Episode 3 of Carnival Row takes us back in time to the Tiranese Highlands, with soldiers marching on a faerie refuge and Rycroft looking out ominously at the mountains ahead. In the silence of the snowy village they ride up and declare themselves as Burgoisemen and tell the Fae they come in peace. A stern-faced fae gestures to the skies as hundreds of kindred spirits drop to the ground. Agreeing to allow the soldiers refuge, everyone breathes a sigh of relief as Rycroft heads off alone. It’s here he meets Vignette and she threatens him with a knife as he stumbles into the library.
Ever watchful, Vignette joins the soldiers on their mission in the Highlands as they find their electricity line cut the next day. Utilizing her flying abilities, she effortlessly strings the wire across a breathless chasm while the soldiers watch through snipers to make sure she has a safe passage. All seems well until across the way they find three of the soldiers mutilated and attacked by a beast that looks very much like a werewolf.
As things look bleak, Vignette saves Rycroft from an attack from The Pact at the last minute, as Darius reconvenes with them. It’s here they see first-hand the creatures turn from wolf to man. Without a full moon, Rycroft finds a serum the guards injected to turn themselves into the gnarled beast. As Vignette and Rycroft talk, he learns more about her and her kind before the two meet in secret, and alone, sharing intimate relations.
After some time has passed, Rycroft learns Darius is a wolf and immediately has his concerns, to which he reassures him, telling Rycroft he has it under control. Before they head back, Darius tells him he can smell the fae all over him. It’s here they discuss freedom and Darius tells him he longs for the day they can be free.
As The Pact close in, sharp-shooters knock Fae out the air as Vignette tends to Tourmaline’s injuries. As they warn against her getting too involved with Rycroft, she confronts him about what’s going to happen between them after the war, where we learn he’s actually half-fae. It’s also here we find out Tourmaline was the one who convinced Rycroft to leave, especially given the Burgoise were losing the war.
It comes at the worst time too, as the army catch wind that The Pact have captured the capital and it’s only a matter of time before they reach the village. Rycroft heads out and tells Vignette to evacuate, warning her the dangers that lie beyond the walls. She tells him they should leave together and he agrees, although his trying look hints at other ideas.
Under the ominous dark light of the winter, The Pact arrive and with it, zeppelins filled with soldiers. They gun down stray Fae with molotovs in the air and hit the town with RPGs. As Vignette and Rycroft are separated, we see their heart-breaking exit, as they go their separate ways, with Vignette believing that Rycroft died in the attack.
This leads us nicely back to present day, where Vignette confronts Rycroft about the village and the seven years he feigned being dead. Lost for words, she tells the inspector that he is truly lost and leaves him watching her fly away.
With tinges of romance throughout the episode, Carnival Row delivers an informative but strangely ill-timed flashback episode. While the content itself is certainly interesting and helps add some depth to both lead characters, it also feels like a strange place to showcase this story, with the momentum built from the second episode all but lost here. It’s especially an issue given the slow opening to this episode, with the opening 10 minutes essentially plunged into an uneasy silence during the time the soldiers march up to the village.
The actual episode itself is good though, with background on The Pact and the warring races helping to paint a picture of the past conflict and the fae caught in the middle. With the ending jumping back to present day, and culminating in a climactic finish with Vignette flying away, I can’t help but feel this episode may have had more emotional weight had it been saved for later on in the story. Still, it’s a decent stand-alone episode nonetheless and does help paint a picture of both races in the past.