Follow TV Tropes


Series / Carnival Row

Go To

Carnival Row is a Prime Video series created in 2019. It stars Orlando Bloom (who is also a producer) and Cara Delevingne in the leading roles, and was also produced by René Echevarria, Travis Beacham, Marc Guggenheim and Jon Amiel.

The story is based in a Victorianesque fantasy world filled with mythological immigrant creatures, whose rich homelands were invaded by the empires of man. This growing immigrant population struggles to coexist with humans in the grimiest section of The Burgue, capital city of the human Republic — forbidden to live, love, or fly with freedom.

But even in darkness, hope lives, as a human detective, Rycroft Philostrate, and a refugee faerie named Vignette Stonemoss rekindle a dangerous affair despite an increasingly intolerant society. Vignette harbors a secret that endangers Philo's standing during his most important case yet: a string of gruesome murders threatening the uneasy peace of the Row. As Philo investigates, he reveals a monster no one could imagine lurks in the depths of The Burgue.


The first season of eight episodes premiered on August 30 2019, and a second and final season will be released on February 17, 2023. Two Prequel Comic Book one-shots, Carnival Row: From The Dark and Carnival Row: Sparrowhawk were also published in August 2019 by Legendary Comics. These one-shots, along with several other stories, will be printed in a collection titled Tales of Carnival Row, scheduled for release in January 2023.

A Prequel audio novella titled Tangle in the Dark was written by Stephanie K. Smith, read by Karla Crome, and released in 2019. It covers the Tourmaline and Vignette's first meeting as university students, their romance and breakup, and the beginning of the war in Tirnanoc.

Nerdist created the Carnival Row: Role Playing Guide world guide and setting book for the Cypher System which was made available to download for free. A sample adventure was run by Travis Beacham called "The Heist on the Row" with the Geek & Sundry team.


This series includes:

  • Aerith and Bob: The characters' names range from Vignette, Aisling and Absalom to Jonah, Ezra and Sophie, to name a few.
  • All There in the Manual: The roleplaying game includes information on the setting's history, politics and religion that's only touched upon lightly in the show.
  • Alternative Calendar: By The Burgue's calendar it's now the seventh century, according to Imogen's comment. There are also days of the week that are different, like "Wrensday," and different months too.
  • Amicable Exes: Vignette and Tourmaline were once lovers. However, though Tourmaline would like to rekindle things, she accepts Vignette's rejection of that after discovering her husband is still alive. They are still close friends.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: The presence of Fae and werewolves is well known, but magic such as prophecies and darkasher is still believed to be mere superstition.
  • Artistic Title: The artsy opening title sequence is beautiful to watch.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Philo and Vignette butt heads before falling in love.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Philo's fight with the Darkasher ends this way when Vignette stabs Piety through the back of the head.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Quite a few, Ezra Spurnrose probably being the most prominent and unrepentant example.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The state of the Burgue by the end of season one. The Darkasher and its master are dead, but Absalom Breakspear, one of the few human advocates for human/fae coexistence, is murdered by Piety, leaving Jonah and Sophie in an alliance of questionable morality to establish a ruling dynasty over the entire city. Breakspear's death results in the ghettoization of all the Burgue's fae in Carnival Row. Imogen and Agreus flee, but Ezra is on their trail.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: From what we see of the war between the Burgue and the Pact, it seems to be this. The Burgue is a racist would-be empire who treat the Fae poorly and then abandon them when they lose the war. The Pact, however, appear to be Always Chaotic Evil who are first shown committing what appears to be an ethnic cleansing against the Fae, and have gone so far as to deliberately infect their soldiers with lycanthropy to give them an advantage in combat. The roleplaying game states that during the war, the Fae would loudly curse the Burgue and the Pact alike, but quietly hope that the Burgue would win.
    • Also the current-day conflict between Fae immigrants and Burgue humans. The Fae are far from perfect, what with having organised crime organisations and murderous cults, but there are plenty of harmless ones and most of their cultural defects are probably caused by the wretched situation they're in. Conversely, even most of the "better" humans are either hatefully bigoted or sociopathically self-serving or both.
  • Blackmail: Piety claims Aisling Querelle tried to blackmail Absalom Blackspear through his wife over the existence of their son. This led to Piety killing her. Jonah, though, doubts Aisling actually did this, and learns Sophie did it.
  • Blue Blood: The Burgue has a population of wealthy, aristocratic families with conservative sensibilities who all quietly judge each other.
  • Bounty Hunter: "Skipjacks" who hunt down indentured servants who'd broken a contract through leaving service are mentioned, and Agreus was once one.
  • Caged Bird Metaphor: Imogen has several caged songbirds scattered around her airy, cage-like mansion. In one scene she is shown staring at a yellow bird, framed through the bars of its cage, before looking out her own window, whose crossbars are rather suggestive of a cage. In a later scene, she is significantly dressed in yellow to match the bird.
  • Crapsack World: The Burgue is a pretty terrible place for all the Fae immigrants. Unless you're very lucky/wealthy, like Agreus, you're socially prevented from advancing in human society and are stuck taking the most menial and dangerous jobs or forced to become a sex worker, looked down upon by the wealthy and despised by the lower classes. Even the humans don't have it easy, as sexism and homophobia are rampant.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The Martyr, portrayed as a hanged man in religious ornaments, basically fulfills the role of Jesus in Christianity to this world. There's even a curse, "God's noose", matching our world's "God's wounds", or "zounds". The physical prayer motion is a circular hand movement evocative of a looped noose, instead of crossing themselves in the shape of a crucifix. The monks in the orphanage even wear a rope tied into a noose around their necks instead of a crucifix. Curiously, in one episode a Pact soldier is still shown crossing himself before injecting himself with the werewolf serum, implying they have a more explicit Christian counterpart.
  • Cult: The Faun sect, who whip themselves in the streets, sacrifice human bigots and try to kill the Chancellor while worshiping a mysterious figure they call "the Hidden One" (whether a deity or something else is unclear).
  • Didn't Think This Through: In the backstory, Piety Breakspear married Absalom in order to be the mother of his son, who would be greater than him — while also carrying on an affair with his greatest rival. Surprise surprise, the latter turns out to be the biological father of her son, which makes her exceptionally paranoid and eventually willing to carry out multiple murders.
  • Dirty Cop: Most cops in the Burgue are rather thuggish and not shy about using their authority to beat on people they don't like. Sergeant Dombey advocates for assassinating a suspect in police custody. Constable Berwick is about the only one who goes against the grain.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The situation the Fae experience; leaving their war-torn land, immigrating to a city were they face prejudice and bigotry mirrors many real-life immigrant experiences throughout history, in particular The Irish Diaspora, including the Fae having similar accents and names.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: The haruspex drugs and rapes Philo in the guise of his former lovers to get his seed necessary for a ritual. After coming to his senses, he seems to be only slightly annoyed, and the sequence is treated more as a rude and blunt way of going about things than a real crime. This is in contrast to the overtly villainous attempted rape of Vignette.
  • Ethnic Menial Labor: Fae can usually find work in only the most menial jobs. Most maids and servants are Fae. Agreus, a wealthy Satyr, notably goes against the trend by hiring a human as a servant.
  • Every Scar Has a Story:
    • Philo has a scar along the back of his head. You'd expect that he got in battle or as a police officer, but a flashback reveals that he got it in the orphanage as a child, falling off a bed while pretending to fly.
    • The scars on Philo's back are a result of having his vestigial wings clipped as an infant.
  • Fairy Sexy: The Fae, the fairy equivalents, are winged humanoids mainly represented with Vignette and Tourmaline, two beautiful female members of their species. Both of them show nudity while having sex with human men. Tourmaline and many other female Fae are sex workers, flying down to their clients as part of the attraction. She and Vignette had been lovers in the past too, with them shown kissing once.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • The Fae are looked down upon and forced into lower positions in Burgue society, with many laws restricting them. A whole political party advocates for them all being expelled, and one human takes it so far as to attack random Fae with a clawhammer. Philo's lover Portia is disgusted when he reveals that he's half Fae, ordering him to Get Out! of the boarding house she runs where he'd been staying. His colleagues are also outraged when they find out, considering it a disgrace, and think that he's behind a string of murders to conceal the secret, beating him up after he's arrested, then put him in with the human suspects for more (however, he fends them off). The topic of fantastic racism is explicitly contrasted with human racism when Sophie notes that humans have moved beyond prejudices over skin color (however this isn't entirely true-her own father disparaged her mother for having Pharaonic ancestry), but the differences between humans and Fae are more than just "skin deep".
    • Agreus is a rich Faun, who moves into the rich neighborhood otherwise populated entirely by humans. Despite his wealth, they still look down on him and feel he doesn't deserve to live on their pedestal. Added to that there's some subtext-Agreus is played by a black actor while (most) of the human swells are played by white actors, helping to paint a reminder for the viewer. His human neighbors are aghast to learn there's no law against it.
  • Fantastic Slurs: The Fae are referred to as Critch mockingly, with Pix and Pucks being used for faeries and fauns respectively. Humans, on the other hand, are called "groundlings" or "leggers" by Fae.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • The Republic of the Burgue is clearly inspired heavily by Victorian London, from clothing to technology. Being a republic, it's governed by a parliament very similar to a unified version of the UK's Parliament. The Burguish flag looks similar to the Union Jack, albeit in darker colors. Philo even reads a "scientific romance" about people going to the moon, something that grew prominent in the late 1800s with books like From the Earth to the Moon.
    • The Fae are effectively a combination of all the various immigrant cultures in the UK, though the persecution the Fae receive in their adopted land is more pronounced:
      • The most obvious inspiration is Irish. Fae speak with an Irish accent, and they're based in part on Irish folklore. The influx of Fae immigrants and refugees into the Burgue is based in part on the Irish Diaspora as well as Roma and Jews who fled pogroms in Europe during the Victorian era. The fae homeland is called Tirnanoc. In Celtic mythology, the land of Tír na nÓg (lit. "land of the young") is a magical land of eternal youth.
      • The art style in the book that Vignette shows Philo is clearly based on Indian miniatures, and the Fae in the flashback episode are wearing clothing that is reminiscent of traditional styles of the colder parts of Central Asia and the Middle East, like Afghanistan.
    • The Pharaonic people are obviously based on Egyptians, given their name, dark complexion and the description of being from a hot, sandy region. Sophie even mentions that brother-sister incest would not be unusual for her ancestral line.
    • The Pact, the human enemy in the colonial war that the Burgue was fighting over the territory of Tirnanoc, has soldiers dressed in clothing that seem based on Tsarist Russia or perhaps the troops of 19th century Middle Eastern or Central Asian kingdoms. Which together with the architecture and snowy landscape in the mountain temple in episode 3 and the clothing style of the Fae make this conflict seem like a mix between various proxy-wars that were part of the so-called "Great Game", like the Crimean War (1853-1856) and the First/Second/Third Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1919).
  • Fantasy Counterpart Religion:
    • Burgish people follow a man called "the Martyr" whom they frequently invoke (who's depicted as hanged) and seems pretty similar to Jesus. Faerie meanwhile have a "Saint Titania", who shares the name of a mythical fairy queen (plus the idea of saints may mean it's similar to Christianity as well). The place Ritter Longerbane is laid in state seems very much like a church, and there is organ music in the background. There also seems to be the concept of Heaven, Hell, angels and demons, as Agreus and Imogen discuss the symbolism in a painting he's recently purchased.
    • Some of the Fauns also are part of a religious sect which engages in self-flagellation as the Medieval era saw. They have a holy book and provide charity for poorer members of their people in a manner akin to many churches, too. In their case, it takes a darker turn as the sect turns out to be bent upon a violent anti-human revolt. Fauns also have their Haruspices, female clerics named for Roman ones who prophesied the future by examining the entrails of sacrificed animals, especially livers (which comes up in the series).
  • Fauns and Satyrs: They are one of the Fae races, and referred to derisively as 'Pucks'.
  • Forbidden Love:
    • Romantic or sexual relationships between humans and Fae are treated this way by many Burgish people. After he finds out Imogen and Agreus are lovers, Ezra goes in with a gun to shoot the latter, calling his sister a whore. Philo's parents also had a secret relationship in the backstory. He keeps his marriage with Vignette secret from most humans for this reason as well.
    • Additionally, same-sex relationships are taboo, as the coroner must pretend that his lover was a stranger even while he's performing his autopsy.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Philo's favorite book before the war, Kingdoms of the Moon, and the Fae story it seems to be based on, tells the story of a human colonist who falls in love with an exotic woman from the moon, and all this essentially foreshadows Philo and Vignette's love. Specifically, the plot-twist in the story that its actually narrated by the daughter of this coupling, who is trying to reconnect with her heritage, while the original Fae story has the son of the Starcrossed Lovers do the same. It foretells The Reveal that Philo isn't a colonist Going Native, he's the product of an Interspecies Romance and is the son reconnecting with the homeland he descends from.
    • In another case, we see when Faeries and Humans have sex nothing special besides Zero-G Spot occurs, but when Philo and Vignette make love, her wings glow. When Philo notices that the wings weren't glowing during one instance where she wasn't into it, she dismisses it as because they're not supposed to glow in the first place when having sex with humans. She didn't make the connection that Philo's unique reaction was a hint of his true lineage.
    • Breakspear notes that his son always took after his mother, and that she always wished it was the other way 'round.
    • Very early on, Longerbane taunts Chancellor Breakspear about illicit sexual relations between humans and Fae. At the time, you think he's just referring to his son's habit of visiting the brothel in Carnival Row. At the end of season 1, Sophie explicitly states that this accusation was really about her father telling the older Breakspear that he knew about his youthful affair with Philo's mother. And her frustration about the fact that he wasn't going to do more with that politically ruinous blackmail material is what got the entire murder spree going.
  • Frame-Up: Piety Breakspear kidnaps her own son, then frames Ritter Longerbane as the party behind it.
  • Gaslamp Fantasy: The setting is based on Victorian England, with the addition of Fae and magic.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: Half-bloods have a hard time in the city and many don't make it to adulthood. That's why Philo tried his utmost to keep his Dark Secret hidden from everyone.
  • Harmony Versus Discipline: The main difference between the fae and the humans of the Burgue. The Burgue is all about industry, social order and strict religious morality (or at least the carefully cultivated appearance thereof). The fae are all about freedom, sensuality and beauty. Philo at one point claims that the reason why they are less technologically advanced despite having existed for longer is that they have had other priorities from the humans, implying this trope.
  • Hereditary Republic: The Burgue has aspects of this. Members of their parliament are elected, but when they die, their successor takes their place until the next election. Their successor even retains their standing within the parliament, such as Chancellor or Leader of the Opposition.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The Spurnroses received 10,000 gilders a year from their inheritance, but Ezra gambled the bulk of their holdings on an ill-fated business venture, leaving them with nothing but their family home.
  • Innocently Insensitive: The only Blue Blood guest who is friendly to Agreus asks him a lot of questions that he doesn't seem to realize are patronizing. Agreus gives blunt and rude responses to make his displeasure known.
  • Interspecies Romance: The one between Philo (a human) and Vignette (a faerie) is the core romance of the show, albeit very much 'off' for most of the first season. Philo is also the product of one himself. Imogen and Agreus also end up falling in love and running away together at the end of the season one finale.
  • Jack the Ripoff: A serial killer/attacker dubbed Unseelie Jack targeting Fae in racially motivated hate crimes is shown in the first episode.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Both Philo and Absalom found Faerie women attractive. In the latter's case, this led to the former's conception.
  • Low Fantasy: Outside of the presence of faeries, the magic level is very low, with most people being unaware that it even exists. The bulk of the drama comes from the sociopolitical standing of faeries in a human city.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: It's made clear via racist remarks that many Burguish people disapprove strongly of humans marrying or having relationships with Fae.
  • Old-Fashioned Copper: The coppers of the Burgue are brutal and racist.
  • Old Retainer: The Spurnroses have an older Satyr maid who has served the family for a long while and is very protective of them. Her loyalty is challenged a number of times over the course of the first season due to the family's complicated relations with Fae.
  • Our Kobolds Are Different: Kobolds are extremely short (around a foot or so) humanoids with flat faces, long ears and armored skin. Though they can't speak and most people assume they're unintelligent animals, Runyan Millworthy has a trained troupe of kobolds who serve as actors in his street shows.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: Werewolves transform into vaguely humanoid wolf monsters on a full moon. It's unclear how much control over themselves they have while in wolf form, but they have enough to serve as attack dogs in the Pact military. An injected drug allows them to transform at any time. Werewolves retain their heightened senses for some time after transforming back into humans. Being bitten by a werewolf spreads the condition. In the Republic, werewolves are treated as dangerous Critch who would usually be executed as a danger to the public.
  • Pass Fail: It's a crime in the Republic for Fae and half-breeds to pass themselves off as human. In an early scene, a half-faun's shoe slips off, revealing his hoof, provoking the police to arrest him. Philo, who's half Faerie, passed as wholly human for most of his life. It's revealed his Faerie mother insured this by having his wings surgically removed when he was an infant. After he discloses this to his lover Portia, she throws him out in disgust, and soon his life falls apart when his police colleagues find out, since it's a crime, while suspecting him of murdering people to conceal it as a result.
  • Private Tutor: In the first season, Jonah has an "army" of tutors hired by his father to educate him, though he spends most of his efforts avoiding study.
  • Prophecy Twist: The only reason Piety Breakspear married Absalom is that the Haruspex who serves her foretold that Absalom would become a great man, and his son even greater. The thing is, Absalom turns out to have two sons, only one of whom is biologically his...
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The Faun cultists slaughter a human bigot in a ritualistic manner, and then kill one of their kind who's a servant to impersonate him in an attempt to murder the Chancellor. All this only leads to harsh measures against all the Fae in retaliation, likely fomenting further unrest.
  • Scar Survey: Philo is asked several times in bed to explain his scars.
  • Secret Relationship:
    • Due to stigma against interspecies relationships, humans and Fae keep them secret if possible. When they get discovered, it can have dire consequences. Philo himself was conceived from such a secret affair.
    • Same-sex relationships are forbidden as well, and the coroner was forced to keep the fact he'd been involved with a man secret after he died, even when performing his lover's autopsy.
  • Serial Killer:
    • At the beginning of the series, Unseelie Jack is a serial killer who beats Fae to death in the city's slums, Carnival Row.
    • Piety Breakspear turns out to be one, murdering people who stand in the way of her son taking power.
  • Shout-Out: There are several name references to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Philostrate and Flute come directly from minor characters in the play. The fauns' derogatory title, Puck, is another name for the trickster fairy, Robin Goodfellow. In the flashback, the fairies pray to St. Titania, queen of the fairies.
  • Speculative Fiction LGBT: Vignette (a female fairy) is bisexual, having been involved with her friend Tourmaline (who's also a female fairy). In their culture, this seems to be open and acceptable. The Burgue society though echoes Victorian England in not only its style but norms, so a gay coroner has to stay firmly closeted, and must act like his deceased lover is a stranger while performing his autopsy.
  • The Syndicate: The Black Raven, the Fae crime gang Vignette joins. It appears to control most crime within the Burgue, or the Row at least. Vignette gets a job running numbers.
  • Tall Poppy Syndrome: If the Spurnroses' maid is any indication, there's a certain internal backlash against uppity Fae trying to enter into the human aristocracy.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Most of the Blue Blood population of the Burgue are rather trivial and narrow-minded people. Ezra Spurnrose is the most significantly explored example.
  • Winged Humanoid: Faeries here are indistinguishable from humans except for their wings, and even can have children with them.
  • World of Jerkass: It's a rare human in the Burgue who can go two seconds without spewing a classist, sexist or racist tirade. The fae are somewhat better on the whole, but most of the ones we get to know are still selfish and spiteful at heart. There are only a few people, like Philo and Vignette, who actively seem to be trying to be halfway decent and even they don't succeed more than some of the time.