This A Discovery of Witches review contains spoilers.
A Discovery of Witches Episode 8
This review comes from Den of Geek UK.
Let’s start with a famous thought experiment: you sit a child in a room with no distractions, and you place one marshmallow in front of her. You tell her that she can eat the marshmallow now, if she wants, but if she waits for five minutes she’ll get two marshmallows. Can she hold on? How long can she be expected to wait before she decides marshmallows aren’t that great anyway and leaves the room for good?
Many stories, in the age of the ongoing television series, work by offering bigger, better marshmallows to come if you can hold on. But the best stories also understand that nobody can keep waiting indefinitely without any reward at all, and usually the final episode of a series is when some gooey treat needs to be given. An ongoing plot arc is great; a plot that never resolves any of the major elements eventually becomes no fun for a disenchanted viewer.
A Discovery of Witches needed to find the right balance in this final episode of series one in order to make us happy, yet leave us wanting to wait for answers. So did it give us all a marshmallow or two while setting up the promise of more?
A plunge into immediate action was a good start. Juliette, the vampire who had rebelled against Gerbert’s control of her, tracked down Diana and Matthew and attacked them. Diana’s magic responded, and she killed Juliette easily – but Matthew was left dying. It took yet more magic and a promise to a Goddess figure, not explained, to revive him. Diana fed him her own blood, which should have been a hugely exciting moment (aren’t we all waiting for the bite in vampire/human romantic stories?) and yet it fell flat for me, feeling rushed. In no time at all everyone was back to normal and looking no different for this encounter, possibly because there was just too much to get through to be slowed down by emotion or recriminations at this stage.
On to the next scene that promised more than it delivered: Baldwin ended up standing impromptu trial for helping Matthew and Diana to escape the Congregation’s instructions. The punishment? Death by beheading and fire. However, after a quick five-minute break and a vote he was found innocent, while also allowing Satu to be forgiven for her transgressions. In no time at all the Congregation had formed a new alliance between vampires and witches in order to get hold of Diana’s power, and the unlikely threesome of Gerbert, Satu and Knox were on their way to the US to confront her.
Where could she possibly hide? The answer lay in her newly uncovered gifts, and the surprise revelation that Diana’s father had been able to walk in time. Could she master the same ability? Of course she could. I’ve long enjoyed this series’ interest in little historical objects that are given important weighting, and it was good to see the statuette owned by demons turning out to have had a real significance to Matthew, although more than just a cursory explanation of his connection to it would have helped to really hook me into the idea of the couple escaping into the past.
Suddenly this became less about winning the fight than leaving the fight behind entirely, and all possibility of a full-on vampire/witch/demon showdown was forgotten. Instead we were given a final scene that left us with no fulfilment of the set-up; as Gerbert, Satu and Knox arrived at the house so Matthew and Diana set foot into the past – or did they? It seems we’ll have to wait to the next series to even find out if they managed to run away effectively.
Running away is an apt description for what happened generally in this last episode. The plot ran away with itself and very few elements were caught and nailed down.
Even with the presence of the incredibly helpful magic house to speed the plot along there was an awful lot left unresolved, giving this first series little feel of completion on any level, which raises the question of whether viewers who have already read and loved the trilogy of novels would make a much better audience for this series than those coming to it afresh. I knew that, as an adaptation of a first book, more would be set up than resolved in this series – and yet I expected some arc of a journey to take place.
A return to Oxford and the Bodleian library, perhaps, to bring us full circle and give us another look at Ashmole 782. The promised confrontation between the witches Diana and Satu, light and dark, might have been another option. It’s very likely that these things are coming along later in books two or three, and for those who already know where this story goes I can imagine that maybe this final episode worked to whet their appetite for the things that lie ahead, but my feeling was one of disappointment that so little was given to me. I’m not greedy, but a little more marshmallow up front would definitely have seen me returning for more. Now, with nothing to show for my patient attention, I’m wondering whether to bother returning to the room at all.
But what am I saying? On second thought, bearing in mind all the elements that really worked for me throughout the series such as the demons and the details and the locations and the love scenes (and the performances by Matthew Goode, Lindsay Duncan and Alex Kingston in particular), I’m sure I’m be back for more if the next season comes along. And who cares if escape proved to be the way forward? This whole series has been about escapism all along.
This ending wasn’t much of a marshmallow, but I can still see the promise of reward lurking up ahead. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I want more.