Sunday 21 May 2023

Wind-Up Toy and Other Stories by David Owain Hughes (Darkerwood Publishing Group) | Review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Juvenile, over the top, disgusting, gruesome. A+

When I received a reviewer’s copy of David Owain Hughes’s Wind-Up Toy and Other Stories, I was told it would “knock your boots off”. 

The collection features a few short stories bookended by a novella and a longer short story. The diverse and inventive subject matter ranges from a jinn living in an unexpected place and a garbage-eating monstrosity to mash-ups like organised crime types meeting Santa’s deadly doppelganger and thugs confronting zombies.

If you’re looking for nuance and subtlety, pick up the latest edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature. If, however, you want violence and debauchery at their indelicate finest (with a generous coating of humour), then Hughes’s collection is highly recommended. He trounces the status quo and constantly throws new obstacles at his characters. 

The opening novella Wind-Up Toy introduces Toni, who works at the Samaritans hotline for people with psychological problems. Despite her blossoming relationship with coworker Stu, Toni can’t stop thinking about her latest caller Simone. She’s a university student with a bright future. He’s an unemployed sex slave. During their discussions, Simone reveals a childhood marred by sexual abuse, a stripper/porn actress mother, and the giving and taking of pain.

As a boy, Simone uses toys with names like Spiked Mace and Rape Charge to torture other toys. His most trusted confidant, however, is Mr. Tickles, a clown whose influence on Simone goes well beyond childhood.

As the point of view flips between the two main characters, the story “winds up” by slathering on the dramatic tension, which immerses the reader (but not Toni) in the delusional, sadomasochistic, murderous pervert that Simone is. When Simone uses a scalpel, it’s not for surgery, and a hammer in his hands won’t be pounding any nails.

The more that Toni and Simone talk and the more outrageous his behaviour gets, the reader can’t help but wonder: will the goody-two-shoes and the predator ever meet? And what will happen if they do?

Everything within the novella progresses at cartoon speed. There are no writerly reflections or philosophical meanderings, and that’s a good thing. Instead, Wind-Up Toy keeps the reader curious about Simone’s next caper, whether it’s as a youth encountering bullies, a teenager spying on a sexy neighbour, or an adult welcoming a solicitor into his apartment.

If you’ve read Hughes’s The Rack and Cue, then you know he has a penchant for writing about dangerous and violent women. Simone’s dominatrix master Chaos fits the bill. Hughes waits to reveal what she’s like, and once he does, it’s off-the-rails sadism… heaping humiliation and physical abuse on Simone. 

The story’s biggest weakness involves characters talking to themselves through internal dialogue or even out loud. This technique can be endearing, but it can also border on annoyance. Additionally, some of the scenes, particularly earlier ones involving Toni’s ordinary life – driving around or making tea, for instance – come across as superfluous. Nevertheless, those scenes help ground the reader before the onslaught of deviance and carnage that is to come.

A handful of shorter stories ranging from so-so to exceptional follow the novella. In “Jinnism”, the funniest and most original of the shorts, a nerdy man struggles to resist an attractive woman’s advances – you’ll find out why. 

The two main characters of “King Shit” discover the top-secret fate of the dirty diapers they pick up on their daily route. Jeff, on the job for twenty years, thinks his employers have taken advantage of him. The younger Paul has no loyalty to any company and plans to jump from job to job. Their discovery and a moustache-twirling type of villain will put their lives at risk and rattle their perspectives.

“Blood, Bullets and Baubles” pits tough guys with names like Valentine and Hammer against Klaws, a supernatural figure who supposedly brings bad children and adults to Klaws Hell. When they hear “Whore, whore, whore!” instead of “Ho, ho, ho!,” things start getting messy. 

If you like ’80s action movies, then you’ll enjoy the concluding longer story “Wasteland Warfare”. Something unexpected happens when two Welsh gangs, the Pickaxe Handles and the Commandos, decide to battle it out for territorial control. What do you get when you mix a graveyard, toxic chemicals and blood? Zombies, of course! This story, with its macho characters and extreme violence, rolls right along. Not bad considering this is a zombie story. 

One character in “Wasteland Warfare” smiles and winces when he sees another character killed. This is an incongruous reaction that the reader will repeatedly experience in Wind-Up Toy and Other Stories, a collection that is partly sick, partly funny and wholly entertaining. Get ready to have your boots knocked off.—Douglas J. Ogurek ****

Monday 8 May 2023

Cultures of Climate Change, Changes of Climate Cultures – Rafe McGregor

Climate Change Culture

Climate change is unquestionably the greatest challenge ever faced by humanity, even if we choose to ignore it. The question I want to answer here, which I hope will be of interest to most if not all Theaker’s Quarterly readers, is whether fiction has a role to play in meeting this challenge and, if so, what that role might be. Recently, this subject has transgressed the disciplinary boundaries of academia and escaped the confines of its ivory towers to be aired where it belongs, in the public domain. I shall trace the debate from its origins in a 2015 lecture series at the University of Chicago to the work-in-progress of a criminologist in Richmond, Kentucky. Jnanpith Award winner Amitav Ghosh delivered the lectures, which were published the following year in full as The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable and in 2021 in part as Uncanny and Improbable Events. The latter is one of Penguin’s Green Ideas, a series that includes philosopher Timothy Morton’s All Art Is Ecological, which was also published in 2021 and is an extract from his 2018 book, Being Ecological. Morton’s long essay is tangential to Ghosh’s lectures, but film critic Mark Bould responded directly in his short 2021 book, The Anthropocene Unconscious: Climate Catastrophe Culture. Critical criminologist Avi Brisman responds to both Bould and Ghosh in “Ecocide and Khattam-Shud: Thoughts on How We Might Tell (More, Better) Stories of Climate Change”, an article due for release in the Journal of Aesthetic Education this autumn. I summarise each thesis in terms of its three primary claims.

Ecology is Nowhere

Ghosh’s “Great Derangement” is a play on the “Great Acceleration”, the dramatic and synchronous increase in a range of socioeconomic trends from population and gross domestic product to transportation and telecommunications since 1945. The derangement is contemporary culture’s lack of ability or will to address the climate change caused by the Great Acceleration. Ghosh imagines a future in which critics identify the paradox of a culture that both prided itself on its self-awareness and ignored its self-destruction. Ghosh’s thesis begins with the claim that literature has never recovered from the split into literary and genre fiction, which he dates to the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, in 1818. Second, he argues that while genre – science, speculative, or climate – fiction has attempted to meet the challenge of climate change, it has for the most part failed in virtue of being nothing more than disaster fiction set in the future. Finally, literary or artistic fiction has not even tried to meet the challenge and Ghosh cites Abdul Rahman Munif’s 1984 “petrofiction” novel, Cities of Salt, as one of the exceptions that proves the rule. Interestingly, the Hollywood film industry has been accused of a similar derangement with, for example, Rewrite the Future director Daniel Hinerfeld claiming that “Hollywood has not reflected the greatest drama of our generation”.

⁠It is hard to fault Ghosh because he is making a very specific point for which there appears to be ample evidence: criticism of cultures of mass harm such as classism, racism and sexism has traditionally been the purview of the institution of literature, which has failed to address the most significant mass harm of all, ecocide, understood as the destruction of the planet’s capacity to support human and nonhuman animal life. Like Ghosh, I believe the distinction between high and popular culture is irrelevant at best and harmful at worst, but he is right to point out that it remains as deeply entrenched as ever two hundred years after Frankenstein. Notwithstanding, he is at least partly complicit in maintaining the distinction by the significance he accords to the different ways in which each category of fiction has failed. I wonder why this is so important and also why he does not make more of the fictions of Margaret Atwood (whom he cites with approval), Octavia Butler, Kim Stanley Robinson, N.K. Jemisin, and others that so clearly bridge the literary-genre divide.⁠

Ecology is Everywhere I

Morton is a member of the Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) school of philosophy, which was inaugurated by Graham Harman in 2002 with Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects and draws heavily on both Martin Heidegger’s hermeneutic phenomenology and Immanuel Kant’s transcendental idealism. Morton summarises OOO in terms of two key insights: nothing (whether object or subject) can ever be grasped in its entirety and there is no privileged mode of access to these ungraspable things, in consequence of which (OOO) philosophy cannot be anthropocentric. Morton’s thesis begins by delineating “ecological” as caring for nonhumans in a more conscious way, which involves recognising that one is already ecological, i.e. entangled in a symbiotic whole that is less than the sum of its parts. Second, the aesthetic experience of beauty – Kant’s elitist and baggage-laden theory does a great deal of work here – is an experience in which one feels solidarity with a nonhuman thing whose meaning is inexhaustible. Finally, artistic appreciation – a nod to philosophical aesthetics here – is appreciation of the simultaneity of familiarity and strangeness, the uncanny, in which it is difficult to sustain the distinction between self and other. The eradication of this distinction enables human beings to achieve solidarity with the nonhuman by recognising that we are already ecological or, to use a phrase Morton deliberately avoids, always already ecological.

What Morton is actually doing in All Art Is Ecological is setting out a theory in the tradition of aesthetic education, which originated with J.C. Friedrich von Schiller’s 1794 Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man. Schiller, who also drew on Kant but managed to avoid some of his elitism, argued for a causal relation between aesthetic experience and both harmony of character (moral harmony) and harmony in society (political harmony). Literary critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak recently radicalised the tradition by describing the experience of literature as training for and practice in the experience of being ethical. In a similar manner, Morton maintains the experience of art is training for and practice in the experience of being ecological. Morton takes a great deal for granted and would benefit from piggybacking on Spivak in a similar manner to that in which Bould piggybacks on Marxist critic Fredric Jameson, but is prohibited from doing so because of the commitment to OOO (Spivak is a poststructuralist and OOO is phenomenology, broadly construed).

Ecology is Everywhere II

Jameson published one of the most important works of cultural criticism to date with The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act in 1981. He demonstrates that all texts are political because they are all produced and consumed within the historical context of class struggle between oppressor and oppressed and that this struggle permeates both the form and the content of the stories human beings tell themselves and one another. Bould begins with the provocative claim that all cultural texts are ecological, i.e. about the Anthropocene, usually on an unconscious level. Given that the popularisation of the novel as a literary form was contemporaneous with the Industrial Revolution, first novels and later feature films and television series were all produced and consumed within the Anthropocene. Second, in the same way that the class struggle permeates all texts to characterise them as political so the Anthropocene permeates all texts to characterise them as ecological. Finally, Bould evinces his thesis by delineating the environmental uncanny as involving both recognition by human beings that they are in the presence of nonhuman agency and an anthropocentric hubris which assumes it will be able to control its nonhuman creations. As such, Bould turns Ghosh’s environmental uncanny against him: the environmental uncanny is everywhere, from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park to Richard Powers’ The Overstory and from Mauro Herce’s Dead Slow Ahead to the Fast & Furious and Sharknado film franchises.

⁠What strikes one immediately is that the uncanny is central to all three theses, albeit to a lesser extent for Ghosh than Morton and Bould. There is a more obvious similarity between the latter two theses, which can both be abstracted to ecology is everywhere, although the relationship between the ubiquity of ecology and the environmental uncanny differs in each. While Bould would benefit from fleshing out this relationship in more detail, a more trenchant criticism was recently made in the Ancillary Review of Books by science fiction critic Fabius Mayland, who claims he is naïve to assume that “climate politics just needs a little more imagination and storytelling to really get going”. Neither more fiction about climate change (first-order culture in Mayland’s taxonomy) nor more theory about fiction about climate change (second-order culture, where Bould fits in) can achieve this aim. Both the crisis and its solutions have been established beyond all reasonable doubt by the sciences so what is required is the political power to implement them. I agree with Mayland about the need for political power, but I think he misses an important part of the problem, to which I return in my conclusion.⁠

Ecology is Everywhere and Nowhere

Brisman’s contribution to the debate is the article mentioned above, but it is also worth noting that he is expanding the article into a short book, Climate Change as a Crisis of Imagination, which will be published by Bristol University Press in 2024. With his permission, I draw on both the article and his work-in-progress. Brisman begins by contending that Ghosh and Bould should be read as complementary rather than contradictory because they are actually arguing for the same result, a cultural turn towards the Anthropocene. When viewed through this lens, Ghosh motivates the cultural turn by drawing attention to the failure of the institution of literature to perform one of its core functions (cultural critique) and Bould enables it by raising awareness of the Anthropocene from its unconscious depths. Finally, the synthesis of Ghosh and Bould reframes the climate crisis as (also) a narrative crisis that can be resolved by allegorising a broad range of stories for their climate messages in a way that foregrounds the temporal and the utopian. The significance of the utopian to Brisman dovetails with Ghosh’s critique of genre fiction neatly: counterfactual narratives should present us with possible future worlds that contrast with the probable dystopian future in order to provide a pathway to those possible future worlds.

A great strength of Brisman’s “green criminology” is his own utopian impulse, the desire to seek allies rather than opponents, and this is very much reflected in his work-in-progress. Everyone involved in this debate is, after all, really enthusiastic about culture, really enthusiastic about avoiding ecocide, and really enthusiastic about finding a role for the former in the latter. It is in this spirit that I have included Morton in my discussion, in spite of my reservations about OOO, because – at the very least – All Art Is Ecological raises awareness of the issue at stake. There is nonetheless an aspect of Brisman’s utopian ideal that is problematic with respect to narrative. Focusing on utopia rather than dystopia – on cooperation rather than conflict – is a tall order for writers and undermines what may be the most fundamental narrative heuristic of all: character + conflict = plot. So much so that Anna Jayne Joyner established her nonprofit, Good Energy, in 2019 for precisely this purpose and their open access playbook provides screenwriters with a host of solutions to the problems of representing climate change.

Political Power and Climate Change Culture

Where does this all leave us? I began by asking whether fiction has a role to play in meeting the challenge of climate change. I am confident the answer is “yes”. While I agree with Mayland about the need to exert political power, it cannot come exclusively from the top-down. Most governments are already too invested in the capitalist world-system to dismantle it and the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the extent to which proportions of the population are prepared to resist even the most benign official impositions, never mind radically altering their lifestyles on a permanent basis. What is needed is a complementary change from the bottom-up, which would require nothing more than the reconfiguration of human consciousness from hyper-capitalist consumption to post-capitalist sustenance. Which leads to the second part of my opening question: if fiction does have a role to play, what is it? That role was identified by Ghosh at the beginning of his first lecture in 2015, to change human consciousness by changing individual desires. Culture – including literature, art, film, and narrative – shapes desire and shaping of desire is at least as much of a solution to the problem as exerting political power. Humanity needs both changes, top-down and bottom-up, if it is to avoid its dystopian horizons.

Published online ahead of its appearance in Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #76, due in September 2023.

Rafe McGregor lectures at Edge Hill University. He is the author of two monographs, two novels, six collections of short fiction, and two hundred articles, essays and reviews. His most recent work of fiction is The Adventures of Roderick Langham, a collection of occult detective stories.

Friday 5 May 2023

Carnival Row, Season 2 | review by Rafe McGregor

Triumph of the Franchise.

The COVID-19 pandemic put paid to the traditional twentieth century distinction between the big and the small screen, making the ontological identity of the two types of art and entertainment obvious. Feature films and television series belong to a single mode of representation – representation by displays of moving pictures – and the context of their production and consumption have become increasingly similar in the last twenty-five years. Twenty-first century cinema has adopted the franchise model to minimise risk and maximise profit, films are increasingly watched in the comfort of our own homes, and mainstream films have been produced by streaming services since the pandemic. I take the franchise model to include sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, and retcons (short for ‘retroactive continuity’), in which case Box Office Mojo’s Worldwide Box Office statistics for the last decade are revealing – if not startling. The highest-grossing standalone films were ranked as follows: sixteenth (Elvis, 2022), sixteenth (Encanto, 2021), fifth (Tenet, 2020), twenty-first (Alita: Battle Angel, 2019), sixth (Bohemian Rhapsody, 2018), eleventh (Coco, 2017), fourth (Zootopia, 2016), seventh (Inside Out, 2015), tenth (Interstellar, 2014), and eighth (Gravity, 2013). If one removes the children’s films, which have always been disproportionately lucrative, this leaves a total of five standalone films in the top 10 from 2013 to 2022: Interstellar, The Martian (tenth in 2015), Bohemian Rhapsody, Tenet, and Uncharted. Franchises have become so big that it’s difficult to keep track of each instalment. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), for example, includes thirty-one films at the time of writing and there are at least another nine due for release in the next three years.

A franchise is, of course, little more than a licensed series and this movement from standalone to serial film has been complemented by the evolution of television into a serious and mature art form. Twenty-first century television is revelling in a golden age that began at the turn of the century, series are being watched on increasingly bigger screens with increasingly higher resolution graphics, and Hollywood A-listers are almost as likely to appear in a television series as they are in a franchise feature film. This merging of the big and small screens into one another doesn’t even take franchises that include both into account, like the MCU, Star Wars, the DC Extended Universe, Star Trek, and many others. Television shows like The Sopranos (1999–2007), Band of Brothers (2001), 24 (2001–2014), The Wire (2002–2008), and Carnival Row (2019–2023) were unthinkable in the eighties. The monotonous desire of the audience for (much) more of the same is matched by the production of sequels, prequels, and tie-ins and Martin Scorsese published in article in the New York Times in 2019 in which he argued that superhero films are simply not cinema. They are, in other words, a distinct type of art and entertainment, one which is crucially – perhaps even essentially – shaped by the franchise model. Television series in particular (although film franchises as well) are routinely run into the ground, with seasons continuing until the diminishing qualitative returns produce diminishing financial returns. When the last season was so poor in terms of quality that the risk of loss is increased beyond an acceptable level, the series is finally euthanised. There are many exceptions, but the pursuit of profit by means of open-ended series has to at least some extent undermined the golden age of television, which is much the same point that Scorsese is making about feature films.

This is the artistic economy within which the first season of Carnival Row was released in 2019. It was one of the most innovative and compelling television series I’d watched in a long time and I immediately reviewed it for Theaker’s Quarterly, exploring its allegorical depth by focusing on its character as a work of occult detective fiction. As regular readers of the magazine will know, occult detection is one of my favourite genres and the subject of several of my reviews, the most comprehensive of which are of Alan Parker’s 1987 feature film, Angel Heart, and William Hjortsberg’s 2020 novel, Angel’s Inferno. Occult detective stories usually begin in imitation of crime fiction, with a private or police detective investigating a murder or missing person, but are able to deploy plot devices that are unavailable without the intrusion of the supra-human. Where the mundane detective is restricted to investigating someone else, the occult detective can also investigate another occult detective or even him or herself. Carnival Row 1 was an example of the former in pitting two occult detectives – Piety Breakspear (played by Indira Varma) and Inspector Rycroft Philostrate (played by Orlando Bloom) – against each other. Angel Heart was an example of the latter, pitting Harry Angel (played by Mickey Rourke) against himself, concluding with his discovery that he tried to renege on a deal with the devil. I had intended to explore Carnival Row 1’s dual detective structure in more detail, but turned my attention to the ways in which the season’s multiple and intervolved layers of representational and extra-representational meaning shed light on the complexity of urban life instead, publishing an article in an academic journal in 2020 and developing that article into a short monograph called Critical Criminology and Literary Criticism in 2021.

The depth of meaning and value in Carnival Row 1 is quite incredible, which brings high expectations for the second and final series, whose production and release were delayed by COVID-19. As the setting of season 2 is established by the conclusion of season 1, a brief summary of the latter is necessary. Carnival Row 1 is set against the battle for Tirnanoc, the land of the Fae, which is fought between two human powers, the Burgue and the Pact. As the war progresses, the Fae flee to the Burgue for safety and the stream of refugees increases with the Pact’s victory. When the series opens, many of citizens of the Burgue, spanning all social strata, are displeased by the influx of ‘Critch’, a derisive term used to describe all Fae regardless of their species, and pursue some combination of making their lives as miserable as possible, proposing anti-immigration legislation, and using all available means to keep them offshore. The series takes its name from a street in the Burgue that is the centre of what has become a Fae inner city, populated by faeries, fauns, centaurs, trolls, kobolds and other refugees. There are two protagonists: Philo, a mixed-species police detective who conceals his origins in order to avoid falling foul of the Burgue’s speciesist laws; and Vignette Stonemoss (played by Cara Delevingne), a faerie refugee. Philo investigates a series of murders committed by a Darkasher, which was created by Piety – wife to the Chancellor of the Burgue – to discover the identity of her husband’s illegitimate son. Unbeknownst to Philo, he is that son and the competition between the two occult detectives is for Philo to identify Piety as the murderer before she can identify him as the son. Meanwhile, Vignette escapes her indentured labour to find that she has only two options for survival, sex work or crime, and joins the Black Raven, a Fae organised crime group. Philo outwits Piety, but the season ends with a magnificent reversal of fortune in which Piety is revealed to have been manipulated by Sophie Longerbane (played by Caroline Ford), the Leader of the Opposition, for the purpose of appointing Jonah Breakspear (played by Arty Froushan), Piety’s weak-willed and irresponsible son, as Acting Chancellor. Jonah and Sophie join forces in the bedroom and in parliament, passing emergency legislation to intern all the Fae in Carnival Row, which is sealed off from the rest of the city and transformed into a ghetto.

Carnival Row 2 consists of ten episodes, as opposed to the first season’s eight, each of which are between 48 and 60 minutes in length. The season attempts to reproduce the allegorical depth of its prequel, developing themes at both the psychological and political levels and linking them by means of an occult detective plot. ‘Subplot’ is probably a better description because the series of murders fades almost completely into the background for several episodes. Similarly, there is little integration of the personal with the public because the global politics in which the Burgue has become embroiled quickly takes a centre stage that it never relinquishes. While Sophie was setting her ultra-conservative takeover of parliament in motion, the Pact was collapsing in the face of a civil war, following a revolution by a communist movement called the New Dawn. The Pact is, in consequence, unable to complete the colonisation of Tirnanoc or continue the war with the Burgue and seeks to withdraw from the former and enter into an alliance with the latter. The Pact was widely despised for its perpetration of genocide in Tirnanoc, but the New Dawn does not recognise international borders and most of the Burgue’s elite are happy to ally with the Pact if it prevents their own proletariat from revolting. There is a really interesting development in episode 3, ‘The Martyr’s Hand’, which almost made me forgive the CGI-heavy extended action sequences of episode 1 and gave me hope that season 2 might almost achieve the thematic richness of season 1.

At this point, there is a class-based revolution being led by the New Dawn, narrated in the Pact port of Ragusa, from the perspective of Agreus Astrayon (played by David Gyasi) and Imogen Spurnrose (played by Tamzin Merchant), who have fled the Burgue. In Carnival Row, Vignette has renewed her allegiance to the Black Raven, whose popularity is in the ascendence as the only organisation capable of defending the ghetto’s inmates. The Black Raven is debating whether to start a revolution of their own, which will be species- rather than class-based, uniting all Fae against their human oppressors. As I discussed in my academic writing on Carnival Row 1, ‘species’ is symbolic of ‘race’ (or ethnicity) in the series such that the Fae on screen symbolise people of colour off screen. The proposed Fae revolution is thus a revolt for racial justice. The third and final development is in the Burgue’s corridors of power and concerns Sophie. Her ultra-conservative speciesism (racism) always seemed to be a means to an end rather than a heartfelt conviction, an expedient exploitation of interspecies (interracial) hatred for the purpose of securing dynastic rule. It is now revealed that Sophie’s Machiavellian machinations were not in fact selfish, but part of a revolution for women’s rights whose goal is the inauguration of a woman as Chancellor. She is actually pro-Fae and has maintained a close friendship with her faun maid, Jenila (played by Sinead Phelps). Sophie and Jenila are prepared to do anything and everything it takes to put a woman in charge – regardless of whether that woman is human or Fae or rich or poor – and are planning a revolt for gender justice. From this point onwards, there are thus three revolutions either being planned or already in progress, each striving for its own model of social justice and prioritising class, race, and gender respectively. What is so interesting is that the fictional world holds a mirror and a microscope to our own, where well-motivated struggles for social justice often cut across – and sometimes even undermine – one another. Once all three revolutions were in motion, I expected a sophisticated and nuanced comparison and contrast of the merits and flaws of each and was intrigued by which the narrative would ultimately endorse. Alas, the answer is none, as all three are soon represented as misguided at best and morally reprehensible at worst. Given Amazon’s role in shaping the artistic economy and world-system in which we live and its track record with its own employees, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that its studio warns us against the dangers of meaningful socioeconomic change. But I was – surprised and disappointed.

As already mentioned, the occult detective subplot is eclipsed by the global politics of the season and fails to suture the personal to the public. Aside from the pressure created by the narrative imbalance between politics and psychology, the murder mystery is perfunctory when compared to its counterpart in Carnival Row 1. In episode 5, ‘Reckoning’, the murders are disclosed to have been committed by a sparas, a Fae shapeshifter whose species was decimated during the Pact-Burgue war for Tiranoc. The mystery is then what identity the shapeshifter has assumed and what his motivation for the murders is. Sparas are one of the new species of Fae somewhat gratuitously introduced in the second season, along with minotaurs and (I think) goblins. I suppose the sparas has a purpose in sustaining the mystery, but I couldn’t see the point of minotaurs and goblins suddenly appearing on Carnival Row when they had never been there before. Also, they seem to have appeared at the expense of the disappearance of other species – gone, for example, are the centaurs (unless I missed them, which seems unlikely given their size). The reshuffling of the Fae is nearly as random as the sparas’ choice of victims and there is a sense of arbitrariness that detracts from any mounting tension as to whodunit – or whydunit. Unlike its predecessor, this occult detective story fails to stage any conflict between the anthropocentric and the supra-human and keeps any commentary on ecocide as a mass harm firmly at what film critic Mark Bould calls the Anthropocene Unconscious in his 2021 monograph of the same name. The best thing I can say about Carnival Row 2 is that for all my criticism, it does at least bring the series to a conclusion. If nothing else, this bucks the increasingly-common pattern with which I began this review, the never-ending-franchise or the franchise-ever-at-the-point-of-euthanasia. All of which to say, I’m not sure whether Carnival Row 2 is a missed opportunity or just completely gratuitous.**