This A Discovery of Witches review contains spoilers.
A Discovery of Witches Episode 4
This review comes from Den of Geek UK.
Bibliophile warning: there are no books in this episode of A Discovery of Witches. Not a single scene takes place in the Bodleian Library. This might be a dealbreaker for some of us.
If you were watching for other fabulous locations, however, then you won’t be disappointed. Instead of Oxford, most of the action takes place in France, within a very beautiful castle. Vampire Matthew and witch Diana are getting to know each other a little more within this magnificent setting, which is Matthew’s family home. They take part in activities together, including horse riding, dancing the tango to gramophone records, and kissing each other on the ramparts (Just to be clear: the ramparts of the castle.)
They do all these things under the watchful eye of Matthew’s disapproving mother, Ysabeau de Clermont, and she is played by Lindsay Duncan who is wonderful at being calmly scary and forbidding. She also brings out the best in the other actors around her; I’ve not found much passion in Teresa Palmer’s performance as Diana Bishop before this episode, but she stepped up to the challenge of facing down Ysabeau and hinted at some real steel inside for the first time. This bodes well for the big confrontations that must lie ahead for her character.
There are now hints of threads pulling together and offering the promise of some satisfying showdowns to come. What I’m hoping for is a huge magical fight between demons, witches and vampires which give all the actors in this the chance to bring their best game faces: Trevor Eve, Alex Kingston, Lindsay Duncan, and Owen Teale casting life-threatening spells or threatening to bite each other, sounds like a wonderful development. If that happens, I might forgive the lack of libraries. In the meantime, though, this episode gives us a few interesting details to ponder on and a lot of general conversation.
The characters talk about the way life is for creatures (vampires, demons and witches) at the moment, and the way life has been in the past, and why creatures shouldn’t be allowed to ‘crossbreed’. The more the characters talked about this, the less reasonable it all sounded. I’m still firmly on the side of allowing demons to have chatrooms, for instance.
Yet again, the details won me over. A Discovery of Witches has a knack for making the most of small objects, and this episode gave us a key that was built up, layer by layer, from slices of it carried by members of the all-powerful Congregation. Once the key was assembled the door to the grand meeting hall in the Venice building could be opened. I love these light touches of invention. It’s a shame that a chance was missed to do something along similar lines when head witch Peter Knox (Owen Teale) threatened his underling Satu (Malin Buska) to do his bidding without question. The object he produced to ensure her silence was a small rock. It wasn’t even a glittery, magical rock. Satu looked suitably cowed by it, but it still felt like an opportunity missed.
On a different subject, the dialogue remains utilitarian, but touches on ridiculous every now and again. I’m hoping this is deliberate, because at the very least it raises a smile. My favourite line this week was delivered by Matthew Goode. Speaking of his ancient vampiric mother, who has killed hundreds of witches and probably thousands of humans without even messing up her hairdo, he told Diana, “Her bark is worse than her bite.” I really doubt it.
But as A Discovery of Witches tries its hardest to find a place for itself between predictable and silly, veering between overblown romance and small moments of magic, I find myself enjoying it, and looking forward to more. The performances are fun, and the locations gorgeous. It offers unchallenging escapism that is not afraid to remind viewers of other books and films they’ve loved in a similar vein. It’s even hinting at moving into the territory of ultimate escapism as we learn more about the little statuette owned by a demon family – is everything that’s happening pre-ordained? Foretold, with Matthew already cast as ‘the dark one’ in Diana’s life story, making her a chosen figure of power for some great mission?
It’s the ultimate fantasy for people who’d like a break from a world in which everything we do comes with unpredictable consequences, and we have to take responsibility for all of them. If only fate had it all planned out for us, and it involved long weekends in French castles with ramparts. I’d happily have my bags packed for that.
I’m happy to sink into Diana’s world for an hour once a week. But I’m still hoping we’ll return to the Bodleian and the books at some point soon. I’m sure we will; A Discovery of Witches seems to know well the lesson that the old stories are the best.