REVIEW: A Sometimes Messy ‘Carnival Row’ Pulls It Together for a Solid Second Season

After a long wait following its first season, Carnival Row returns to Amazon Prime Video for ten final episodes to conclude the story. The titular city continues to escalate its boiling tensions built around prejudice towards the immigration of mythical beings. After an extended hiatus, the audiences should be curious to follow if the conclusion to the epic fantasy series will be worthwhile. Having seen the entirety of the second season, the conclusion of Carnival Row will likely be well-received among already-existing fans of the series. However, there are noticeable faults that will hold back the quality for anyone who may be on the fence about one of Prime Video’s marquee series.

Something worth discussing in season two of Carnival Row is how the pandemic adversely affected its production. Filming for the show faced multiple extended pauses following its start in November 2019 which meant it didn’t fully conclude until September 2021. With that information in mind, one can understand how the narrative pacing issues came to be, though as time passes, it will be harder for audiences to use this notion as a crutch for some faults with the show’s ending. 

A potential silver lining for the extended production time is that the visual effects for Carnival Row are top-notch. The creative team behind this season put what was likely an extremely high budget from Amazon Studios to optimal use. This is especially the case with the mysterious monster who quickly should rise to the ranks of great fantasy villains for audiences.

One major credit that Carnival Row deserves is its high-quality acting. Across the board, the ensemble cast predominately provides strong performances that help level the characters for the audience despite the fantastical nature of the story. In particular, Karla Crome soars as Tourmaline Larou in an elevated role from season one that places her right in the heart of the main plot throughout the ten episodes. The pairing of David Gyasi and Tamzin Merchant’s Argeus Astrayon and Imogen Spurnrose also provides many highlights for season two of Carnival Row. And one would be remiss not to mention how well Darius Sykes, played by Ariyon Bakare, fits in a supporting role to elevate his scene partners. This is especially the case in providing Orlando Bloom’s Philo with a stronger sense of relatability throughout his story.

Even though Carnival Row is home to various great acting performances, the writing and directorial teams struggle to unify these performances into what feels like a cohesive television season. The most predominant flaw in these ten episodes is how disparate most plot threads are for most of the runtime. The issue is especially the case with Argeus and Imogen’s characters who are geographically and narratively distant from anything of significance to the main story for more than half of the final season.

And even for the storylines based directly on the location of Carnival Row, the two protagonists in Orlando Bloom’s Philo and Cara Delevigne’s Vignette seldom connect for most episodes. The separation between the two plays into themes of issues between the reunited relationship, but there are critical moments in the plots for both characters that would’ve been resolved if Philo or Vignette simply communicated more often about their plans. Anyone who enjoyed the developed relationship between Philo and Vignette in season one is likely to be disappointed in this component of season two.

In addition to the disparate nature of various storylines, their pacing is another issue season two of Carnival Row faces. Multiple important threads move slowly for the first three-fourths of the season but reach radical turning points towards the endgame that don’t appear in line with what got set up in earlier episodes. Audiences also will find a critical component of Philo’s character set up to be an important lynchpin ignored throughout most of the conclusion. It ultimately leads to a notion of if Carnival Row was always meant to only last two seasons. The scripting for the show would’ve been better served if the creative team divided the show into a solitary second season followed by a concluding third.

But even with a rushed ending, audiences will greatly feel the stakes of the conclusion once it begins to be set into motion. While pacing for numerous threads is inconsistent, they all are successful in building towards an epic conclusion by the final few episodes. And the issues of disparate storylines are erased by the time of the last few episodes. The close of the series provides some truly unexpected moments through its willingness to kill off lead characters as needed for a robust ending.

The process of setting up the finale is ultimately emblematic of Carnival Row’s final season as a whole. There are noticeable issues in how audiences reach their destination, but there are equally enough dynamic elements that it shouldn’t be considered a bad ending. Season Two of Carnival Row earns its stripes as a landmark Amazon Prime Video series.

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