“This city doesn’t care who you were. You have to make the best of the choices you’ve got.”
It’s as if the Carnival Row dark god was listening.
Despite the positives in “Some Dark God Wakes”, it’s fair to say that the episode itself was somewhat disappointing. Luckily, “Aisling” targets some of the glaring weaknesses of the premiere and positively builds up characters whose initial appearances were forgettable affairs.
Once again four story arcs act as the foundation for the series’ second episode. Vignette moves forward after her confrontation with Philo while also severing her relationship with the Spurnrose siblings after a traumatic run-in with Ezra. Philo investigates the barbaric murder of the Fae Aisling while doing what he can to keep Vignette out of the constabulary’s purview. Absalom and Piety(Indira Varma, Game of Thrones, Rome, Paranoid) work to get their kidnapped son back, while Imogen’s attitude towards her new neighbor, Agreus Astrayon, changes from hostile to plotting as she sees the Puck’s wealth as a ticket for her to stay out of the potential squalor thanks to her brother’s financial missteps. Based on the first two episodes, these will be the primary narrative veins going forward, with significant overlaps between characters, especially with Vignette and Philo who, for the second straight episode, share an emotional scene at the very end.
Though Philo and Vignette’s arcs were already solid, both were given even stronger material to build upon. Aside from his murder investigation, Philo’s visit to Bleakness Keep to see his friend Darius (Ariyon Bakare, Life, Good Omens) creates even more questions regarding his past. His comment of how it could have been him behind bars instead of Darius becomes even more fascinating when coupled with Vignette’s realization that Philo’s colleagues are ignorant of his past. Considering his reaction to her statement, were Philo’s secret to be revealed, it would put him in poor favor to an already prejudiced police force.
After escaping an attempted rape at Ezra’s hands, Vignette finds that she needs an escape and a way to make her life her own again. Tourmaline connects her with Dahlia (Chloe Pirrie, The Crown, Troy: Fall of a City), leader of the Black Raven, a group of Fae bootleggers, getting whatever business demands, despite most (if not all) of their activity falling on the wrong side of the law. This decision will put her and Philo at odds, though, at least this time around, Philo relents, allowing her to escape.
The two greatest improvements from the premiere to “Aisling” is fleshing out Imogen and the Breakspear family. Not only does Imogen come off as more than an arrogant socialite, but the connection she makes with Agreus—despite her ploy to use him for his wealth—will be something to watch going forward. The same can be said for Piety’s decision to kidnap her own son to light a fire under Absalom and take the fight to his rival, Longerbane. But she’s playing with fire, convincing her family’s witch, Haruspex (Alice Krige, Star Trek: First Contact, The OA) to lie, an act that will most definitely create consequences for the entire Breakspear family.
With a better focus on giving the primary characters greater depth, as well as hinting at what is to come, “Aisling” gives us a better idea of Carnival Row’s promising future while continuing to tease us with the mysteries of the past and things hiding in the shadows.
Fae, Love, and Hope
- Whenever I think of Fae, my thoughts turn to the magical aspect of their culture. Unseelie Jack’s pre-death monologue hinted at that very same thing, as does Philo’s conversation with Mima Sawsaan (Mina Andala, A Unica Mulher, Pilgrimage) who prays over Aisling’s body. Not only does she tell him that Aisling’s murderer is “neither man nor fae” but also that “the old ways can summon things that would drive a man mad to look upon”. That suggests there’s much more behind the curtain of the Fae world, and one we will be able to glimpse behind soon enough.
- Cara Delevinge’s performance after running into Philo was once again masterful. Tenderness and rage warred within her as she quietly addressed him, gently cupping his cheek, threatening to expose the truth about her former lover. The chemistry between the pair is obvious, which gives greater weight to the conflicting emotions flowing between them. Soon enough the genesis of their relationship will be revealed and that will only deepen the “will they/won’t they?” vibe as the pair are invariably swept into the path of the heinous dark god.