Carnival Row

Carnival Row is a case study in potential being squandered in the name of rushed narratives and woke ideology.
62/10093942
Starring
Orlando Bloom, Cara Delevingne, Simon McBurney
Creators
Travis Beacham and René Echevarria
Rating
TV-MA
Genre
Crime, Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Thriller
Where to watch
Amazon Prime
Overall Score
Rating Overview
Plot/Story
Visuals/Cinematography
Performance
Direction
Non-Wokeness
Rating Summary
With an interesting first season bolstered by excellent performances and better directing, Carnival Row wastes no time plummeting to the dregs of storytelling humdrummery by the series's end. Plagued with forced and rushed story arcs and even more rushed character arcs, season two is as disappointing as it is preachy.
Audience Woke Score (Vote)
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Seasons 1 & 2 of Carnival Row are the perfect examples of how to start a promising series only to completely destroy it.

Carnival Row (season 1)

While not perfect, season 1 of Carnival Row was a mostly interesting introduction to a unique and bleak fantasy world. Set in a fictional land, one part steampunk-lite, one part Dungeons & Dragons, and two parts 1850s London, Carnival Row immediately sets itself apart in form, if not function.

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Following Police Inspector Rycroft Philostrate, played by Orlando Bloom, and his on-again-off-again love interest, the pixie Vignette Stonemoss, as they fall in love in the ancestral land of the Fae during the war between the evil and overwhelming forces of The Pact, a far off country bent on world domination and the complete destruction or subjugation of their enemies, and The Burgue, a marginally less evil human country whose alliance with the Fae is a thinly veiled attempt to transform the magical folk into a workforce of indentured second-class citizens while The Burgue strips their land of all of its wealth and resources.

Not long after they meet, the two star-crossed lovers are violently separated, only to be reunited several years later in the land of The Burgue.

Full of political intrigue, wonderfully conceived costumes and sets, not to mention a surprisingly compelling performance by Orlando Bloom, season one of Carnival Row had all the makings of a long-running modern fantasy classic. Bloom’s tortured yet charismatic Inspector is duality personified. Caught between worlds, he’s half Sherlock Holmes and half Reggie Kray, able to sniff out crimes and deliver a beating with equal finesse and voracity, and Bloom delivers in every scene with as much swagger as he does vulnerability.

Cara Delevingne, whose IMDB page is rife with, let’s say, “interesting” roles, surprises with a performance that is both believable and manages to complement Bloom’s, even if it doesn’t reach quite the same heights.

However, what gives Carnival Row (season 1) its special flavor is that all of its ingredients work in concert like a well-prepared meal and finely paired wine. It’s full of interesting locales and spicy setups to seemingly promising subplots. Its secondary characters are as nearly rich and fleshed out as that of its leads, and its gritty texture and omnipresent grime become a character unto itself.

As interesting as it is, its primary plot runs a bit thin as it is clearly designed to stretch across multiple seasons. So, a less interesting B-plot is introduced to give season one a sense of completion by the season’s end. Still, it is tied in well enough by crisp pacing and economic dialogue, all supported by the aforementioned performances, that it never drags and gives the audience more than enough to look forward to season 2.

Boasting some very charismatic performances and compelling world-building, season 1 of Carnival Row is Worth it, but only if you are emotionally prepared for the abysmal letdown that is season 2.

WOKE ELEMENTS

  • There is an omnipresent and open class struggle with which the filmmakers do a respectable job of restraining their worst activist instincts, considering what is almost certainly their personal political beliefs.
    • Yes, it’s there, and there are clear parallels to modern Leftists’ beliefs about the ruling class and the subjugated minorities as well as capitalism and the working class. However, it’s mostly handled like programs of the past, in which the creators use the actual past as a template to build an interesting show around rather than building it around activism.
      • However, it can get a little tiresome. It might be best to not binge this show but meter it out a few days at a time instead.
    • There is some absolutely hamfisted, completely unbelievable, and narratively unnecessary bi-sexuality jarringly thrust into a few scenes.
      • Alka seltzer mixed with water has more chemistry and effervescence than this relationship, which is utterly ironic considering that Cara Delevingne is a self-described bi-sexual, pansexual, whatever’s-popular-at-the-time sexual. Yet she cannot pull it off on screen.

 

Carnival Row (season 2)

According to an interview with Orlando Bloom,  COVID brought an abrupt, and I mean an abrupt, end to both the series and the second season of Carnival Row.

With about four months of filming completed before COVID forced them to stop production, you can practically see the moment when the showrunners realized that season 2 would also be the show’s finale. So, instead of focusing on resolving the primary plot and one or two b-plots, the showrunners made the colossal mistake of rushing to cram every sub-plot and secondary character arc that had been designed to breathe and mature over the course of multiple seasons into the remaining handful of episodes.

As a result, every aspect of the show suffers like a bag of kittens thrown off a bridge, with each mewling feline frantically clawing at the ever-constricting burlap as well as each other in an effort to get one last gasp of desperately needed air (it’s a dark show – a dark metaphor seemed appropriate). Plots cease to make sense, the dialogue is repetitive and either meaninglessly pedantic or meaninglessly unsophisticated. Moreover, the performers seem as lost about their character’s motivations as the writers do about how they can possibly force events to conclude the way in which they had originally envisioned. To say that it all feels rushed is an understatement of understatements.

The lack of cohesive storytelling in this season cannot be overstated. By the fourth episode, any semblance of a compelling emotional through-line has been tossed, and you no longer care about anyone or anything that happens in the show.

With a hodgepodge of dangling character arcs and plot holes that spin out of control while being stitched together with rotting catgut and rusty needles of rushed narratives, a bloated cast, and meandering storylines into an unholy Meyrink-like golem of shambling narrative flesh, season 2 of Carnival Row is best forgotten.

WOKE ELEMENTS

Every horrible instinct and thinly veiled Leftist belief of the showrunners barrels its way through the narrative like a runaway Minotaur in this season.

  • ***SPOILER ALERT*** The forced and unbearable lesbian relationship between Delevinge’s pixie and another gal pixie whose character was so forgettable that I’ve forgotten her name and so uninteresting that I have no plans to look it up comes to full bloom, and they end up married in the last scene of the series. ***END SPOILER ALERT***
  • Out of the blue, Bloom’s Philo gives a 3-minute speech about institutional racism. It’s practically a Young Turks bullet-pointed screed.
  • Any finesse or nuance nurtured during season one is chewed up and crapped out in this season.
    • Specifically, we are repeatedly bludgeoned over the head with…
      • Evil and corrupt cops
      • Cartoonish and overt racism
      • The haves and the have nots
      • So much more
  • Out of nowhere, one of the main secondary characters squeals out a nonsense diatribe about how her boyfriend doesn’t own her. Mind you, he’s been nothing but excellent to her and has never treated her as anything less than an equal.
  • Redistribution of wealth is repeatedly held up as a virtue, even if those who would dole it out are corrupt bullies.
    • The communists, while misguided and cruel, are the only group with a meaningful code of conduct and clearly expressed philosophy.
  • The good guy werewolf goes from a fierce and loyal friend to being cuckolded by a lesbian tryst.
  • There are numerous Leftist talking point monologues spewed at the audience in this season.
  • Men bad. Women good. Rich bad. Natives good. Blah, blah, blah.

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James Carrick

James Carrick is a passionate film enthusiast with a degree in theater and philosophy. James approaches dramatic criticism from a philosophic foundation grounded in aesthetics and ethics, offering insight and analysis that reveals layers of cinematic narrative with a touch of irreverence and a dash of snark.

9 comments

  • Stephen

    July 4, 2023 at 9:50 am

    *** Spoiler Alert ***
    You are absolutely right. The moment cognitive dissonance hit me is when they killed off the Prime Minister and his chief female political rival in Reckonings. I thought, “why in the world did they suddenly end one of the better subplots of the show?” I didn’t realize they were hurriedly finishing the last season. Then the show started spiraling down a woke hole. At least, the Communists were portrayed as a deadly, lying, murdering enemy that were utterly destroyed in the end.

    Reply

  • Rick K.

    July 4, 2023 at 11:19 am

    Exactly. With a cast and concept like that (and, obviously, budget) I expected much better. I realize they’re pushing agenda but the money they have should allow them better writing, apparently an industry-wide problem.

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  • Richard Voss

    July 4, 2023 at 2:50 pm

    Thanks for the great review! I was able to vomit in advance of the show, so now I don’t have to watch it! Yay!

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  • DonDon

    July 5, 2023 at 8:11 am

    “one of the main secondary characters squeals out a nonsense diatribe about how her boyfriend doesn’t own her…he’s been nothing but excellent to her and has never treated her as anything less than an equal.”
    That sounds like real life!

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  • phil stacy

    July 8, 2023 at 3:03 pm

    I couldn’t watch this because it was very woke to the point of being offensive.

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  • James Paul

    July 16, 2023 at 8:06 am

    Thanks, I’m not watching this ######. Season 1 was too woke already that I lost interest.

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  • Brenda Stone

    July 16, 2023 at 1:28 pm

    I have to think there is something really wrong with a person that uses animal trauma as an analogy in a movie review. Your writing skill is evident and it was not neccessary to show off using that particular subject matter. How disappointing, as I was finding this app very helpful.

    Reply

    • James Carrick

      July 16, 2023 at 1:35 pm

      We’re sorry that you feel that way. It’s an unfortunate reality that we cannot be all things to all people, and that not all of our jokes or irreverence will land with every reader.

      That being said, it seems rather reactionary to indict the entire site for a single metaphor. We hope that, despite this singular instance, you will continue to find value in our offerings.

      In either case, take care and God bless.

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  • johnjoe

    June 6, 2024 at 10:23 pm

    Put up with the obvious ideology during season 1 because it was an interesting premise and the worldbuilding looked good, and let’s face it, if there were a sudden influx of fairy creature immigrating to a human land there would be massive repercussions and probable backlash etc, so the antagonism and conflict wasn’t unreasonable.
    Gave up by approx episode 4 of season 2 when it turned into more activism than storytelling. The characters no longer made any sense and, as per usual these days, every single person with any power or agency was of course female. Getting really tired of this trope especially after just sitting through 4 season of 12 Monkeys, which does the exact same thing (ps. avoid that ###### too)
    As season 2 went on I actually found myself siding with the police far more than the ‘heroes’ which caused most of the problems.

    Reply

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