Immigration stories tend to be cyclical but they show the undeniable structure of human spirit. The one great thing fantasy does, whether it be in “Game Of Thrones” or “Lord Of The Rings”, is that examines the notion of human behavior in its many shapes and forms. “Carnival Row”, the new Amazon series, is nothing if not a more tame version of “From Hell”. It wants to hit a wide audience and yet have something for everyone. In its two lead stars, Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne there is an interesting structure at play both because of their previous roles but also how their real lives distinctly push the plot in a certain way. It is well constructed in that way since the essence of their love and strife as the characters parallels the journey in a way that is genuine. Delevingne’s choices have been good for the most part (even with “Valerian”) but a bit below the radar. Bloom with his “Rings” and “Pirates” cred (even though he often gets some grief of being the second guy in the franchises he has been in) still challenges himself. His character here is the lead but is understated which belies the heart with which he plays it. It is an interesting irony seems this inspector character wears so much on his sleeve and yet betrays nothing. This character of Philo is a man fueled by secrets but it is interesting to see who he shares it with.
Like films set in the Old West, there is a certain lawlessness that is burrowed in this world with a degree of civility. This imbalance is what makes the plot work as it is the viciousness that lies underneath (without giving too much of the plot away) that fuels the fire. The progression is also about subversion. One of the most dynamic subplots examines the history and consolidation of power in a very specific way. While these are mostly secondary players these ideas are being examined through, their intention plays very much in tandem with the overall plot. Another aspect structures in the elements of class with an unlikely pairing but one that speaks of bridges and not denying those who fall in love. David Gyasi, who has picked to be part of some very interesting films, most specifically “Interstellar” and “Annihilation” is superb and understated here, again making a perception both on history but also on tolerance in a way.
All of this of course is in play from the main relationship structure between Philo and Vignette, Delevingne’s characters. Without giving too much away, the aspect of truth and consequence plays heavily in their journey. While both actors are trying admirably, the chemistry is seemingly not there for the most part. Delevingne is not a natural actress but she is getting undeniably better. Bloom’s chemistry actually with another actress is more palpable which might slightly be a function of the plot but also of the actual structure of what the story is. The similar aspect can be said of Delevingne and a former flame within the story as well. It is an interesting dichotomy that gives the story and its player indeterminate layers. Of course, the aspect of “Carnival Row” moves within the nature of the underworld or the power that moves beneath it.
The idea of family and what that connotates figures heavily into the proceedings. That power is incumbent throughout most of the season with The Chancellor played by Jared Harris and his wife subtly and then overtly moving and pushing buttons. The nature of their power is driven by love and perhaps fate. All of these characters are seemingly on a path of their own choosing which is nonetheless orchestrated by someone else. The show does well is not overdoing its technical elements making it functional enough without overdoing the CG elements. It in many ways mirrors “Warrior” on Cinema. Though that show is set in late 1800s San Francisco, it parallels the aspects of the downtrodden who in many ways don’t have a say within their own destiny until they actualldo. “Carnival Row” again shows Amazon’s continued predilection for interesting stories without going too far left field which sometimes other streamers do in an effective way to create interest. The most important angle is to tell the best story while not losing track of the actual story being told.
By Tim Wassberg
The essence of politics and law can be a tricky slope. The intention of what characters do and don’t do are usually reflective of how they live their lives and what they want to accomplish. In “Pearson”, which focuses on the travails of one Jessica Pearson who formerly ran a law firm in New York in “Suits” is an interesting transmutation.
At a TCA panel attended when “Pearson” was announced, Gina Torres discussed how she thought she was done with this world but that this series gave her an interesting balancing act. As the focal point, it is about Pearson’s deconstruction without losing the elements that make her character who she is. Pearson was always a fixer but here she is a fish out of water. She has all her experience but has to learn the new path of fixing problems in a city that continues in its paradoxical ways.
Chicago is a ripe city for this series to be set, both reflective of its history and because of its history. It doesn’t make the mechanizations too dense within the plot but also understands that nobody is clean yet all are dipped in shades of gray. There is something gnawing at every single one of the characters…no matter how virtuous or altruistic they think they are. Bethany Jo Lenz as City Attorney Keri Allen brings a balance of power and vulnerability which is an interesting diametric to Pearson. Isabel Arraiza as Yoli Castillo reflects in a different manne with a subtext and subtle innerworkings that remind one of Meghan Markle in “Suits” albeit from a different perspective.
The notion of family also has a very specific tenure within the story on many fronts, including the mayor and his brother, two halves of the same whole but with different understanding of sacrifice and loyalty. Morgan Spector as Mayor Bobby Golec walks the line between glib and vilified, inspiring and decadent…sometimes the mark of a true politician. There is also a balance of optimism introspected by Eli Goree as Derrick the press secretary and even Chantel Riley’s Angela who is cousin and parallel to Jessica but with the exact opposite problems in many ways as the lead character.
The season (without spoilers) progresses in a sense of stopping a dam but realizing the cracks being formed or simply becoming more pronounced. The series knows the puzzle pieces it is constructing but also the plot points it needs to hit. It isn’t a by-the-books procedural in any way since the characters move awkwardly with real intention which can only be accomplished through subtlety in writing.
Pearson as a character is an enigma but one icy enough that an audience can root for her but now also fallible enough to know what can and can’t be solved hence making her more accessible to the audience. Chicago, like all of America, is about fighting what is right but knowing that paths are meant to be circular. The notion of identity examined in “Pearson”, both about who we are and who we want to be is a conscious awareness that its lead character continues to traverse.
By Tim Wassberg