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Sunday, September 1, 2019

Carnival Row: Searingly Relevant Steampunk

Maybe I'm a sucker of steam punk - I am - but Carnival Row, the science fiction, science fantasy, mystery/detective, searingly political relevant 8-episode series that debuted this weekend on Amazon Prime, is much more than that.  As those adjectives suggest.

The place, like Game of Thrones, is sort of an alternate Earth.  It's the seventh century in Carnival Row, but the big city has railroads, phonograph (called voxograph, a nice touch), telegraph, and even the beginning of electric lighting.   In our equivalent time - the 1870s - the phonograph (1877) was actually invented a year after the telephone (1876), but there's no telephone as yet in Carnival Row.  Maybe that's because the big city is much like London, and the telephone took much longer to catch on there than in New York.  But I digress.

There are three main species in this story: Men (humans), Fae (human-like with wings), and Puck (human-like with big horns and Klingon-like heads).   The Fae not only fly with their wings, they light up when they're having good sex (i.e., when they have orgasms).   Their sexual adeptness - they'll lift their partners literally off the ground or bed in the act - makes them good prostitutes.  But they only do that as a means of survival in the metropolis in which at least half or more of the people hate or distrust them.   The Puck have evoked similar benighted responses.

That's where the brutally accurate mirror that Carnival Row holds to Trumpian America comes into play.  In just about every scene, and at stake as the plot progresses, there are calls to ban the non-humans from the city, place them in ghettos and, yes, detention camps, and you get the picture.

And all of this is played out against the lead detective, Philo, investigating a series of murders with supernatural and political overtones, navigating the deep love he has for a fairy, whose profession was librarian, but is more physically dexterous than humans.   Other affairs, family secrets, identity revelations, and surprises abound.  I won't say another more, except, see this.  Orland Bloom is excellent as Philo, Cara Delevingne as the winged Vignette, and I also especially liked Tamzin Merchant as Imogen and David Gyasi as Agreus, two important secondary characters. René Echevarria, who contributed so much in producing the Star Trek franchise, hasn't lost his touch in creating memorable television.

For what it's worth, I enjoyed this first season of Carnival Row more than most of the seasons of Game of Thrones.


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