Warning: this article will contain minor spoilers for season one of Carnival Row.
When I first saw the promotions for Carnival Row, I thought this new series was going to be your typical Victorian law enforcement mashup with fairies. To my surprise, I found the series to be much more than what I saw initially saw on the surface. This series, set in a world where mythical creatures coexist with humans, stands out for its brilliant story as its effortless weaving of relevant present day social topics such as social class, identity, and tolerance.
The series takes place in The Burge, a port city which resembles a Victorian era London. Since the city is a port it provided the writers a gateway to bring the various creatures from other parts of the world such as faeries and centaurs to The Burge, thus creating an environment where humans and creatures live in close proximity. The port aspect also provided viewers the opportunity to see commerce and immigration systems in this world operate.
The Burge is a diverse city, however it is not a utopian environment. We learn very quickly that the relationship between humans and the “fae”, a polite term for the creatures, is not harmonious. The “fae” are treated as second-class citizens while the humans are in the position of power – including running the government. We also learn that humans live in upper-class areas of The Burge while the “fae” live mainly in Carnival Row.
Vignette Stonemoss and Rycroft Philostrate (played by series stars Cara Delevigne and Orlando Bloom) are the primary focus during the first season of the series. Philostrate is an inspector with the Constabulary, which is the city’s local police. He is reserved and cool-headed, however, he has a very good heart. He treats everyone with the respect they deserve, regardless of their background, which helps in his interactions – especially with the “fae”. Stonemoss is a faerie who was forced to leave her homeland for reasons we discover early on. The two have a history, however, by the time they meet again in The Burge, their bond is not as strong as it once was.
During the course of the season Philostrate gets involved in a mystery that threatens both human and the “fae” in The Burge. He is in a unique position to help solve this mystery since his colleagues do not see the “fae” as equals and they are not very trusting of humans for obvious reasons.
Another storyline has a rich “fae” character named Agreus (David Gyasi), who moves into a rich area of The Burge while his neighbor, Imogen Spurnrose (Tamzin Merchant) is looking to maintain a lofty position of respect among the members of the upper-class. This story line was interesting to watch the neighbors react to learning Agreus is not “the help” but is very well off financially. This particular story line is focused on class and acceptance since Argreus’ primary objective is to integrate into high society.
Carnival Row’s first season is comprised of eight episodes, and after watching the first episode I was immediately drawn in. I found the social topics touched upon were integrated into the story organically, which meant nothing in this series felt forced or rushed.
What makes Carnival Row stand out from other series is the way it uses all the characters to help shape the story line. While other series drop in a guest star for no real purpose, Carnival Row, does a great job taking a character which may appear minor and allows that character to influence the events of the main story. With that said, there are a few twists which occur at various points during the season and these twists took away some of my ability to predict what would happen next. As I progressed through each episode, I found myself curious to see what happens next.
Amazon Prime Studios announced a few weeks ago that the series will return for a second season and I was very happy to hear this primarily because there were events set in motion during this first season of the series which would lead to a very interesting second season.
Overall, Carnival Row is a series which should be on your “must see” list and as I look ahead to the season, I am very curious to see whether the writers will take the opportunity to introduce viewers to more creatures show us more of the world outside The Burge.