“Carnival Row” is not your average fairytale. Described perfectly on Wikipedia as a ‘neo-noir fantasy,’ the series presents a fantastic world of humans and other magical races (called the fae), living together not-so-peacefully. Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne star as the main characters Rycroft Philostrate and Vignette Stonemoss, who have a steamy, yet complicated, history.
The story begins with Vignette stowing away onboard a ship. It was originally sent to pick up a cargo of pixies, but ended up caught in a storm. The ship sinks, and Vignette washes up on shore and is quickly returned as property to the owner of the ship. This is when the viewer realizes that the fae in this world are not treated so fairly by the humans.
This isn’t terribly surprising, considering most fantasy worlds use humans as the primary sources of racism and discrimination, but luckily this series uses this conflict in a way that is both productive to the story as well as relevant to current times.
The show speeds up fast, introducing multiple interlacing plots with a varied cast of characters. Some more antagonistic than others, all connected in ways you may not anticipate. The setting adds an undertone reminiscent of a steam- or cyberpunk setting, with smog-filled alleys and sketchy looking storefronts.
During the day the streets are filled with both humans and fae, some performing on the street for a little extra cash. Many humans in this world have fae as butlers or assistants, although it often leans more towards indentured servitude. Pucks in particular, a race of satyr-like individuals, seem to be commonplace in well-off households.
One of my favorite plotlines includes the arrival of a puck named Agreus Astrayon to a wealthy neighborhood. His next-door neighbors are disgusted by his presence as a homeowner, and their story devolves into a complicated scenario of mutual benefit and possible public shunning.
I personally think that this plotline includes characters who experience the most growth overall. If you’ve watched the old movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” you may pick up on some of the same vibes from this show.
Yet another parallel to the real-world, and a great stylistic choice, is one of the religions practiced by the humans. It’s a familiar tale, with a martyr who was killed for the people. But this time they were hanged, meaning that all the very Jesus-y looking statues hanging around the sacred places have a man with a noose around his neck.
The priests within these temples wear a noose around their neck as well, which I honestly just feel encourages potential assassination. One of the shots that really disturbed me most in this series was one that showed an orphan child’s bed beneath a very large statue of this martyr. It looked like a real person, and for several minutes I was unsure if this orphanage just used deceased individuals as décor.
Overall, this show was thematically very enjoyable to watch. It introduced a rich world, with a varied cast of characters, and let you see them interact in ways which felt true to our present-day society.
Header photo courtesy of Carnival Row’s Facebook page.