‘Carnival Row’ Season 1 Review: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

From Orlando Bloom’s Philo carrying Carnival Row in his lithe but strong arms to Imogen & Agreus being my surprise OTP, there’s plenty to talk about, break down, and explore when it comes to this Amazon Prime show. In this season review we’ll be covering the good, the bad, and the ugly of Carnival Row. Now, don’t worry about the bad or the ugly. I gave the bad time to expand, shine, and fix itself in season two. And as for the ugly, well….I just don’t like these two characters. So, without further ado, let’s dive into season one of Carnival Row!

The Good

Philo’s Passing Story

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Like Philo, my story is one of passing. As a white Latina, I get confused for being white and not being part of the Latino community. As a white man with no wings but fae blood flowing through his veins, Philo is seen as nothing more than a man. He passes and thrives in comparison to his people. This story is something I’m glad to have seen on Carnival Row because it reflects my experience.

Now, not everything is perfect. Sometimes I wanted to go all grrrr on the people surrounding Philo when it comes to his secret, or Philo himself for letting it be known to less deserving people. Also, he’s a white man so obviously he’s already leaps and bounds ahead of me and my life. But the moment he acknowledges who he is, what he is, there’s no turning back and I love that.

It really shows how Carnival Row hinges on Philo’s journey as a man, as a companion, as a lover, and as a part of the fae community. Because let’s not be mistaken, Philo carried this show in his strong arms and delivered a piece of TV that reflects the real world while bringing new things to light. And I appreciate and love this show for it. Here’s hoping that that load isn’t only carried by Philo in season 2 of Carnival Row.

Because no matter who you are, or how much you think you can carry it all, the load gets heavy and to continue telling Philo’s story well, we need others to work and carry the load with him. Here’s hoping, and most likely honestly, that Vignette is the one to do so by his side. Now, that would really show all the doubters out there that this is her story as much as his from here on out.

Imogen and Agreus

As soon as a bond started growing between Imogen and Agreus…I became wary. Too long have I seen the story of the beautiful woman who falls in love with an unexpected character who is a person of color or different/ostracized by society for just being who they are. The POC teaches the often white woman that they’re just like everyone else and the woman becomes his savior. Been there, done that.

I’m glad to see that was not the case with Imogen and Agreus. He wasn’t there to teach her that he was like everyone else. If anything, she approached him first because she needed help with her family and their finances. Yes, it mattered that Agreus was different but money mattered more. So she worked with him and challenged her own prejudices about Agreus and grew as a woman. Agreus didn’t show her the way. She found it herself and in turn made me really appreciate her character.

Agreus decided to enter into this companionship because it was mutually beneficial for both of them. It was a business deal, through and through. And he didn’t spend his time showing Imogen he was like everyone else. He acted like himself and Imogen got to know that man, she eventually fell in love with that man, even when he pushed her away “for her own good.” And since both of these characters don’t half ass things, they chose each other and now are each other’s ride or die.

Unexpected love story. Check. People growing with each other. Check. An equal partnership born out of mutual respect and love. Check. An epic OTP that I want to see take over the world in season 2 of Carnival Row? Check, check, check!

That Philo and Vignette Jail Scene

This was the moment where everything changed for me when it came to Philo and Vignette. All season long Carnival Row was trying to sell me a love story that I couldn’t quite connect with no matter how hard they tried. And it took until the 7th episode, til this very moment in the cells of the police station, for me to go, “I WILL GO DOWN WITH THIS SHIP!”

A lot of it has to do with the way they embrace/touch/hold onto each other through the bars. This is as close as they’re going to get to each other and they know it. They also know that these might be the final moments they have with each other. That’s why Philo’s words hit so hard when he tells Vignette to stay with him. He knew they were going to take him and that he would probably die, but he wanted her to stay in this moment where they were just two people in love.

And there goes my heart again, shattered and in pieces, at one of the best scenes of this entire show! Banking on season 2 giving me more of these scenes now that Philo has accepted who he is and where he comes from. That shame and guilt that was holding them apart all season long is now gone and it’s up to Philo and Vignette to rebuild their relationship and see where their epic love goes from there.

The Opening and Special Effects

Carnival Row‘s opening is one of the most beautiful that I have ever seen. It feels raw, burdened by the life these creatures live in, and like it’s the result of months, years, or decades of subjugation by humans who think they are better than creatures. It feels like a museum, every creature shown to me as a rich and important part of the world history. It also feels really sad, like the creatures are only worth being studied and not respected, observed but not appreciated, used and not given the same rights as everyone else. The fact that I could get all of this out of an opening is astounding.

The way that creatures look during the run of the show is also astounding. The special effects transformed every actor into a creature right out of our imagination. The way that the horns curled around their heads, the way the things sprang from their bodies, and the way that some of them walked; it all felt beautiful, otherworldly, and like the person/team responsible took all the time and care to give us something unique. And I thank them for that and how it truly brought this world to life!

The Bad

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Cara Delevigne’s Acting

I want to start off this section by saying that I gave Delevigne a chance; maybe too many chances to wow me. Even then, my standards were low and I was just hoping for her to emote even a little bit. Unfortunately that didn’t really happen, and Cara Delevigne’s acting ends up being one of the worst things of this entire show.

From the commercials we’re lead to believe that Carnival Row is about her. And the show tries to make it that. But at every turn Delevigne’s acting is so lackluster that her scenes end up bland and only spiced up or made interesting by the people this actress worked with. That’s not to say that Cara didn’t emote. She just never did when it mattered, or when she was with Philo, her supposed ride or die.

If anything, Delevigne only emoted with her fairy friend and past lover. Maybe they had more chemistry? Maybe Delevigne was more relaxed around another woman? Or maybe it was all a decision of directing Delevigne to hold her cards close to her chest, especially when it comes to Philo, aka the one who left her to believe he was dead during a time where she lost EVERYTHING.

Whoever was responsible for Cara Delevigne’s acting ended up doing this actress, the story, and the rest of the show dirty. It could’ve been better, it could’ve felt like there was more on the line. Instead we were left with a story that was all about Philo because we could FEEL his every emotion, desire, concern, or emotion. And I don’t think that’s how Carnival Row expected things to go.

The Ugly

Everything That Had to Do with Jonah and Sophie

I know what these two mean to the overall composition of this story being told on Carnival Row. They are the next generation, the ones to set the stage for whatever bigotry is coming if this show gets a season two; which it totally will. And even with that in mind, even with that understanding, Jonah and Sophie were positively boring.

Every time Jonah came on screen my eyes would love back into my head and go, “Here we go again. Basic white boy who is rebelling against the father who has given him everything. I don’t want to watch him fail up like he most certainly will.” And he did, taking the position of his father after doing jack shit the entire season. Well, jack shit and bumping uglies with his own sister.

Now Sophie, she had me fooled in the beginning. I thought I could relate to her and her situation as a woman. And I did when it came to her struggle for education. The rest, not so much. Sophie is a snake who doesn’t care for the people of Carnival Row. She doesn’t care that she doesn’t believe in her bigoted words. Sophie wants power and she will bump uglies with her brother and lie through her teeth to get it. 

In all honesty, Jonah and Sophie were the Party City version of Jaime and Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones. And I didn’t like those two either but at least they had the sort of presence that made you stop, watch, and go, “What the actual fuck is this crazy?!” I don’t get that from Jonah and Sophie. If anything, I want them to go away and stop this cycle of white people failing up; because these two right here are prime examples of that.

Carnival Row is now available on Amazon Prime.

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