This A Discovery of Witches review contains spoilers.
Tell me, how was dinner? Before diving back to the gloomy past, A Discovery of Witches took a gulp of fresh air in the modern day and dropped in on Sept-Tours. With Sarah and Em there under Ysabeau’s protection, the table was being laid for what promised to be a primo scene between the mortal-enemies-turned-housemates (Alex Kingston vs Lindsay Duncan, yes please thank you). And then… pouf, nothing. It was straight back to the 16th century for another round of bad Matthew. Fingers crossed that the characters we invested in from season one are better served in future episodes.
Satu’s quest to learn about her powers and destiny, for instance, is worth more to fans of season one than political Elizabethan intrigue. Right now though, Satu’s story is only being used as a parallel to Diana’s own search – the dark witch and the light, both seeking answers about their destiny. This episode showed us a snippet of the Finnish witch returning to the home from which she was plucked by Knox at the very start of all this. Let’s hope that in time, her thread is given the attention it deserves.
There are new characters worthy of our attention back in 1590. Amanda Hale as real-life scholar Mary Sidney is like the snapping on of a lightbulb string, illuminating the place with intelligence and curiosity. Sheila Hancock’s every appearance as Goody Alsop too, makes you want to lean in and irritably bat away distractions.
Distractions like cult leader Father Hubbard, whose whole vibe is unhappily cartoonish and gives the impression of having been imported from What We Do in the Shadows. Hubbard’s yet another antagonist against whom Matthew can snarl and make threats – his chief mode back in Elizabethan times, and an increasingly dull one.
Less dull but equally off-putting was the emergence of Matthew Roydon’s laddish side. At Kit Marlowe’s urging in episode two, ‘Mat’ became an ale-swilling tavern lout, thumping the table and slapping his thigh with a gang of banter-bro roister-doisters. Now sporting a beard and earring, the devolution of Matthew Clairmont is complete. The days of pin-neat shirts, fine red wines and lab microscopes are a distant memory. Would Diana even have fallen for this Matthew? Would we, for that matter. Exactly how much of a drag can an escapist love story afford to let one of its romantic leads become?
It’s not that Matthew’s story in series two is faulty. As a period political thriller about a conflicted conscience, with skulking spies and rakish hats, it’s perfectly serviceable, just not what most of us signed up for. We came here for the witches, for glowing palms and eggs-into-chicks and the spontaneous manifestation of slipper-snakes. We want to see five feet four Diana Bishop flying through the air and vibrating with the power of ten armies.
Happily, episode two gave us some of that. She may have technically failed the Taskmaster-style ‘Get the contents of this egg into that bowl without using your hands’ challenge, but the chick trick was something else. It’s reassuring to know that Diana’s magic pertains to life as well as pear-rotting death.
It’s also satisfying to see Diana forge her own way through this alien time, and to see her honest approach achieve more than Matthew’s teeth-bared tactics. Diana has a way of going about things and it’s to stand still for a moment to let the Elizabethans sniff her suspiciously, and then to calmly stick up for herself and tell them everything. The deadly secret that Matthew drank from her? The deadly secret that she’s a time-spinner? No longer secrets and apparently no harm done. Carry on this way and there won’t be a rat-catcher or plague doctor in London unfamiliar with the story so far.
Diana’s breezy “Oh, and I found a teacher” neatly undermined the deeply unsexy possessiveness Matthew’s portrayed since they stepped back in time. And what a teacher she’s found. The most powerful witch in England, and a weaver – a rare power that we learn Diana shares, inherited from her father.
Now that Diana’s set up with the Witch’s Council, we can look forward to more glow-y hands business to come. With Matthew’s fearsome father alerted by Hubbard, and spymaster Cecil making threats against her man, she may need to learn fast.