A Discovery of Witches: 2.09
There is a real sense of momentum in the series' penultimate episode as various plot threads come to a head. While confusing at times, the sheer amount of world building through Matthew and Diana's trip to the past pays off here. All the key players have been established and it is now a race against time before the the couple head back to the present to face off against the Congregation.
There was no diversion to the present-day narrative this time round, but that only enhanced the steady pace of the episode. Both the leads had plenty to get their teeth into. Matthew was summoned to court by Queen Elizabeth to face up to his failure to bring Edward Kelley back to her and soon faced her wrath. While Barbara Marten made an impression in her one short scene back in episode three, she really commanded every scene she was in this episode. She was both unsettling to look at - her stony, white-faced features, intense glare and scowl from a rotting tooth, couple with a rising temper, made her a formidable antagonist for Matthew. There have been plenty of amazing actress to have taken up the mantle of Good Queen Bess and Marten met that standard and then some.
With Matthew's home ransacked in search of the Book of Life - which Elizabeth was determined to return to the Emperor of Bohemia - the vampire found himself prey to the vengeful queen. While there was plenty of tension in these scene, there was also a starling amount of humility and compassion between the two. As formidable as Marten's performance was, it was the scene where Matthew used his blood to cure her toothache that wad the most touching moment of the episode. Her plea to be made immortal, something Matthew declined to give as he had her father, offered a compelling vulnerability to the queen.
Revealing to Elizabeth that he was the future and that her kingdom remained in tact was perhaps the greatest gift Matthew could have given her. I genuinely felt her relief and joy at being told she was remembered as the country's greatest monarch. Legacy was everything to Elizabeth I. I've often wondered if A Discovery of Witches has spent too much time focusing on Matthew and Diana's trip to 1590, but it was scenes like this that made it worth it. Marten delivered a wonderful performance; I'll certainly remember her alongside the likes of Judi Dench and Glenda Jackson.
Diana dived straight back into her studies and there were some lovely scenes with Sheila Hancock as Goody Alsop, the weaver guiding her in the creation of the ten weaves. Diana already demonstrated huge growth since the start of the series, though there was still more to come, presumably in the series finale. The creation of her familiar was spectacular and one that came in handy when she fell prey to the trap laid out by a vengeful Louisa and Kit.
I loved Elaine Cassidy's performance as the somewhat deranged Clairmont sister in episode five, but I was a little disappointed at how little she actually got to do. Particularly when it came to her reunion with brother Matthew. His blood fuelled torture of Louisa in Bedlam might have been rather brutal, but I got nothing his connection to her; she could have been any vampire and I don't think the scene would have played out any differently. Still, the whole trap and Diana using her familiar to fight back made for a thrilling final act.
I'm still not convinced that series two need to spend as much time in the past as it did, though this episode was certainly the most engaging historical-based episode so far. There are some elements that still aren't quite working - Matthew and Diana's ward Jack for example, who sort of just turned up to play their adoptive son. There has been no attempt to really demonstrate that bond; it's all tell not show. I assume he'll have some relevance in the story ahead, unless it's a case of trying to be so beholden to every element of the book on which series two is based. Otherwise, it could have easily have been cut. Particularly when there is surprise Diana's pregnancy to explore the idea of a witch and vampire as parents.
At the same time, there has been some gorgeous production work and world building. Despite its over abundance of historical figures - what point has Mary Sidney served for example? - it has given us some great performances, such as Barbara Marten's Queen Elizabeth I. She really made this episode, providing the highlight of the series so far...