“Carnival Row” consists of a new mystical world that is unlike anything we have seen on television or film. Well thought out with plenty of backstories on each aspect of this new world, surely this series had to be based on a book. No, creator Travis Beacham originally wrote “Carnival Row” as a screenplay and spent the last seventeen years creating the world as we see it now.
“Carnival Row” is the most intricate and complex world created since “Game of Thrones.” Many new creatures were created for this show, including fairies also known as “Fae” or “Pixies,” and half-human/half-ram creatures called “Pucks.” Miniature elf-looking creatures known as “Kobolds” have their own culture and traditionally perform plays in puppet-sized theaters owned by humans. We discover new continents such as Tirnanoc (the land of the Fae), Meseogea, Ignota, and Obscura. Creatures flee their war-torn lands for “The Burge,” a place akin to 1800’s London. Creatures try to live in harmony with each other and with humans, but it proves to be very difficult with human racism towards mystical creatures or “Critch” as a prominent theme.
With its many brilliant special effects, many embedded cultures, and flying fairies with shimmering wings, “Carnival Row” feels as though it’s vying for the open position of cult-following, the cosplay-inspiring, record-breaking, award-winning show once occupied by “Game of Thrones.”
The main story spanning the season is a series of vicious murders on Carnival Row and the Inspector that works to unfold the mystery. The pace of the story and the subject matter of the murders leave “Carnival Row” feeling like a relative of “The Killing,” “Broadchurch,” or “Marcella.” Granted, “Carnival Row” has created an entirely new magical world filled with beautiful creatures and new locations, but it resembles a British crime drama more than anything else.
At the center of “Carnival Row” is the relationship between Vignette Stonemoss, (Cara Delevigne), a Fae, and Rycroft “Philo” Philostrate, (Orlando Bloom), a former soldier turned police inspector. Vignette and Philo fell in love during the war, when The Burge was fighting for control of Tirnanoc against rivals The Pact. Eventually, The Burge withdrew and Philo left Vignette behind, leading her to believe he was dead.
Seven years later, Vignette arrives in The Burge after narrowly escaping The Pact army in Tirnanoc. Upon arrival in The Burge, Vignette learns Philo is alive and puts a knife to his throat for all the pain he caused her. For a relationship so central to the story, you’d think there would be the undeniable chemistry between the two actors. After several sex scenes, it is painfully clear there is no chemistry between Bloom and Delevigne. This is disappointing as the trailers largely led us to believe this relationship was what drove the story. It does not.
As Philo unravels the mystery of the killing who guts its victims and takes their livers, he learns about his past, finding answers to questions he has asked all his life. The closer Philo gets to catching the killer, the more likely his most precious secret will be revealed.
“Carnival Row” has strong political overtones with the unforgiving and prejudiced culture between humans and Critch. Carnival Row may be largely populated by pixies, pucks, kobolds, and centaurs, but that doesn’t mean they’re welcome. Philo aside, police don’t bother with crimes committed against Critch and most live in extreme poverty or as servants to wealthy families. When a Puck named Agreus Astrayon (David Gyasi) moves into a wealthy neighborhood, he is treated most unwelcome despite his abundant wealth. Agreus’ fellow neighbors refuse to accept him into their society as they believe a Puck shouldn’t rise to any means of status but only be used for labor.
What really makes the show are the many female characters. Indira Varma plays commanding Piety Breakspear, wife of Chancellor Absolom Breakspear (Jared Harris). A big believer in prophecies, Piety goes to great lengths to ensure the men in her life rise to what she believes is their greatest potential. Caroline Ford plays Sophie Longerbane, the daughter of Absolom’s opposition in parliament. Upon the death of her father, Sophie takes his place in parliament and surprises as the smartest character in the series. Tamzin Merchant plays Imogen Spurnrose who, upon her brother’s failed business dealings and their livelihood in danger, solves their money problems with bravery and smarts.
“Carnival Row” is a series that’s difficult to get into with its foreign vocabulary, creatures, and places. The murder mystery would make for an unoriginal crime drama if not for the intricate new world Travis Beacham created for our enjoyment. With a little patience to understand all the foreign aspects of the story, “Carnival Row” is worth watching.
“Carnival Row” is now streaming on Amazon.