This Discovery of Witches contains spoilers.
Discovery of Witches Episode 2
This review comes from Den of Geek UK.
One of those most enjoyable aspects so far of A Discovery of Witches is that although it’s a series about magic, there’s a lot of science in it. The idea that creatures such as vampires and demons should choose, in the modern age, to be doctors, geneticists, and academics, is a really enjoyable one. Why lurk around in graveyards when there’s finally a chance of using your superior intellect and advanced age to get some answers?
The most intelligent vampires come with laboratory equipment and a fair amount of insight into a worrying fact: magic is disappearing from the world. Matthew Clairmont, our dark handsome brooding vampire (played by Matthew Goode), has been investigating this happening over the centuries, and he’s finally in a position to get some answers through the book that refuses to come to anybody but unpredictable witch Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer). It looks like they’re going to make a good team when it comes to solving these mysteries; just to stick with the scientific theme, there’s a fair bit of chemistry between them.
I know, that’s a corny line, but it suits a program that is retreading a lot of familiar ground, in the main. For instance, we start episode two in Venice, where we meet Juliette (played by Elarica Johnson), a voracious young vampire who belongs to a powerful family. She drains the blood of a tourist, and then gets reprimanded by the aristocratic, domineering head of the family (played by Trevor Eve); it seems she was once in a relationship with Matthew, so we have our link back to the main story, but it’s difficult with little information at this stage to not interpret these powerful Italian vampires as Twilight-esque – a traditional opposition to the more progressive vampires represented by Matthew and his friends. Hopefully the story will find something new to do with these ideas.
Another aspect that feels well-trodden is the path of Diana to becoming a witch of singular power. We see her begin to flex her abilities; as she learns more about her own past and her parents I’m expecting to see her grow into these powers more, and I hope the writers decide not to draw this out too extensively – the thrills in Discovery of Witches have come so far from the flashes of magic or vampiric action that we’ve seen, so here’s hoping we’re moving towards some strong confrontations sooner rather than later.
Things bode well in this direction. We have an intriguing Senior Witch called Peter Knox, played with intensity by Owen Teale, and his sidekick is a Scandinavian witch who’s not afraid to commit acts of violent burning when the mood takes her – Satu Järvinen (played by Malin Buska) is doing a great job of eating up the screen with her implacable stare. Her energy helped this episode along greatly in the absence of Alex Kingston.
So the series is building a sense of threat, and it’s also raising some interesting questions about how factions of an old rivalry can end up with wildly different interpretations of the same events. Diana is surprised to find out that Matthew the vampire is perfectly polite to her, even charming, and yet she has always been told that vampires and witches hate each other. Or is it just the witches who hate the vampires? Why would that be? And the claim that the witches created the vampires is rebutted by Matthew. These grey areas in the collective past, that may well be linked to the reasons why magic is dying out now, are fascinating. It also suggests that it’s not having wildly new ideas that really matter in this series, but finding a way to put just one or two new touches into well-established ideas.
As a counterpoint to the moments of violence there are more of these light touches to intrigue us. Matthew retreats to a country estate run by a demon friend when he discovers he is ‘craving’ Diana, and there’s a scene where we watch him chase down and feed from a stag, so we now have our answers about what kind of blood he chooses to drink. It was a well-filmed scene but in many ways it interested me less than the throwaway lines that came later, when the demon commented that Matthew had craved human women before and it had never ended well. What’s left unsaid is very dark territory that I’m really hoping we get to explore.
There’s a watchful, controlled element to Matthew Goode’s performance that is helping to make Matthew Clairmont an intriguing figure, along with these small glimpses of his past mistakes. And Teresa Palmer’s performance as Diana is doing a good job of giving us a figure, new to this world and its possibilities, to identify with. With solid lead performances and hints of interesting directions that could be taken, I’m still keen to watch more of A Discovery of Witches, but I hope it spends more time working on producing a formula that includes more supernatural confrontations and historical confusions. That way, I think, screen magic lies.