The thing about revolutions is that they begin with the need for something to revolt against. In Star Wars, it’s the Empire. In Quantumania, it was Kang the Conquerer. In the case of Carnival Row, it was very much The Burgue and its Parliament. An emblematic institution meant to represent the figureheads of the UK and its troubling legacy with colonization.
The show’s premise was originally pitched as a tale about the denizens of Carnival Row. All for a tale about xenophobia and how immigrants and refugees fled to The Row, having lost their homes to the very cultures and governments they were retreating from. The investigative murders that the show was meant to revolve around served as a lens into the underground world of the Fae. The fairy creatures, who in early European literature are often depicted as higher-class sort of ethereal beings. A mysterious deity, demon, spirit, or substance beyond the trivialities of human beings.
In Carnival Row, the Fae are meant to be seen as minorities. Their abuse in this world? Very much a device meant to startle audiences into shock to remind us just how terrible we are for treating people so cruelly. The problem therein lies that somewhere along this journey… as somewhere along the way Carnival Row got lost in its romance. The plot repeated itself. And a lot of the show felt like it was pulling repeatedly from the old Game of Thrones playbook of shock horrors. Something meant to define so much television in the last decade.
However, we live in a post-pandemic world now… Nothing’s quite as shocking as having millions of people die and continually seeing long-term effects on the disabled. Worst of all, nobody wants to feel like this shitty anymore. Not even myself.
This is why if you’re going to do this… feature deaths and shocking moments meant to disturb you. As a creator, you have to maintain the intent! You’ve got to show how the Fae minority gains power and wins the audience. As it’s there, you’ll find the heart of intention regarding the messages the show was meant to address.
This… is none of that. At we’re now entering the end.
Episode 9 Review
Remember when Tourmaline’s magical abilities served a purpose? Yeah, we didn’t either. At least, until this episode when we saw her pulling it off again for one last Philo case. For multiple episodes, the gift of foresight stopped being a device to aid in cases, and instead, became a rather poor foreshadowing warning of Tourmaline’s death. An omen that she’s trying to avoid despite the fact that we know it’s likely going to happen. Worse, is that for some reason, the writers thought dragging Vignette along with her was a good idea.
Not only has Vignette completely lost her point in the story, but now, she’s suddenly seeking to care for her best friend completely out of nowhere. As she’d spent the entire series ignoring her boy toy, Philo. Let me be clear: I want to root for these characters to get together. The problem? Is that the development to get us here: near non-existent, as most of the arcs for Vignette had her almost lead a rebellion only to abandon it for the sake of love… again.
If that weren’t enough, the show plays tug-of-war again with Vignette as she’s yet again called by her old friends, The Black Raven, to essentially rejoin and hook up with New Dawn. Whose efforts had recently sunk all the ships meant to ship their units and the Fae back to their homeland.
It’s a storyline that’s taken far too long to develop but that everyone knew was going to happen: a war between Fae and Humans. Even though the series had already done this in the previous war, once we killed off pretty much all of the government leaders in the midseason finale… this was obviously, how it always was going to end.
As for Agreus and Imogen, the two finally contribute to the main storyline’s resolution, serving as indirect but reluctant agents for the New Dawn. The show is breezing past a very troubling issue that I think was written in poor taste: Imogen, empowered, sort of completely does a 180 on her character after the death of her brother, Ezra. It’s something that makes no sense given that… she’s the one who murdered him in the first place? What’s worse is that she blames Agreus for his past despite his having been open about it this entire time. The result of all this B.S. ? Agreus is a slave to Imogen’s whims as he can’t really do anything back home without Imogen (who’s broken up with him), else risk being killed on the spot given how bad things have gotten on Carnival Row for the Fae. For whatever reason Imogen’s last-second empowerment storyline, that strangely, has made her qualified as being a movement leader? Feels about as realistic as Daenerys’ final season story arc… Fans of both, I hope you realize, that all these lame comparisons I’ve made this season between the two? Are because actress Tamzin Merchant, who plays Imogen, was the original Daenerys Targaryen in the pilot before Game of Thrones switched to Emilia Clarke. I say this to stress: the actress can pull off a badass English-sounding aristocrat turned leading lady… it’s just for some reason, the show kind of rushed the arc in this story. Likely, because of the knowledge that this was the final season.
Easily the worst of the lost beats is both Leonora and what’s revealed to be the Sparas. The earlier plays for a kind of racist caricature regarding every Russian communist revolution leader. While the latter? Is such a poor reveal in my opinion given that I literally had to Google search who the hell that was to even feel an impact. Given how big the Sparas is, I actually really wished it were one of the other more well-written characters. In fact, my money was on Mr. Millworthy up until the final reveal.
The best about this episode? Easily the tiny exchanges between Agreus and Vignette, as one is the voice of reason and modern-day capitalism from a perspective that’s very in-tune with most Millennials I know that grew up in the age of the tech boom. While the other alternative? Provided by Vignette, is very much a voice for the Gen-Zer, and the outrage I see.
With only one episode left, I am now starting to partially agree with some of the negative criticisms others have made regarding the series. I think when Carnival Row addresses politics, it works. I’m even a fan of the revolution. But whenever we get back to its main cast? In particular, Philo, Vignette, and dare I now say it, kind of Imogen as well?
I get a headache.