Prime Video’s series CARNIVAL ROW premieres its ten-episode second and final season on February 17. The show debuted in August of 2019, and was promptly picked up for a second, but COVID delayed production so much that it’s just coming out now.
In CARNIVAL ROW, a war of acquisition between rival human nations in the Faerie homeland has caused Faeries to flee for safety to the human realm of the Burgue, which resembles Victorian England. Here, Fae are treated as second-class citizens. “Carnival Row” is the name given to the Fae district within the Burge.
Among the refugees is the Faerie warrior/smuggler Vignette Stonemoss, played by Cara Delevingne. Her lover, erstwhile Burgue police detective Rycroft “Philo” Philostrate (Orlando Bloom), has been confined to the Row after revealing that he is half-human/half Faerie.
In Season 2, Vignette has joined a Fae freedom fighter/terrorist group, while Philo contemplates revealing that his human father is the recently-deceased Chancellor of the Burgue. Meanwhile, the old Chancellor’s secretly adopted son, Jonah Breakspear (Arty Froushan), has taken power, and rules with an increasingly violent hand.
Erik Oleson, whose executive producer/show runner credits include ARROW and DAREDEVIL, is an executive producer and the show runner on CARNIVAL ROW Season 2. In a Zoom interview, he talks about his method of working and teases what we can expect.
ASSIGNMENT X: Did you like fairy tales when you were young?
ERIK OLESON: I did. I very much was a fan of the fantasy genre growing up. One might almost argue that, as a kid, I lived more in fantasy than in reality.
AX: Does CARNIVAL ROW bring you back to your love of fantasy, or does it do something new?
OLESON: I think a little bit of both. I think that what great fantasy does well is, it serves as a parable for real life, and allows a reader or an audience to explore ideas that put up their guard if hit on the nose. What the creators of CARNIVAL ROW [Travis Beacham and René Echevarria] did in Season 1, that was so brilliant, allowed us to talk about the ideas of social injustice, and how we look at ourselves as human beings. Are we defined by our race, are we defined by our DNA, are we defined by the way that we treat others, and the choices and actions that we take and make once we have agency over our lives? I wanted to pick up the baton from that and go deeper, and to explore that idea. So, I would say that it was a fantastic backdrop, against which one could tell any one of many different kinds of stories. But the ideas that were seeded into Season 1 were very inspiring to the writing staff and me, so that we could and say something meaningful.
AX: Are you shooting CARNIVAL ROW Season 1 in the same place that Season 1 was shot?
OLESON: Yes. That was Prague in the Czech Republic, and I have to say, the Prague crew was second to none. Stillking, the production company here, were a dream. The crew at one point was about fifteen hundred people. I had people working on the show who had worked on all the GAME OF THRONES shows and said that this show dwarfed the scale of that production. And it was just an amazing level of craftsmanship – the sets, the costumes.
One of my favorite memories was just walking onto the set for the first time when I became the show’s new boss, and just walking around city blocks [of the set] that were actual functional city blocks, with apartments, and bars, and storefronts. All of them were dressed, and all of them were real. They were just from the world of CARNIVAL ROW. You could literally take a camera into any one of those places, and just light it and shoot a scene. It was like they built a city. It was crazy. It was so awesome.
AX: There is dark magic from the start of Season 2. Does it eventually become as Lovecraftian as the first season did?
OLESON: Well, I don’t want to peg it as Lovecraft or any other thing. It is true to itself, but I will say that there are some really unexpected twists and turns, and we go to some very unexpected places. But then things arc back into an, “Oh, wow, that’s why …” It all is part of a larger design, and hopefully, when you get to the end of the season, you’ll feel the same way.
AX: We see Alice Krige as the dangerous character Haruspex in flashbacks at the beginning of Season 2. Not asking what she may be doing, but is she in any new footage this season?
OLESON: No spoilers, but yes. I’m a big STAR TREK fan, and a big Alice fan. So, I was very excited to be on set when she showed up.
AX: Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne are both executive producers on CARNIVAL ROW. Did they have any feelings about what directions they wanted their characters to take this season?
OLESON: I worked with each one of the actors in shaping his and her performance and storyline. I’m a very collaborative show runner. There was a design around that central controlling idea of, are we our DNA, or what we do? Within that construct, I was open to collaboration. For instance, Cara was very inspirational in terms of exploring identity and sexuality. Jamie Harris [as police sergeant Dombey] shows new colors as a reformed racist in some ways, and [poses the question] is there hope for people who have gone to the dark side, and can you bring them back? Simon McBurney [who plays politician Runyan Millworthy] and another writer, Sara Byrd, and I collaborated on a Shakespearean[-style] sonnet in iambic pentameter for his character.
I could go through the cast. Karla Crome, for instance, who plays Tourmaline, she’s not only a great actor, she’s also a gifted writer. She’s creating a show right now, as an executive producer/show runner. So, it was fun to go work with her on the Tourmaline story. So, the answer is yes. Every one of the actors had thoughts and ideas, and that’s one of my favorite parts. I love talking to the actors, and making sure that each one of them has the scenes that make them shine, that has what he or she needs to show the colors that they were always hoping to [display]. There are some show runners who have the attitude of, “Meat puppet, just go say your lines.” That is not me. I’m the opposite of that [laughs]. I want them to be my creative collaborators, because it’s just so much fun. But I think it’s just so much better when it hits the screen.
AX: Was Season 2 of CARNIVAL ROW always constructed with the idea that it was the final season, or did you have to make any alterations once you found that out?
OLESON: I had to make alterations in the middle of COVID, like every other producer on the planet. That was a curveball that we had not foreseen. We ha designed a Season 2 that could have led to additional seasons, but in the middle of COVID, Amazon made the smart call to allow us to end the season, and they gave us a couple of extra episodes, and allowed us to go back and retrofit some storylines so that it would become the very satisfying and epic conclusion to the CARNIVAL ROW idea and story. I think that it all wraps up in a very satisfying way, although leaves the door open in case certain powerful people change their minds.
Related: Exclusive Interview: CARNIVAL ROW actors Caroline Ford and Arty Froushan on the second and final season of the Prime Video series
Related: Exclusive Interview: CARNIVAL ROW actors Jamie Harris and Jay Ali on the final season
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Article: Exclusive Interview: CARNIVAL ROW executive producer Erik Oleson on the second and final season of the Prime Video series