Well, color me shocked.
There’s what I expected from Carnival Row based on their SDCC panel and press conference: good fantasy, beautiful settings, clichés and tone-deafness in the message, and then there’s what I got from the show: good fantasy, beautiful – if a bit too dark – settings and a heartfelt message that seemed well thought out and more importantly, understood.
Because yes, the show tackles discrimination through a fantasy lens, but it also tackles refugees, the idea of passing, interracial relationships, and even what it means to belong to a community of oppressed people, really belong.
Of course, the show isn’t perfect, it’s too convoluted at times, it makes almost no attempt to actually explain not just the setting, but the backstory of most of the characters – which, hey, when it comes to an adaptation might even be commendable, because there is, after all, a way for viewers to get that background – but here it’s just annoying, at best; and some of the acting is uneven, to say the least.
But, somehow, despite all that, and mostly because of how well crafted the messages within the overall message are, the show works.
Now, I had an Orlando Bloom poster in my room, just like any self-respecting Millennial teenager did, but I didn’t have one because I thought he was a great actor, or anything of the sort, lets be honest. And yet, watching Carnival Row, I was struck by how much I’d mislabeled him as just a pretty face before, how little I’d focused on the way he can bring nuance to a scene with just a look, or the way his mere presence is felt.
Make no mistake, Orlando Bloom carries this show.
That’s both by design, and with his acting. The promo for this show had made it seem like this was Vignette’s story, or Vignette and Philo’s story. It isn’t. This is Philo’s story, and Vignette, and everyone else, is a supporting character.
I would be more upset about that if I thought Cara Delevingne could carry this show. I will admit she got to me at times, especially during the last few episodes, but if I’m being honest, during the first two I was a little concerned about how flat she was coming off, especially when compared to her scene partners.
And as for the love story, though that – along with every second spent with Tourmaline – is the most convincing part of Delevigne’s acting in the first few episodes, I will say it wasn’t till almost the end of the show where these two had a scene that made me go: wait …I actually am invested, not in them as separate characters, but in them as an unit.
Or, to put it in more colloquial terms, the moment I said: I ship it.
So, if you’re looking for a love story to blow you away, I think you might as well look elsewhere. There is, however, enough setup to build on it for the already confirmed season 2, so I have high hopes they can turn this love story into something epic. For now, though, this is just the tale of two lost and broken people trying to make their way in the world – not necessarily together.
The supporting cast is as uneven as Delevigne is, with the storyline involving Imogen, Agreus and Ezra the strongest of them all. In fact, Imogen’s journey throughout the series, though a little predictable, has enough gravitas to it that in the end, I didn’t just feel for her, I wanted her to win, and Ezra’s turn as, well, a Victorian man, through and through, is acted so convincingly that you can’t help but feel a bit sorry for him.
He doesn’t get it, no, but then again, he was never taught to.
To its credit, the show never lets people off the hook, even in situations that could be thought of as black and white. Though, in many respects, the show is less insane than living in 2019 Earth, Carnival Row can also never be said to be escapism, and the show is hardly ever subtle in it’s message. Agreus never lets Imogen, much less Ezra off the hook, and Vignette never acts like it’s okay that she’s treated as a second-class citizen, even if she’s used to it.
And that’s part of why the show works. There’s a certain rebellion in not accepting that you are less, even when you’ve been told over and over that you are, and it’s hard – even with so many creatures – to not look at the show and think of the world we live in today, and take in those lessons.
Sadly, the political storyline that was meant to bring all of this together is the one aspect of the show that’s really lacking. Every one of the Breakspears was uninteresting to me, surprisingly so, because their storyline could have – and should have – grounded this show. And Sophie, who actually works much better than I could have expected after her introduction, need a little more time and space to actually be all she can be.
Hopefully the show can focus a bit more on this aspect in season two, and also show some of Jonah’s conflict, because he – more than anyone – requires an actual personality, one that isn’t dictated by the people around him. If they are going to go politic-heavy in season 2, though, I hope they find a way to make it …eh, more interesting? It shouldn’t be as complicated as season 1 made it seem, especially considering the world we live in.
So, what’s the verdict? Should you watch?
Personally, the answer is yes. Maybe the show isn’t all it could have been, but then again, what show is? And whatever it is you might not appreciate about season 1, the show always have a chance to improve on for an already confirmed season 2, which is blessing, in and off itself.
And also, Orlando Bloom. Did I mention he makes this worth it?
What are your thoughts? Are you excited for Carnival Row? Share with us in the comments below!