The greatest battles in our history are often known as battles between kings. They are grand conquests filled with ambition and treachery. But away from the distant medieval lands that tell tales of such regal wars, the struggle between the rich and the poor has paved its own narrative in our history books. Netflix’s latest period drama Damnation focuses on this almost timeless struggle set against the backdrop of 1930s rural America.
The most interesting thing about this show for me was the setting of the show. As a Brit, I have very little understanding of how the United States of America looked in its entirety during the early twentieth century. When I think of America in the thirties, I picture large cities that resemble wartime America, I think of trenchcoat-clad Mafiosi with Tommy guns in their ford mark ones. When I first laid eyes on this show. I quickly assumed it was set in the wild west. Closer to 1830 rather than 1930. When I realised that ti was set closer to WW2 I was thrown off in the most interesting way. Coyboys wielding Colt 1911 and hooded men chasing people in cars rather than horses. It really gave me a taste of what America was actually like in that period of history. And it made for a very interesting setting to watch.
The story was interesting if not a little over political for my taste. It’s set during the prohibition and tells the story of Seth Davenport, A preacher who leads the farmers in a strike against plummeting prices of their products brought on by corrupt bankers. Onc I got my head around this very specific premise, I found myself seeing the story for what it actually was. The character concentrates on very specific problems through the series, but near the end, it becomes far less about food prices and property foreclosure and becomes more about what it means to be a good person in a land that is largely barren and lawless. The more you learn about the characters, the more you realise that the people whom you meet aren’t necessarily the most righteous and innocent people. And the people who you may initially brand as the devil may be so because of a past that wasn’t kind to them. It’s a show that asks a question about morality and changes your perspective on allegiance. All of this packaged together made for a very substantial watch.
Al this being said, there was no lack of action. Despite being set in 1930’s, Damnation felt more like a gun-toting western, the dark political intrigue is punctuated by well-gunfights fights that aren’t too flashy yet provides a great spectacle.
I thoroughly recommend this show to you. Historical fiction is on the rise and not every attempt and a hard-hitting period drama hits the mark, a lot of them try to hard to appeal to seem gritty and end up coming across as vulgar and ignorant. Damnation however, is nuanced, intelligent yet has the kind of kick-ass brutality that we all have grown to love about tales of American History.