Amazon’s Carnival Row
Season 1, Episode 1: “Some Dark God Wakes”
Directed by Thor Freudenthal
Written by René Echevarria
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Aisling” – click here
Men took over the land of the fae. Seven years ago, the great war between humans and the fantastical creatures ended when the Republic of the Burgue withdrew, leaving the fae at the Pact’s mercy. The fae live in a hellish place now and want to leave.
In Pact-occupied land, fairies run from men with guns. Some are killed. We see more beasts of fantasy, which the Pact use to hunt their prey. Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne) is a strong, ruthless fae, who refuses to stand by and watch humans destroy her people. She’s able to escape the hunting party, flying across the nearby cove to reach a ship. They’ve got to get sailing, as cannon fire nearly reaches the vessel.
Below deck later, Vignette rides out the bad weather while looking at a picture of Rycroft Philostrate (Orlando Bloom), a Burguish soldier with whom she shares a past from the war— Rycroft died in one of the war’s last battles. Something goes wrong during the storm and the ship sinks.
Mr. Philostrate did not, in fact, die in the Great War. He remains in the Burgue— a stand-in for Victorian Era London, or perhaps Regency Era, where the Industrial Revolution is well at-hand and the streets are teeming with humans right alongside various creatures only previously seen in tales of fantasy. Sadly, the magic ones are treated badly, particularly by police.
Rycroft— who prefers Philo— is an Inspector, considered “one of the good ones.” The magic people trust him. He’s brought to see a woman, Magrite (Lorraine Burroughs), who’s been viciously attacked by someone hunting fae. She gives the Inspector all the info she can, such as a snake tattoo on her assaulter, and that he “wore a uniform.”
In the Republic of the Burgue, old white men are upset by “the worship of strange gods” and all the boroughs supposedly taken over by immigrant forces of the mythical creatures they call the Critch, a slur. Absalom Breakspeak (Jared Harris) is Chancellor, head of the party currently ruling. He worries about the continually growing anti-fae sentiment among the opposing party. And on the streets, “a racist with a hammer” only keeps making things worse.
On the shore, Vignette is found alive and taken into the police station. Coppers question her about the ship, the Deliverance, and what happened. Owner of the ship, Ezra Spurnrose (Andrew Gower), isn’t thrilled to hear about the wreck. He’s left to sell off Vignette, or keep her “as a domestic.” So she’s put to work as a maid for his sister, Imogen (Tamzin Merchant).
Inspector Philostrate checks out a gathering of angry Burgish. There, he sees one of his men, Sergeant Dombey (Jamie Harris). He starts to suggest maybe Dombey, or one of his buddies, was the one who murdered the recent fae victims. The sergeant takes offence, and gets personal with Philo, prompting a punch in the face.
We know Philo has more than one “war wound.” He has a physical one, and an emotional one, too. He longs for Vignette, even if he has a physical relationship with Portia Fyfe (Maeve Dermody). He fought beside the fae, so it further hurts him to see them treated with disdain. He eventually gets a lead in the case, figuring out the killer, Unseelie Jack, may not be wearing a police uniform after all, but that of a sailor.
Vignette’s warned not to go to the Tetterey Hotel in Carnival Row by one of the other magic beings working at the Spurnrose house. Yet she manipulates Imogen to send her down there to fetch items. She gets to the hotel and finds Tourmaline Larou (Karla Crome), an old friend, up on the balcony. More of Vignette’s past: she helped other fae escape the Pact, which is how she wound up escaping on the ship after things went wrong. This is also when Vignette discovers Philo’s alive.
Next door to the Spurnroses a new neighbour’s moved in. Imogen is excited, and has her brother accompany her to introduce themselves. They find the master of the house to be an unexpected man, Agreus Astrayon (David Gyasi), a mythical being. They’re appalled at the state of the city, having to live next door to Astrayon in their bourgeois neighbourhood. There’s also poor Vignette, having to keep her wings in a corset all day while working for the upper class. But she’s cutting that braid she so adamantly kept before, in remembrance of Philo. She’s pissed.
At the Tetterey, the Chancellor’s son, Jonah (Arty Froushan), makes frequent visits. He’s got a thing for the fae. That night, he heads outside after he and one of the sex worker fae have fun, and men attack him in the dark, hauling him off stark naked. Elsewhere in a pub, Inspector Philostrate finds a man he believes is Jack. The fella runs off after Philo confronts him, leading the coppers on a chase up to the rooftops. Jack stops by the ledge of a building, rambling about “a dark place” and “something that‘ll be the end of us” that came with the fae. He claims he saw something terrifying below the Burgue, in the sewer, right before plunging over the building to his death.
In the night, Vignette flies down on top of Philo, putting a knife to his throat. He tells her he purposefully let her believe he was dead for seven years. He tells her to go ahead and cut his throat. She won’t kill him, though tells him: “I wish you had died.” At that same moment, someplace in the streets, a woman finds a tintype picture of Philo. Nearby is a monster lurking in the sewer. It hauls her away into the darkness to feed on her.
“Some dark god wakes”
Awesome first episode! Lots of intrigue and world-building. Stale fantasy treatment of racism / colonialism (etc) can often come off as eye roll-inducing. Carnival Row feels unique enough already it won’t play foolish, or tone deaf, like Bright. The Victorian-style setting makes things fun, and will provide plenty of good social themes, especially for those who find the history of that era interesting.
“Aisling” is next.