It’s oddly watchable, but even as A Discovery of Witches accelerates towards some real conflict, it still feels too cringeworthy and limp for its own good.
It’s never much of a surprise when your new partner’s mother turns out to be a witch – or, I suppose, a vampire, which is just as well. In A Discovery of Witches Episode 4, Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer) is introduced to her paramour’s snooty mam, Ysabeau de Clermont (Lindsay Duncan). They don’t exactly hit it off, but that’s to be expected. Nobody likes their in-laws, and that’s without ancient magical conflicts and prophecies complicating the issue.
According to the Congregation – I’ve capitalised that for effect – interspecies lovemaking is forbidden, thanks to how it buggers up the balance of power and makes all the kids be born with extra toes and stuff. But Matthew (Matthew Goode) is a daredevil, and knows that as long as she is in the tasteful walls of the family chateau she’ll be temporarily safe from the lackeys of Peter Knox (Owen Teale) – and, more importantly, will be available for romantic horse riding.
The handsome French castle, Matthew Goode’s typically fine performance and Duncan’s austere bitchiness are the highlights of A Discovery of Witches Episode 4. We got a lot of waffle about the long histories of witches, vampires and demons, none of which is all that compelling, and the central romance remains unconvincing, even when Matthew has nobly departed and Diana, fuming, summons some slow-motion rainfall to let everyone know quite how upset she is about that development.
It’s just difficult to buy into this age-old clash of magical factions when we’ve barely seen any evidence that it exists. Every argument presented to rationalise it seems a bit flimsy, too. The best part of this fourth episode was a brief one in which Matthew did some vampire stuff to scare away a representative of the Congregation – at least that felt a bit… well, magical. Otherwise, the overreliance on utilitarian expositional dialogue is a nightmare, and hardly gets across any of that lyrical romanticism we’re supposed to be buying into. Important context for character motivations and choices seems to be missing for anyone who hasn’t read the novels. There just isn’t a lot to like here yet, and A Discovery of Witches is swiftly running out of time to correct that.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.