A Discovery of Witches — about a historian who also happens to be a powerful witch, and the ancient vampire who falls for her — is back for a second season of supernatural intrigue, spellcasting, and romance. But there’s a new element this season, as promised by that season-one cliffhanger: time travel!
A Discovery of Witches season one — based on Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy and is about a world where witches, vampires, and demons secretly coexist alongside humans — was a fun watch despite the fact that it often felt like a bunch of other fantasy works all stitched together. It takes most of season one for Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer), the orphaned daughter of two murdered witches, to realise just how full of magic she is. Her first indication comes when she’s able to summon an alchemy manuscript, dubbed the “Book of Life,” that other creatures have been dying to get their hands on for centuries.
For a medievalist like myself, it doesn’t get much better than Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches. Both the internationally bestselling trilogy and the newly adapted TV show have many of the conventions of a kickass fantasy story. There’s a 1,500-year-old vampire, a powerful witch who can literally make it...Read more
That event, which activates the spider senses of everyone in the supernatural world, is what sets A Discovery of Witches’ plot in motion. (Worth noting: Diana’s inherent Harry Potter vibes are only heightened by the fact that she spends a lot of her time in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, basically the real-world stand-in for Hogwarts.)
As we see in the first season, one of those powerful creatures is Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode), a 1,500-year-old vampire who’s first only interested in the book but then realises he finds Diana irresistible (more than a whiff o’ Twilight there). Witches and vampires aren’t supposed to hook up, according to the elite “Congregation” that makes all the creature-world rules, but Matthew and Diana don’t let that stand in their way. Since the characters are both adults — and the eight-episode first season didn’t have time to drag out any will-they-or-won’t-they business — their steamy relationship moves at a pretty rapid pace.
As a bonus, A Discovery of Witches also gives us the familiar “witch aunts” trope, though in this case (unlike, say, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina or Practical Magic), the show makes them a non-related couple (played by Doctor Who’s Alex Kingston and Valarie Pettiford). There’s even some Game of Thrones essence thanks to the casting of Owen Teale — who played Jon Snow’s Night’s Watch nemesis Ser Alliser Thorne — as villainous witch Peter Knox. By the end of season one, Diana and Matthew have pissed off enough influential creatures that the plot must dip into the fantasy Filofax and call up Outlander, sending the couple back in time (conveniently, “timewalking” is one of Diana’s newfound abilities).
In the past, they hope Diana will be able to learn to control her magic without her enemies — some are angry about the witch-vampire thing, some have personal vendettas, all want the Book of Life — lurking around every corner. They’ll also search for the Book of Life in this era, when presumably the crucial pages that were ripped out in the version Diana found in 2018 will still be intact.
I don’t want to make A Discovery of Witches sound like it’s just a series of rip-offs; like I said earlier, it’s a fun watch and there are some original details that don’t feel like they wandered over from another fantasy work. Diana is an intriguing character — even if she wasn’t a witch at all, being a medieval historian is seriously cool as hell. The story also balances the lusty stuff with worldbuilding that hints at, but doesn’t fully reveal, the scope of the dueling interests within the Congregation, as well as the bitter history that has shaped the prejudices among the creatures.
But yes, there’s a familiarity at play here that basically makes A Discovery of Witches the equivalent of fantasy comfort food; it doesn’t hurt that everyone is good-looking and the scenery is to die for, whether we’re in the Congregation HQ (an ornate building that’s only accessible by boat and only visible to magical eyes), Matthew’s family castle in France, the vampire stronghold in Venice, or the adorable haunted farmhouse in rural New York where Diana’s aunts live. With season two sending our hot creature couple to the 15th century, you can also add “dreamy period costumes” to the menu.
Speaking of season two — which dropped its first entry over the weekend — it begins right where season one left off. In the present day, the sinister hunting party consisting of Knox, fellow witch Satu (Malin Buska), and aristocratic vampire Gerbert (Trevor Eve) have arrived in New York seconds too late to catch Diana and Matthew, who have just materialised in Elizabethan London. Matthew’s already lived through it once, of course, but still must find his bearings and recalibrate himself into who he was hundreds of years ago. That includes reconnecting with old associates, including Christopher “Kit” Marlowe (Tom Hughes) — a demon whose reaction upon seeing Matthew with a witch is distinctly jealous — and skating around others he’d hoped never to see again, all without letting anyone know he’s a time-travelling version of himself.
Clearly, there’s a ton of potential drama brewing, between the search for the Book of Life, Diana’s quest for a teacher, and the fact that these two crazy kids haven’t been together long enough to really know much about each other. (As you might guess, Matthew has centuries’ worth of secrets to unpack.) But the show does allow a little moment in the season premiere for Diana, a historian who’s just stepped back in time, to geek out at her surroundings.
That said, there’s no room to update us on all the characters still doing their thing in 2018 — but with 10 episodes this season, there should be plenty of time to catch up with Diana’s aunts, who’re presumably still hanging tight with Matthew’s mother (Lindsay Duncan); the pregnant Sophie (Aisling Loftus), a demon born to witch parents whose baby, species unknown, is poised to shake up creature world; and, of course, all those furious witches and vampires who’re trying to figure out exactly where and/or when Diana and Matthew are hiding.
It’ll be interesting to see how successfully A Discovery of Witches juggles past and present; the Matthew-Diana swoonfest has always naturally dominated all the other storylines, and the fact that they’re now compartmentalized into their own time zone might make pacing a challenge. But perhaps bringing the show into the past will help distinguish it from the other fantasy works it resembles so much — and even if it doesn’t, you can be certain there’ll be eye candy galore wherever it takes us next.