A Discovery of Witches season 1 premiere recap


A Discovery of Witches finally premieres in the United States!

After a fantastic debut in the U.K., A Discovery of Witches has made its long-awaited debut for American viewers. The show, adapted from the popular book series by Deborah Harkness, glosses over a lot of the details but is still intriguing. For fans of the source material, the decision to trim a lot of the focus on history will be a problem. But with only eight episodes, this first hour does a good job of introducing us to the world. Not to mention, Matthew Goode and Teresa Palmer are electric on screen.

Minor spoilers from the novel: A Discovery of Witches below.

While the books were narrated by Palmer’s character, Diana Bishop, the series has Goode’s Matthew Clairmont (yes, they share the same first name) open up the first episode. In Oxford, he overlooks the town and paints a picture for viewers. This world is ruled by humans, while the supernatural creatures (witches, demons, and vampires) have been forced into hiding. However, he doesn’t look at this new world order as something bad but instead views it as a new beginning.

From that, we jump to Diana on her morning rowing session. She returns to her flat to shower and quickly run over her notes for a lecture she’ll be in charge of later. Unfortunately, she drops said notes during her rush to be on time. While many would be stuck chasing down papers for a good hour, Diana is in luck. Her witch powers manifest and pull everything back into order. Diana seems disturbed by the accidental display but doesn’t spend much time lingering on the thought.

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A Discovery of Witches then gives us a quick montage of her lecture on alchemy in front of a few important members of the university. One of the administrators is interested in hiring her, and Diana is elated at the opportunity. It’s a shame the show doesn’t let us see a bit more of her work, considering Harkness has a long history of fascinating nonfiction work.

Nevertheless, the series wastes no time introducing us to some of the key players in this season. At Diana’s lecture is an old witch friend, Gillian Chamberlain (Louise Brealey), who was hoping to get a job at the university as well. In her free time, she’s completely dedicated herself to the witchy lifestyle. She seems especially interested in convincing Diana to join her coven by dropping invitations for holidays and just good old fashioned device. However, Diana isn’t interested at all, especially because she’s been rejecting her sporadic powers since her childhood.

She heads to Oxford’s Bodleian Library to pour over some Ashmole manuscripts. However, Ashmole 782 immediately seems to be magical. It isn’t on the shelf initially, but it all of a sudden appears for the librarian after a second look. Diana also senses something is wrong upon opening the book. Three pages have been ripped out, and she finds the remaining have different artwork on them. When she begins to write, the lights in the library begin to flicker and hidden words start sliding off the page and onto Diana. Terrified, she tries to cover it and earns a burn from the illustration on the page.

Unsurprisingly, Diana drops off the book to be returned and doesn’t turn back. She storms out of the library and runs into her father but he’s gone by the time she’s registered what happened. The damage is already done though, and something weird is happening within the supernatural community. Everyone with supernatural blood felt some sort of shift and became drawn to the book. Gillian tries to pump Diana for information, which alerts Matthew Clairmont to the source of the disturbance. Using his enhanced hearing thanks to his vampiric powers, he listens in on their conversation.

Switching to Matthew’s point of view, we get a glimpse of what it’s like to be a vampire. His son, Marcus (Edward Bluemel), tries to turn his best friend after he’s hit by a car. While it initially looks like it works, the boy dies anyway. We learn from Matthew, that vampires are having difficulty turning others, demons are more prone to suicide, and witches are getting weaker. He’s spent over a hundred years looking for Ashmole 782 because it’s rumored to have information regarding the history of the species. When he’s not hunting for the book, he’s a biochemistry professor at Oxford, with Miriam Shephard (Aiysha Hart), dedicated to investigating what is changing within the species.

After suffering from a nightmare, Diana calls her Aunt Sarah (Alex Kingston) for some advice. Sadly, her aunt only admonishes her for returning the book without finding out what magic it held. A Discovery of Witches lays it on pretty heavy here for anyone who hasn’t caught on that Diana isn’t overly fond of her witchy side. But still, it does give us a bit of an insight about what it would be like growing up in a magical family but wanting to be normal. Sarah’s partner, Emily (Valarie Pettiford) is much more understanding and only wants to make sure Diana is okay.

Teresa Palmer as Diana Bishop – A Discovery of Witches _ Season 1, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Robert Viglasky/SundanceNow/Shudder/Bad Wolf

Rather than returning to get the Ashmole manuscript, Diana goes back to work as usual. She’s back at the Bod, trying to focus on her research. However, her powers manifest again and she sends a book flying from the second floor into the hands of Matthew. In the novels, we get more of a description of what it’s like for Diana to be in a room with supernatural creatures. We don’t get that imagery here, but she does recognize right away that he’s a vampire.

The scenes where Diana and Matthew are together are easily the best parts of the pilot. There’s tension in every moment they interact due to the distrust between their species. Matthew does everything so slowly and precisely, with heavily guarded features. It’s hard to tell what is plan is from a look, and Diana hasn’t spent much time interacting with other creatures. Despite his casual stalking, Diana doesn’t show an ounce of fear in their second meeting at a cafe.

Is Matthew threatening her or offering help? His initial reactions seem more like the former but as the two chat, Diana seems to grow a little more comfortable. He does seem genuinely concerned when he encourages her to lay low. At this point, he’s also been the only one upfront about his desire for the Ashmole manuscript. We know he wants to use it for good, which makes his stalking a little less problematic.

In comparison, A Discovery of Witches also introduces us to the main antagonist. Peter Knox (Owen Teale), is a high ranking witch who also has his sights set on the manuscript. He recruits the terrifying Finnish witch, Satu (Malin Buska), to act as his muscle. They arrive at Gillian’s coven where they are brought up to speed on the Diana situation.

By the time Diana returns to the Bod again, she finds it nearly full and Matthew sitting at her table. He’s smugly dropped by offer an “I told you so” regarding the sudden appearance of all of these new witches. Diana doesn’t know that Gillian sold her out to the coven and had them all begin to spy on her. Gillian immediately expresses her prejudiced views on vampires to Diana when they’re alone but the latter isn’t so sure. She doesn’t feel threatened by Matthew but maybe a bit uneasy.

After a late night rowing session, Diana is once again confronted by Matthew. He tries to intimidate her into talking since he can tell she’s a powerful witch. She kindly tells him to bug off or kill her since she doesn’t have the book. Matthew admits it’s not his style to just kill random people but that she should be more interested in the Ashmole manuscript. It’s been missing for centuries but all of a sudden just appeared for her? Who wouldn’t be interested in that?

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To highlight just how dangerous Matthew can be, he’s overcome with a desire to bite Diana. He catches her scent when sniffing a jacket she dropped and cautions her to slowly walk past him. If she runs, his predator instincts will kick in and he won’t be in control. For book readers, this scene makes a little more sense. Right now, it feels like a moment meant to be a reminder that vampires are dangerous.

Is this episode a perfect pilot? No, but it’s well-directed, superbly acted, and has enough of a mystery to keep us coming back for more. Like any fantasy series, we have no doubt the first season will become more confident with its storytelling as the world expands.

What did you think of the premiere of A Discovery of Witches? Be sure to tell us in the comments below!