Carnival Row Review

The first eight episodes of the much-hyped Carnival Row finally dropped on Amazon Prime Video last week, giving people a new, dark fantastical world to get lost in (read /Film’s non-spoiler review here). Fans of fantasy, noir Victorian tales, and Orlando Bloom will particularly enjoy the show, which creates an expansive and immersive world while also narrowing in on a mysterious set of murders in The Burgue, the Victorian London-esque setting where most of the events of the first season take place.

There’s a lot going on in the first season (arguably too much, especially in the last few episodes), but those that stick through to the end will be rewarded by some twists and surprises, including who (and what) is behind the gory deaths that Rycroft Philostrate (Orlando Bloom) is investigating. But perhaps what’s more intriguing is what remains unresolved at the end of the last episode.

Read on to get our spoiler-filled breakdown of the big moments from the first season, and what we can expect to see further explored in season 2. Naturally, spoilers abound below. 

Philo is a Half-Blood 

The show’s first scene, where Vignette (Cara Delevingne) stares longingly at a photo of Philo, make it clear from the beginning that the Inspector is sympathetic to the plight of the fae (he’s been in love with one before, after all). What’s not immediately obvious, however, is that Philo’s connection to the fae goes beyond his love for Vignette; we find out in the third episode—a flashback to when he meets Vignette in Tirnanoc during his solider days—that Philo is a half-faerie passing as a full human, and that he has no idea who is real parents are. 

This revelation (though there are hints of this in the first two episodes; his insistence of not seeing a doctor, for example, when Unseelie Jack beats him up) places Philo in a whole new light; his position in The Burgue as a respected Inspector is a tenuous one, one that could crumble at any moment if any human found out he was half fae. Knowing Philo’s background gives him a personal stake in the fae deaths he’s investigating (he could easily become one of them if he’s ever found out), even before he learns the entire truth of who is behind the murders. 

Piety Breakspear Created and Controlled the Dark Asher In Order to Find and Kill Philo

The back half of the first season doubles down on making the Dark Asher mystery even more personal for Philo, as he (and the viewers) come to realize that those murdered by the unnatural beast are connected by the secret around Philo’s birth, starting with Aisling, a once well-known faerie singer who also turns out to be Philo’s mother. This connection is a bit ham-fisted (I’m not sure we need to have the murders connected to Philo to make the mystery or Philo more compelling), but it does the job of making the whodunit tie to the fate of a character we care about. 

And who wants Philo dead so badly that they’re willing to murder a bunch of people just to read the secrets nested away in their livers? Why, Piety Breakspear, of course, the wife of the Chancellor. We find out early on in the season that there’s more to Piety than what she presents to her husband; she kidnapped her own son, for one thing, something that doesn’t quite make total sense to me. And yes, I know there’s an argument that she did so to push encourage her husband’s rival out of power and to make her playboy son Jacob more concerned with politics, but there must be less extreme ways to achieve those aims. 

But Piety is nothing if she’s not extreme, and we find out her exploits go beyond fake kidnappings—she’s willing to do anything—including making a Dark Asher kill as many people as necessary to find out who is her husband’s bastard child (spoiler: it’s Philo)—to make sure Jacob is the only son of the Chancellor and thus the one prophesied to become a great man in The Burgue. By the end of the season, Piety’s convoluted machinations are revealed and sloppily resolved (both literally and figuratively: the fact that Sophie started this all by sending the Chancellor a fake blackmail note from Aisling was really stretching things) with some satisfaction. The Dark Asher story going away is a good thing, though—now that the murder mystery is solved, the show can focus on what’s really interesting about Carnival Row; the circumstances that the larger cast of characters find themselves in at the end of Season 1. 

The Aftermath and What’s In Store for Season 2

Piety may be dead by the end of Season 1, but her machinations will impact everyone in The Burgue in ways that make me excited to see how Season 2 plays out. Let’s go through some of the major players and their associated storylines in turn.

Sophie and Jacob – A New Regime?

The most immediate and obvious impact of Piety’s actions are the deaths of the two political leaders in the country: Absalom Breakspear and his rival Longerbane. Their children (and potentially half-siblings?!) Jacob and Sophie are now the Chancellor and the leader of the opposition respectively, and one of the biggest question marks for me going into the next season is how Sophie and Jacob’s relationship will play out. It’s clear that Sophie is the cleverer of the two (and the one, remember, who started the whole Dark Asher mess by forging a blackmail letter to the Chancellor), and it’s also clear she’s willing to drop Jacob if it suits her interests. 

Jacob, not to be outdone, is morally indifferent; he cares only about power, and the fae are no more than a tool to him to gain that. As newly appointed Chancellor, and with the support of Sophie, he uses the murder of his father as an excuse to imprison all fae in Nazi-like ghettos in order to ostensibly crack down on terrorist activity. Whether Sophie and Jacob’s coalition will last, however, remains to be seen, and I’m eager to learn more about both characters’ motivations and endgames in the season to come. 

Vignette and Philo—How Will Being Imprisoned Impact Their Life and Their Relationship? 

With Vignette thrown into the now cordoned-off Carnival Row, Philo has a choice at the end of the season to continue passing as human or embrace his identity as a half-fae. He chooses the latter, and the two of them are now imprisoned in the Row. It’s clear that life behind the fence will become a pressure cooker. For Vignette, this life will sadly be more of the same based on the seven years she spent fighting The Pact in Tirnanoc. For Philo, however, his imprisonment and treatment will be new to him—how will he handle it, and how will the relationship between the two of them fare? 

Agreus and Imogen – Where Will They Travel Next and Will Anyone Follow Them?

Perhaps the least surprising (but still satisfying) storyline of Season 1 was the wealthy puck Agreus (David Gyasi) getting together with his well-to-do neighbor, Imogen (Tamzin Merchant). While the final pairing of the two seems a bit rushed (given what we were shown of Imogen, it seemed a bit sudden for her to jump right into bed with the puck), the chemistry these two have more than make up for it. The end of the season has them sailing away from The Burgue after Imogen’s brother Ezra found them together. 

One thing that’s exciting about Agreus and Imogen fleeing (assuming the navy doesn’t catch up to them and force them back) is that we’ll be able to see more of this world beyond the Victorian streets of The Burgue. Their travels will be completely new for Imogen in particular, and I’m looking forward to seeing how she’ll adapt to circumstances and situations she’s never been exposed to before. How the relationship between the two plays out is also up in the air—they have a connection, true, but they barely know each other. Will they remain so connected to each other once the initial passion and spark dies down? We also see a still-angry Ezra glaring out to sea—maybe he’ll commander that ship of his and follow them into new waters, or maybe he’ll sabotage them in some other way. One thing is clear though—he’s not going to let Imogen and Agreus go off without causing some sort of fuss. 

Season 2 is Set Up to  beBetter Than Season 1 (Though Season 1 Is Still Well Worth the Watch)

It’s no secret that the first season had rewrites and reshoots, and some of this is obvious through some overly forced plotlines in the first eight episodes. I’m glad, however, that Carnival Row already is greenlit for a second season. The first season is enjoyable and worth watching on its own, but what’s most exciting to me is the promise of things to come—now that the hiccups of getting the show off the ground are over, there’s a lot of great characters and great worldbuilding here to mine, and I, for one, will be here for it.

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