If you’re looking for spoilers, a way to skip ahead, or another way to enjoy the world of Carnival Row after you binge the newly released Amazon series, you’re out of luck. Despite the fantasy-heavy, crime show having all of the lore, creatures, and far-fetched backdrops of a book series, it is all for the show.
Carnival Row was originally created by Travis Beacham who spent more than a decade writing it to be a film before adapting it to a series. It began in 2005 as A Killing On Carnival Row, a feature film spec script about the gruesome murders of faeries who are sex workers being killed by a strange man with a very Jack the Ripper mode of operation. The film evolves into more of a commentary on xenophobia and the refugee crisis with the trappings of a crime serial.
The eight-episode series tells the story of a human detective, Rycroft Philostrate (Orlando Bloom) and a faerie, in the series often shortened to “fae,” Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevigne). Carnival Row drops viewers into the gritty, fantastical Victorian-era city of Burgue populated by humans and displaced mythical creatures as tensions rise and a wave of crime intensifies. As if that wasn’t already complicated enough, Rycroft and Vignette are attempting to hide their love for each other from the outside world.
There is a brief backstory established right at the beginning of the first episode, but it doesn’t give us too much to go off of. “For ages, the homeland of the Fae was a place of myth and legend. Until the many empires of man arrived and warred for control of its riches,” the show explains. “Seven years ago, this great war ended when the Republic of the Burgue withdrew, abandoning the Fae to the iron fist of their rivals, The Pact. Now the Fae’s homeland is the hell from which they yearn to escape.”
Some of the biggest changes between the original script and the series is that the killer is no longer solely focused on female faerie sex workers and instead focuses more broadly on mythical creatures in general. If we were to lend our detective skills to the analysis, this implies the murderer’s M.O. has more to do with the victim’s species rather than line of work or gender. We’re no experts, but we have watched a lot of Mindhunter. Another significant change is that the series implies Philostrate and Stonemoss have a history prior to when we are introduced to them.
There is a lot to catch up on to fully grasp the backstory of Carnival Row, but the good news is it has already been renewed for a second season which means the show’s creators will have plenty more time to delve into the world they have created.