Carnival Row with Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevigne premiered on Amazon Prime over this past weekend – and as we finish binging the remainder of the season, we wanted to take a few minutes to let you know if series opener "Some Dark God Wakes" did its part to introduce viewers to the show's world… or if it stumbled right out of the gate.
The series begins with a brief retelling of the story of the Fae folk and how they fought alongside human beings against their enemy, The Pact. However, the war ended 7 years ago from which humans were able to retreat, but the Fae folk were now stuck under the blood-thirsty ruling of The Pact. The story quickly cuts to the present as we see fairies trying to escape Tirnanoc, Anoun and getting viciously killed as they run. Some of them managed to escape on a ship, Vignette (Delevigne) among them. Sadly, their hopes for a better future are quickly squashed as the ship sinks taking all other fairies, but her.
We then jump to the city of Burgue, filled with resentful humans that want the Fae folk out. We quickly learn how they diminish them with the nickname "critches" and preach they are "swarming their city," bringing only the worst with them: vice, wantonness, worship of strange gods… sheesh! Sounds like a party…
This sounds awfully familiar to the reality we are living in today. I really liked this. It quickly made the story more interesting and relatable to me. We see how they try to "escape" for a "chance for a better future". They willingly go in ships to the republic of the Burgue as workers in different areas to be sold off just to escape they now- bloody homeland. In the city we encounter Inspector Rycroft Philostrate (Bloom) who is now trying to find a killer who keeps targeting Fae folk: sexually and racially shaming fairies before killing them.
Vignette is found and brought on as a handmaid into the family's home – whose master owned the ship that sunk (losing a significant portion of his family's fortune in the process). We also learn that a lot of the family's assets went into specifically funding trafficking of fae folk, but none of that is mentioned as Vignette is presented as maid to Imogen Spurnrose. I am torn on her character—she seems like the avant-garde wannabe with an open mind who still has some deep-rooted prejudices to work through. Vignette is told by another worker at the house to mind her behavior and advices her to stay away from The Row. However, Imogen sends her to get a perfume at The Row shortly after to help her enchant their new rich neighbor. It was hysterical when she finds who the neighbor actually is… or rather what.
On his end, Philo is still looking for the killer as it seems he strikes every three weeks. After realizing he was off on a clue he quickly runs to the Fishermen's tavern and stalks out the suspect, whose victims have named "unseelie Jack". After confirming it, the sailor then runs. Philo closely follows until they reach an edge of a rooftop. The sailor then confesses to what he did and warned Philo he had a reason—he then proceeds to tell the Inspector about this darkness or dark god the Fae folk brought on with them. This is the part where the story picked up. Suddenly there is a bigger bad guy.
Can something go fast and slow at the same time? Not sure if I can explain correctly, but the Carnival Row opener felt like it dragged at points and then went so fast in others. For example, on her first day at the Burgue Vignette finds her lost friend, finds out the lover she thought dead is actually alive, and then finds said lover that same night. The issue starts when once she finds Philo—who she thought was dead and mourned for seven years—asks him a couple of questions, gets barely an answer, and suddenly flies away saying she wishes he had been dead instead.
Umm… I was not expecting that part would move so quickly – a little too quickly, to be honest. Granted, there was also set-up and backstory that still needs to be built up. The story between Philostrate and Portia seems needy, forced, and a bit desperate, and left me feeling just like Philo feels towards her: no interest on my end whatsoever.
Also, some of Philo's dialogue in this initial outing sounded like it came out of the "disgruntled detective bucking the system" cliche filing cabinet. Not enough to move me away from his character, but there were definitely some "cringers" in there.
Other than that, it was a solid first episode that met the requirements I was looking for to keep watching: established a backstory/overarching mythology, introduced our players, presented our "main drama," and left enough dangling threads to keep the episodes binging. I love the vibe of the show and the costume designs, and special mention should be given to the visuals. It is an intriguing story that's worth following along to see where it takes us – and I will be back to let you know if Carnival Row was a land worth streaming to…