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Carnival Row hits a speed bump at its halfway mark as Philo inches closer to the truth of who's behind the attacks in the Burgue, while meanwhile an uneasy alliance is forged on High Street.
Philo's digging into the murders on the Row leads him to a familiar place as Imogen struggles to make good on her partnership with Agreus and a bold new voice shakes up Parliament. We're Jessica Toomer and Alyssa Fikse, and we're here to guide you through the haunted orphanages and secret affairs of Carnival Row.
Spoilers for Season 1, Episode 5 of Carnival Row within.
Alyssa: I am a bit disappointed to say that Carnival Row hits a bit of a midseason slump with this episode. Yes, some pretty big bombshells are dropped, but a distinct lack of Vignette brought the whole thing down for me. We see her flitting about her new job running some sort of fae gambling ring, trading a quick barb with Philo, and stringing Tourmaline along even more, but our girl was largely MIA. She did reconnect with the Spurnrose’s housekeeper, which was a nice moment, but yeah. Not much cracking with the Black Ravens this episode. However, the drama at the Spurnrose’s house almost made up for it. Jess, I know you were excited for the continued drama of Fancy B*tch and Hoof Man. Did they deliver?
Jessica: They did indeed. Imogen may be a stuck-up bigot but when she kicked up her petticoats and put Ezra in his place this episode, I cheered. Throw your dinner party, b*tch, show that spineless cretin who’s boss. I’m loving the dynamic between Hoof Man and Fancy B*tch, mostly because I have no idea where it’s going. For a critch who claims to want an invitation into high society, Agreus has no stomach for entertaining the Burguish elite. Poor Mr. Pembrooke did his best to parade his allyship — he was one word away from becoming a white woke bro in a feminist beanie at a Women’s March, if you know what I mean — but Hoof Man was just not here for it which made Fancy B*tch’s job so much harder. Did I feel for Imogen this episode? Yes, but only because awkward social gatherings are my kryptonite.
Alyssa: I really have no idea where this relationship is going either and I can’t look away. Agreus is pretty quickly becoming a favorite of mine, and his unwillingness to appease the people of The Burgue is a huge reason why. He wants the recognition for the life that he’s built for himself, but he’s not going to make himself into an easily digestible joke to do so. These fancy jerks can try and bait him into lashing out or debasing himself, but he isn’t here for that. And honestly, if he’s going to shell out that kind of money to keep the Spurnroses afloat, they should have recognized that. He’s not their dancing monkey that they can manipulate; he’s their salvation and they should be kissing his feet with gratitude.
Jessica: It was oddly satisfying to see both Imogen and Ezra hem-haw about their partnership with Agreus. They want his money, sure, but do they want it bad enough to ruin their reputation among society’s elite? Oddly enough, Ezra seems the most concerned about that while Imogen is focusing on those dollar bills, y’all. I just worry about Agreus in the long run of this con. I don’t want him to compromise his self-worth, but he’s got to know how these people operate and figure out a way to manipulate the system if he truly wants acceptance into it. Maybe that’s not his endgame? Maybe he wants to burn it all down — which I fully support — but if he just wants to be invited to parties and tea times, I think he’s going to need some a**-kissing lessons from Imogen because that’s all these people seem to do with each other.
A Star Is Born
Alyssa: No one is ever upfront with each other on Carnival Row, especially the Breakspears. Jonah has been restored to the household and his mother is immediately bearing down on him to double up on his studies in order to become the great man that he was foretold to be. I think the visions that she was given before her marriage about the great heights that her husband and son would ascend to have warped her mind. If you have to murder and manipulate to get them there, I think it may be more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than anything else. I’m curious to see how she and Jonah interact going forward. She doesn’t seem to suspect that he knows about her misdeeds at this point, despite the fact that he was incredibly petulant over breakfast. Nothing like a little passive aggression to keep the family status quo.
Jessica: At first I wrote Jonah off as a spoiled white boy happy to coast along on his father’s reputation, but after seeing how Piety is basically shoving this prophecy down his throat any chance she gets, I understand why the poor kid chose a life of whoring it up and pissing in the street to politics. No one can measure up to what his mother expects of him, so why even try. I hope Jonah begins to chip away at his mother’s ego a bit and ultimately bring her down for using him as a political pawn but I’m also realistic enough to recognize that Jonah isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. He suspects his mom may have kidnapped him, probably killed a prominent politician, and is strong-arming him into fulfilling some strange prophecy and his first thought is, “Damn, this new girl is hot” when he sees Sophie take up her father’s mantle? Jonah, sweetie, get your sh*t together.
Alyssa: Jonah seems to have a terminal case of dumbass disease, that’s for sure. Super disappointing about Sophie, right? I had assumed that with her domineering dad out of the way, she was going to spring forth, well-read and ready to rumble. Well, she was, but she is spouting the same racist bullsh*t as her father! Sophie! Why! You were the chosen one! Apparently keeping her away from society caused a critical lack of empathy, proving that extreme levels of privilege can have a poisonous effect on anyone. However, as dumb as Jonah is and as toxic as Sophie is, I’m kind of excited about the ramifications if he pursues her. His parents are going to keel over.
Jessica: Right? How deliciously fitting would it be if Jonah aligned with Sophie and took his father and mother down after everything Piety did to ensure Sophie’s dad was out of the picture? Look, Sophie was a huge disappointment this episode — women of privilege often are, aren’t they? — but I too want to see her team-up with Jonah, if only to give Piety a run for her money. And I think Sophie represents an interesting idea on this show. She’s the physical embodiment of the argument, “We came to this country the right way.” She represents a real faction of people who are immigrants themselves or born of immigrants — read, everyone living in this damn country who aren’t descendants of Native Americans — who take the moral high ground in these kinds of debates because they came over on a boat hundreds of years ago and that was the “correct” way to do it. It’s completely ridiculous, of course, but logic is often absent when we’re talking politics.
Alyssa: Yeah, the immigration storylines in Carnival Row are pretty heavy-handed, but I’m curious to see how people respond to them. I think Carnival Row could have easily just been a silly fantasy show, but I respect its attempts to keep things relevant. This message is certainly timely. While Carnival Row isn’t necessarily handling it with the most grace, they’re trying to engage, and in heartbreaking ways, too, like the deportation of the kobolds. When I said that I wanted to see them again, this is NOT what I meant!
Jessica: Okay, let’s discuss that because what the ever-loving-hell?! You take a nap in a police station with a crate of precious kobolds beside you and wake up to just find them gone? Those mischevious urchins didn’t make a peep when someone stole them away? You didn’t feel a jostle when someone lifted the crate? If you can’t take care of your damn pets, my dude, you don’t deserve them! I was livid that poor Fike and his pals were shipped back to their ravaged homeland because their manager couldn’t be bothered to caffeinate himself.
Justice For Aisling
Alyssa: It was certainly disappointing. Also disappointing? The fact that Philo’s dark asher wasn’t magically some kind of wise-cracking sidekick. No, the rat-fish-eel was just a floppy horror show that was chopped in thirds and trapped in some sort of half-life that will only be eased when Philo himself dies. While this creature was repulsive and sad, it did serve a purpose: Philo needs to shift his search from creature to creator. That’s the real source of power.
Jessica: Poor mole-fish-rat, you were never long for this world. Philo’s search leads him back to the orphanage where he reminisces on difficult times though we do get a bright spot in the darkness when we learn Darius grew up with Philo at the boy’s home. I’d like to see more Darius, and more of the friendship, going forward. Philo learns the monk who died liked to frequent fae brothels on the Row and when he digs a bit deeper he discovers the old man was hooking up with the good doctor in secret. Can you imagine performing an autopsy on your secret lover and having to stay stonefaced while you theorized about what tore him to shreds?
Alyssa: That was devastating to be sure. All of this new information triggered a lot of flashbacks and realizations for Philo, bringing up some pretty tragic sh*t from his childhood. Before we get into all that, can we get into how disturbing it was that there were statues (god, I hope they were statues because honestly sometimes I wasn’t sure) of The Martyr hanging all over the orphanage, particularly right over Philo’s old bed? Nightmare fuel! But I digress. After making the connection that the dead headmaster and Aisling knew each other, Philo was haunted once again by the dead fae’s ethereal voice. What does it all mean? Well, she’s his mother of course! His mom abandoned him and allowed his wings to get hacked off in order to potentially give him a better life. That’s a lot to take in.
Jessica: Especially for Philo, a manly man who wants nothing more than to bury these memories because… FEELINGS. It’s a weird pivot for me, to discover this woman we saw haggling on the Row before she had her innards strewn along the riverbank, is actually Philo’s mom. I mean, he observed her autopsy. He listened as the critch told him her hips looked like she’d had a baby. Weird, right? And what does having Aisling be Philo’s mom mean for the bigger picture? Obviously now, we need to know who his dad was. We know Aisling was a star back in the day before she fell out of favor. Perhaps dad was a high-ranking official or societal elite, they had a forbidden affair, she got pregnant, and they both covered it up to save the kid and the mystery man’s reputation? Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chancellor was Philo’s dad, and Philo is actually the son in Piety’s prophecy. It would serve her right and it’d be nice to see the Chancellor confronted with his prejudice in the form of a half-breed offspring. But how does this all connect to the creature and its creator?
Alyssa: I had the same thought about the Chancellor. I’m not sure if it would be a shock that he has a half-breed son, though. Whoever is controlling the creature is systematically working through the people who covered up Philo’s existence as a child: His mother who gave him up; the headmaster who sheltered him and hid his secret; and now the doctor who clipped his wings. These almost feel like the choices of someone who wants revenge for the son that was taken from them, but we’ll see. Honestly, I’m kind of hoping Carnival Row goes full-on Jekyll and Hyde, making Philo himself the creator of the monster seeking vengeance for the childhood injustice. If he starts losing time to blackouts, I am going to feel very vindicated.
Jessica: Alyssa, the writers on this show would be blessed to have you. I’d love that twist but sadly, right now it seems Philo is the hero (or anti-hero) of this story. He basically got an entire episode to himself with no Vignette. Him being the villain would be such a juicy twist, but I could also see the traveling stage manager, the Chancellor, or Piety being behind the attacks for various reasons. Either someone’s pissed they had a son they didn’t know about, or someone’s pissed because that secret might leak and destroy their precious prophecy. Only time — and the livers of all these dead people — will tell.
Alyssa: I know it’s an insane theory that won’t pan out, but I will continue to nurse it along until we know who the killer is for sure. Looking ahead to the next episode, I really hope we get more Vignette after such a Philo heavy episode. She may have settled in a bit with the Black Ravens, but that whole situation is so volatile that it’s bound to explode sooner rather than later.
Jessica: Agreed. I need more of our pixie-cut bada** warrior fae and I need it now. I also need more interaction between her and Philo. Look, I love the true-crime vibes, the gruesome murders, the mysterious dealings of the Row, but this show was sold to me as a doomed interspecies love story and I demand more of that angst.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors', and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.