Carnival Row season 2 episode 1 recap: ghosts, trolls and a return to The Burgue

Carnival Row season 2
(Image credit: Amazon Studios)

In a world where humans and creatures of folklore (fae) live side-by-side, suspicion and tension are just as commonplace as racial romances — that's the premise of Prime Video's returning fantasy show, as Carnival Row season 2 is finally here after four years.

If you don't remember much about the first season (we don't blame you, as it's been a while), our recap here will help you, though the first episode of season 2 begins with its own recap.

This second and final season of the show picks up several months after the end of the first: the human town of The Burgue has turned its borough of Carnival Row, the hotspot for fairy (or fae) activity, into a ghetto. Lots of our various characters are now sequestered in this area, or are trying to escape it, or are the ones in charge of running it.

*Spoilers for Carnival Row season 2 episode 1 follow*

The violent underground of Carnival Row

We start the episode by catching up on the two central characters of Carnival Row.

Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne) robs a train with some of her Black Raven friends — this is the group of fae rebels she runs with. They're not robbing it for profit but to steal medicine, as the squalor of Carnival Row has caused a plague to break out which only affects fae folk. 

Rycroft Philostrate (Orlando Bloom) fights in a combat arena, as part of an agreement with the ringmaster, though we're not told what he gains from this deal.

At least things are peachy between Stonemoss and Philostrate — the ex-lovers spent the entirety of the first season at loggerheads, only reconnecting and re-falling in love in the last few episodes. Now, however, they seem happy enough to emotionally support each other in their various illicit activities.

Season one side-character Tourmaline gets elevated to main character this season.

When Tourmaline peers into the window of a creepy-looking house, she sees the spirit of Haruspex (Alice Krige), who died in season one. She then sees a vision of a creature attacking Philo, and later another of one attacking a policeman, and after the latter, she wakes up next to a dead cat with its blood over her hands.

We soon see this police officer again when Philo, who you'll remember used to be a police inspector, is brought on to help in a murder case... of said officer. The police think he was killed by a survivor of the train attack, and the evidence does point to this.

Philo also bumps into old nemesis and fae-hater Sergeant Dombey (Jamie Harris), who's not too keen that Philo is helping on the case.

Arty Froushan and Caroline Ford as Jonah Breakspear and Sophie Longerbane in Carnival Row season 2

(Image credit: Prime Video)

Enemies in high places

Over to the upper classes of society, the Chancellor, Jonah Breakspear (Arty Froushan) executes the faun who killed his father at the end of the first season, using a giant elaborate multi-person guillotine to also behead three other faun. He's doing so at the behest of Sophie Longerbane (Caroline Ford) who's the leader of the opposition, but also Jonah's half-sister and lover.

Fae sympathizer Runyan Millworthy (Simon McBurney) is still an advisor to the chancellor, but when he implores Jonah to make an official visit to Carnival Row, the stressed chancellor shoots down the plan. 

Millworthy travels to the Row himself, and it's revealed that he's been plotting with Philostrate to lure the Chancellor to the row to expose its poor conditions — a plan which is now dead in its tracks. 

Philo hatches a new plan, to reveal his heritage (Jonah is only Chancellor because his father was the Chancellor when he died, but Jonah wasn't actually this man's son, Philo was). Millworthy reveals that there's a banquet happening which would be the perfect time to reveal this information.

Trouble on the high seas

Finally, we visit returning character Imogen Spurnrose (Tamzin Merchant) who wakes up to her brother Ezra (Andrew Gower) who stabs her repeatedly.

This is revealed to be a dream — Imogen escaped The Burgue and her vengeful brother at the end of the first season, and is currently sailing away on a ship owned by her lover, the faun Agreus (David Gyasi).

The two have been at sea for months, and while Agreus would prefer for them to find shore, Imogen is desperate to remain free at sea (interspecies couples aren't socially accepted in most places).

Almost as soon as the duo agree to stay at sea, an airship from The Pact (The Burgue's one-time enemy, though now the city-states are at peace) arrives. It drops bombs, indicating that the ship should follow it... and then the episode ends.

Tom Bedford
Streaming and Ecommerce Writer

Tom is the streaming and ecommerce writer at What to Watch, covering streaming services in the US and UK. His goal is to help you navigate the busy and confusing online video market, to help you find the TV, movies and sports that you're looking for without having to spend too much money.