REVIEW: Carnival Row – Season 2, Episodes 1 and 2, “Fight or Flight” and “New Dawn”

After a four-year break, Carnival Row returned on Amazon Prime last Friday. Season 1 wasn’t very good, aside from some of the performances, and I forgot this show existed. But here we are, four years and a pandemic later. Back on the Row, where mythical creatures like pixies and fauns are discriminated against, and the cops are beyond corrupt. If that all sounds a little on the nose, it is. Let’s check out season 2. 


“Fight or Flight” finds Vignette infiltrating a cargo train while Philo participates in a cage match against various fey folk. Philo wins the fight, securing a favor from the establishment’s owner. The new chancellor exacts revenge on the people who ostensibly killed his parents in a public execution. The heads are posted in the Row to send a message. Vignette is initiated in the Black Ravens with a brand on her back. Her friend Tormaline visits briefly before having a vision and unwillingly killing a cat. A police officer asks Philo for help with an investigation, but the others dismiss the notion, escorting him back to the Row. Imogen suffers from nightmares aboard the ship with Agreus. He wants to move on land, but she pleads to stay on the boat, fearing the repercussions of polite society. 

Carnival Row New Dawn

“New Dawn” finds Agreus and Imogen in The Pact, the country the Burg was once at war with. They’re taken in and robbed by the authorities there, who say to consider it “redistribution.” The two are separated for resisting, and Agreus is held there while Imogen is put in a house with a strange puck woman. Meanwhile, Vignette is unhappy with Philo’s plan to reveal his heritage and challenge Jonah’s claim to power. Back in the Burg, we see the consequences the people holding Agreus hostage are having on their government. In short, their government is weak due to the loss of supplies and control. In private, Sophie suggests they arm both the Pact and the rebels called the New Dawn. Philo collects his favor from the fight house landlord: a place for his war buddy Darius to hide out. Tourmaline learns that Haruspex possessed her when she died. Philo infiltrates an important dinner to make his announcement, but nobody hears him as the Black Ravens break in. They’re led by Dahlia, who makes a speech about the harsh treatment of fey folk. One of her followers, a sickly pixie, is killed on sight. Dahlia and another follower have their heads put on spikes. 

Because it has been so long, I actually let the 90-second “previously on” clip play before the episodes. I still struggle with the details, such as Jonah Breakspear being illegitimate. In this setting, without DNA evidence, how could anyone know that? But anyway, if I liked the show more, I would rewatch season 1 to freshen the events in my mind. A 4-year break is a bizarre choice, even in light of HBO’s penchant for 2-year hiatuses, and ending a show with season 2 is also strange. Carnival Row looks expensive, and I don’t know anyone else who watches it, so I wonder if more seasons were initially planned, making this a cost-saving effort. I’m not disappointed to see it end with season 2, just baffled and a little amused. 

Carnival Row New Dawn

In terms of characterization, I’m perplexed by Imogen’s treatment of Leonora, the faun woman she encounters in the house. She’s very rude and short with her, calling her an “impertinent” servant. Hasn’t what she’s gone through with Agreus, falling in love with someone she initially saw as inferior, humbled her at all? I understand that, as a peasant, this woman is different from Agreus, a wealthy puck. He’s “inferior” for his race but not his class. I also understand that change doesn’t necessarily happen all at once. I expected better of Imogen or that she would at least behave cautiously in a new place with different rules. On the other side of the coin, we have Sophie, the leader of the opposition and Jonah’s half-sister/girlfriend. She encourages him to execute several innocent pucks (not the ones who really killed his father). Outwardly, she seems as prejudiced as anyone else and twice as heartless. But in “New Dawn,” she meets up with a puck girl and gives her food. I don’t recall this character from season 1, but they have some type of bond, and Sophie intends to take care of her. I don’t understand! If they’re trying to create a parallel between these two women and their contrary views, it’s not working. What are Imogen and Sophie’s beliefs and priorities? Imogen’s only concern went from being a prejudiced hag to being with Agreus 24/7. Sophie is willing to use her feminine wiles for political ends, but what ends are they? What does this woman want that she’s willing to sleep with her own brother? I don’t get it. Her plan to sell weapons both to the Pact and the New Dawn is pure evil, making money on both sides and watching them annihilate one another. 

Carnival Row New Dawn

This is more of a nitpick, but I think it’s unbelievably dumb that the pixies don’t use code names when committing crimes. They have names like Vignette and Dahlia; you’d think identifying each other as such would be a death sentence. This proves true when Dahlia’s head is displayed at the end of “New Dawn,” and I don’t feel sorry for her. I don’t even really like Vignette or anyone on this show, for that matter, but Dahlia treated her shamefully for no real reason. I’m glad Dahlia insisted on going on the mission and died as a result. 

They’re laying it on thick, the idea that the New Dawn are communists or this world’s version of them. They “redistribute” the wealth seized from Agreus’ ship, free his hired crew, and Leonora expects everyone who eats to help make the soup. I don’t like or sympathize with them if that’s the intent; they’re splitting up families and taking their stuff. I don’t care what the reason is; that’s not right. I don’t know why we’re supposed to oppose the Pact; the Burg isn’t the nicest place, either. Season 1 didn’t do much to set this conflict up, as we only saw the Pact briefly in flashbacks. It’s also unclear whether Philo will help investigate the policeman’s death; that seemed like a promising setup, but he quickly drops it in favor of revealing his parentage to usurp Jonah. The episodes mainly look and sound great, except for Tormaline’s visions; this effect reminded me of the Halloweentown movies. For added context, that’s not a good thing. 

“Fight or Flight” and “New Dawn” are great-looking episodes, but the characters remain dull, and the worldbuilding is murky at best. Carnival Row is what I would describe as high-concept, low-execution. 

Carnival Row Season 2, Episodes 1 and 2, "Fight or Flight" and "New Dawn"

Plot - 3
Acting - 8.5
Progression - 4
Production Design - 7.5
Character development - 4



Carnival Row is what I would describe as high-concept, low-execution. 

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