If you've never seen Carnivale before watch the opening credits. Along with Six Feet Under I think it is the best show introduction I've ever seen in my life. The art direction is inspired and the symbolism basically sets up the entire show in a mere minute.
As a tribute to my recently cancelled show, here's a little analysis.
The intro starts off with a bunch of tarot cards scattered in a pile.. The first card you zoom in on is "The World" which is supposed to be a representation of the time period, 1930s America, during the Great Depression. It's based on Michelangelo's "Last Judgement." We fly through the card from the skies of heaven to the hell of standing in a bread line. The still picture becomes moving footage of the breadline. We see marvels of technology, a futuristic dirigible and a suspension bridge. This represents the age of science, the anti-religion. The ground is dry, and what should be dirt slips through the fingers like dust. We see a family walking away...the scene turns to a card and we zoom out.
We zoom out to see an angel fighting a dragon, Leviathan, (from Isaiah 27 I believe), and the card is the Ace Of Swords. The artwork is from Gustave Dore. We scroll over to another card, Death.
Entering the Death card the camera takes you through a hellish red background and into darkness. Deep inside the card is footage of people living in old smelting ovens, and on a weird hillside-the only place they could find to live. This image begins a sequence of dark things from the early 20th century. Next we see footage of of faschism represented by Mussolini, totalitarianism by Stalin, and blad-faced racism by a KKK member jostling his baby in a mini clan uniform. All of these things took rise during this time period.
The scene shifts to children. The family grounds these abstract notions. That is what the show is about-big ideas, emobodied in people. The little girl's face turns into another angel, an angel vanquishing a devil in turn turning into the the King of Swords card. Raphael's St. Michael Victorious is the basis.
The next card, Temperance, signifies balance with a painting by Piete Bruegel. In the picture peasants are dancing. Their lives are hard, but they are having a good moment amid the strife. After viewing things that were horrendous in the 20th century we begin a sequence of things that are good. Jesse Owens the runner. Babe Ruth the baseball player. People swing-dancing. The dancers dissolve into two angels dancing in heaven. Across this card, The Magician, you see the devil being tossed out of Heaven. The battle for mens' souls begins-thus the thesis for the show.
Suddenly the story takes a twist...The card is turned upside down. In Tarot apparently an inverted card takes on another meaning. Wasted talent, or lack of will. Things are not what they seem in good vs. evil.
Next comes the Tower card, illustated with an image of the great battle between the Romans and the Carthaginians, as imagine by 15th century engraver Fouquet. We see men piled onto trucks in a hurry going somewhere; something is going to happen. Among the images of conflict and urgency is an image that sums up the desperation of the era: people are lining up for free food, literally in the shadow of the Capitol.
We see the father figure of the era, FDR. He represents a timeless figure of judgement. He transitionos to the Judgement tarot card, illustrated by the archangel Michael. We zoom out to see the Sun and Moon cards on the shoulders of the Judgement card. Sun = God, Moon = Devil. Then a wind blows these items away and reveal where these cards have been laying-literally on Carnivale. The emblem of Carnivale remains, and notice it contains both the Sun and Moon signs within its emblem.