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SYFY WIRE Carnival Row

Carnival Row Discussion: 'Kingdoms Of The Moon' remembers a war-torn romance

By Jessica Toomer & Alyssa Fikse

The latest episode of Carnival Row retraces its history, bringing fans back to a war-torn Tiranoc and giving us a steamy, interspecies love story to swoon over. 

"Kingdoms of the Moon" takes us to the beginning, as Philo and Vignette meet for the first time. Their initial suspicion of each other gives way to a hot-and-heavy affair they must keep secret from their own kind. It's the kind of doomed romance that really gets our lady-bits fluttering, y'all. 

We're Alyssa Fikse and Jessica Toomer and we're here to reminisce about the good ol' days on Carnival Row, days filled with werewolf attacks and sexy-times in caves and library hook-ups.

Spoilers for Season 1, Episode 3 of Carnival Row within. 


The Great War

Alyssa: We have officially reached the “ripped from fanfic” portion of the season, and let me tell you, I ate it up. We’ve got passion. We’ve got werewolves. We’ve got blimp battles. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is our flashback episode, showing viewers how the drama between Vignette and Philo all started. I admit that I don’t understand all the dynamics of this war — some fae are on the side of the Burgue, some are not? — but I do know that the Pact is bad and Tiranoc is cold.

Jessica: Yes, we’ve retreated to the frosty north where a wildling and an oath-swearing soldier will get all hot and steamy in secret caves at some point (remind you of anything?) but first, let’s suss out the politics of this great war. The way I understand it, The Burgue and The Pact are both armies of men, fighting over the valuable resources of this newly-discovered Tiranoc. The Pact are like Nazi Germany — no one wants to align with those weirdos — but the fae-folk are understandably suspicious of The Burguish troops because, hello, they’re men. This could be completely wrong and I’m sure we’ll hear about it if that’s the case, but for now, I’m happy drawing this line in the sand: Burguish Boys are good, Pact Army is bad.

Alyssa: Right. So, the Burguish Boys roll into this hilltop fae keep and, despite it sounding like a hive, decide that this needs to be the base of their operations, so they occupy it. It all goes down about as well as you’d expect. Everyone is suspicious of the other side, knives get pulled, goats get stolen, it’s a whole to do. While checking out their new camp for secret spaces and hidden corners, Philo comes across Vignette. She is the guard of the sacred fae library and she does not have time for his shit. However, our boy is smitten pretty much from the get-go. I’m a sucker for some wistful longing, and Philo is pouring it on THICK.

Jessica: It’s sexual-tension-flavored molasses up in here and I am eating it straight from the jar. Philo seems like a morally-sound enough sort, so when he stumbles upon this sacred library and is threatened with keeping its contents secret he complies, and I trust him to keep his word. Vignette does too, after a bit of knife-wielding intimidation tactics which only upped the swoon factor of this meet-cute. The world can have cafe run-ins and taxi cab mixups; give me a romance that begins with dimly-lit showdowns where lives hang in the balance and ample sass is exchanged.

Alyssa: Plus, we see them work together as a team and that always makes my heart beat a little faster. When the Burguish communication line is cut, Vignette helps Philo and his BFF Darius repair it. In between the scouting, there’s a lot of flirting done about a book about a man who falls in love with the princess of the moon. It’s all very pointed until they get attacked by Pact werewolf dudes with very stupid hats. I probably should have seen it coming, but I was very taken aback that the wolf creatures from episode one were actually juiced up dudes who really wanted to be werewolves 24/7. Yikes.

Jessica: The hats were already suspect but they lost me at “let’s stick a gigantic syringe in our necks so we can become oversized dogs.” Hard pass. Unfortunately, the Burguish Boys were pretty much defenseless against the attack which means most were killed and poor Darius was bitten. He keeps it a secret of course but really, how long can you hide the fact that you turn into a hairy beast at the height of every full moon? My guess: not long.


A Forbidden Romance

Alyssa: It’s true. But the surprise attack did give us one good thing: Vignette and Philo did the deed. Surviving death + a rainstorm = surefire sexytimes. The fae wings make the mechanics of the sex a bit interesting. They seemed… involved. Which, you know, cool. Philo’s into it, Vignette is into it, everyone is having a good time. Sure, a war is going on, but talking about books and boning in a secret library is basically the dream.

Jessica: Bonding over science fiction novels and secret rendezvous in dusty old libraries — this show knows its audience’s kink and it’s leaning into it hard. I’m not sure what’s so great about fae sex at this point — those wings make it look like a ton of work and that’s the last thing I’m interested in tbh, but as long as everyone’s enjoying themselves, I’m not going to nitpick the tastefully-done sex scenes on this show. What I do want to nitpick — Philo’s body, specifically the scars on his back. We saw a bit of them early on but now we get the truth behind those markings and, dear reader, it’s a f*cking doozy of a tale.

Alyssa: Yep, Philo’s secret is out: he’s half-fae, and before he was dumped at an orphanage as a baby, his wings were sawed off. Damn. We’ve criticized the guy for his inability to face his feelings, but I think this kind of identity crisis and body horror would f*ck up anyone. Trapped between two worlds, belonging to neither. As ridiculous as Carnival Row is, I really respect the fact that every single person on the show is taking this all 100% seriously. I believe Bloom and Delevigne in their love scenes together, and this could easily take a hard right turn into camp. But they play it completely straight and I’m moved.

Jessica: I mean, I’ll never argue against more camp but that’s just me. I do agree though, everyone’s doing their best to sell this thing and that works in some places in the episode, but not in others. One of the worst romantic tropes that just won’t seem to die is having two lovers from separate worlds torn apart because of their own misguided need to keep each other safe and Carnival Row leans into that cliche to its detriment, I think. I respect Philo’s dilemma but he could easily choose to remain with the fae instead of going back to the Burgue when the war is over. He admits Tiranoc feels like home, he has a woman who loves him, he’s basically accepted for who he is. This conflict that ultimately ends up driving these two apart felt a bit too contrived for me to truly be heartbroken about. Maybe it’s because I already know how it plays out, but I held off on getting too invested in this relationship because I just knew Philo would f*ck things up, and sure enough, he did.

Alyssa: I mean, that is definitely a fair criticism. Could Philo and Vignette have found peace and happiness together? Maybe. But probably not. I’m always torn about this trope too. On one hand, I am always a sucker for our hero putting aside his happiness to save the people that he loves even if it means great personal risk (hello, how much of the Outlander longing is built on this?). However, what always rubs me the wrong way, and definitely did here as well, was the removal of choice. Sure, Philo thinks what he’s doing is right, but he is removing Vignette’s agency in their relationship, and that sticks in my craw.

Jessica: Exactly. Let it be a mutual decision for once, dammit. It’s almost always the man making this choice as well which, *forehead smack*. I think that blatant sexism — believing a woman isn’t capable of deciding for herself because, emotions — is what has me secretly rooting for Vignette to not get back together with Philo in the present, despite how attractive they are together.

Alyssa: If this was real life, I would definitely be advising Vignette to stay away from Philo’s emotional baggage and decision making. But it’s not, so I am still on board because pretty people pining. I’m not proud, but it’s my truth. However, the show keeps making it clear that Tourmaline is definitely the better choice for Vignette, even if Vignette doesn’t agree. It breaks my heart because CLEARLY Tourmaline is still in love with her, and Vignette is all “no, we’re friends now, soz.” I don’t know. It seems a bit selfish to keeping stringing Tourmaline along with occasional love morsels if she’s never going to feel the same way back.


A Surprise Attack

Jessica: I would not mind in the slightest if this series ended with Tourmaline and Vignette flying off into the sunset together. Unfortunately, there’s a war to survive first. How the Pact managed to sneak up on this mountain-top monastery full of fae warriors I’ll never understand. Did someone fall asleep on guard duty? Do we not have a pair of binoculars lying around? But sneak up they did, and in blimps no less. I love a good steampunk assault — it’s one reason Sucker Punch is so dear to my heart, that and Oscar Isaac with a razor-thin stache — but yet again I’m left questioning the logic of this war. What’s the endgame? Who should I be rooting for? Why are white men so incompetent?

Alyssa: Oh, Jess. Not even Oscar Isaac can save Sucker Punch. But I was delighted by the appearance of blimps, but it was hilarious that the least sneaky vehicle imaginable was able to sneak up on these jerks. I don’t know much about war, but I feel like the Burguish soldiers should have had a better course of action in place. Oh, we’re found, let’s go home? Why were they even there! Also, if that shady commander could sniff out that Philo and Vignette were involved, doesn’t that mean he has a bit too much time on his hands? Do some battle planning, my guy! That’s your job!

Jessica: Right? What was the tactical advantage of occupying this monastery if not to have a clear visual of the enemy before they arrived and to have the higher ground in a fight? I’m no 7th-century military genius but even I know just holing up in a fae village and playing peeping Tom on interspecies hookups is not going to win a war. Still, the sh*tty planning ends up costing the fae their last stronghold and separating Philo and Vignette for what they think is for good. Philo convinces Vignette’s mentor to lie to her, telling her he’s dead while he rides home because… I guess, duty? I really don’t know what Philo’s thinking at this point. If there were ever a good out, a good reason to join your lover on a road trip instead of returning home to a smog city that forces you to cut off your wings to be treated humanely, it’s this surprise attack.

Alyssa: Yeah, it doesn’t make a ton of sense for Philo to return to the Burgue, but at the same time, he can’t abandon his men. He has no idea what he’s fleeing into, and he doesn’t want that kind of danger at Vignette. Why he thinks that she’s so much safer facing The Pact with her people I don’t know, but this was the misguided attempt to keep her safe that he chose. It clearly was the wrong choice, because when we fast forward back to the future, whew, the emotional wounds on these two are still rather fresh.

Jessica: Ya think? Seven years is a long time to mourn someone who’s still alive. I know Philo hasn’t been having the best time of it either but Vignette got the short end of this stick and I’m happy the show gave us this flashback episode so we could truly appreciate the heartbreak she’s gone through. I can forgive Orlando Bloom a lot, but he’s really testing me this episode.


What’s Next

Alyssa: She gave him her soulmate charm! That means something, Philo! Honestly, as much as I enjoyed the swooniness of this episode, I’m ready to get back to the monsters and the scheming and the scheming monsters. Not that I’m *hoping* that someone else dies at the sewer creature’s hand, but I’m not not hoping that we see our slimy friend again.

Jessica: Yeah, the true-crime angle of this season is what really has me hooked so far. It’s such an interesting premise, and then to throw so many fantasy elements at it makes it even more compelling. I hate to say it, but we’ve seen enough war stories when it comes to fantasy worlds, I’m happy the show hasn’t focused so much on that history and is instead moving forward. Onward to sewer monsters, political hostages, and fae rebellions!

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