Warning: this A Discovery of Witches review contains spoilers.
Who’d be a vampire? Yes, the eternal youth, fashion, cars, French castles and beautifully wallpapered Mayfair abodes are one thing, but oh the guilt and inflexible hierarchy that goes with it. Matthew de Clermont should be spending this time dancing sexy tangos with his magical wife and deciding on nursery décor for the twins, but no. He’s got DNA to harvest, a disease to cure, a scion to form, and the not-insignificant task of coming out to a roomful of human PhDs who are definitely about to ask him if he can turn into a bat. No rest for the wicked(ly) handsome and tormented, I suppose.
Like blood rage, torment runs through Matthew’s line, and both combine in his newest family member: Jack Blackfriars, played by The Last Kingdom’s Toby Regbo. The blood-raged killer responsible for last season’s grisly Oxford crime scenes wasn’t Benjamin Fuchs, or one of Marcus’ brood, but the little boy Matthew and Diana adopted in 1590. Jack’s is a woeful tale. First he was saved from the streets and then abandoned, before being saved from the plague and then groomed by a vampire with a grudge as old as the Crusades. Poor Jack was used as a tool by the biggest tool of them all – Benjamin Fuchs.
That’s right, another baddie. While we were thinking Peter Knox was the villain of the piece, in snuck that sneaky Fuchs. Here’s an idea – seeing as Knox hates vampires and Fuchs hates everything, why not sic the pair on each other, and everybody else can go for a picnic?
(A possibly dumb question: if Jack spent his early vampire life pining for Diana and Matthew, obsessed with proving himself as a true de Clermont, and met Philippe, why did he never cross paths with past-Matthew? And why wouldn’t Philippe have instructed Matthew to cull the blood-raged vampire with the rest of them instead of telling Jack to wait for Matthew to teach him control? Never mind. This is a magical story after all, if not necessarily a logical one.)
Knox and Fuchs aren’t even the extent of the conflict, as Baldwin’s arrival at Mayfair showed. Tense as it was to see teeth bared among the de Clermonts, it was fun to be reminded that vampires have more in their repertoire than grave family dinners and angst. They can also zip around like speedy little mosquitos and bite like… much bigger mosquitos. Kudos to Diana too, for that bit of violent improvisation with the home décor. Baldwin found out the hard way about the boundless powers of “the witch“.
Matthew kneeling to Baldwin might be the family way, but it felt unnatural to see our imperious male lead bow to tradition. On which subject – is Matthew’s age getting to him? “To save Jack, I would have to disobey Baldwin, the head of my family. That’s insanity.” More insane than, say, breaking a centuries-old covenant and marrying into a species hated and hunted by your family? Disobeying Baldwin is all Matthew’s done ever since we’ve known him. Why stop now?
He hasn’t stopped now. In fact, Matthew’s moved further than ever before from de Clermont tradition. Disobeying Baldwin by refusing to kill Jack is step one, outing creature chromosomes to humans is step two. (A round of applause to Dr Roberts, incidentally, for bursting the balloons at Matthew’s pity party with his “black man from Alabama” speech, and reminding the vampire that his people are hardly the only ones who’ve suffered at the hands of evil.)
Change must come, Matthew decided this episode. After all, everything Philippe devised was designed to conceal and protect creatures from warm-bloods, and where did that lead? An inability to sire, dwindling magic and mentally ill daemons (we sorely need an episode set solely among that last crew to give us any sense of what daemonhood actually means, but I don’t think one’s coming). For creatures to have a future, the status quo needs shaking up and this sixth century patriarch knows it. His trip back to Elizabeth’s court taught Matthew that he was more than somebody else’s assassin, a lesson he’s brought back to the present.
Baldwin wasn’t the only patriarch disobeyed this episode, Satu had a set-to with Knox in a satisfying continuation of last week’s rebellion against her former master. There was beautiful work from the dark witch, who whipped away Knox’s balls and told him in no uncertain terms that he was no longer the boss of her. A pity that stained-glass window got in the way of her show of force, but every war has its casualties.
Another casualty will be Gallowglass’ heart, by the looks of it. The poor vamp’s in unrequited love with his Auntie Diana, just to add an extra frill of torment to proceedings – a torment side salad if you will. Unaware of her nephew’s feelings, Diana sailed through this episode, instantly acting as a protective and loving mother to Jack, uttering “Matthew” disapprovingly at the worst of her husband’s outbursts, and fronting out the discovery of her big blood-Hubbard secret with characteristic ‘I did it, so what?’ straight-forwardness. Her pregnancy having advanced considerably, Diana’s now in the ‘lounging on the bed, eating lychees’ trimester. It’s as good a place to be as any while she prepares for the fight of her life.
A Discovery of Witches season 3 continues next Saturday on Sundance Now, AMC+ and Shudder in the US.