The supernatural drama races towards the finish line, but does it offer any sense of pay off to the fantastic world building so far?
A Discovery Of Witches has done a wonderful job of creating a rich and vibrant world of vampires, demons and witches. The adaptation of Deborah Harkness’ first novel has given audiences fascinating characters, intriguing mysteries and gorgeous gothic locations week after week. At the same time it has been a bit of a slow burn; those unfamiliar with the books, like myself, were probably expecting the conflict between the three supernatural races to escalate but the capture of Diana and her interrogation by Satu in episode six was as close as we ever got. Even so, I was expecting things to unravel as we reached the finale.
While the eighth episode did pack a lot of story into the final 45 minutes, that conflict never really came. Diana and Satu never came to blows, the latter only regaining her powers at the end. So it’s rather good news that the show has been renewed for a second and third series. Otherwise all that rich world building and character development would have come to nothing.
The episode did open with a violent encounter with Juliette, having finally broken free of Gerbert’s grasp. She ended a somewhat tragic figure, only sired by the Venetian vampire king to get her hooks into Matthew. The fact that he rejected her for Diana, a witch no less, must have hurt deep, so much that you understood her rage as she tore flesh from Matthew, almost killing him. Diana unleashing her powers with a bow and arrow of fire was a rather cool moment, ended the vampire for good. Perhaps I’ve watched too much Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but Diana having to give her blood to save Matthew almost seemed inevitable the moment they grew close. Perhaps that ‘twist’ and her surprisingly speedy recovery robbed the moment Matthew fed upon her of its emotional impact.
And speed really was of the essence in the finale as it seemingly rushed to the finish line without ever really going far enough. Satu faced the congregation for her actions in interrogating Diana while power plays unfolded as Gerbert turned on Matthew’s brother Baldwin in an attempt to oust the de Claremonts from power. The reveal of the Knight’s Templar – a secret vampire powerbase – was an intriguing development for future series, with Gerbert claiming that Baldwin was its head and that he was working against the other races. Suddenly he was facing death by beheading and the scales were about to be tipped in favour of the new shady alliance of Gerbert, Satu and Peter.
Except that Agatha was able to call vote and save Baldwin by voting in his favour – along with Domenico, who was tired of being Gerbert’s lapdog. Truth be told, this could have made up an episode of its own, the Congregation and the underhanded, Machiavellian scheming providing enough entertaining material as Diana and her quest to develop her newfound powers. Within the space of five minutes, balance had been restored and Baldwin saved, making the whole act feel a little more than just set up for future events.
It was great to see the demon characters finally enter the story in a more meaningful way, Matthew’s friend Hamish bringing Sophie and Nathaniel to the US. I liked that the statue was a chess piece lost to Matthew centuries earlier. It was wonderful to see so many sporadic characters under one roof – the three demons, three witches Diana, Emily and Sarah and the three vampires Matthew, Miriam and Marcus. It all felt like the show was finally progressing somewhere, setting up a conflict as Gerbert, Peter and Satu prepared to take action and then…it didn’t. The chess piece was useful for the time travel spell Diana was preparing for, but there was nothing more to it than that. Instead it felt as if A Discovery of Witches was bringing these characters together just to establish ties further down the line.
And let’s talk about the time travel element, which confused me. Diana practised by sending her and Matthew back 25 days to the night they danced together in the De Claremont castle in France. Except that they seemed to be reliving the moments they had already shared. It was a bit of a head scratcher – do they inhabit past selves (in which case, what happens if they travel back past their own timelines) or was the events of episode four actually shown from the perspective of Diana and Matthew’s future selves?
The final scene was somewhat abrupt too. After Matthew had revealed himself to be the head of the Knight’s Templar and handed that role to Marcus and Sarah and Emily had left for the protection of Ysabeau de Clermont in France, Diana completed her final preparations to travel back to Elizabethan London in search of those that could train her in her abilities. Aside from the fact that the whole momentum of the episode was so that Matthew and Diana could run away, we were denied any sense of closure as they prepared to leave and were interrupted by the untimely arrival of Gerbert, Peter and Satu and the credits rolled.
I’ll say it again, I’m really glad there’s plenty more A Discovery of Witches to come, because what we’ve had is really only been set up for future events. From a world and character building perspective, the final episode did an excellent job, leaving me intrigued for what is to come. But the ending felt like a cliffhanger to be resolved next week. There was no real pay off at this stage and added a bit of a dampener on what has otherwise been a thoroughly absorbing series.
Thankfully we’re no more than a third of the way through the onscreen story and few shows have been as richly absorbing in its world building as A Discovery of Witches. I’m not sure it offered anything completely radical to the supernatural genre but there was plenty of interesting ideas at play that I’m looking forward to seeing explored further when the show returns next year.
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