TV Review: Carnival Row: “Grieve No More” (S1, Ep. 5)

I’m slowly but surely making my way through Carnival Row, and I’m now over halfway done with the first season. Rycroft continues to investigate the brutal deaths, Vignette makes inroads with the Raven, and Imogen schemes with Agreus to earn his money in exchange for her introducing him to society.

I have to admit, I’m getting a little frustrated with this show. The various plot threads are still ambling along, and none of them seem to have any particular destination in mind. That’s fine for a while, but when nothing seems to ever really move forward, it becomes increasingly difficult to care about these characters in the way that we’re presumably supposed to. For the life of me, I still do not care about Imogen and her family’s struggles against poverty, and the Puck Agreus’ motivations remain as inscrutable as ever (and, much as I like David Gyasi, his overly-mannered delivery is becoming almost unwatchable).

Part of the problem is that Carnival Row keeps throwing in more character arcs as it goes along. Whereas before we were basically supposed to be interested in three separate strands: the chancellor and his family; Vignette and Rycroft, and Imogen, now we’re supposedly supposed to also care about the showman and his kobolds as well as a Puck who was fired from the Absalom’s service (who appears to be in the midst of a religious conversion). I’d like to be able to give the series the benefit of the doubt and believe that these stories will end up somewhere, but I’m increasingly finding that a difficult proposition. If, however, the show can do the heavy lifting of making these plot arcs a central part of the final resolution, then I will be very impressed indeed.

Don’t get me wrong. The episode was enjoyable as far as it went. It’s nice to get a little more detail about Rycroft’s background–including some important revelations about his birth and a particularly haunting flashback depicting the amputation of his wings when he was a baby–and the acting continues to be top-notch. There are glimmers of an interesting story with the stuff surrounding the Breakspears and the newly-emergent Sophie Longerbane, but there’s so little detail given to them that it’s hard to really get invested (which is truly a shame, since it appears that they’re wasting the considerable talents of both Jared Harris and Indira Varma).

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’m not going to finish it out. After all, I’ve only got three episodes left, and I still don’t quite see what the end game is, and I have the sinking feeling that I am going to be left disappointed by the ending (especially since there is already a season two announced, so most likely it will end on a cliffhanger). To my mind, the greatest challenge facing this series is the inescapable conclusion that there is a truly fascinating concept, and maybe even a truly great series, yearning to be born from a rather mediocre one.

Maybe by the end of the season it will succeed, but I’m not holding my breath.

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