Monday, September 2, 2019

Carnival Row - Some Dark God Wakes

The best word to describe the first episode of Amazon's new series Carnival Row is awkward. Attempting to blend fantasy, sci-fi, and a kinda-sorta (but not really) steampunk ascetic around a winding story lacking a true focus offers some interesting ideas but really shows no intention of heading somewhere interesting (at least until its final few minutes). Before we even get to a single scene, a dump of narrative exposition informs us about three different races, a war, refugees, and human smuggling across borders. In the first few minutes we also get refugees fleeing an occupied land and a shipwreck. None of this, however, takes place in the show's primary setting. Here the shift focuses away from the faerie lands of Tirnanoc to the far more human lands of The Burgue where Inspector Rycroft Philostrate (Orlando Bloom) is searching for a serial killer. Th premiere also offers glimpses at the charged political climate of the land (a not-so-subtle allusion to the U.S. and its current views on immigration) and, for good measure, throws in the proclivities of a politician's son frequenting faerie whorehouses.

A full (lengthy) paragraph in and I haven't mentioned the main character. It's mostly through the eyes of Cara Delevingne as Vignette Stonemoss that the world is explored. Fleeing her homeland aboard a ship that crashes (at some point, the episode isn't very clear on the passage of time) she awakes in The Burgue as an indentured servant to a spoiled mistress (Tamzin Merchant). Stealing some time to herself she finds an old friend and discovers her long lost lover (Bloom) is still alive. Their reunion feels rushed and incomplete as the episode is more interested in his character sleeping with a married woman, his steadfast refusal to talk about his past (which might actual help explain what has happened to him, his relationship with Vignette, and do so in a far more natural style), and the search for a killer who is completely inconsequential except that he foreshadows something dark looming below the city's surface (literally).

"Some Dark God Wakes" doesn't do much lifting in the character department. Broadly fitting all characters into three groups (humans, who are mostly shitty rich people, and/or shitty working men, except for the occasional exception like Philo), the faerie who... are refugees without apparent personalities past that basic trait (and aren't distinguished at all despite their various races), and the other humans race half a world away who Vignette so desperately flees from (both other than that don't have any impact on the story whatsoever). There is obviously something to mine in the relationship between Philo and Vignette, but the episode draws out other events to keep the apart from (and unaware of) each other until the end. As for the mysterious darkness, I have some doubts I may care to stick around long enough to find out what is lurking deep under the city.

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