The End Of Carnival Row

Vignette and Philo, almost kissing, face to face, her wings are extended

It’s hard to believe I first wrote about Carnival Row four years ago.

A lot has happened in this human world since 2019. I mean, hoo boy, a lot.

I’m a different person to the one who wrote that review. My health has been seemingly permanently impaired. Also my heart.

So, I returned to the Row with not a few worries and reservations. Would my initial love be betrayed by a lack of substance compared to the first series? Could the show elaborate on the themes that first engaged me without wearing them threadbare?

My fears were baseless.

If anything, this last series has made me wish for more, for other chances to visit the world it’s set in which is, yes, often terrible but also often wondrous. I love the Fae and I would love to hear more about the different types, their lore and histories up to the steampunk setting of Carnival Row. There is so much richness here to be mined, you could easily set six or more spin-off series just within the history we’ve heard so far.

Agreus and Imogen sitting on the bank of a river, seemingly looking round. They are both dishevelled.

This series, Carnival Row has concentrated equally on the intra-human politics as the Fae/human. We have the conflict with the New Dawn, Carnival Row’s version of a commie uprising and the way it causes mayhem internationally but also within the previously impermeable love of Imogen and Agreus. It was fascinating to see them struggle with the racial prejudice of their homeland versus the class hatred of the New Dawn.

Personally, I’m always going to be a New Dawn supporter, if only because Agreus’ bizarre Randian monologue sounds like a thirteen-year-old Trumpian. Joanne Whalley totally inhabited Leonora (hmmm… sounds like, Leon, no?) with exactly the right balance of intellect and passion to make a passable charismatic revolutionary.

Leonora, leader of the New Dawn, confers with the Sparas.

I particularly loved the ending – the writers gave a decent conclusion to the major drama points about the assassin Sparas and pogrom in the Row whilst still having a decent, solid epilogue. There’s one scene, when Imogen and Agreus kiss in public at their light show, that is perfect. The entire crowd clap but one lady looks shocked and hesitant until her husband elbows her into joining the applause. And, just like that, society has changed. What was once shocking is now the norm and what was once the norm is now impolite. It’s a wonderfully observed bit that says more in five seconds about contemporary society than decades of other dramas.

Philo’s speech to Parliament was, I believe, written specifically to make me cry. Me and every other person who’s ever had to live between two cultures, between two worlds. Anyone who’s ever been othered by the majority, who’s longed to fit in and, finally, realised that they will never fit in. You will always, always, always be an outsider. I’d like to think I’d make the same choice Philo did but I don’t know if I’m that good or that principled.

Jonah, now chancellor and Sophie Longerbane sitting by his side.

If I had one wish it’s that Sophie and Jonah had found happiness. Yes, it was still an excellent storyline and helped delineate the overall New Dawn arc but, my god, I just wanted her to succeed and for Jonah to be seduced by her obvious fire. That’s a ship I’d sail on, yep.

But then, against all the odds, we did finally get Vignette and Tourmaline. I was so sure either one or both would die in the battle or be shredded by the Sparas, I had my cushion up near my eyes during all those bits. But, woah, they made it! I admit, I did tear up at their wedding even though it was 100% Fae whimsy overdrive.

Millworthy and Philo stroll down a sunny, happy Carnival Row.

I grinned and laughed and cried at Philo’s last amble down the row. I feel like I know this place, like I know its people. I can’t believe they’re just going to put it all inside the story box and that’s it, done, goodbye forever, fuckers.

To see the Row, happy again, full of colour, open and with no nets is so joyful. It’s so full of life and possibilities and this hodgepodge of different peoples all just rubbing along, it is juicily vibrant. I wish I lived there rather than here and now.

I really do.

“What happens next?”

“I suppose we’ll have to find out.”