Building bridges between worlds isn’t an easy task, but it makes for a captivating over-arching theme in Deborah Harkness’ All Souls trilogy. This week’s episode of A Discovery of Witches homes in on the prejudiced attitudes that pose as obstacles to building those very bridges. The question of if people (or creatures, in this case) are capable of change is one thing; what ends up being compromised is entirely another.
The episode begins with Diana’s aunts, Emily (Valarie Pettiford) and Sarah (Alex Kingston), as they adjust to their new circumstances, living in hiding while Matthew and Diana are time-traveling. They are staying at Sept Tours, the territory of the de Clermont family, and their hostess Ysabeau (Lindsay Duncan), Matthew’s vampire mother who is infamous for her murder sprees of witches. To say things are tense is bit of an overstatement, but it shows just how extraordinary their situation is.
Marthe (Sorcha Cusack) tells Ysabeau that she and the witches can’t avoid each other forever, and she mentions Matthew, saying, “If he has evolved, so can we.” That sentiment lingers as we segue to 1590, where this evolved Matthew is being forced to compromise his values in a show of loyalty to Queen Elizabeth I and her kingdom. Cecil assigns Matthew the task of interrogating (torturing) Tom Caldwell. Matthew is reluctant because he knows Cecil and others only targeted Caldwell for treason because he is a witch. Unfortunately, Cecil and the Queen are not bridges that Matthew can afford to burn.
It is Diana who has better luck building relationships in 1590. She first befriends Mary Sidney (Amanda Hale), a noblewoman who is also a famed alchemist. Then, she seeks out Susanna Norman on her own and convinces her to help her with her magic. After witnessing Diana turn an egg into a newly hatched chick, Susanna decides to introduce her to London’s most powerful witch, Goody Alsop (Sheila Hancock).
A fan-favorite (well, speaking for myself as a fan), Goody Alsop is a force to be reckoned with, and she is presented as such. Goody reveals to Diana that like her, she is a weaver, a maker of spells. She also uncovers that Diana’s father was also a weaver—a rare kind of witch, so rare because they are coveted and targeted for their immensely powerful skills. The way they cast spells is different, which explains why Diana has had a difficult time controlling her magic. Goody instantly agrees to be her teacher, but Susanna objects, worried that Diana (and Matthew) might draw too much attention to their coven. They agree to bring the subject to the Rede, a council of witches who will determine if they should bring Diana into their fold.
The meeting with the Rede goes well, with much thanks to Diana’s impassioned speech about how the world is connected and that her being in love with a vampire is intrinsically tied to the Book of Life and her magic. Goody, large top hat and all, marches to the front—the first to show support of Diana as the rest of the witches encircle and welcome her. Magical tendrils surround them as Diana experiences for the first time what it’s like to be accepted and understood by her own kind.
Meanwhile, Matthew faces another obstacle in the form of Andrew Hubbard (Paul Rhys), the head vampire of London and a cult-ish leader of the city’s community of creatures. Hubbard insists on tasting the blood of all of London’s creatures, including its newest resident Diana, as blood reveals their secrets. Matthew tries to convince Hubbard otherwise, saying that Diana’s “marriage” to him makes her a de Clermont and an exception to Hubbard’s rule. However, it’s Diana that actually convinces Hubbard, once again proving that she can hold her own without Matthew’s assistance.
While things are coming together for Diana, they’re slowly crumbling apart for Matthew as he faces harder decisions and increased pressure from Cecil, Hubbard, and even Kit Marlowe. This episode spends more time showing the camaraderie between the two friends; Kit brings out a playfulness in Matthew, no matter how temporary it may be. It shows the trust that exists between the two, and even when Kit falters or skirts that line of distrust, you can almost understand why Matthew has been so forgiving. This is noted at the end when Matthew takes Kit’s advice on how to handle Caldwell’s case, which became more complicated when Hubbard attempted to blackmail Matthew into protecting Caldwell or he would inform Matthew’s father, Philippe, about Diana.
Knowing Caldwell didn’t do anything wrong but that Cecil won’t be satisfied with that answer, Kit tells Matthew that the only solution would be to kill Caldwell mercifully. It’s what Matthew does, although that does not extinguish any of the guilt he feels by executing such an act—whether it can be considered mercy or not. To make matters worse, the episode’s very last scene between Cecil and Matthew show that killing Caldwell was not enough to douse the rising suspicions surrounding him and Diana.
As Diana and Matthew become more embedded in 1590, adopting Jack (Joshua Pickering) and having more people enter their lives and be party to their secrets, the stakes are bound to rise. With Diana, we see Teresa Palmer at her most magnetic with her pleas to bridge these prejudiced divides compelling those around her character. Diana is and has always been evolved in that sense, likely because she knows how it feels to be an outcast among witches. Her sense of what’s right and her duty are aligned, whereas Matthew’s isn’t. He has little choice but to devolve into a form of his former self in order for them to survive. It strikes at a renewed tension between the couple, who have been an example of how two different creatures can fall in love and be together in a world so divided.
A Discovery of Witches releases a new episode every Saturday on Sundance Now.