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SYFY WIRE Carnival Row

Carnival Row Discussion: 'Aisling' shows off the Row's terrible underbelly

By Alyssa Fikse & Jessica Toomer

Carnival Row is a wild time, y'all. After doing a herculean effort of worldbuilding in the first episode (The backstories! The creatures! The secrets!), this show proves that it's more than a bit of a mess, but at least it's a fun mess. Vignette is struggling to find her place in the Burgue, Philo is struggling to catch yet another killer, and we're struggling to remember everyone's names. 

Listen, we'll put up with a lot for a magical, tortured romance, but Carnival Row is absolutely wild. Buckle up, folks, because we've got more creatures, more hamfisted racism, and more whisper fights in episode two. We're Alyssa Fikse and Jessica Toomer, and we're ready to guide you throw the latest exploits on the Row. 

Spoilers for Season 1, Episode 2 of Carnival Row within.


A New Threat

Alyssa: After his fight with his booty call Portia and his fraught reunion with Vignette, Philo is really having a rough start in this second episode. He’s all up in his man pain and can’t let either woman love him because MAN FEELINGS, and then he gets the call that despite catching Unseely Jack, there was another murder. So many murders in this town. However, somehow this one was even worse. Yes, dying by a hammer is awful, but being absolutely gutted and dragged in your own entrails is decidedly worse. It was too much for that retching constable and it was too much for me.

Jessica: I too would spill my breakfast at the sight of that poor fairie’s innards strewn on the ground like string cheese. Of course, this only steels our steely-eyed detective’s resolve because while emotions are an enemy he has yet to conquer, Philo won’t be thwarted by this gut-wrenching, stomach-churning (I could go all day with the puns) menace. I’m thinking this sewer-dwelling creature isn’t Pizza Rat — this just isn’t his style — but I’m curious to know why it’s ripping up fae. After Unseely Jack’s ominous warning I thought whatever the evil was, it would be aimed at the human residents of The Burgue, but apparently, all of Carnival Row is just a free buffet for the thing. 

Alyssa: Yeah, something tells me that that old god or monster or whatever will be pretty indiscriminate in its killing. It seems like it wants to sink its claws and tentacles into whatever comes its way, so I suspect quite a bit of bloodshed is coming our way. Philo goes on the hunt for clues as to who killed the fae, Aisling, which brings him back to her apartment on the Row. There he finds a lurking and slightly suspicious dude named Runyan Millworthy (another great name) who knows her back from their performing days. She was a singer and he was some sort of tiny circus ringmaster and it was all very sad. However, the most important part of that meeting was the introduction of a new creature: kobolds, who are essentially tiny goblins. I love them and Fike is now my new favorite character on the show. He’s Runyan’s star, and mine, too.

Jessica: Fike must be protected at all costs, on that we agree. I’m trash for shows that introduce wild, new fantasy characters and Carnival Row must know that which is why it keeps throwing the creatures our way. I doubt any will measure up to the kobolds, specifically, the kobolds dressed as tiny stage actors that we see a bit later on, but let that be a challenge to this show to prove me wrong. Poor Runyan, meanwhile, is devastated by his friend’s death — rightfully so, she had a great set of pipes — and while I don’t think he’s the killer that Philo suspects him of being, it is an odd coincidence he popped up right after Aisling had her insides turned out. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, never trust traveling miniature stage managers. 

Alyssa: An excellent rule of thumb! After assessing that Runyan probably isn’t the killer and hearing Aisling’s singing and deciding that she is worth doing the legwork of finding the actual killer, Philo is off to get an autopsy, and of course, he has to go to a backroom “doctor” on the Row because all of the human ones are terrible and won’t examine fae. While they come to the conclusion that perhaps a man could have done it with “enough hate,” the fact that the liver was stolen and that the incisions were probably done with some sort of talon seems to point to more monster than man. Be careful checking out those sewers, Philo! 


Basically MAGA Country

Jessica: Another good rule of thumb in any situation but especially if you live in a steampunk slum filled with magical creatures: steer clear of the sewers. Nothing good is down there, guys. Unfortunately, the genteel citizens of The Burgue feel just as dangerous as underground, bloodthirsty demons. The racism is rife with the high society folk as Imogen and her wet blanket brother prove time and time again. The slight digs and backhanded comments are one thing, but trying to rape a maid and then accusing her of literally stealing from a cookie jar is just nauseatingly pathetic, bro. 

Alyssa: It’s true. The nightmare twins are just the worst. While Imogen will not tolerate a faun neighbor, she is 100% down with using fae pheromones as a perfume to get some male attention. Spoiler alert, girl: no perfume in the world can hide an ugly soul. Her rapist brother is just as vile. I did cackle when he was explaining how he lost the family fortune and how expensive it was to run their household. The coal! The fresh flowers! The frocks! It reminded me of that iconic candle budgeting tweet. Money management is hard, even in magical realms!

Jessica: Sure, Ezra. The fresh flowers are what caused us to lose our fortune and you to run our family legacy in the ground. If homeboy can’t balance a checkbook that’s just filled with receipts for coal and petticoats he has no business handling the money. Sadly, Imogen is just as incompetent and naive as her brother, but she’s got a lifetime’s worth of learning when it comes to snaring a rich husband so that faun that moved in next door isn’t looking too bad right about now. I spotted the sexual tension from the beginning before I even cared to memorize their names so in my notes I’ve jotted down “prediction: fancy b*tch and hoof man do the nasty” and honestly, I really don’t want to refer to them any other way. 

Alyssa: I accept Fancy B*tch and Hoof Man wholeheartedly, especially because Agreus is a tough one to spell. Making an unrepentant racist get it on with the object of their hatred squicks me out to no end, so I am not really on board, but yeah, I think they’re going there. Imogen is a schemer and a social climber and Agreus has money. That’s all she wants. BUT, at the same time, it’s clear that life in Carnival Row is as precarious for women as it was in real Victorian times, and her milquetoast brother obviously isn’t going to provide. She’s going to secure that bag however she can. If she can get over what her fellow racists would say about having a faun husband in order to have a comfortable life, I think Imogen is going to go for it. 

Jessica: As the poet laureate, Cardi B would say, “She don’t really need that D, she need that money.” And girl, get your bag, just ease up on the bigotry a lot, and you’ll have a fan in me. Until then, I hope hoof-man makes life especially hard for fancy b*tch. You know who else is having a hard time? Jonah Breakspear. Do I feel bad that the Chancellor’s son went and got himself kidnapped? Sure. But also, isn’t that what you get for pissing off the side of a whore house in the fae-run slums? 

Alyssa: Has there ever been a Jonah that didn’t find themselves in terrible trouble at some point? It all started with the whale and it was downhill from there. But yeah, Jonah is definitely a pawn, and his parents are willing to resort to Critch magic to find him. Bringing out a spooky old woman to read runes/bones/blood is a tale as old as time, but I am still excited to see it every damn time. Unfortunately, she had to kill Absolom’s beloved bear to find the truth: Jonah was taken by his political opponents! When we first learned that, I thought it was a pretty obvious option that shouldn’t have required cute bear death to learn. However, there was another twist! Absolom’s wife Piety was in fact behind it! She kidnapped her own son to frame their enemies! I very much enjoyed this development. Scheming women using their spineless husbands as puppets will always get a thumbs up from me. 

Jessica: Again, I would’ve found it easier to root for Piety had she not engineered the murder of that poor bear but we can’t have our cake and eat it too on Carnival Row it seems. I do love a woman who plots though and this b*tch is full-on “woman who plots.” Leaving her son tied up and naked, shaking like a leaf while her husband becomes more paranoid and she quietly manipulates him into doing her bidding? Inject that into my veins! I’m interested to see what outcome she’s hoping for though. I’m assuming she wants that Critch-hater out so she can push her husband to be more progressive in his law-making when it comes to her kind? What is her kind exactly? Have we found out yet? I haven’t been able to concentrate past her fire wardrobe long enough to really investigate. 


The Black Ravens

Alyssa: At this point, all I’ve been able to glean is vaguely inhuman. Probably fae? That would be the easiest for her to hide under her fabulous wardrobe. The fae are having to operate outside of the law to gain any ground for themselves from a powerful family like the Breakspears all the way down to homeless urchins like Vignette. After fleeing the Spurnrose’s house, she ends up back at the brothel with Tourmaline. After trying to get a job as a prostitute — and hinting at a romantic, or at least sexual, past — Vignette does get a new path from Tourmaline’s connections: the Black Ravens. They’re a group of fae vigilantes and I’m already obsessed with them. 

Jessica: If this show deigns to give us a Tourmaline/Vignette sexcapade, I’ve got my popcorn ready. Two hot women with wings going at it? Why isn’t that the whole plot of this damn show? Alas, we’re covering more serious sh*t this episode, like Vignette joining a secret society that likes to occasionally chuck its own members off high rises. Underground orders aimed at stirring chaos and sparking revolution are totally my jam, but who else has bad vibes from this HBIC? I respect her, but I also think she’s dead serious about killing Vignette if she does anything to betray the order and what’s shadier than having a connection to a lead detective on the force? I guess the real mystery of this show will be just how long Vignette can resist that D before it ends up getting her killed. 

Alyssa: My notes say “Dahlia rules already” about two seconds after she was introduced, but yeah, she’s probably bad news. However, I think she probably is justified in her reservations about Vignette. Sure, she’s got passion, but was she good at stealing that flag from the Constabulary? Absolutely not. Vignette has zero chill and it almost got her and Tourmaline killed. However, her incompetence did throw her back into Philo’s path and they had another whisper fight and almost kissed and it was good. However, I feel like he should have mentioned that he paid off her debt and she was free now. That seems a bit more important than trying to make out, Philo. Also, it’s been two episodes (out of eight). It’s time to find out what Philo’s secret actually is instead of just fighting about it. ACTUALLY COMMUNICATE, YOU HORNY JERKS.

Jessica: Sexually-charged whispering will only satisfy the mob for so long guys. We need lip-smacking action or the streets may soon be drenched in hormones and littered with the torn pages of old bodice-rippers. You’ve been warned. I’d personally like to know where Philo got the money to pay off Vignette’s debt — Imogen is irksome but she wasn’t wrong about that whole policeman’s salary thing. I’d also like to know what secret Philo is keeping, and if Vignette would really use it against him. This time it was just a flag, but what if she’s tasked with something more difficult and needs Philo’s help to complete a mission? Would she blackmail him? I hope so because then we’re guaranteed more sexy whisper time! I don’t know what it is about threats to expose life-destroying secrets in hushed tones, but that sh*t gets me every time. 


What’s Next

Alyssa: Strong agree on the hushed tones. I’m ready for these two to get real about their devastating pasts, do the deed, and work together as a team. It will be silly, it will be glorious, I need it like oxygen. I also really want to get a better look at that sewer monster, maybe even in the act of ripping someone limb from limb. Am I bloodthirsty? A bit. Do I want my monsters to actually be terrifying? Definitely. 

Jessica: Yeah, it’s tough. On the one hand, there’s still so much world-building to do. On the other, we need the adrenaline rush of a fae-ripping monster to fuel our interest. I’d personally like less time spent on the racist twins and more time spent on Vignette/Philo make-outs with a sprinkle of crime-solving and political backstabbing thrown in.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors', and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.