"Carnival Row" - Michael's Thoughts
#1
Although I didn't mean to, I was able to binge watch all 8 episodes of the 1st season of Carnival Row this weekend. Because I have such a hectic schedule I thought I'd have to stretch it out over several weeks, but I freed up a few hours.

The show's premise is complicated. Some of the reviews I've read describe the world differently from how I perceived it. I'm not going to say they are wrong and I am right. This is a subject that requires a little more time than I have for it right now.

There is a Wiki on Fandom.Com but I don't know how accurate it is or where they get all their info.

Carnival Row takes place in an alternate Earth

I think everyone agrees on this point. It's clearly not OUR Earth.

The history is a bit fuzzy. The story takes place in the 8th century but the narrative doesn't provide any context for that. Our current 21st century is only relative to the Gregorian calendar system, and many countries around the world use alternative calendar systems.

I THINK the century-dating system in this show is based on when men first made contact with the Fae.

The show doesn't reveal the geography of the world, for which there are two named continents (so far). Men live over HERE (in Mesogea according to the Wiki site)) and the Fae live over THERE (Tirnanoc according to the Wiki). The Fae consist of several different races, they practice what we would call "magic", but they are not immortal. They are biologically similar to humans.

Christianity is never mentioned but Men revere and possibly worship The Martyr, who is clearly and obviously a Christ-like figure.

The main action of the story takes place in The Burgue, which is a city that is also the heart of a country. It's not clear to me if it's a city-state or if it's the capitol of a larger dominion. There are references to other human cities, such as Freehold.

It's a Steampunk Story

The technology is comparable to late 1800s, early 1900s Europe with some twists. I don't recall seeing any telephones but there are telegraph lines. They have also discovered electricity and light bulbs but they are not in widespread use. Other interesting artifacts include gramophones and steamships.

Men use gunpowder. I don't know enough about weapons to place the styles of guns into a true historical context. They are clearly more advanced than mid-1800s (in my ignorant opinion) as the rifles don't resemble any U.S. Civil War weapons I have seen (and I have looked at them up close in museums as well as in many pictures in books and on the Internet).

The costumes resemble late Victorian, early Edwardian-era European dress styles.

The Premise of Carnival Row

The land of the Faes has been disrupted by a long and terrible war. The opening narrative says that Men invaded their lands with the intention of conquering the Faes, or at least some of their lands. The war(s) became a struggle between two sides.

The Pact (I think it's a Fae kingdom) has gained the upper hand. The Burgue allied itself with Tirnanoc (or a realm IN Tirnanoc). The Burgue has since withdrawn from the war and the Pact is overrunning Tirnanoc, slaughtering or enslaving its Fae folk.

The Pact's soldiers are NOT human, but may include humans. So I'm still not sure of who the Pact is.

We meet Cara Delevigne as Vignette Stonemoss, a Fae who attempts to help a group of fleeing Faes as they are hunted down by the Pact. Vignette is clearly a capable fighter and she takes on and kills were-wolves (they don't look the way I would imagine were-wolves to look but it's made clear in a later episode that is what they are).

Despite Vignette's efforts all the Faes she tries to help are slaughtered and she realizes it's time for her to go. She flies out to the human ship that was waiting for the refugees. It turns out she had arranged for it to pick them up and smuggle them back to the Burgue.

Society in The Burgue is Complex

According to the fandom Wiki, The Burgue was founded 1200 years prior to the story by a nomadic tribe called the Beorn (this is a real Anglo-Saxon word, pronounced "bern", which means "warrior" but which many people confuse for "bear"). The Beorn had a bear totem and there is a bear that figures in the story.

Also according to the Wiki, humans discovered Tirnanoc 300 years prior to the story. The Burgue was once ruled by a monarchy but is now a parliamentary democracy led by a Chancellor. It's not clear to me when that changed.

The humans are divided into conservative and liberal factions. The conservatives are either racists or isolationists. The liberals are complicated. Really, most if not all the humans are racists regardless of their political tendencies. But in the Parliamentary scenes it appears the liberals (who are the majority party in power) welcome refugees from Tirnanoc and fight for their "rights" to a certain extent. But it quickly becomes obvious the liberals are condescending and prejudiced against the Fae folk.

Although Tirnanoc's civilization is much more ancient than human civilization by thousands of years, humans are in the ascendant, apparently by virtue of their technology and possibly their numbers.

Fae folk who arrive in Tirnanoc are sold into indentured servitude to pay for their passage. Vignette becomes a handmaid in a wealthy household but that doesn't last long.

Orlando Bloom's character is Inspector Rycroft Philostrate

He is respected by both humans and Fae. He tracks down criminals preying on the Fae on or near the street of Carnival Row in the Gloamingside neighborhood. The two names are used interchangeably but the street is actually named that. "Gloaming" has a meaning that becomes clear near the end of the 1st season.


While most of the constabulary treat the Fae disdainfully and require bribes from them over everything, Inspector Philostrate and a small number of others try to be professional and non-partisan. It's obvious their numbers in the constabulary are few, as the Commissioner is a racist man who only supports Philostrate because he is the best inspector he has.


It turns out that Philo and Vignette have a history with each other. The early part of the season shows how they gradually reunite and explains their backstory, which is complicated.


Before her country was destroyed she played an important role, guarding one of their ancient libraries. He was a soldier in the war.


The First Season Deals with a Complicated Mystery


The easiest way to describe the show without giving away too much is that it is a Steampunk soap opera. While the political parties vie for power they must contend with an underground Fae organization (basically a criminal mob called the Black Ravens) and a terrorist cell (so far distinguished from the Black Ravens) .

The influx of Fae refugees into the Burgue's society is changing the economics and politics faster than conservatives can adapt to their new reality. But even the liberal Burguish Men are slow to accept some ideas.

The multiple plot lines are interconnected in small ways. Not everything comes back to the central plot by the end of the 8th episode. However, the dramas in Parliament are connected to a series of murders that Philo investigates. The murders cross racial boundaries, and as the victims are both human and Fae Philo is placed under increasing pressure to find the killer.

The murders are resolved by the end of the 8th show. I must admit I didn't see it coming until somewhere late in the series, but there are a few clues early on about what is going on.

We only learn the motive at the very end. It sets up everything for a 2nd season.

The story is compelling and interesting

Despite a number of clichés in the story-telling, the show kept my interest. The performances by most of the actors are top-knotch. Amazon spared no expense in finding good talent for this production.

If you only know Cara Delevigne from "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets", I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by her performance in Carnival Row. Regardless of whether you thought she was good or bad in the movie, she's much better in this show.

Orlando Bloom delivers a fine performance. As Philo he's nothing like either Legolas or Will Turner, his two most famous roles. Philo is a much more complicated character and I think it's obvious Orlando Bloom enjoyed this character.

Because you must watch the show on Amazon Prime many people may not see it. But also because all episodes were released at once I will refrain from sharing any more details.

I will say that it's a gritty world. Also, some Christians may be offended at how the society is portrayed. Science fiction and fantasy has a long history of trashing traditional Christian teachings but the history of Christian nations and churches in the real world is clear for everyone to learn. I don't view this show as some sort of anti-Christian tirade (some science fiction is transparently anti-Christian). It simply depicts a world in an alternate universe where things are different.

There are devout and pious people among both humans and Fae. The story doesn't trample faith under the feet of technology. But it's clearly a secular story.

I don't think there is a blatant athiest message in this tale as there is in some other modern SF. But take that for what it's worth.

Overall I recommend it. I think it's a solid 4-out-of-5 star show, and some people believe it's much better than that. Regardless of how confusing the background details may seem, they don't get in the way of following the characters. We understand clearly as an audience that they all have important roles to play and those roles are distinguishable in most cases.

I do admit I occasionally confused the Chancellor for the Commissioner. I'm not sure if it was because I was tired or if the actors just look too much alike. The Chancellor's role is more significant toward the end and the Commissioner's role is more significant during the middle of the story, if that helps.
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