Carnival Row season 1: Amazon's fantasy is far from spellbinding

September 26, 2019

 

A world corrupted by war and a city flooded by those fleeing it. But not just any city or any war. In Carnival Row, magic and myth intertwine with human conflict.  Clearly, Amazon thought that adding some pixie dust to this overused plot would work real magic. And it almost does. The refugees of this war are Fae and other mythological creatures fleeing to the capital city of The Burgue, whose human inhabitants are less than happy with so-called 'Critches' taking over their home. The Fae and those like them are subjected to scorn and mistreatment by the humans of The Burgue; they are forced to work as maids, servants, prostitutes and any other jobs deemed too low for humans. The imagery of Fae women being prostitutes is emphasised through raunchy scenes in a brothel located in Carnival Row, aiding the character and plot development. Early on in the series, the troubles of the Fae are worsened by a series of murders committed in much the same fashion as good old Jack the Ripper, only instead of killing prostitutes he is killing Fae.

 

The series progresses with this plot of murder and fear slowly spreading, while also introducing us to characters played by some familiar faces. Orlando Bloom adorns the black coat and top hat of mysterious detective Rycroft Philostrate, and somehow also has a bad cough or something similar and so speaks in a forced husky voice throughout the series. And then we are introduced to his ex-lover Vignette Stonemoss played by Cara Delevigne; she is feisty, she is sexy, she is a confused character. Her journey starts with fleeing from the villainous Pact soldiers and washing up on the shore of the Burgue, becoming the lady's maid a Miss Imogen Spurnrose, played by Tamzin Merchant. Much of the series' tension is found in the civil rights struggles of its characters.

 

The Burgue council is torn between helping the refugees living in their city and kicking them all out and to try and reclaim what their city once was. Sadly, it seems to lose focus after the first few episodes, with plotlines that could have been drawn out longer discarded too quickly.


Overall, I thought Carnival Row season one was half decent. The plot was interesting and had a few good twists in it, whilst character development was reminiscent of Game of Thrones and to a degree tied in together, though sometimes not very well. Protagonists Vignette and Rycroft were disappointingly lacking in development and unconvincing, and I often found myself wanting to know more about emotionally interesting side characters.


The setting of a fantasy Victorian era city plagued by the victims of war and dark secrets is a good one; especially when the religion and culture of these magical creatures’ conflicts with those of the humans. In the same vein, the series does question morals of segregation, racism and the horrors of war. However, you get the feeling too often that undue emphasis is being placed on sex scenes rather than what is happening to people on the streets or in the war zones. Here's hoping for a more focused second season.

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