If you need a refresher on where things stand at the beginning of season 1 as I surely did, here’s where we’re at: In the Burgue, the Victorian-esque nation run by a parliament of racist humans, fae folk (primarily winged pixies like Delevingne’s Vignette and ram-horned pucks, although there is a quick nod to a centaur at one point) have been corralled into the Row and unable to leave. Former Detective Inspector Philo (Bloom) is in there as well. Philo, as we found out in season 1, is half-fae (and the son of the now-dead Chancellor, played by Jared Harris) and embraces his heritage by announcing as such and letting himself be thrown into the Row with his love, Vignette, and her former love, Tourmaline (Karla Crome).
Vignette and Philo aren’t the only star-crossed lovers on the show — Imogene (Tamzin Merchant), a woman of high Burgish society, and the self-made puck, Agreus (David Gyasi) end up falling hopelessly in love and, in the first season finale, left the Burgue (and Imogene’s brother) via ship to find a place where they can love each other freely. Throw in two human children of politicians who have risen to power when their fathers died as well as a thespian who finds himself reluctantly embroiled in the highest level of politics, and you’ve got a rundown of the major players.
The second season widens the map of this world, with us spending time not only in the Burgue, but through the journey of Imogene and Agreus, to the country of The Pact, which is now fighting a civil war after years of battles with the Burgue. The geopolitical machinations of the various countries play a large role in the second season, and the series deserves credit for taking a big swing on creating such a large-wending tale. It’s here I should also mention that the scenescapes and set pieces on “Carnival Row” are breathtaking, with the Burgue’s buildings along with the airships that fly above it painting a vivid portrait of the Victorian city.
I am a sucker for epic fantasy, and the mise en scène of this show is everything I could ask for. But even someone like me, someone who wants to like this series and get lost in it, struggled to get through certain episodes. The pacing of the season manages to be both too slow and too fast, with overly long monologues and exposition followed by abrupt developments careening its characters and the plot into complex territory.