After coming out almost three and a half years ago, Carnival Row grew to be something of a cult favourite among fans who enjoy gritty political dramas, dark high fantasy settings and Orlando Bloom’s eyes.
After announcing that the second and final season is right around the corner, we thought it’d be worth taking a look back on season one and detailing everything that happened to get you up to speed for when the season drops.
Of course, if you haven’t watched the show yet – MEGA SPOILERS BELOW WHY ARE YOU EVEN HERE??
Carnival Row opens on a lengthy exposition dump explaining the world of the show. The Fae, once a secluded race of magical creatures was invaded by man for its many riches. The war ended seven years before the start of the show as The Republic of The Burgue withdrew, and the Fae ended up being enslaved by their long rivals The Pact.
We see Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne) escaping from a gruesome slaughter alongside a variety of other fantasy creatures. After escaping onto a boat thanks to her magical wings. We see Vignette mourning the loss of a loved one that suspiciously looks like Orlando Bloom, how odd. Anyways the ship gets wrecked, and Vignette wakes up on the shores of The Burgue, a steampunk-esque fantasy city and is quickly imprisoned.
We’re then introduced to Orlando Bloom and hey I thought that guy was dead! Turns out he’s not, he’s actually a fella called Rycroft Philostrate, or Philo for short. Philo is a stoic investigator that wears a swagger bowler hat and is the only person in history that’s managed to pull it off without looking tacky.
Vignette, as the sole survivor of the shipwreck, is sworn into servitude to the rich shipowner, Ezra Spurnrose (Andrew Gower) and he assigns her to be the maid to his vapid and spoiled sister Imogen. (Tamzin Merchant)
After visiting her only friend in The Burgue, Tourmaline, (Karla Crome), who tells Vignette that Philo is actually still alive and is enjoying his life as an investigator.
She tracks him down and confronts him in the middle of the night.
While this happens, a random tentacle creature grabs a singing fairy lady and drags her into the sewers – it’s literally Dandenong. The next day, Philo is assigned the case of the woman’s murder, who happened to be a famous singer in her youth.
Vignette, after a pretty gross and tough-to-watch scene with a drunk Ezra, slams a plate into his head and flees, returning to Tourmaline who turns out to run a brothel in Carnival Row, a district that houses the magical creatures of The Burgue. Tourmaline refuses her job application and instead tells her to join a rebellious criminal group called the Black Talon, which honestly isn’t the worst way to flunk a job interview.
The series pauses on Philo and Vignette for a bit to introduce us to Piety Breakspear (Indira Varma), a cold lady who has kidnapped a random boy Jonah (Arty Froushan) and kept him chained and secluded from society. It turns out this random boy is actually her son, the son of the head honcho Chancellor Absalom Breakspear (Jared Harris) who she’s kidnapped behind her husband’s back. To make sure her son doesn’t immediately realise his own mother is the culprit, Piety enlists a Haruspex, a magical old lady who manipulates Piety’s voice to sound like their political opponent, Ritter Longerbain (Ronan Vibert).
Eventually, Piety captures and murders said Ritter. Before murdering him, she successfully frames Ritter for the kidnapping, and staging a rescue. She then releases her son, posing as his saviour, however, Jonah quickly realises based on the footsteps he heard, that his mother was behind it all.
Imogen goes on a date with her Puck (goat-people with pretty cool-looking horns) neighbour Agreus (David Gyasi) to ask him for money, so her brother can resolve the mountain of debt that amassed after the shipwreck at the start of the season.
Backstory time, baby
In episode three, we finally get to see Philo and Vignette’s meet-cute moment. Philo is at a fairy stronghold during a magical war called Tourok, which houses hundreds of fairies, including Vignette. The two bond over romance novel tropes, and in peak Tumblr fashion, decide they want that for themselves. The two get hot and heated and quickly become entangled with one another. A huge saucy bit of info is that Philo has scars on his back that mark where fairy wings used to be, revealing that Philo is half-fae and had his wings surgically removed when he was young.
Philo, to stop Vignette would evacuate with her fellow fae, gets some fairies to tell Vignette that he died in the siege of the stronghold. This a subtle reminder to anyone that ghosting is never the right move when it comes to gently letting someone down.
Act Two Drama
Vignette has comfortably settled into being a Black Raven operative and is tasked with murdering an informant. Vignette loses in her fight, however, and before she is killed, Philo randomly appears and saves her.
Longerbane’s daughter Sophie (Caroline Ford), after being murdered and slandered for kidnapping Piety’s son, takes her father’s place and stokes the flames against the Chancellor, hoping to take advantage of the “great tide of anger in the city” against the magical fae for political gain. (Huh, that sounds familiar.)
Jonah and Sophie meet at Longerbain’s funeral, and the two hit it off, beginning a secret affair.
Back to the murder case and what Philo’s been up to! Philo confides in his boarding house mistress Portia, (Maeve Dermody) that the doctor recently murdered was the one that clipped his wings as a child, and he believes all these murders are connected to him. The reveal that he’s half-fae prompts her to grow disgusted with him, demanding he packs his things and leave. Philo also discovers that the famous singer murdered in the first episode was actually his own mother.
Philo’s rival on the force, Sargeant Dumby (Jamie Harris) interrogates Portia and she admits that Philo is a half-blood. This leads him to believe that Philo is the actual killer and quickly arrests him, putting him in a Fae cell next to Vignette. The two reconcile and their romance sparks again.
After Philo is suddenly moved to an undisclosed location, it’s revealed that Chancellor Jared Breakspear is actually his father. In secret, he helps Philo get into hiding and reunite with Vignette outside of prison.
This is not the only massive family reveal, as soon after Piety reveals to Jonah that Sophie is actually his sister. Jonah is reasonably grossed out by this and tells Sophie. Sophie decides that she is actually 100% pro-incest and goes all in, believing that it’ll make them a celebrity power couple aid in some form of master race. Sophie is gross.
Meanwhile, Ezra discovers Imogen in bed with Agreus, and he flips, pulling Imogen out of bed by her hair and pulling a gun on them. Agreus, being the chad that he is, headbutts the shit out of Ezra and crumbles on the floor.
Back in The Burgue, the Chancellor was confronted by a random puck that joined a radical group. He stabs the Chancellor multiple times, as he blames the Chancellor for losing him his job.
He survives, but not for long as Piety secretly murders him while he’s recovering from his stab wound. As a neat prank, she cuts out his liver, using it for a spell to track down Philo, revealing that she was also the one controlling the tentacle monster called a Darkasher. Through this, she finds out about Philo’s and Vignette’s relationship and captures her to use as bait for Philo to lead him into a trap.
She leads Philo into the sewers where the Darkasher is sleeping, and he has to fight for his survival. Philo struggles to kill the Darkasher as it cannot die without severing the link to its host. Because Piety is linked magically to the Darkasher, Philo is able to injure the Cthulu hentai beast, briefly distracting Piety and giving Vignette the chance to stab her in the back of the head with some scissors, killing Piety and the Darkasher.
In the wake of the Chancellor’s and his mother’s death, Jonah realises that he is in fact, the new chancellor and in charge of everyone inside The Burgue and Carnival Row.
Season Two Setup
Due to stoking tensions from the pucks murdering the chancellor, Carnival Row is shut down and all the magical creatures are forced to stay inside its walls.
Jonah discovers Sophie wrote a blackmail letter in the guise of his mother, and the two unite both political parties in their crackdown on the magical creatures in The Burgue. We can definitely expect the pair to be serious antagonists in the series moving forward.
Imogen and Agreus flee The Burgue just before it’s locked down, hoping to travel as far as they can from the place.
Philo decides to join Vignette in The Row, despite his human status still painting a target on his back during this magical form of apartheid.
And that was season one! With the second and final season right around the corner, I can imagine that the show is bound to have heaps of action as all-out war has essentially been declared.
What We Know About Season Two So Far
The trailer for the second and final season of Carnival Row came out in early Jan this year, giving us a quick glimpse of what to expect.
Despite moving to the Row to finally solidify his romance with Vignette, and embrace his Fae identity, things are defs still tense between the pair. As Vignette intends to take more proactive methods against the leaders of The Burgue, alongside her fellow Black Ravens.
Philo is again asked to come back to help out with another murder case, but as implied by the trailer, Vignette’s crew are the culprits. How this will strain their relationship or how Philo will hope to cover for Vignette is for sure going to be a nailbiting driver for suspense this season.
Jonah is also looking to be a major antagonist this season. From calling mass public executions of Fae people, to normalising serious racial discrimination against them, it’ll be hard to redeem Jonah’s character like I was expecting them to towards the end of the first season.
What we do know so far, is that things will eventually reach a boiling point as The Row is called to be burned down and all-out war breaks out. It’ll be really interesting to see how the show utilises its wide fantasy creatures roster in action sequences. I’m pretty keen to see those Puck’s in action ramming people, personally.
Fans have been eagerly waiting for this new season since 2019, with the wait now finally over as the second and final season has officially been confirmed to land on Prime Video on February 17th worldwide.
The second and final season of Carnival Row will be landing on Prime Video on February 17th worldwide so be sure to catch it here for all your magical steampunk viewing.