It’s been a few years since Carnival Row Season 1 debuted on Prime Video. In the first season, viewers were introduced to a fictional world of fantasy, pain, and relatable struggles surrounding class, race, and love.
While Season 1 had issues with pacing and juggling too many plots, the world building and romance between Orlando Bloom‘s Philostrate and Cara Delevingne‘s Vignette maintained interest. With Season 2 marking Carnival Row‘s final season, does it end with a bang or a whimper?
As a head’s up, there is a recap provided at the beginning of the first episode to get viewers up to speed. Don’t worry about binging the first season again before jumping in.
Carnival Row picks off where it left off at the end of last season. Tensions are high as the fae are sequestered in the Row, with the Black Ravens plotting to take revenge against the new Chancellor (Arty Froushan) and his sister, Sophie (Caroline Ford).
This tension is heightened further after a couple of strange murders drag Philostrate back into the human world to try to figure out who the murderer is before civil war erupts. In the process, he will have to dissect his own identity within the scope of both human and fae and dissect his love for Vignette.
Far away from the Burgue, forbidden lovers Imogen (Tamzin Merchant) and Agreus (David Gyasi) have been at sea for months before their ship gets captured by an enemy group. They are plunged into a radical society that preaches egalitarianism, with the truth being far more sinister. If they do not conform, they will die. Their love and lives will be put to the test as they navigate this strange environment, and determine how far they’re willing to go to survive.
With an increased episode count and more time to finesse the story, Carnival Row Season 2 moves at a brisk pace compared to the previous season. That doesn’t mean there’s not a lot going on. Most of the episodes are packed to the brim with plot moving action. With different storylines playing out and a cast of characters that will fascinate and intrigue,
Regarding the bulk of the plot surrounding the Row itself, it is a natural extension of the conflict that was already brewing and building from the previous season. That said, the relationship between Philostrate and Vignette has soured, with both separated for the bulk of the time. This is where we see the weakness of the character development surrounding Vignette.
Part of this is due to the direction and performance given by Cara Delevingne. The character itself reads as one-note throughout the bulk of Season 2. Even significant decisions she makes that serve as a development forward for the character read hollow. If there were more levels in the performance, the natural progression of Vignette’s relationships with specific characters would read stronger.
The expansion of Tourmalines character in Carnival Row Season 2 fills a much-needed hole. Karla Crome is genuinely funny and fills the character with such heart. We saw this in the first season but, given what fate has thrust upon Tourmaline, Crome delivers a performance that makes us invest in the fate of this poor fae and hoping that she finally comes across someone worthier of her kind heart. The same can be said for Ariyon Bakare’s Darius, who tries to serve as the voice of reason when Philostrate gets overwhelmed by emotion.
The strongest storyline of Carnival Row Season 2 focuses on Imogen and Agreus. Both Tamzin Merchant and David Gyasi give such powerful performances, with both unafraid to explore different areas of their characters when asked.
Imogen, arguably, has the strongest character transformation of the season, and it’s so fun to see how far Merchant has come as an actress here. However, there is a certain irony that the storyline I found myself most invested in was the one that didn’t take place on the Row.
There is an epilogue that arguably a third season could have helped make the characters’ fates hit stronger. That said, we get closure. In a landscape riddled with cancellations, this feels like a gift. I, as well as many others, are grateful for the certainty that this is the end.
As was the case in the previous season, the CGI utilized on the more elaborate fae is noticeably distractingly bad in its execution. The most egregious example is the new fae introduced this season.
Some flexibility is given considering the fae’s special abilities, but the final product almost reads comical. This despite the actual terrifying way in which it dispatches its prey. If there had been more time, perhaps they could have been a way to make it more natural within the environment of the Burgue.
As a duology, Carnival Row hits the necessary marks. We see our favorite characters (and not so favorite characters) come into their own in an environment that would otherwise cast them out or crush them. It’s not the first fantasy story to explore the issues of love, class, etc., but entering the world that writer Travis Beacham originally created for us feels both familiar and exciting.
Where Carnival Row ends does leave the door open if there is interest. That said, there isn’t really a need to continue the series beyond this point. The ending itself leaves it up to the viewer to imagine the possibilities of where our faves may go off to next without it feeling like a cliffhanger.
Just like Simon McBurney‘s Runyan Millworthy, we can perhaps create fantastical stories of our own to tell from what we’ve witnessed. The possibilities are endless.