Our regular weekly coverage of A Discovery of Witches kicks off as the star-crossed lovers “time spin” back to 1590.
Let’s bitch it out…
For my thoughts on the first book of the All Souls trilogy and S1 of the Sky One adaptation, click here (links to Hazel & Katniss & Harry & Starr podcast – Jan 22, 2019)
After a brief recap of the events of S1, the new season begins by addressing the finale cliffhanger that found high ranking Congregation members Peter Knox (Owen Teale) and Gerbert (Trevor Eve), along with witch Satu (Malin Bushka) breaking into Bishop house.
The majority of 2.01 is then spent with Matthew (Matthew Goode) and Diana (Teresa Palmer) in Elizabethan London.
The pair seek refuge in Matthew’s enormous house, much to the chagrin of Matthew’s old friend Kit Marlowe (Tom Hughes), who does *not* approve of Diana. Despite their intention to recover the missing pages from Ashmole 782 and find Diana a witch teacher to control her burgeoning powers, things almost immediately go awry. Matthew is pulled back into his work for William Cecil (Adrian Rawlins) and Diana’s demonstration of her abilities for witch Marjorie Cooper (Amy McAllister) suggests she is capable of immense dark power.
Overall this is a Diana/Matthew heavy hour. Aside from the brief scene that begins the episode, there’s nary a glimpse of any of the other S1 characters as the entirety of the episode takes place in 1590. This is fine, as the leads are obviously front and center of this narrative, though it also feels a touch oppressive to be stuck inside Matthew’s shuttered home with just a few characters for so long.
In some ways this opening hour evokes how Diana must be feeling: slightly off-kilter and out of place. Diana’s struggle to adapt to her new surroundings comes through more strongly here, if only because Matthew is more closed off and (dare we say it?) gaslight-y?
There have – rightfully – been complaints from audiences about the way Diana frequently relents to Matthew’s demands, though that was more of an issue in Deborah Harkness’ books. Here Diana spends most of her time fretting about her clothes, her “Cambridge” accent and her contemporary vernacular, while Matthew is constantly threatening others and stalking about.
It’ll be interesting to see their relationship unfold under this time-travel pressure cooker. There are already fractures in the way that the lovers confide in each other, particularly Matthew’s concern that Diana not leave without telling him (not that he reciprocates). Of course, for those deeply invested in their relationship, there are still a few nice moments of romance and kindness scattered about this premiere episode.
- Of the new characters, the most significant is obviously Hughes’ Kit, who is not so subtly revealed to have a romantic interest in Matthew. Considering how heteronormative S1 of the series was with regard to its depiction of vampires, here’s hoping that S2 explores the romantic possibilities of Matthew’s long, long life.
- With that in mind, Diana and Matthew basically adopt a young pick pocket Jack (Joshua Pickering) for a son.
- If nothing else 2.01 proves that A Discovery of Witches won’t hold audiences’ hands when it comes to explaining this new time period and its significant historical and religious elements. Although it’s not difficult to decipher that Matthew is involved in a a nefarious religious plot, writer Sarah Dollard makes virtually no effort to contextualize the battle between Catholics and Protestants at the time, which is a surprise considering one of the episode’s key moments is when Diana uncovers Matthew’s hidden room in the attic. Presumably this will be explored in greater depth in future episodes; after all, the episode ends with Matthew torturing an unnamed man at the behest of Cecil and the Church.
- From a production perspective: the FX of the city aerial shots look pretty good. There’s a hint of painterly recreation to them that’s evocative of the series’ romantic tone that’s quite enthralling. Major props, however, go to the costuming and hair styling, as the looks that Diana wears are *stunning*. Goode strutting about in tight leather pants is also worthy of praise.
- Finally, it should be noted that despite the long period between seasons, it’s impressively easy to fall back into adventures with Diana and Matthew. Welcome back, A Discovery of Witches!
A Discovery of Witches airs weekly on Fridays on Sky One (UK) and Saturdays on Sundance and Shudder (in North America).