TV Review: Carnival Row: “Aisling” (S1, Ep. 2)

Warning: Spoilers for the plot follow.

After the bombshell ending of the first episode, in which a former singer was brutally slaughtered by some unknown being from beneath the city, this episode of Amazon’s Carnival Row slowed things down a bit. Rycroft continues on his search for this new killer, while Vignette has to confront the true ugliness of her (truly terrible) employers and ultimately flees into service with a smuggling group. Meanwhile, both Imogen and Ezra (Vignette’s terrible employers) struggle with impending bankruptcy and the presence of a wealthy Puck next door, while Chancellor Absalom contends with the kidnapping of his son, unaware that his wife Piety is responsible.

Bloom and Delevingne continue to turn in solid performances, though it’s still very unclear how they feel about one another now that they have been reunited and, for that matter, what it was that separated them in the first place. They only have one scene where they are together, but there are a few sparks there, an indication that Vignette’s avowed hatred of her husband may not be as sincere as she claims, and it’s clear by Rycroft’s actions (such as paying off Vignette’s bonds to her employers), that he still has feelings for her. I sincerely hope, though, that Carnival Row starts revealing more about their backstory, as know almost nothing about either of their backstories, either individually or as a couple. That’s a bit of a problem when they are, in theory at least, your two main characters.

Varma’s Piety is also still something of an enigma. We now know that she’s staged her own son’s kidnapping, though her motives for doing so are as opaque as ever. One suspects that she bears her husband some significant amount of animosity, and their brief and testy exchange after their son’s kidnapping suggests it may be due to Piety’s exalted family status. I’ve always felt that Indira Varma is a supremely talented actress who always has the misfortune to be cast in roles that underuse her (such as her role as Niobe in HBO’s Rome and as the vengeful but ultimately ineffective Ellaria Sand in Game of Thrones), and I hope that doesn’t prove to be true here as well.

This was, in many ways, a bit of a slow-burn episode, revealing a bit more about the workings of the city of the Burgue and shedding a little more light on the politics and magic that undergird this world. However, it doesn’t really solve any of the enigmas put in place by the first episode, and though I enjoyed the episode (and very badly want to enjoy the series as a whole), I sincerely hope that matters kick into a higher gear going forward.