In DAMNATION (Netflix), a TV series set during the Great Depression, a pastor rallies local farmers to go on strike until fair pricing is restored, so that they can afford to pay their bank loans and prevent a wave of foreclosures. The bank, backed by a rich and powerful family, sends a brutal agent to break the strike, a man who shares a dark past with the pastor.
This is a pretty amazing show with dark twists, larger-than-life antiheroes seeking redemption, and a detailed and overt political message and criticism of capitalism. The acting is brilliant, the dialogue solid and frequently over the top, the setting stark and monotone but visually rich. And there’s plenty of action, tons of it in fact, with a body count that would make Tarantino smile in his sleep. I liked it a lot for its story, but loved it for its brave exploration of class struggle during the Great Depression, ideas that just as relevant today.
The farmers’ strike is based on the Farmers’ Holiday Association, a movement of farmers who withheld products from the market and went so far as to threaten judges approving foreclosures and setting up roadblocks. In the show, they have the food, but the rich have the power. The farmers find themselves contending with townspeople who don’t understand their plight, a bank that wants to foreclose so a rich family can build a chemical plant, division sown in their ranks, a sheriff who won’t protect them, a food wholesaler who sets the prices rather than supply and demand, a local newspaper that won’t cover the strike as a story, vigilantes who see them as communists, and a vicious strikebreaker who physically threatens them.
Though painted as communists and infected with the pastor’s revolutionary ideas about class struggle and workers uniting, the farmers don’t want communism, they want a fair deal the system won’t give them. The moral lesson of the show is that capitalism doesn’t work unless there’s a fair playing field and people get a fair share of the wealth, an idea proven by the Great Depression and the growth of a strong middle class after the New Deal. It’s an idea we’ve forgotten and that is rarely allowed to be spoken allowed on TV, so it was no surprise to me the show got canceled after one season. I’m surprised it got made at all.
Overall, DAMNATION is a great series that tells a fun story of loyalty and redemption, while making you think about class and the excess of capitalism.