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Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl)
- Always Save the Girl: Especially in the series finale:Jonesy: What if [Sofie's] dead?Ben: Then God help 'em. God help every single person in that valley.
- Animal Motifs: Ben Hawkins to contrast with his adversary, Justin Crowe.
- Bank Robbery: According to Word of God, this is what went wrong and landed Ben in the chain gang before the series begins.
- Big Good: After he kills Management, gaining his powers.
- Blessed with Suck: He hates his powers and tries to hide them away so he can live normally.
- Break the Cutie: Happened to him as a kid due to his insane, abusive mother.
- Can't Hold His Liquor: He gets drunk very easily, which Jonesy comments on.
- Disappeared Dad: Not that it isn't justified - Scudder wanted to keep his son safe from his dark nature.
- Dreaming of Things to Come: Constantly has dreams that hint at his future.
- Farm Boy: Well, until the First Bank of Oklahoma comes to repossess it...
- Fish out of Water: A socially awkward farm boy in with a bunch of carnies.
- Hates Being Touched: You would too if you had a serious case of Psychic Dreams for Everyone or could accidentally kill people if you weren't careful.
- Hates Small Talk: As he says, he's got nothing to say.
- Healing Hands: One of his first powers to be revealed. He's able to restore a crippled girl's use of her legs, and when he was a child he even brought a dead kitten back to life. Still, if he is to give life, he has to take it from somewhere else first.
- Hero with Bad Publicity: He's already shady due to whatever he did to land himself in prison and then go on the run, but with the events of the finale, one imagines Ben's public image is going to nosedive.
- Likes Older Women: Ruthie being the main example, though he later regrets it.
- Loners Are Freaks: Antisocial and closed off from everyone else.
- Messianic Archetype: As the Avatar of Light. People who witness his abilities actually start hailing him as the second coming of Jesus.
- Mysterious Past: Revealed bit by bit through flashbacks.
- Naīve Newcomer: To the point where he's everyone in the Carnivale's personal Butt Monkey.
- The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: To Justin.
- Took a Level in Badass: Becomes much more formidable as he comes to terms with his powers and his role as the Avatar of Light.
Samson (Michael J. Anderson)
- Badass Grandpa: Fairly old, but proves himself to be fairly resilient under pressure.
- The Barnum: Downplayed, as his carnival features genuinely supernatural things on display, but when the carnival's in need of a quick buck he's not afraid of resorting to these sorts of tactics.
- Deadpan Snarker: Frequently towards his subordinates.
- Little People Are Surreal: Averted. He's one of the most reasonable and down to earth people in the series.
- No Badass to His Valet: Neither Management nor Ben really impress Samson with their powers.
- Only Sane Man: You'd think Samson would have learned; Avatara are not the most mentally-stable of people.
- Pay Evil unto Evil: Samson's solution to the Babylon problem - specifically Stangler escaping Carny Justice and no one being held accountable for Dora Mae's death? Shoot Stangler between the eyes anyway.
- Pintsized Powerhouse: His size isn't an impediment to his badassery.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Frequently, to Ben, especially when Ben kills Management, the necessity of which Samson cannot understand.
Clayton "Jonesy" Jones (Tim DeKay)
- Badass Normal: Isn't one of the freaks, nor does he possess any supernatural abilities, but is a badass nonetheless.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: The victim of it, in "Lincoln Highway".
- Mr. Fanservice: Count the number of times Tim DeKay is shirtless.
- Grease Monkey: Is often seen working
- Handicapped Badass: At least, until he gets better. Then he's just a badass.
- Happily Married: In season two, to Libby.
- The Lancer: To Ben, especially in the latter half of Season Two.
Sofie Agnesh Bojakshiya (Clea Duvall)
- The Antichrist: Revealed to be the Omega in the series finale.
- Attempted Rape: Almost gets raped by a couple of mechanics in the first episode. Ben manages to save her, however.
- Bi the Way: Is in love with Ben and has a quick fling with a guy in one of the towns they're passing through, yet also has tension with Libby.
- Black Eyes of Evil: In the finale.
- Broken Bird: Gets progressively more broken over the series.
- Child by Rape: Was conceived when Justin raped Apollonia.
- Circus Brat: She was born into the carnival.
- FaceHeel Turn: In the series finale.
- Fortune Teller: Her job in the carnival, which she does with a pack of Tarot cards.
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: Multiple times, although to be fair, it really does suck to find out that your mother tried to kill you because you were the product of a rape, the daughter of the Antichrist, and very probably heir to some serious demonic powers.
- Lipstick Lesbian: Or, Lipstick Bisexual. She makes out with Libby, but nothing is ever really made of it.
Apollonia (Diane Sallinger)
- And I Must Scream: Trapped in your own body, unable to communicate except through psychic contact with your daughter? AUGH.
- Driven to Suicide: Uses her psychic powers to lock Sofie and herself in the trailer before setting it on fire. Sofie escapes. She doesn't.
- Fainting Seer: Is permanently comatose.
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: A big enough one to make her catatonic.
- Offing the Offspring: Attempts to burn Sofie alive in the trailer in a sort of Taking You with Me, having possibly foreseen her destiny as the Omega.
- Rape as Backstory: Justin raped her in the past.
Libby Dreifuss (Carla Gallo)
- Lipstick Lesbian: Along with Sofie, it's more like a case of Lipstick Bisexual.
- Miss Fanservice: Well, she's one of the carnival's strippers, so this is a given.
- Smitten Teenage Girl: Her marriage to Jonesy has elements of this in the beginning, but she definitely grows up in "Lincoln Highway".
Dora Mae Dreifuss (Amanda Aday)
- And I Must Scream: Not only is she murdered, but her ultimate fate is to serve as the eternal plaything for a bunch of rapist immortal miners.
- Miss Fanservice: Another one of the carnival's strippers.
- Stuffed into the Fridge: The most extreme example in the series. She's murdered by the miners in Babylon, and then becomes their plaything as a ghost.
- You Can Leave Your Hat On: Horribly, horribly averted in "Babylon".
Rita Sue Dreifuss (Cynthia Ettinger)
- Evil Matriarch: Well, less "evil", more "manipulative".
- Lady Macbeth: She manages to talk Stumpy into (or out of) anything.
- Manipulative Bitch: To Stumpy.
- Miss Fanservice: She is also a stripper.
- Pet the Dog: Almost Hypocritical Heartwarming, but when Dora Mae is killed, Libby turns up missing as well. Cue Rita Sue frantically searching for her daughter. Libby shows up later, smoking and backtalking Rita Sue - who slaps her, then hugs her tightly.
- Stage Mom: Teaches her daughters all her stripping and prostitution tricks, and when they don't listen, proves that she's still got it.
- You Can Leave Your Hat On: Multiple times.
Felix "Stumpy" Dreifuss (Toby Huss)
- Bumbling Dad: He really does love his daughters, but he's not the brightest bulb in the box.
- Henpecked Husband: Rita Sue wears the pants in that family and everyone knows it.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: All his dubiously-legal hijinks - pimping his wife and daughters, blatantly cheating the public, shilling fake healers, gambling - are so obviously due to his devotion toward his family.
- Well, except for the gambling, since he's generally terrible at it, which leads them into trouble. Still, with everything else that's the part of his character most depicted as a failing.
- Pervert Dad: Yeaaaah, with the pimping and the exploitation...
Ruthie (Adrienne Barbeau)
- Back from the Dead: Ben resurrects her in the first season finale after she dies of a snake bite, using trading Lodz's life for hers.
- Deadpan Snarker: Probably her Crowning Moment of Awesome, among many, is her editorial comment to Justin forcing Iris to ride the Colossus in the finale:
- I See Dead People: Begins seeing ghosts after being resurrected, including those of Apollonia and Lodz.
- Unwitting Pawn: Is killed and resurrected as part of a scheme by Management and Lodz to get Ben to use his full power.
Lodz (Patrick Bauchau)
- Blind Seer: Traded his eyes for psychic powers.
- Bondage Is Bad: Lodz and Lila have fun with his cane.
- Deal with the Devil: Shame his psychic powers had to come at the price of his eyes. That's what you get for dealing with Dark Avatars.
- Dirty Mind-Reading: Does this with Lila.
- Junkie Prophet: Frequently seen drinking absinthe.
- Manipulative Bastard: Not above this when training Ben. The worst example of this is when he caused Ruthie's death as part of a scheme from him and management to get Ben to use his power of resurrection.
- Treacherous Advisor: To Ben, although he advises Samson as well.
- You Have Otlived Your Usefulness: Management gets Ben to kill him at the end of Season 1 after he's served his purpose.
Lila (Debra Christofferson)
- Bondage Is Bad: Lodz's cane, meet Lila.
- Pet the Dog: Lila assisting Ruthie in wrapping Dora Mae's body in silk and telling stories about how much the Carnivale really loved her is absolutely tearjerking.
- The Dragon: To Lodz, even after his death.
- The Vamp: "When you're done with Grandma, you come see Lila." Yowza.
Gabriel (Brian Turk)
- Berserk Button: Do not touch his Mama.
- The Big Guy: He's the circus strongman, and is considerably larger than most everyone else.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: He may have the mind of a child, but you don't want to piss him off.
- Gentle Giant: As long as you don't hurt Ruthie, he's fine.
- Momma's Boy: Justified, as he's mentally handicapped, and Ruthie is the only one who can calm him down.
Management AKA Lucius Belyakov (voiced by Linda Hunt)
- Ambiguous Gender: Never seen in the flesh, goes by the gender-neutral alias "Management", and is voiced by a woman despite being the very male Lucius Belyakov in a previous life. Apparently, casting off his physical body also caused Belyakov to cast off his gender.
- An Arm and a Leg: Lost both legs and one of his arms after being attacked by a bear while hunting Scudder during World War I.
- Big Good: Arguably since his goal is to save the world from the Apocalypse.
- Body Horror: When he finally appears, as he's horribly scarred from being mauled by a bear.
- The Chessmaster: Is manipulating everything in the series.
- The Faceless: He's always hidden behind a curtain. He's finally seen in Season 2, and isn't exactly the prettiest thing to look at.
- The Ghost: From the perspective of anyone who isn't Ben, Lodz or Samson, at least. In more ways than one, considering he's Lucius Belyakov, who took on an incorporeal bodiless form after he was near-fatally mauled by a bear.
- Good Is Not Nice: Undertakes many questionable actions in the pursuit of the greater good.
- The Man Behind the Curtain: There's a curtain separating his bed from the rest of the trailer.
The New Canaan Ministry
Brother Justin Crowe AKA Alexei Belyakov (Clancy Brown)
- Affably Evil: Most of the time. Right up until he actually gets angry, when despite his tone and expression barely changing from "happy," he suddenly becomes fucking terrifying.
- The Antichrist: As the Avatar of Dark.
- Anti-Villain: Is very conflicted about his power and genuinely thinks he's doing the right thing.
- Bad Powers, Bad People: His primary power basically amounts to Mind Rape and he's the show's main villain.
- Black Eyes of Evil: Frequently in Ben's visions.
- Brother-Sister Incest: Canonical, too.
- Dark Messiah: Again, he's the Avatar of Dark.
- Evil Is Hammy: A born orator, he's prone to making grandiose speeches both in public and private.
- Evil Sounds Deep: He has a magnificently deep voice.
- Foe-Tossing Charge: Anyone in Justin's way when he finally comes face-to-face with Ben? Gets eviscerated by his scythe.
- Go Among Mad People: When he's confined to a mental institution in Season 1.
- Husky Russkie: Russian by birth and very physically imposing.
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Fully embraces his evil in Season 2.
- Mangst: Justin is the emo-est Dark Messiah ever, until he just embraces the evil.
- New Powers as the Plot Demands: Initially it seemed that Justin could just show people their darkest sins. As the series progressed it was revealed that he could also use telekinesis, mind control and communicate at a distance, cause injury to others, and had a berserker rage with superhuman strength. Ben's powers of healing on the other hand stayed relatively the same.
- The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: To Ben.
- Sinister Minister: He's a minister and also the closest thing the series has to a Big Bad.
- Villain Protagonist: A large portion of the story focuses on him.
Iris Crowe (Amy Madigan)
- Axe-Crazy: Though her preferred weapon is a boat oar, and the axe is technically meant for someone else to use.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Sweet on the outside, crazy on the inside.
- Brother-Sister Incest: Pretty explicit on both sides, though Justin's is sexual in nature and Iris's is emotional.
- The Dragon: To Justin, at least until Stroud comes along.
- HeelFace Revolving Door: Much debate centers around Iris's true nature after the events of Season Two. Is she still loyal to Justin? Was her alliance with Norman just for appearances? Why did she let Ben go? Is she truly sorry for setting the Ministry fire? And just whose side is she on, anyway?
- Knight Templar Big Brother: Will do anything for Justin."I did it for you".
- Pet the Dog: Iris may be very dangerous, but she at least has the decency to comfort the traumatised maid after Justin rapes her (the maid).
- Promotion to Parent: Iris is arguably one of the only competent mother-figures Justin has ever known. Which makes their relationship that much squickier.
- Stronger Sibling: Well, smarter and more ruthless, at any rate.
- Took a Level in Badass: She takes several over the course of the series, even ones that are levels in retrospect (her "punishment" from Justin and plotting with Norman).
- Yandere: Calm and pleasant on the surface, "crazier than a shithouse rat" underneath.
Norman Balthus (Ralph Waite)
- Parental Substitute: For Justin and Iris, which makes Justin's sadistic treatment and killing of him very Oedipal in nature.
- Sacrificial Lion: One of the great shockers of the finale is Justin killing him.
Tommy Dolan (Robert Knepper)
- Deal with the Devil: Ironically referred to exactly as such by Brother Justin. Since Tommy still thinks Justin is a simple man of god, he jokes "Oh come on, I'm not that bad." Justin replies "No, you're not."
- Lovable Rogue: Seems to genuinely care about the migrants and the truth, but is not above underhanded methods or receiving financial compensation for his work.
- Unwitting Pawn: To be fair, no one in-universe sees Iris coming as the arsonist, and no one could predict how far Justin would go to protect her and how manipulative he can be.
Varlyn Stroud (John Carroll Lynch)
- Affably Evil: Is garrulous and friendly, even when he's about to kill you.
- Bald of Evil: He's not completely bald yet, but has lost most of his hair.
- The Brute: Justin tasks him with tracking down and killing Henry Scudder.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Is openly misogynist.
- Psycho for Hire: He's Brother Justin's personal assassin.
Eleanor McGill (K Callan)
- Cloud Cuckoolander: She certainly chooses to ignore a lot of the strange goings-on around Justin's ministry.
Henry Scudder (John Savage)
- Arch-Enemy: To Management, as the previous Avatar of Dark.
- Black Eyes of Evil: When he uses his powers.
- Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: Sort of. And he ended up leaving his son alone with an insane, abusive mother because of it.
- Dark is Not Evil: Despite being the previous Avatar of Dark, he's a very sympathetic character.
- Facial Horror: He scarred his own face with sulfuric acid to make him unrecognizable to his pursuers. Ben heals his wounds when they finally meet, thus confirming his identity.
- Macguffin Super Person: Finding him is the objective of both Ben and Justin throughout Season 2.