's Godless, writing that "Damnation actually followed through on its promise to interrogate the corruption of capitalism and racism and the gulf of messy morality between what is good for the individual and what is good for society." Mark Dawidziak of the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote that the show feels like "a powerful collaboration between Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck and pioneering mystery writer Dashiell Hammett...Although set during the Depression, "Damnation" is a series packing a tremendous thematic punch for 2017 viewers."
The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 64% approval rating, with an average rating of 6.36/10 based on 25 reviews. Users gave the show a 91% approval rating, with an average rating of 4.5/5 based on 272 reviews. The website's consensus states "'Damnation's' complex character driven mystery is intriguing, though it occasionally feels like homework."