In the Carnivale universe there are beings of power known as Avatars. Each generation has two Avatars, one Light and one Dark who are drawn into conflict with each other. There are two Avataric bloodlines with the "mantle" of Avatar status being passed from father to son. The mothers of avatars are usually driven insane by the process. An Avatar's supernatural status gives him certain vaguely defined supernatural powers. The most common of these is the ability to sense the presence, and condition, of their opposite number. At the time of Carnivale Ben Hawkins and Justin Crowe are the respective avatars of Light and Dark. Both are able to sense the presence of the other and occasionally their condition, both also receive prophetic visions. Other than that Ben's most frequently used ability is an ability to heal, while Justin most commonly uses an ability which instills fear in others. However, they are also shown using other powers, such as when Justin telepathically summons Varlyn Stroud to be his servant.
Henry "Hack" Scudder is an American drifter who is his generation's Avatar of Dark. It is revealed in the series that he is also the father of Ben Hawkins.It turns out that Management is really a disfigured Russian nobleman named Lucius Belyakov who is his generation's Avatar of Light.Scudder and Belyakov had come into conflict while both were serving in WWI. Belyakov is the Russian soldier seen by Ben Hawkins in his dreams. The encounter left Belyakov physically disfigured and Scudder emotionally damaged.The reason that everyone is searching for Scudder has to do with the nature of Avataric magic in the universe of Carnivale. When a new Avatar is born he is considered a Prince. He has power, but as long as the elder Avatar of his line lives he is unable to assume his full power. In order for a Prince to receive his full power, known as a "Boon", he must kill the elder Avatar of his nature. If the elder Avatar is unwilling to be killed then the Prince must take his life by surprise. If the elder Avatar dies by some other means then the Boon is lost until the next generation.While the mantle of Avataric power is passed from father to son, the nature of their affiliation with regard to Light and Dark is not. That is why Scudder, an Avatar of Dark, was able to father Ben Hawkins, an Avatar of Light. While each Avatar has a nature which drives them towards either good or evil, they are also possessed of free will. Scudder was increasingly haunted by his nature as an Avatar of Dark sought to isolate himself from loved ones who might be hurt, as well as trying to self medicate away his problems with alcohol. Scudder also realized that there was, or soon would be, a younger Avatar of Dark who would look to claim his Boon. Seeking to prevent this, Scudder went into hiding, first joining the carnival at the center of the series. Later Scudder would flee from the carnival, even going so far as to disfigure his face in an effort to hide from those who sought him.At some point after Scudder left the carnival, Belyakov came looking for him in America. Belyakov sought to kill Scudder before the Avatar of Dark could pass on his Boon. To try and find Scudder, Belyakov bought the carnival and set himself up as the mysterious Management. Belyakov took the carnival around the country, using the travel to look for Scudder. This secret motive helps explain why the carnival travels to odd out of the way places where they are unlikely to make much money. Rather than traveling a circuit based on how much money they can make, Management directs the carnival's travels according to where he thinks Hank Scudder might be hiding.In the first season we also learn that Justin Crowe, this generation's Avatar of Dark, is the biological son of Lucius Belyakov. Crowe's mother, driven insane by the experience of birthing an Avatar, believes that Belyakov means to kill her and her children and takes them to America. Until the very end of his life, Belyakov did not know that his son was alive or that he was the Avatar of Dark.