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 (32 comments total) 2 users 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, 2019 [3 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, 2019 [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, 2019 [3 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, 2019 [2 favorites]

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, 2019 [15 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, 2019 [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, 2019 [3 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, 2019 [9 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, 2019

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


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, 2019 [1 favorite]

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, 2019 [2 favorites]

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, 2019 [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, 2019 [3 favorites]

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, 2019

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, 2019 [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, 2019 [1 favorite]

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, 2019 [2 favorites]

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, 2019 [1 favorite]

Was that Tourmaline? I thought it was just some rando other Fae going all "fuck this", but poking around to confirm it will confuse the Prime Player and Amazon will insist I watch the whole episode again because there's no obvious way of going "yes yes, I've already seen this, stop suggesting I finish watching that episode."
posted by Kyol at 10:03 PM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Man, tough crowd.  I just soaked it in and enjoyed the ride   I get where the urge to have it all explained comes from, but I prefer it like this.  I have no idea how the human lady learned to make a Dark Asher.   I don't know the ins and outs of Burgue politics so I don't know if a rich fae could or couldn't buy their way free.  It would appear Mr Agreus Astrayon thought the answer was no, and I'm willing to go along with that.  Though no matter the reason, his refusal to turn around did feel completely in character.  He is clearly a Puck that doesn't suffer fools gladly.  The library was a mystery too.  They specifically mentioned the region was retaken by Burguish forces for a bit and it was discovered and transferred then, but why?  Some weird directive from the chancellor?  Some rich officer with a fetish for Fae history?  Who knows?

And honestly, I don't want all those questions answered.  As long as they don't interfere with how the plot unfolds, stuff like that just makes a world feel more mysterious, complicated, and larger to me.  The real world doesn't unfold in an interlocked clockwork fashion, and I prefer my imaginary ones not to as well.  They should feel a bit messy, a bit confusing, and a bit muddled, like the real world.  Middle Earth lost some of its magic when I read the Silmarillion and finally understood all the references.  It was better when I didn't know all the details of Luthien and Beren. Now mind you I wouldn't un-read it if I could because there's a lot of pleasure to be had in really wrapping one's head around an imaginary world, but I have to admit some of the shine went away when the mystery was removed.

This is one of the only recent big offerings that's not based on existing material.  I'm willing to overlook some flaws just for its originality.  That they have some ambition counts for a lot in my book. The acting was good. The story held together for the most part.  The world building was just top-notch.  And I learned that Cara Delevingne can act after all. It surely wasn't perfect—I actually don't disagree with many of the criticisms we've leveled at it—but I'm also going to be gladly plopping down to watch season 2.  I'd like to visit this weird world again.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 12:54 AM on September 19, 2019 [9 favorites]

I got sucked in. Mr Corpse and I were laughing at the first episode and how they just threw together so many genres -- police procedural AND steampunk AND fairies AND war stories AND palace intrigue AND horror -- but it ended up working for me, and I look forward to the next season.

> I like it and I'm watching it with a childlike state of mind

I'm watching it with an actual child (I am a bad parent) and we both wish there was less gore.

> the library was transported beam by beam and book by book

I don't understand how they got to the library, either, but as far as the beams: it looked to me like it was supposed to be a museum exhibit with a painted ceiling, not the whole tall room of the original.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:26 PM on September 26, 2019 [7 favorites]

I mean, I sort of run into a... did someone dig out the library to get the book? did someone else sneak it out of a back entrance while Vignette was setting the deadfall? How did it manage to move from (persumably) Pact-controlled ex-Fae territory into the Burgue in the intervening years? etc etc etc.

On the other hand, all of that and more has actually happened in the real world, so I don't need to know all the science facts I guess.
posted by Kyol at 8:43 AM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Tough crowd indeed. I just don't understand at all expecting a fairy tale to be realistic and docking points if it isn't. That's like demanding your courtroom drama includes farce and and slapstick. I mean there might be something to that but expecting it is like, well, it just usually doesn't include that??
posted by bleep at 9:35 AM on September 27, 2019

I don’t want it to be realistic but I don’t want to be distracted by bits that just don’t make sense, like the Darkasher things corb pointed out. They make the rules, I accept the rules, so... stick to them.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:05 AM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

bleep: I just don't understand at all expecting a fairy tale to be realistic and docking points if it isn't.

I don't understand why some of you think it's a fairy tale. That's certainly not the genre I'd label it.
posted by tzikeh at 6:35 PM on September 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

did someone dig out the library to get the book?

I think she either gave it to Wossname Copper (uhm Philo um something that I should remember and could look up) or they traded books, since we see her showing him that specific book and that specific illo, and he gives her a book that we are subsequently shown she has kept all along. Possibly the exchange was cut? I have noticed a couple few continuity things that make me think there was a somewhat hurried final edit.

And, no, that was not Tourmaline that got shot down, I think.

This show is definitely more interesting than I expected. It is kind of a kitchen sink mess, and the structural critiques upthread are not inaccurate. But several times over this season the show provided legitimately moving scenes and performances, and it is so very clearly engaged with our world, right now, today. There is even some absurd Silly Valley disruption-is-good propaganda in the actual shot-and-broadcast episodes!

Overall, the series is kind of uneven as a result of what appears to me to have been haphazard editorial oversight. But comparing it to either The Terror S02, which attempts to recuperate the crappy Othering of S01 by setting the narrative within Japanese American culture during WW2, and does succeed in this goal, or Amazon’s sadly dull Man in the High Castle, Carnival Row is successful in part because it has thrown caution to the wind. Does that mean there’s a lot to critique? Well, obviously! Have they achieved some creative highs for a streaming-only CGI and greenscreen* show? You know, I think they have.

*I mean, it’s not all greenscreen, they clearly really went all out on sets and costumes.
posted by mwhybark at 4:43 PM on September 28, 2019

I don't understand why some of you think it's a fairy tale.

Because the fae, that is, Vignette and Tourmaline’s people, as well as the other “Critch”, are literally fairies or originate in the land of Fae, and therefore &c &c

It is a story, or tale, concerning fairies, and therefore etc etc

I remain respectfully and f’thf’ly yr hbl svt +c +c
posted by mwhybark at 4:49 PM on September 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have a long-standing preference for ambitious failures over boring successes and this was definitely ambitious. I don't think it was a failure by any means, but there are definitely some criticisms to be leveled.

The characterizations were all fairly good, the atmosphere and setting were terrific, and the plot was...sufficient. But I do think, especially early in the season, the ratio of those things to each other left something to be desired. Really, I think it would've benefited from being a 10-episode season, with the additional ~2 hours spent mostly on fleshing out the plot. It was pretty jarring to me to spend an entire episode in a flashback that was interesting for world-building and character-building, but didn't even slightly advance the plot, especially so early in a short season where the plot had barely really gotten moving yet. It would've been less jarring a little later in a longer season. Some of the later plot also suffered from having to move really fast as the episode limit encroached - Imogen and Agreus for instance went from lustful looks to hot and heavy to committed to eloping together all awfully fast, for instance, especially compared to how slowly that plot moved earlier on.

My biggest gripe, though was - well, I was watching it on a pretty old CRT TV set, and the show was just dark. I don't mean thematically or content-wise, I mean, just physically, half the show was just so dimly lit I could barely tell what was going on. I get that they probably saved a bunch of money that way but I hope they'll cut back on "pitch black rooms with one tiny light source" and "sewer explorations at night"-type scenes next season.

Anyways, I still liked it quite a lot, overall. I needed something to fill that hole that Penny Dreadful left in my heart and this fits the bill pretty well, except for not having Eva Green in it.

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?

Like los pantalones del muerte I personally don't feel the need to have every detail wrapped up in a bow (and sometimes find it kind of condescending when media does do that; in a nutshell that's my biggest gripe about Disney Star Wars tbh, but that's another rant). However, I've also seen/read a LOT of dark magic tropes so I had little trouble guessing how this one specifically goes - Philo had to give up his seed as "life essence" but a woman as driven/nuts as Piety would have little hesitation about sacrificing live animals or even people to provide the requisite life essence and using some alternate ritual to bind the thing to her. Her surpassing her teacher was also almost surely more about her willingness to go to extreme lengths her teacher wouldn't be willing to go to, rather than a matter of knowledge or skill.
posted by mstokes650 at 9:40 PM on October 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

So I mostly enjoyed it and am absolutely happy to see an attempt at something original, flaws and all.

My role on metafilter is not usually to complain about this sort of thing, but since I didn't catch anyone else on this thread doing so: I definitely had complaints about the colonialism and imperialism treatment. If you're going to be so obvious about a metaphor, to the point of leaning in to the Irish as Fae, I want some payoff. Some engagement with the actual history. Instead it was sort of the standard self image of the British Empire, like maybe it was kind of bad, but at least they weren't like the evil Pact and honestly the Fae would've been better if they'd never left. The fact that 99% of the pixies who got lines were female also bothered me for related reasons, as did some choices about the pucks.

I'm up for a season 2 though.
posted by mark k at 8:27 PM on October 17, 2019

I groaned in the first episode when some poor unfortunate told Philo he was 'a good copper and a good man, even if he didn't believe it himself', because that is such a cliche. Of course, by the end, he had denied his humanity (twice!) which was a nice touch.

We're definitely up for season two. Once the plot began to come together it was much more of a page turner, so to speak.
posted by Sparx at 1:01 AM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

How did it manage to move from (persumably) Pact-controlled ex-Fae territory into the Burgue in the intervening years?

They mention something about bringing the library over "after our boys took it back from the Pact".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:44 PM on November 14, 2019

I liked this more than I expected! Though it took me an embarrassingly long time to make the mental jump from "Oh so this is like Victorian steampunk but with fairies" to "oh wait no this is 1930s Europe but with fairies." It didn't really click for me until they started literally building the ghetto in the final episode.

I get the skepticism of Piety but I think the show at least gave enough of a handwavey explanation that it doesn't bother me. The show establishes that Piety was very driven and curious and had a close relationship to the witch her family employed. Sure that character denies being able to make a big monster but the little mole fish thing doesn't seem like much of a challenge for her, so that might be more a case of "no I'm not going to tell a cop that I know how to make unholy monsters."

Also, given Piety's social position and power it doesn't seem like a stretch to say she would have been able to obtain more resources and information about necromancy. After all, apparently the city has custody of "the largest library in the Kingdom of Anoun" (and yeah there's a throwaway line about them grabbing it when they recaptured the place before presumably losing it again). That museum exhibit seemed relatively new, so who has been going through the books these past 7 years? (I also want to ask this of Sophie, but I digress.)

PS: It was not Tourmaline who was shot down. It was Fleury. She's the one who fobs Jonah off on Tourmaline earlier in the season, and she's usually around when Tourmaline needs another tertiary character besides Moira to talk to. Interestingly I don't think we see Tourmaline after the goodbye at the station. Did she manage to duck the round-up of fae?
posted by Wretch729 at 3:32 PM on November 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

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