‘Carnival Row’ is a horrifying house of mirrors
Screenwriters Travis Beacham and René Echevarria of Pacific Rim and Star Trek : The Next Generation fame, brought the new TV show Carnival Row to Amazon Prime on August 30th. Carnival Row is a fantasy brought to life by nothing other than brilliance. Told through a story of war, romance, and a fight for equality, the viewers follow the lives of mythical creatures and how their struggles relate to our world today.
Carnival Row follows the story of Inspector Rycroft Philostrate, otherwise known as Philo, as he solves the murder of citizens in the Burge. To my surprise, a multitude of real-life issues plague the created universe. The previews led me to believe I would follow a murder mystery, but as it unfolded, it became a cross between a murder mystery and the consequences of white male privilege. The political message ultimately overshadowed the minuscule romantic moments of the promised dangerous Victorian love affair.
The colorless carnival
Going into the show, I was hoping for a fantasy filled with color, music, and most of all a happy ending. What I got was bloodshed and gore like a Quentin Tarantino film, except without the humor. Instead of getting and solving a case in the same episode, there was one case to solve and eight episodes to find the killer. While I wasted away at possibilities of who the killer could be, the romance between Philo and Vignette Stonemoss created a conflict that I honestly couldn’t keep up with. The two characters had the potential to be much bigger than what Beacham and Echevarria displayed on the screen. I expected a love story that could move mountains and right the wrongs of the world; instead, I got a constant ebb and flow of affection and disgust. The first three episodes seemed like a love story at first, but then “Some Dark God Wakes,” “Aisling,” and “Kingdoms of the Moon” turned out to be nothing more than extended exposition.
The bits and pieces we saw of passion, danger, and intuition not only made the show come to life but also helped the viewers relate to the characters as people. I am a huge fan of the number of powerful women this show chose to incorporate. Hell hath no fury like Piety Breakspear, Sophie Longerbane, and Imogen Spurnrose; these women were the puppeteers of their own happiness. They saw the opportunity to take the life they have always wanted; albeit, Piety and Sophie had questionable intentions, there was power in their destruction. The little things built up and created a sense of unity and a call to action. If you take anything away from this show, know that the carnival is closer than you think.
There’s nothing mythical about reality
The war between citizen and refugee weighs heavily on how the mystery is played out. Showing the mistreatment and injustice being done to the Fae people, any politically aware person could identify the similarities in our war-ridden world today. Tensions are rising in the Burge as humans and fae alike are being murdered. Our world is no stranger to brutality, authoritarianism, and discrimination, we see it every day- in foreign countries, in clubs, in schools, and even in our own homes. When all our media is politically charged, Carnival Row, which presented itself as ground-breaking series, ended up abiding by the status quo. The controversy may have created an intriguing plot, but it completely squandered the writer’s intentions. Post-release of the show, in an interview with The Verge, the writers shared their intentions. Liz Shannon Miller wrote, “they were careful to ground the narrative as much as possible — even relying on cop drama clichés from time to time to make sure audiences felt comfortable with their new world.” Despite their intentions the show never felt grounded; there was too much happening, too much up in the air, every small victory that Philo had couldn’t be celebrated because the problems were coming faster than the solutions. You cut off one head, and two more grow in its place.
The show’s Instagram page even chose to post pictures that helped create an idea of a fantasy world, focusing specifically on the mythical characters and their somewhat scandalous occupations instead of what their show was truly about. This show is about the harsh realities of being a refugee. The account also insinuated that Philo and Vignette had a torrid affair; in fact, out of the entire season, only “Kingdoms of the Moon” was about their romance. Not to mention the worst part, there wasn’t even a kiss at the end. I, for one, am tired of the realistic turn the film industry is making. Where was the fairy tale ending in this fairy tale? The cinematography and special effects created the potential for beauty but left me with a broken heart. It saddens me to think what happened to these characters in the show, still happens today. What I expected to be a thrilling romance ends up being a losing battle between love and hate. What I was hoping to take me outside of the world I knew, ended up being reality dressed up in a pair of fairy wings. I hope the next claimed mythological fantasy is actually that: a pure fantasy.
A revolving door of antagonists
As an avid reader and writer, my thought process is built on the foundation that a good story revolves around a protagonist, antagonist, and their conflict which in turn creates great entertainment. I was prepared for a possibility of multiple protagonists but what I wasn’t prepared for was the chaotic free-for-all supply of antagonists. Under the pretenses of murder mysteries, in the beginning, every character was a suspect; but instead of saving the city and getting the girl, we end up finding more murderers. The season-ending opens up a plethora of opportunities, insinuating a return for multiple seasons. The question is: do we want them? Carnival Row was above average for six out of the eight episodes; up until the last two episodes of the season, it had me biting my nails in anticipation. Yet, after the closing moments, I was left staring into the void wondering why I bothered in the first place.
Featured Image: IMDb
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