Carnival Row: Carnival Row (Full Season 1)
September 7, 2019 7:16 PM - Season 1 (Full Season) - Subscribe

A dark, neo-noir fantasy series exploring an alternate Victorian world in which magical creatures are real, living in tension with humans.

Originally set to be directed by Guillermo del Toro, the series made it to Amazon without the writer and director. Unusually, the show is a completely original work, carrying influences from traditional folktale, magic, superstition and exploring themes of colonization, identity, political rivalry and bigotry.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul (18 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Personally, I found the worldbuilding deeply compelling, the set design, direction and writing excellent, and the acting often first-rate. Altogether, it reminded me of some of China Miéville's work. The nature of the plot did become somewhat entangled towards the end, but did resolve itself well, setting up things well for Season 2, which has apparently been greenlit by Amazon.

I'd be interested to know what other Mefites think: the series is short enough (I binged it in two days) that I thought that a full season discussion would work well.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 7:19 PM on September 7 [2 favorites]


I enjoyed the world building and, well, found the physicality of the world enjoyable, although I was less enthusiastic about the story, and sort of wish it had just gone with Faerie Procedural like the first episode suggested. All of the rest of the window dressing around that was serviceable, but without a clear episodic beat the story sort of got hung up in itself.

I still have a few episodes left, the end of the season might change my opinion, but it’s short enough that the faults didn’t have enough time to build up, either.
posted by Kyol at 7:42 PM on September 7 [2 favorites]


I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. The world building of this alternate universe is like Miyazaki with Game of Thrones sensibility, a nod to Lovecraft, and a dash of Downton Abbey. Lots of details caught my attention, such as the religious nature of the orphanage. Mythical creatures that behave more or less like humans, warts and all, makes it all more compelling than I would have expected from a show about faeries and fauns. The behavior and it's consequences all feel quite relevant these days.

I very much appreciate the season working as a stand alone story. I've grown weary of shows with story lines meandering over multiple season. Even if the stand alone story is more or less a pedestrian whodunit. I think I was most taken with the Spurnrose siblings misfortunes, and the refinement of Agreus, in a position to offer them a chance to avoid a downfall.

My criticism is the small tendency for stylistic cartoonishness, the bad are bad, the good are good, the sneaky are sneaky, without much variation or complexity. But I'll take it as it is.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:09 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]


We are doling it out to ourselves (I being an anti-binge person) and I am so far more than pleasantly surprised. Bloom has matured as an actor and the show gives him room to share that with us, and while I had only seen Delevigne in the underwhelming (and sorta heartbreaking) Valerian her performances here and in that film share moments of really kind of awesome intensity.

Otherwise, yeah, this show is a pleasant surprise and successful by my lights. I have heard it’s under fire for borrowing elements from the well-regarded but largely unknown to me indie comic Saga, and like BHG I was reminded of Miéville, not just Perdido cycle material but also The City & The City.
posted by mwhybark at 12:53 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


I found it to be a depressingly-familiar disappointment. While they were able to bring to life such a richly-detailed world, it was impossible for them to do so without including gratuitous bewbies, bog standard stereotypical character roles for women, or a female lead fifteen years younger than her male counterpart. Apparently halfway decent gender dynamics in fantasy storytelling is a concept too fantastical to contemplate.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 5:50 AM on September 8 [14 favorites]


It's set in Victorian England (basically) so I think I can give them a pass on the stereotypical female roles. Colonialism really did do that to societies and it particularly affected women's stability and safety and options.

I am hoping that the second season has more on The Pact and on Vignette's motivations for coming to the Burgue, because I don't understand basically anything she's done in the show so far and they've been pretty good about character motivations for everyone else. I also hope it's set elsewhere mostly as I'm kind of over stories about how the British Empire came and destroyed everything and how London was. I'd like to see more of the bigger story.
posted by fshgrl at 11:36 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


So I'm up to the penultimate episode and ok, 4 episodes was probably too long to get the story going. I mean there were tidbits and it wasn't devoid of story, but if this were truly episodic, I'm not sure that it would've held enough viewers to make it past a hurried midseason replacement. Once they started tying some of the story bits together I'm sort of curious where it leads, but it sort of feels like an 8 hour pilot and not a season.

I absolutely love how much attention was paid to Agreus' stride and resting weight. Whether they actually had the actor semi-crouch all the time or if that's just foam latex in his pants, it really sells the unguligrade physiology. That said, his horn prosthetic bugged me - most of the other pucks either didn't have their horns around their eyes so much, or it stopped further back on their temples so it could be reasonably "hard". Agreus? His hard horns were a lot more mobile around his cheeks than felt right. I don't have a lot of experience with horned animals so maybe their horns do float on the skin like that, but it felt weird when (for example) his smile hit his eyes and his horn went right along with it.

It sort of felt like a shame that they brought the Haruspex out into the light late in the season. Her makeup / prosthetics / contact lenses were awesome, she had this completely unfamiliar wooden dryad look going on that was sort of lost in a well lit scene on a balcony.
posted by Kyol at 6:59 AM on September 10 [2 favorites]


It's set in Victorian England (basically) so I think I can give them a pass on the stereotypical female roles. Colonialism really did do that to societies and it particularly affected women's stability and safety and options.

My feeling on this kind of response is that this would be a fine excuse for a single series or one-off in amidst a sea of otherwise equal treatment, but the fact that it keeps on happening over and over makes it a transparent attempt to pretend that their treatment of female characters isn’t part of a wider problem.
posted by pharm at 5:01 AM on September 11 [7 favorites]


(on seeing this in my recent activity, it reads like much more of a personal attack than I was intending it to be. Apologies - in my head it was meant to be a commentary on the way we make excuses for individual cases, but when the individual cases are the general case, can we really excuse them?)
posted by pharm at 7:59 AM on September 11


I enjoyed (really enjoyed!) the first season for the most part, though

1) could they not kill EVERY SINGLE ANIMAL THAT APPEARS ON SCREEN THAT WOULD BE GREAT; and

2) I know it's "Dark Asher" and that is a suitably creepy name for a creepy creation, but listening with an American ear, I occasionally think they're saying "Dog Catcher" and now I can't take it seriously anymore.

I hope S2 isn't just the "Puck" radicals; it doesn't seem that interesting a plot compared to the very weird/interesting liver murders and ensuing investigation-cum-Dickensian "He's your son! She's your sister!" Star-Wars-and-Chinatown-esque outcome.
posted by tzikeh at 4:10 PM on September 12


So I finally watched the last episode and I'm interested, but man they need better writers / directors / producers. Like, the bones of the story were interesting, and even the actual beats weren't bad, but it felt like the last episode kind of ran out of steam. Honestly the darkasher revelations and battle and reunion and BAM they should've ended the episode right there. Instead, they limped along for another 35 minutes to set up the second season. I think they could've managed to save that in the edit even maybe pushing the battle right up to the front of the episode so the rest of the episode is the fallout from the season's decisions.

I dunno, I still want some sort of episodic broadcast rhythm even in bingeable season release formats. Like, just because you don't have commercials and people can watch the story over a weekend doesn't mean you can completely ignore the pulse.
posted by Kyol at 7:17 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]


Mythical creatures that behave more or less like humans, warts and all, makes it all more compelling than I would have expected from a show about faeries and fauns.

Idunno, while I wanted to characterize this show as 'Steampunk Shadowrun' initially, it seemed like they just settled on the thesis of 'what if the Irish had wings?' and didn't take it much further. The 'racism against refugees' angle wasn't much more than a direct analog of reality rather than any interesting twists like 'yeah but the refugees LITERALLY HAVE MAGIC' aside from a smidge of fortunetelling. And gracious but the wing physiology was just not... right. Any of the many shots of Fae just hovering perpendicular to the ground like dragonflies made no sense with the rest of their body construction. And there were fistfuls of weird plot holes throughout - when Vignette and Crow-dude have a brawl through the sky before crashing to some random spot in the city, and then Philo strides in seconds later to save the day with an explanation that Tourmaline told him where to find V - Tourmaline knew exactly where she'd come plummeting out of the sky into a greenhouse? What? And then the Asher is shown as regenerating from wounds mid-fight... except for the smoking hole of shotgun wounds that it suffered a week or more prior. All sorts of weird things like that where once an episode I got dragged out of the narrative with a 'wait, no?' moment. Hopefully they can tidy up the writing by S02, because there's definitely some potential to be had..
posted by FatherDagon at 9:36 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Gave it the 3 episode treatment and I'm committing.

It's not bad but the pacing is a little sedate and the story not that engrossing. Warmed over 'transportation.' Would have enjoyed if there were "native" fae in the New World, or whether they had never crossed the landbridge during the different human migrations. The lycanthrope thing is intriguing.

The exploration of prejudice is ok, not quite as creative as Miéville's 'Perdido' cycle. I'm a big fan of the steampunk-lite/ fantasy/ weird sensibility. The fae braid-history is neat.

The worldbuilding, sets, and costumes are gorgeous. Bloom's maturing, Cara Delevingne is strong (she got sooo robbed in Valerian). Might have to see 'Suicide Squad' again not having remembered her (or anything else) about it, will have to check out 'Paper Towns' and 'Her Smell.'

I particularly liked the CG flying; the physics is very believable for something impossible. The fight scenes in the pilot were understatedly impressive.

The sets and costumes are top notch, but it's the little details that won me over - for example in a couple of "blink and you'll miss it" in s01e03 at about 20:00-22:00 the camp scene shows people spinning actual motherfucking goddamned rope.

The knife throwing was realistic and implied proper knife throwing (but didn't actually show the knife spinning and sticking - which isn't that hard to do).

Another nice touch at about 32:00 was smashing a drinking cup through the iced-over drinking water basin.

Someone high up in their sets department is either a practical history ur-nerd or recognizes the awesomeness of someone on their team being one.
posted by porpoise at 5:07 PM on September 13


I like it and I'm watching it with a childlike state of mind. It's a literally a fairy tale. The first few episodes gave me the impression of like this is a story that imagines that the really old country where fairy tales used to take place also experience the passage of time, just more slowly and whimsically, and so this is what they look like in 2019, here's how they are experiencing this level of complexity we have all found ourselves tangled up in. I think the genre of fairy tale comes from a tradition of making up wild & unrealistic stuff to scare & amuse children who don't actually know how the world really works yet and so it's comforting to put yourself back in that role and just sit back and say "wow that's crazy, I don't really know much yet so I'm paying careful attention" sometimes instead of always having to be the adult who knows everything. The responsibility of having to know everything all the time is a burden and the purpose of entertainment is supposed to be to temporarily relieve a burden. Of course not everything that's classified as entertainment actually works for everyone and that's fine. I like this thing but I don't like most things like this, and that's ok.
posted by bleep at 11:36 AM on September 14


Also I found it interesting that Cara Delavigne isn't actually Irish and is actually descended from a long line of British aristocrats. There's some kind of uncanny valley in the extreme degree of Irish she's going for.
posted by bleep at 11:56 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


but the fact that it keeps on happening over and over makes it a transparent attempt to pretend that their treatment of female characters isn’t part of a wider problem.

I think we could all do without another show about a plucky middle aged ex-military Englishman and his foreign / mystical sidekick roaming the streets of Olde London or the Olde American West surrounded by whores in unlaced corsets. If we are mining historical stories for entertainment, well there are a lot more interesting time periods and stories out there.

But since this particular show is a ~thinly~ veiled story about the losers of the civil wars precipitated by British Colonial powers it would be pretty unbelievable if they all got nice middle class jobs.
posted by fshgrl at 11:23 PM on September 14


I think the thing that’s making me crazy is the lazy setup. Like: the library was transported beam by beam and book by book, but like: when exactly? Because the Burgue lost that war and were retreating from that area and also Vignette buried it under a metric ton of rock? It’s just a setup so Vignette can go crazy and get arrested rather than making sense within the show. Likewise, it’s not realistic that Agreus can be wealthier than the wealthy privileged set and also would be unable to bribe the police force. The extent of the power seems to fluctuate.

Also how exactly did Lady Piety make the Darkasher? Like it seems like a cool tie-up except that semen was needed last time and I doubt that even magical science is advanced enough to collect eggs. And also, like, how does magic work in this world? How can Lady Piety, a human, not only create a magical creature but also create a magical creature that even her teacher can’t make? How does she have more magical skill than a magical creature?
posted by corb at 10:23 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]


I just finished it up this morning and would probably watch a second season but without enough excitement for me to religiously follow whether or not it has been renewed. It did itself no favors by coming out at the same time as Dark Crystal: Age of Rebellion, which somehow did a better job of covering the topics of colonialism, class hierarchy and the complicity of the comprador bourgeoisie while also having more imaginative design. Carnival Row feels like it has the potential to turn into something special, though; a lot of shows that I ended up loving had much, much worse first seasons than this.

Everyone has their personal pet peeves and this show managed to call up a few of mine but if I had to pick one it would be that the season ended with all of their gays thoroughly buried (I suspect that if there is a second season we will find out that Tourmaline survived but for now I am going based on what actually made it to the screen). Tourmaline managed to be a twofer of buried gay and tragic prostitute and I was annoyed that I had called it so early but then let myself be fooled into thinking I was wrong because the series saved it for the final five minutes.

Also, Cara Delavigne is a good actress but she has her weak spots and casting her as a character who is supposed to have chemistry with her male counterparts has never worked for her.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:39 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]


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