Carnival Row Season 2 Premiere Recap — We Return to the Row of Rot and Rebellion

S2E1, “Fight and Flight” and S2E2, “New Dawn”

The Carnival Row logo of a fairy and the title in yellow lettering over a dark image of a bridge over water
Screenshot/Prime Video

The following recap contains spoilers for the Season 2 premiere of Carnival Row, S2E1, “Fight and Flight” (Story by  Erik Oleson and Travis Beacham & Marc Guggenheim, teleplay by  Erik Oleson, and directed by Thor Freudenthal) and S2E2, “New Dawn” (written by Sarah Byrd and directed by Thor Freudenthal)

It seems hard to fathom that Carnival Row was actually on the air in the fall of 2019, even though that was incredibly only three years ago, those particular years have felt much much longer. During that time, it always seemed like this show was fading further and further away, with the pandemic and then additional scheduling conflicts continuously pushing it down Amazon’s release schedule. For a show with a large cast, a lot of special effects, and a relatively small viewership, it did not seem likely the second season would ever get released. But it made it and the second, and final, season will finally be released on Prime over the next month.

Carnival Row was all over the place in Season 1, spending a lot of time on the lore and history of the fictional countries and magical creatures that make up the show. It may take a minute to catch back up, but thankfully there are recaps and guides to help us do so. From moment one, this was a dark and beautiful series, with aspirations far higher than a lot of similar shows. For most of Season 1 it was clear that the creative team definitely aspired toward being a juggernaut like Game of Thrones, especially with the liberal uses of sex and violence to make its points. And it left off with the main characters revealed, broken, and running.

Vingette and Philo looking longingly at each other while standing in a hallway
Screenshot/Prime Video

Carnival Row S2E1, “Fight or Flight”

As Carnival Row S2E1 opens, we catch back up with Rycroft Philostrate (Orlando Bloom) and Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne) dealing with the aftermath of the Season 1 finale. Philo is fighting other creatures (including a troll) for some cash and information, though the ringleader of the underground fight club tries to stiff him on the information. Vignette is still running jobs with the Black Ravens, which is part fae underground resistance and part criminal gang. This leads to a huge set piece of a train heist where she and her friends try to steal medical supplies that are bound for the war front. The whole scene is shot and choreographed gorgeously and really serves as a reminder of how successful the show can be when it tries.

Vignette and her companions succeed—at least I think they do, it is hard to tell if several of the fairies actually die in the raid—and wind up coming back with the supplies only for Vignette to run afoul of Dahlia, who is still in charge no matter how many sexy looks Cara Delevingne gives the rest of the crew. It is clear that Carnival Row is trying to set up an epic showdown between the fairy women for the hearts of the fae, but at the moment it is all angry (sexually charged) looks and branding rituals.

Vingette stares toward the camera with lights of the city behind her head
Screenshot/Prime Video

We also catch back up on the political machinations in The Burgue and the ongoing threat of the Pact. At the end of Season 1, this storyline also came to a head as Jared Harris’s Chancellor Breakspear was assassinated and his son Jonah (Arty Froushan) took his place in the parliament. Arty and the main opposition speaker—and his half-sister—Sophie Longerbane (Caroline Ford) soon struck up a weird relationship (as one must on Carnival Row I suppose) and decided to work together. Not much really happens with this plotline in “Fight or Flight,” but it seems that the overall politics and the ongoing ways that those politics affect both the treatment of the magical folk and the war itself are going to be a major part of the second season.

In the final pairing, Agreus Astrayo (David Gyasi) and Imogene Spurnrose (Tamzin Merchant) remain on his giant luxury ship, on the run from her brother Ezra (Andrew Gower) who seems intent on murdering them both. This has left Imogene suffering from horrible nightmares and unable to really enjoy the trappings of their life together. Just as they seem to be on the verge of leaving the ship for some fun on the land, a rogue airship—that seems to be from The Pact—appears over them and threatens to sink the ship unless they follow it.

They decide to do so and then Carnival Row S2E1 ends, having set the stage for another season of horrible gore, wretched gore, cruelty, and depravity. Many fantasy stories have dealt with grit and “realism” but few have achieved what I find to be the most interesting aspect of Carnival Row. Despite the magic, the intrigue, and the sometimes beautiful world, the show makes it clear that everything there is even worse than it is in our world. And for that much at least we can be grateful.

Imogene holds Agresse's shoulder as others stand in doorway behind them
Screenshot/Prime Video

Carnival Row S2E2, “New Dawn”

With “Fight or Flight’ taking care of the groundwork, Carnival Row really gets to start Season 2 rolling with “New Dawn.” It is still an early season “table-setting” episode, but with only eight episodes of the entire series left after it ends, showrunner Erik Oleson has to actually use the moments he has effectively. Sometimes in Season 1, it felt like there was a lot of dragging things out and wasted time and it seems that the creative team has learned their lesson and will really go for it with these episodes.

Carnival Row has depicted a lot of death and upheaval among the characters, but it doesn’t seem willing to do that “Thronesian” move of putting the top-line cast at risk. So when Agreus was literally lined up in a firing squad early in “New Dawn” it felt like the show was either going to hit a new level or play it safe. All of the background characters and one-line players who had been Agreus’s crew were mowed down, and he closed his eyes thinking the end had come. But of course, the show played it safe once again, with our fawn friend getting a literal last-second reprieve. Now Agreus and Imogene are alive and able to be our eyes and ears to the new anarchist revolutionary leadership in the Pact.

Runyun shakes hands with a soldier from the Pact in a red uniform
Screenshot/Prime Video

It is that new government, a human-fae alliance to overthrow the old world order, that brings all of the stories in Carnival Row S2E2 together nicely. Agreus and Imogene are experiencing what the new order is like—spoiler alert, like everything else in the Carnival Row world, it is terrible and depressing. Jonah, Sophie, and Runyan (Simon McBurney, who remains one of my favorite parts of the show) are all double and triple dealing with the old leadership. Runyan and Philo also have a secret plan to free the fae from the locked down “the row,” but that winds up on the back burner due to the final convergence. Vignette convinces the Black Raven to infiltrate the party where all the politicians are convening to show the plight of the fae.

This, of course, goes badly. Once again the show pulls its shot and has Dahlia lead the raid, so of course it is Dahlia and not Vignette who winds up with her head on a stake at the end of the episode. (Not that I wanted or expected them to kill off Vignette, I just would prefer they do it with more subtlety.)

All in all though, Carnival Row Season 2 is off to a strong start and it should be a fun, if super depressing, 10-episode journey to the end of the story.

Written by Clay Dockery

Clay Dockery is an actor, author, and impresario extraordinaire. They are the co-editor of Why I Geek: An Anthology of Fandom Origin Stories and was the co-head organizer and creative director of MISTI-Con, Coal Hill Con, and The West Wing Weekend fandom conventions. They live in New York City with their girlfriend and their two chonky cats.

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