Carnival Row Post-Mortem Exclusive Interview: Showrunner Erik Oleson Talks the Series Finale!Michael T. Stack at .
TV Fanatic sat down with showrunner Erik Oleson to discuss the Carnival Row series finale.
The writer/producer let us in on all the decisions throughout Carnival Row Season 2 Episode 9 and Carnival Row Season 2 Episode 10, so naturally, watch out for spoilers.
While we may not miss the show nearly as much as him, we also talked about missing it and leaving it open for things in the future.
Erik Oleson is a prolific showrunner and executive producer. Past credits include the Third Season of Netflix's Daredevil and The Man in the High Castle.
There are spoilers for the series finale of Carnival Row below this image. Reader beware!
TV Fanatic: Did you always plan on having a relatively happy ending?
Oleson: It's a pretty mixed bag if we're being honest!
TV Fanatic: A mixed bag, yes, but all the leading players: Agreus, Imogen, Philo, Vignette, Millworthy, and Tourmaline, have a well-finished and relatively satisfactory ending!
Oleson: I wanted to end it in a version that felt like a reasonable conclusion but didn't close the door to future stories. I did not want to have Philo and Vignette to end up together.
I wanted to do something unpredictable, which Cara [Delevigne] and Orlando [Bloom] were also keen on doing. In the soundtrack, we flipped the Carnival Row music into a primary key for Philo's final walk during the Row as a subtextual "happily ever after."
But then, if you look at the final shot of Philo, the sky is bright on one side, and on the other side, there are storm clouds. So you never know what's gonna happen!
TV Fanatic: Not all of the main characters in this season make it through to the end. Did you always plan on killing them, specifically Darius? That death hit us hard.
Oleson: Sorry! I love Darius. As we broke the story, we wanted the show's actions to have real consequences for our loved characters, and Darius was one of our favorites.
Right up to the end, we debated, ' do we let him survive or not?' but the self-sacrifice he makes for tourmaline felt like a satisfying climax for him vs. him getting wounded and resurrected, which felt a little bullshitty.
What we wanted to build was unpredictable choices by the characters. Like Vignette, ultimately deciding to choose the love of tourmaline is more important than her politics. Ultimately love prevailed over war and strife, and violence for her.
I think, in the end, she has real doubts about whether or not that was the right thing to do. So I would push back on it being a happy ending too because on the status quo, it was, but it was kind of buying a chance for the system to correct itself before an upheaval would come again.
I disagreed with the violent slaughter of every burgish who was socially unjust, but society definitely needed to change, and the opening of the Row is a step toward social justice, but it's not exactly like you necessarily have members of parliament from the fae.
Ultimately, we had an honest debate about whether or not to make a fae character the chancellor. We talked about a lot as writers. Ultimately we had to end the show; we only had so much real estate. We can put in only so many mind-blowing ideas per episode before it becomes ridiculous.
TV Fanatic: Did you always have the identity of the Sparas in mind, or did this develop as the season progressed?
Oleson: When we were plotting out what it was, we knew it was Major Vir, more or less a sleeper agent inside the Pact, sent by the New Dawn to spread the revolution to the Burgue.
So everything The Sparas is doing is attempting to create the conditions for a violent uprising in the Burgue. That's the spy story at work... so no, we had to link the creature and that Millworthy/Vir political story early on.
What we didn't want to do was another random murderer on the Row. Amazon was keen on saying, 'look, he's a detective. You have to have murders.' So, I thought, 'okay, how do I weave this list of things that everybody needs to be together to build a satisfying season 2?'
TV Fanatic: One of the big standouts in the season was Joanne Whalley as Leonora. She played the character incredibly. Tell us about the development of that character and how she and the New Dawn became the menacing power of the season.
Oleson: First, Joanne Whalley is a beautiful human being, and I intend to put her in everything I ever do. I will be happy if I get a chance to put Joanne in every show I ever do for the rest of my career. Same with Jay Ali (Kaine), who I brought from Daredevil. And I will take forward some members of this cast onto my future projects.
That part aside, Joanne, when I called her, I said, 'hey, I may have a part for you.' She said yes before I told her what the part was. I was interested in the development of the character: what does a contradicting political philosophy do to what we see in the Burgue?
How do you answer what masqueades as a republic but is a racist and sociall-injust system (that sadly reflects a little bit of the real world)? How do you push back against that? Well, I knew I needed a villain with powers that exceeded your main characters. That's basic dramatic structure.
Your villain has to have more power than your hero, or else you have a lopsided dramatic structure.
One of the things about the show is that it shoots in a former communist country, former Czechoslovakia; you know there are a lot of reminders of communism around. There's a lot of heartache around what they had to live through being on the other side of the iron curtain. So that was always interesting to me.
I was also interested in if the Burgue is racist and what the opposite of racism is. It's an egalitarian color-blind society. The ideal of that, in many ways, is a communist state. But You know a communist state is never communist; it descends into totalitarianism the minute they elect its block leader.
That model never worked, but it gave us "oh okay, I can understand, now there's a historical president with how there can be a revolution within the pact.
The people have risen and embraced a model they think will work. They need a leader, a Lenin. So when I called up Joanne, I said, "I want you to be a Lenin, who is revealed more to be Stalin by the end of it." Everyone was like, 'oh shit, what have we signed on for.' She was very intrigued.
I'm a student of history and politics, and that was all very interesting to me.
But to bring it back to making it personal, it's very heady and intellectual. What makes it personal and exciting is: she's a faun who fell in love with a human.
The racist society said you couldn't do that, so she decided to rise up and fight back and inspired a whole generation of people around her to say we have to throw off the shackles of this unjust society.
Given that story, she was a mirror of Agreus and Imogen, who came into her world. So suddenly, you have this commonality between Leonora and Imogen in a really interesting way. You would think that Leonora and Agreus would get along, but they don't because he's purely bought into the Burguish society.
He's got the "I've got to beat them at their own game, but don't change the game because I'm winning." It's an interesting conflict that he sees through it, that it's not a utopia that you might believe for the first couple of scenes.
TV Fanatic: Speaking of Imogen and Agreus, they went through a lot this season with the killing of their crew and Imogen murdering her brother. What made you decide to continue their strength together instead of potentially separate?
Olseon: I mean, I don't want the audience to throw themselves off a cliff if I'm breaking up every relationship in the whole show, I'm chopping heads off of one couple, I have the other go off with other people, and then the third one? I gotta give the audience something! Right?
I also feel like they went through a dark period of trial in which very uncomfortable truths were revealed about their respective deep characters. Their inner lives.
The truth bombs that Ezra dropped on Agreus about Imogen's behavior while he was trying to move on with his life, and she didn't want to end up a spinster, and she sabotaged all of his romantic futures.
I started to feel for Ezra that way.
And Agreus sees that and then answers that with his shame. He was a skipjack that hunted down escaped slaves and delivered them back, and that's how he got rich. So they're both very complicated characters with dark, really dark, and immoral behaviors and decisions in their past.
Ultimately, finding, perhaps, that getting back together and forging ahead is an example to the Burgue of how Fae and humans can interact positively, no matter how dark they were as characters, even the bad things that they'd done.
They could find redemption and be a positive guiding light for where the Burgue could go. The two started an electric company together, bringing light to the Burgue. Enlightenment to the Burge is what we were going for.
This is the future; we all work for the common good despite our differences and the shit we've done in the past.
That was the most positive outcome we could've imagined.
TV Fanatic: You mentioned you did leave it open, just in case. Did you get to tell the whole story you wanted to tell?
Oleson: That world is gigantic. It's a terrific world build that was invented by Travis Beechman in his original movie script. There are endless stories that could be told there with characters we haven't met yet! The show could have other iterations in the future, even if the main cast has moved on to other things.
But, I'm supportive of the business decision of Amazon and Legendary, given the health, safety, and financial security. That was the right decision. But with the world? Who knows?
TV Fanatic: The world is a character in and of itself.
Oleson: The world is a character, I agree.
So Fanatics, what else would you have liked to see throughout the final season?
Would you revisit the world sometime in the future?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below! Carnival Row's second and final season is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Michael Stack is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.