Carnival Row

“I like the idea that a story like this might cross the world and somehow find its way back centuries later, changed by constant retellings, but familiar. As if to tell us something.”

 Though the wait seems longer than two episodes, Carnival Row finally shines the light on Philo and Vignette’s star-crossed path; from uneasy allies to lovers…before love and circumstance tears them apart.

Taking place almost exclusively in the past, “Kingdoms of the Moon” explores the depth of Philo and Vignette’s relationship while the world-altering war between the Pact and the Republic plays out in the background. Though there’s still a lot to be explored in regards to this war, “Kingdoms” provides a more solid understanding of conflict. Everything about the Pact soldiers—from their airships, masked uniforms, and penchant for channeling darker forces (dosing soldiers with a werewolf-enabling accelerant) is, frankly, an over-the-top parallel with World War II Axis forces, making Philo and his Burguish compatriots the Allies. While not exactly a unique avenue of exploration, it gets the point across well enough.

Bloom and Delevingne share a chemistry that has been Carnival Row’s heart and soul. (Photo: Jan Thijs)

Pact war aside, the most important narrative behind the episode is the bond between Philo and Vignette. Even if the pair has shared a scant five minutes’ of screen time thus far, those five minutes (thanks to Bloom and Delevingne’s wonderful acting) have said a lot about their love. “Kingdoms” properly expands upon that, offering a backstory that fills in the pieces and gives weight to actions of both characters that have led them where they are now.

Funny enough, what initially breaks down the divide between them is Philo’s favorite novel for which the episode is named. Not only does the story—a man who leaves his love, a lunar princess, only to have the daughter they conceived try to reunite with her father—suggest that even those whose cultures seem to be so far apart aren’t that different from one another, it’s almost like a premonition Philo and Vignette’s eventual separation. Knowing that Vignette would put her life in danger staying with him, Philo takes the decision out of her hands, faking his death. It’s a standard trope, one that can be looked at as both a heroic sacrifice and an egotistically selfish action. Watching events play out as they do, it gives more weight to Vignette’s anger and when “Kingdoms” returns to the present and she tells Philo, in no uncertain terms, that there is nothing left between them.

But the deconstruction of their love, one that will hopefully be rekindled (they are just too good together), is not “Kingdoms’” sole purpose. The mysterious scars on Philo’s back are revealed to be the remnants of his wings, sheared from the half-fae baby that he was. Such a reveal also brings a better understanding of Philo’s sympathy towards Fae. Moreover, the weight and pain of this man living his entire life, never quite belonging to one race or another, forever hiding who he is, one cannot help but sympathize with him. He is a lost soul, maybe more so than even he realizes. And while Vignette acknowledges this, the pain she’s endured these past seven years in believing him to be dead are—for now—too much for her to overcome to truly be there for him.

“Kingdoms of the Moon” is the best episode yet of this young season. It plays to the series’ strength thus far in the Philo/Vignette dynamic, while also expanding upon the mysteries of the Pact war and character secrets. The decision to root an entire episode in the past is often a hit-and-miss prospect that can arrest a show’s momentum; “Kingdoms” does the opposite. It’s an accelerant, adding an even greater spark to a show that continues to improve, artfully feeding us new information in just the right doses to maintain our interests without overwhelming our senses.

­Fae, Hope, and Love

  • Though his arc was secondary, it’s good to get an answer to why Darius spends his time locked up on a cell. His unfortunate exposure to the werewolf virus makes him more than an outsider; as he tells Philo, he’s a Critch that can turn others into Critch. He may be imprisoned but something tells me that his story is far from over.
  • Speaking of stories and history, Tourmaline and Vignette’s past puts an interesting spin on the trio’s (if one counts Philo) relationship. Was her advice to Philo given altruistically or was there a portion of it fueled by her envy of seeing Philo and Vignette together? It’s a difficult task, sussing the nuances that could drive a person’s motivations but now that we’ve seen this all play out, I’ll be even more curious to watch her interactions with Philo and Vignette.

Carnival Row – “Kingdoms of the Moon”
8 out of 10