A Discovery of Witches: 2.01
A Discovery of Witches is back for season two, with new episodes airing weekly on Sky One in the UK. The full season is also available to binge on Sky and Now TV now. The Digital Fix will review each episode as it airs on Sky One, starting with episode one.
Check out our review of the season one finale here.
It's been over two years since A Discovery of Witches ended with Diana and Matthew attempting to jump back in time to escape the clutches of the Congregation and locate the Book of Life. After a fabulous amount of world building in season one, the second season opener is much more focused as we enter the adaptation of the second book of Deborah Harkness' All Souls Trilogy - Shadow of Night. Diana and Matthew arrive in Elizabethan England, 1590 London, and into a period of history that Matthew would prefer to keep hidden.
One of the best things about A Discovery of Witches season one was the gorgeous set pieces, from the gothic charm of old Oxford, to the canals of Venice and French castles. Season two is no different. Elizabethan London is recreated in all its rich splendour, but then, would you expect anything different from the producers behind shows like His Dark Materials. Every street, every costume, every room feels utterly believable; never for a moment does the period setting feels any less real than the real world locales from season one. The level of detail is quite simply astounding.
A Discovery of Witches was always beautiful to look at, but what of the story? Well, you certainly need a decent knowledge of Elizabethan history as we are presented with a whole number of real historical characters, from Sir Walter Raleigh and to Kit Marlowe. It quickly become apparent that Matthew's past is darker than his present; while he surrounds himself with politicians and playwrights, he is deeply entrenched in the machinations of his father (the yet to be seen Philippe De Clermont) and the English court, where he has become entrenched as a Catholic-hunting spy. There are plenty of hints as to how dark his past was, one that is sure to cause conflict with Diana.
However, the episode doesn't always allow the audience to keep up; there are sly suggestions and knowing looks that the audience is expected to follow. Sometimes, the best thing to do, is just go with it. I am not familiar with the books on which the show is based, but the fact that I often felt in the dark regarding character motivations and that could soon become an issue for the show. The world building is superb, but it all needs to make sense and as with elements of season one, there were scenes where I definitely felt as if I was missing something important.
It wasn't all about Matthew though. It was a joy to see Diana get joy out of the visit to the past, holding her own against the sexist and anti-witch prejudice of Matthew's closest cohorts and finding excitement in her trip out onto the streets of Elizabethan London. I do hope she gets more agency though, as the season progresses. It does feel as if this is all Matthew's world at present.
Of the new players, Tom Hughes makes the strongest impression as Christopher 'Kit' Marlowe, poet, close friend to Matthew and in this world, a demon, though that may not have been made truly apparent yet. While his jealousy and suspicion fuelled a number of deceitful actions, his best moment was the scene with Diana at the episode's end, hinting at something closer with Matthew while also warning Diana that she doesn't know her vampire lover as much as she thinks she does.
Season two of A Discovery of Witches might benefit from binge watching, though as an induvial slice of drama, there was plenty to enjoy in the first episode. The recreation of Elizabethan London was amazing, even if much of the narrative was built around setting up the mission and introducing Diana to Matthew's past. The chemistry between Teresa Palmer's Diana and Matthew Goode's Matthew is what is at the heart of the show and that continued here. Sure it's a little pulpy and a little overly-complex at times, but there's something compelling about the story too. And it is certainly beautiful to look at.