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‘Carnival Row’ Season 2 Showrunner Erik Oleson Explains How He Wrapped The Story Up After COVID Canceled the Show

Decider logo: MainLogo Decider 3/18/2023 Meghan O'Keefe


Carnival Row takes its final bow on Prime Video this weekend. The ambitious fantasy series followed star-crossed lovers Rycroft “Philo” Philostrate (Orlando Bloom) and Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne) as they attempted to make their love work against a backdrop of murders, war, and anti-Pix bigotry. Philo was the secret love child of a fae singer and her powerful human lover, Absalom Breakspear (Jared Harris). Vignette was the free-spirited fae Philo met when he was a soldier conquering her homeland. Throughout Carnival Row Season 2, the pair have had their rekindled romance put to the test as Vignette dabbles with her revolutionary side and Philo finds himself torn between his human and fae natures.

Over the course of Carnival Row Season 2, we’ve seen Vignette fall in and out of the Black Ravens, Philo get closer to the truth about the Sparas murdering humans and faes in targeted attacks, and the invasion of The Burgue by members of New Dawn. The political plots of incestuous lovers Jonah Breakspeare (Arty Froushan) and Sophie Longerbane (Caroline Ford) came to an end in spectacularly bloody fashion. Imogen Spurnrose (Tamzin Merchant) and Agreus Astrayon (David Gyasi) were captured by New Dawn and then sent back to The Burgue to help spread their violent, communist cause. And Tourmaline Larou (Karla Crome) has inherited the Haruspex’s (Alice Krige) power and can help Darius (Ariyon Bakare) not turn into a wolf-man. So how does it all end?

Decider caught up with Carnival Row Season 2 showrunner Erik Oleson for the lowdown on why the Amazon show ended so soon and why it ended the way it did…

© Provided by Decider Photo: Prime Video Carnival Row ending explained:

So a lot happens in the Carnival Row finale, but this is the long and short of it: Vignette teams up with New Dawn leader Leonora (Joanne Whalley) to set up a trap in the Row. They lure bigoted meatheads in and strike them with snipers.

While this is going on, Philo goes after the Sparas — who is Pact ambassador Major Vir (Andrew Buchan) — in The Burgue Parliament. There’s a wild bloody fight and the Sparas finally confronts Tourmaline in The Burgue. Darius dies protecting Tourmaline from the Sparas and Vignette almost meets a similar fate. Philo arrives in the nick of time to kill the Sparas.

It turns out that the Sparas was there working for Leonora and New Dawn. He was trying to cause enmity between the humans and fae of The Burgue to soften New Dawn’s arrival. Agreus escapes Leonora’s custody, kills her lieutenants, and faces Leonora down in an alley. Leonora says although she lost, seeds have been sewn. Rather than be taken by The Burgue, she dies by suicide.

Oleson said that he purposely wanted to look at how there are no clear answers to these deep political problems. “Leonora has a much better idea about egalitarian values, but her dark side is she’s a butcher and she’ll slaughter her way to that historical end, right?” Oleson said. “So that’s kind of the catch-22 of when you get into some of these simplistic answers to big, you know, big political questions.”

In the end, Philo reveals his parentage to The Burgue, but he refuses to take on leadership. Nevertheless, the epilogue reveals that things are better in The Row. Fae are living in peace and Imogen and Argeus have gone into the burgeoning electric business as partners. Still, Oleson was quick to point out that it’s not a wholly happy ending.

“Well, if you look at the final shot, which is a shot of Orlando on one side of The Burgue, it’s sunny and kind of beautiful. On the other side of his head is storm clouds and it’s gray. So, I wouldn’t say that it’s happily ever after,” he said. “I would say that there is a chance at peace, but a lot of the underlying social injustices really have to be addressed for the peace to last.”

“What Philo stood for was that violence was not the answer to achieve that social justice, and one could argue with him about whether or not he was right. Certainly, Vignette would. But ultimately Vignette, in the end, chooses love — her love for Tourmaline — over death and war and political upheaval.”

Yup, rather than settle down with Philo, Vignette returned home to a newly-liberated Tirnanoc with long-time bestie and former/future lover Tourmaline. Oleson said Vignette and Tourmaline’s dreamy wedding was inspired by Carnival Row star and EP Cara Delevingne.

“One of the things that we were exploring was the polyamory of the Pix. And that was something that Cara and I were very interested in exploring. Also Orlando. And the idea that it is possible for her to love Philo and yet still marry Tourmaline and still have her heart open to Philo for a future story if ever that were to go in that direction,” Oleson said.

“So we didn’t want to do that kind of the predictable, happily ever after between Philo and Vignette. That would have been forced and kind of a little bit boring, honestly,” he said, after explaining that Philo and Vignette’s storylines had already been diverging. “And Cara also in real life is a major queer advocate and we wanted to lean into her real life desires to kind of give voice to that community.”

© Provided by Decider Photo: Prime Video Why Did Carnival Row Kill Off Jonah Breakspear and Sophie Longerbane Mid-Season?

A huge part of Carnival Row Season 1 was the political friction within The Burgue, exemplified by two warring families: the Breakspears and the Longerbanes. At the start of Season 2, both families are led by new leaders, who also happen to be secret lovers, and secret half-siblings. You would think that Jonah Breakspear and Sophie Longerbane would have stuck around the story until the end, but Carnival Row killed them both off at the end of Episode 5. Jonah executed Sophie when she went behind his back and Jonah was then killed by the Sparas. So why?

“Well, I think that the political intrigue story had honestly played out inside The Burgue,” Oleson said. “There was a real estate issue. We had so many storylines to wrap up. I couldn’t wait to wrap them all up in 10 [episodes].”

“It also played into the way that The Burgue is destabilized and hurtling towards civil conflict in the finale.”

So there you go, Jonah/Sophie ‘shippers. (If you’re out there.)

© Provided by Decider Photo: Prime Video Will There Be a Carnival Row Season 3?

Are you a huge fan of Carnival Row? Well, this is bound to be a difficult time for you as the Season 2 finale marks the end of the show. Amazon cancelled Carnival Row in the middle of production of Season 2, forcing Oleson to finish up everyone’s stories with two additional episodes. Oleson told Decider that COVID wound up being what killed the series.

“There were a lot of curve balls along the way, COVID being the biggest one of them, you know. It was originally gonna become a longer series of more seasons, but we had to adjust right in the middle of shooting the last block,” Oleson said. “We added a couple episodes and had to kind of end the show just because, you know, COVID, like it just was untenable to keep it going.”

However, Oleson’s not bitter about the show’s cancellation. “Amazon and Legendary were absolutely right to do that because it meant that people who had to make their living as crew or actors could go on to other endeavors instead of being stuck in contracts where they were basically forced to not be employed while we were all waiting. So I respect that it was the right decision for Amazon and for Legendary to make.”

That said, Oleson would be open to returning to the world of Carnival Row again, provided Amazon gave him more time to get a grip on the Travis Beacham-created show.

“Yeah, look, sure. I mean, I think it’s a totally fun world. I want more time to actually sit down and figure out what it’s about if I get another shot at it. You know, more than, you know, a few weeks. That would be awesome. But yeah, sure, why not?” Oleson said.



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