A Discovery of Witches: 2.07
The seventh episode epitomised everything that is working with series two of A Discovery of Witches and everything that isn't. Once again, we were treated to the beautiful splendour of historical Europe - this time the kingdom of Bohemia - and a whole host of interesting historical and fictional characters. And once again the pacing and plot felt sacrificed in favour of elaborate character dynamics and visuals.
I'm all for great character work. Without it, a story simply can't work. And A Discovery of Witches is filled with interesting characters. Michael Jibson gave a wonderful performance as Emperor Rudolf II, a sort of Sixteenth century geek with a love for mythical artefacts. Steven Cree has plenty of charisma as Gallowglass, Anton Lesser delivered a creepy, unhinged Rabbi Loew, Tom Mothersdale captured the madness of Edward Kelley and Jacob Ifan's Benjamin had plenty of mystery to him. The trouble is, for all the rich and varied characters of the series, there are too many of them to give any real focus. Rudolf aside, I didn't get a real sense of who these people were, despite strong performances from all involved.
It appears, as a non-reader of the books on what the series is based, that A Discovery of Witches is trying to be too slavish to its literary origins. Would the series work better if Gallowglass and Pierre were the same character, or Loew and Benjamin? There are simply too many characters vying for screen time, making it a confusing affair. And when you've randomly got Diana and Matthew's Ward Jack turning up from London, you have to wonder if the show could do with condensing its roster of characters. Not enough time is spent establishing their relationships with Diana and Matthew; only Rudolph and Phillippe last week have had enough focus to make them feel truly fleshed out out in the overall narrative.
Pacing and narrative grumbles aside, there was a lot to enjoy about the episode. Rudolph was a great character, proving to be something of an antagonist for Matthew, while quickly warming to Diana's charms. The aforementioned geekiness made him incredibly endearing, making his eventual betrayal of the more shocking. Of all the historical figures presented in series two so far, he was the most memorable. The recreation of Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic, was very different to the sixteenth century England and France presented. Bleak, cold, but also rich with culture, there was something undeniably gothic about the whole setting; being not a million miles from Romania, you could imagine it the setting for a certain Transylvanian count Dracula.
There was also a real sense of danger permeating the episode; as warm as Rudolph could be, there was also a very real risk that Diana and Matthew's lives were in danger; the presence of Rabbi Loew and his experimentation with body parts from witch and demon alike captured the sense of this place being the edge of civilisation, where home comforts would not protect you. The discovery of the Book of Life in Rudolph's dungeon made for a thrilling climax as Diana looked to be chained up in Edward Kelly's place. As for the return of Benjamin, introduced discreetly to Diana earlier in the episode, to retrieve the remaining fragments of the book, I suspect he will become something of a danger as they flee back to England in the next few episodes.
Episode seven had plenty of atmosphere, with a forbidding danger permeating the narrative, making up for the confusing mix of different characters, motives and relationships that have dragged the series down. It might not have been the strongest episode this year, but it certainly might be the most memorable.