A Discovery of Witches: 2.02
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, continuing with episode two.
The second episode of A Discovery of Witches season two continues to explore the Matthew and Diana's trip back to Elizabethan London. There are a lot of plates spinning, particularly when it comes to Matthew's former alliances, rivalries and power plays. Episode two sees him continue to bow to the demands of Adrian Rawlins' William Cecil, AKA Lord Burghley, who controls Matthew's allegiance to the royal court and wants him to interrogate captured witch Tom Caldwell at the Tower of London. We are also introduced Paul Rhys' Father Andrew Hubbard, a parish priest who died from the plague in the 1300s and was resurrected as a vampire. We experience more of Matthew's friendship with Kit Marlowe (Tom Hughes) in a ruthless game of cards in a tavern.
Matthew Goode flits between good humoured friend to ruthless aggressor over the course of the episodes as he battles to pick up where his old life left off. It should all be utterly absorbing. Unfortunately, while the episode might be gorgeous to look at, it isn't always the most engaging.
Arguably there's too much crammed into this episode. Adding in real life poet and countess Mary Sidney (Amanda Hale), who befriends Diana and the introduction of powerful witch Goody Alsop (Sheila Hancock) and the wider witch community, and you really find yourself having to pay attention. Diana's storyline is at least a little more focused as she meets with Goody and begins her training. Last episode, she was largely side-lined by Matthew's investigations - and arguably, her journey is still mostly separate to his - but the revelations around her past certainly brought some much needed character development. Like Goody, Diana is a weaver, an extremely powerful witch that can create spells. It's a power her father had too, protecting Diana with a binding spell to save her from the attention of the wider witch community.
Hancock was a lovely addition to the cast and I'm intrigued to see Goody's role as Diana's mentor in the episodes to come. I hope she brings something new to the central character of A Discovery of Witches. One of the small issues with the show is how its protagonist - Diana - is very reactionary to the world around her. Between her potential new friendship with Mary and guidance under Goody, I'm hoping we see some of that strength that Teresa Palmer manages to bring to an often passive character.
On Matthew's side, I'm finding the shifting allegiances a little difficult to follow. This was epitomised by the debut of Andrew Hubbard. Season two requires the audience to have a healthy knowledge of Elizabethan history. Matthew is surrounded by big historical figures, many translated as demons, vampires and humans deeply entwined in the supernatural world. While the world building is as fascinating as the gorgeous recreation of 1590 London, there are moments where a knowingly glance from Matthew or a hint from a character is supposed to reveal moments about Matthew and his world that are never explicitly stated. But Hubbard was a far more interesting and tangible character. As someone who is purely fictional, the episode required a little bit of exposition, which made him engaging. I got more out of Matthew's scenes with the vampire priest than I did with his turmoil over the torture and murder of Tom Caldwell.
Paul Rhys delivers a commanding, haunting performance as Hubbard. A Rasputin-like character, he holds court, drinking the blood of his parishioners to steal their secrets and commands the supernatural element of the city. There is something inherently dangerous about Hubbard, more so than Lord Burghley. I understood Matthew's concern, that Hubbard might upset the balance, impacting their mission to retrieve the Ashmole 782 and I suspect that he will become something of a wild card in the episodes to come.
There is a lot to engage with in the flawed second episode. While the characters of Goody, Mary and Hubbard were certainly strong additions to the show, they enter an already crowded world. There is a fine balance between telling and showing, but series two could do with giving a little more when it comes to Matthew's world. The pacing also needs to improve; like series one, there is a lot of building to something and was a relief to see that Diana becoming mentored by Goody didn't take two or three episodes to set up, as I expected. For a densely-packed series, it needs some momentum. Certainly it needs to decide what it's focus is. As nice as it was to visit Emily, Sarah, Ysabeau De Clermont and Marthe in present-day France, the scene was completely unnecessary. Similarly, the brief scene of Satu returning home brought nothing to the episode but more questions.
Still, there were signs of promise here. Hubbard's role in London is certainly interesting and it is great to see Diana take a more active role in her own story. Let's just hope it picks up the momentum soon, because for all the fascinating world building, it sometimes feels just a little dull.