A Discovery of Witches Season 3 Episode 3 Review: Matthew Seeks Atonement

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Warning: this A Discovery of Witches review contains spoilers.

Diana’s schoolteachers had it right: “exceptionally goal-oriented” is the perfect description of Dr Bishop, an over-achiever who steams through to-do lists, brooking no argument and effortlessly attracting devotees along the way. While Matthew and the boys were coming up against a brick wall in New Orleans, Diana and Phoebe (if ever two history nerds needed to start a podcast, it’s them) tracked down another page from the Book of Life. Two down, one to go.

Diana’s search began, as is fitting for this story, in a library. Now in full control of her powers, she could forget about the destruction wrought the last time she took a book out of the archives and sat down to read. This was a new Diana, deftly spellcasting to conceal her magic, and drawing out the book’s secrets while nobody was any the wiser. The letter H led her to Hubbard’s new Houndsditch HQ, and to a seat recently warmed by the villainous buttocks of one Peter Knox.

Knox’s attempt to ingratiate himself with Father Hubbard – not that it lasted long – was diverting to witness. Peter Knox can… smile? We’ve seen him bursting blood vessels and torturing victims with those magic balls for so long that it’s easy to forget the character has any setting other than ‘enraged’. The fake sincerity didn’t work of course, and Hubbard had him up against a pillar before Knox could say ‘I heart vampire genocide’.

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Diana didn’t need a magical charm to talk Father Hubbard into handing over the vampire page, just the old-fashioned variety, and the facts. Her enemies want the page to destroy creatures; she wants it to unite them. “If we lose, any chance we creatures had to live in peace will be gone,” she told the priest. Peace and unity being Father Hubbard’s thing (his flock is an inclusive deal), he was convinced. Round one in the long-anticipated battle between Knox and Diana went to her.   

In New Orleans, Matthew was fighting battles on several fronts. First was his struggle to save the blood-raged Jack from himself. That’s slow-going if Jack’s regular escapes are anything to judge by – the boy’s like a newly adopted rescue dog, trying his best but every so often knocking over the lamps and escaping out onto the street. The trigger for his attacks? Guilt, as prompted by Benjamin’s cruel video. Jack keeps seeing the faces of those he’s killed. So too, does Matthew.

In Louisiana, those faces are reflected back to him in the eyes of Marcus’ children – or at least, the ones who survived his Philippe-mandated cull. A hearty ‘bienvenue’ to the New Orleans branch of the de Clermont family, and especially to Parker Sawyers who conveyed the layers of Ransome’s suffering in very few scenes. (It was a pity that our introduction to the New Orleans vampires didn’t include even more of the city’s famous nightlife, but then there are limits to what can be conjured up in a Cardiff car park, even with the involvement of this talented art team.)

Emotional turnarounds happen fast in A Discovery of Witches. Vampires are the ones with endless time; TV episodes have have 45 minutes to shift a character from position A to B. (Hence Philippe last season doing a complete 180 on Diana in roughly the time it would take to trim his beard). Handled well though, the speed of a reversal doesn’t detract from its emotional truth. Ransome may have gone from threatening to kill Matthew to shaking his hand in a single scene this week, but that scene expressed a vital truth about moving on from past pain: acknowledgement matters.

Matthew couldn’t change the violence he’d enacted on the New Orleans vampires two centuries earlier, but he could take responsibility and – through that litany of confession – honour his victims with the truth. It’s hard to express how important it can be for survivors to hear perpetrators finally admit what they did (“It didn’t happen to us, it was done to us.”) This scene from writer Michelle Gayle expressed it. Matthew listing his victims’ names and the circumstances of their murders legitimised Ransome and the others’ grief. Not that we’ll see it on screen, now begins the real work of reparation. (That word’s used advisedly, as the symbolic weight of a white European acknowledging the hurt he’s inflicted on a group of Black Americans from the South won’t have been lost on this show’s viewers.)

After his night of confession, Matthew “would rather die than admit he is at fault” Clairmont had learned the power of a sincere apology. The one he made to Marcus at the end felt like a turning point for their relationship, another new dawn. Just when we thought we were watching the magical education of a witch in this show, it turns out we were actually watching the emotional education of a vampire.

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Diana has her aunts to thank for her own emotional education, as seen in that intimate scene with Sarah and the sandwich. Yet more emotional truth there – the best magic is definitively made with bread and cheese, and with love.

A Discovery of Witches Season 3 is available to stream in full on NOW in the UK and streams weekly on AMC+, Sundance Now and Shudder in the US.

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