Carnival Row – Steampunk and Fantasy Crime Series About Love and Hate

SERIES REVIEW – Carnival Row is a crime thriller series set in a Victorian fantasy world, in which humanity and mythical creatures are in conflict. Carnival Row is a bold and spectacular work that does not shy away from dark themes and social criticism.



Carnival Row is an American series created by René Echevarria and Travis Beacham, launched in 2019. The series was based on an unreleased screenplay by Beacham, titled A Killing on Carnival Row. The series stars Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne as a human detective and a fairy who have a dangerous affair in a world where war rages between humans and magical beings. The series has had two seasons on Amazon Prime Video: the first season debuted in August 2019 with eight episodes, while the second and final season premiered in February 2023 with ten episodes.



A fascinating world


Carnival Row’s greatest strength is undoubtedly its visual appeal. The series is set in a neo-Victorian town called The Burgue (from the French word bourg), full of human citizens and escaped mythical creatures. These include pixies, fauns, kobolds, centaurs and many more. The city is richly detailed: every street, building, shop and bar has its own atmosphere. The atmosphere is further enhanced by Nathan Barr’s music and original costumes.

The series doesn’t stop at just showing the city: it takes us on adventures in several locations. For example, we can discover Tirnanoc (the home of the elves), Pactland (the enemy of mankind) or Ignota Regio (a mysterious island). Each place has its own historical and cultural background, enriching the fantasy world.

The world-building of the series is not just in the visuals, but also in the history and culture. Carnival Row is a unique steampunk fantasy world where technology and magic coexist. The series explores the causes and consequences of war between humanity and mythical creatures; as well as the customs, beliefs and language of each race, making it not only an entertaining fantasy series, but also a complex and intricate world.



A dark story


Carnival Row is not just a spectacular fantasy series: it’s also a gritty crime thriller. The main character, Detective Philo, is trying to solve a series of murder mysteries,

which are linked to magical creatures and the secrets of the city. Philo not only has to deal with the criminals, but also with his own past and identity: it turns out he is a half-elf pretending to be human. In the course of the story, he confronts his father (Jared Harris), an influential politician who fought against the fae, and reunites with Vignette, his old love, with whom he rekindles his feelings.

In the second season, Philo is no longer a detective, but a resident of Carnival Row, trying to help fairies and other creatures. Meanwhile, the town is in turmoil: a secret society (New Dawn) is plotting a revolution; a monster (Sparas) is killing people; and a new enemy (The Pact) is threatening The Burgue. Philo and Vignette must fight not only for their own lives, but for Carnival Row as well.



A confusing scenario


Carnival Row’s script couldn’t keep up with the visuals. The series tried to cram too much into eight (or ten) episodes: it ran several parallel storylines at once; it introduced a lot of supporting characters; it threw in a lot of twists and turns. The result was that we often lost the plot: we couldn’t follow the events; we didn’t understand the motivations; we didn’t feel connected to the characters.

Another problem with the script was that it was full of clichés and clichés: for example, Philo and Vignette’s love story was a typical “Romeo and Juliet” story; Imogen and Agreus’ relationship was a typical “poor girl rich boy” romance. The series failed to add anything new to these themes: it did not add depth or freshness to these relationships.

The story also did not benefit from not making enough use of fantasy elements: for example, Philo’s half-elf nature hardly played a role in the first season; Vignette’s flying was more of a disadvantage than an advantage; and Sparas was a simple monster, not a complex creature. The series thus failed to exploit the potential of the fantasy genre: it failed to surprise or enchant the viewer.

The script didn’t shine in balanced areas either: for example, in the first season it spent too much time on Philo’s investigation and too little on Vignette’s past; in the second season it spent too much time on political intrigue and too little on Carnival Row. The series thus failed to maintain interest and tension: sometimes it was too slow or boring; sometimes it was too fast or confusing.

In the end, the script was not consistent enough: for example, Philo and Vignette’s relationship was hot and cold; Imogen and Agreus’ relationship was love and business; and Sophie’s character was evil and good-hearted. The series thus failed to portray the characters and the story in an authentic way: it was either contradictory and incomprehensible; or predictable and forced.



Rippling transformations


Carnival Row’s cast includes big names and lesser-known faces. Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne star as Philo and Vignette. Bloom plays the aloof and stubborn detective who struggles with his own demons, and Delevingne is convincing as the brave and passionate fairy who refuses to be humiliated. The chemistry between them is palpable but not always authentic: at times it seems only physical attraction holds them together.

Among the supporting cast, David Gyasi as Agreus Astrayon, a rich faun (puck) who moves into a posh neighbourhood and upsets the order there; Tamzin Merchant as Imogen Spurnrose, a poor aristocratic lady who starts a business relationship with Agreus; Karla Crome as Tourmaline Larou, an elfin poetess and friend of Vignette; Jared Harris as Absalom Breakspear, Chancellor of The Burgue; Caroline Ford as Sophie Longerbane, a shrewd politician; Ariyon Bakare as Darius, Philo’s old friend and fellow soldier.

Most of the actors do well in the series: they convey emotions, develop their characters and create interesting dynamics with each other. However, some actors overact or underact their roles: for example, Andrew Gower as Ezra Spurnrose is too caricature-like; while Arty Froushan as Jonah Breakspear is too dull.



Mixed reception


Carnival Row was not an unqualified success with critics and viewers. The first season received a score of 58% on 1, while the second season received 56% on 2. The series was praised for its visuals, imaginative world-building and topical social message; but criticised for its clichéd pairings, overwrought character development and confusing plot lines.

The end of the series did not leave everyone satisfied. The final episode of the second season wrapped up some important threads: Philo defeated Sparas; Vignette saved The Burgue; Imogen killed Agreus; Sophie died; Jonah took control. But many questions remain: what happened to Darius? What happened to Tourmaline? What happened to Millworthy? What about Philo and Vignette? These questions will not be answered because Amazon has announced that it will not order season 3.





Carnival Row is an ambitious fantasy series with a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it has not been able to exfully exploit them: it may have exciting ideas and spectacular scenes, but it has not developedts characters and story in enough depth. The series ultimately left more promises unfulfilled than it delivered.




Carnival Row

Direction - 6.2
Actors - 7.4
Story - 5.8
Visuals/Music/Sounds/Action - 8.4
Ambience - 6.2



Carnival Row was a crime series set in a Victorian fantasy world starring Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne. The series depicted the conflicts between humanity and magical creatures and the mysteries of the city. The series survived for two seasons on Amazon Prime Video, but did not receive a third season. The series has been praised for its visuals and topical social message; but criticized for its clichéd pairings, overwrought character development, and muddled plot lines. The series ultimately left more promises unfulfilled than it delivered.

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines – including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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