This is a recap. My review of Always a Witch S1 is HERE.
Always a Witch is the story of an enslaved, time-traveling young witch who escapes the danger she faces in Cartagena, Colombia in 1646 by jumping to the Cartagena of 2019. In the present day, Carmen Eguiluz, the young witch, must perform a mission for the wizard who helped her time travel. Then she can go back to her own time to save the man she loves from being shot and killed when he attempts to defend her, and stop her own execution as a witch by burning at the stake. But once she gets to 2019, completing her mission is more complicated than she expected. She makes friends and enemies as she navigates the future, and it takes teamwork to achieve her goal.
The episode begins with a seaside vista of sailing ships anchored off the Caribbean coast of Cartagena, Columbia, in 1646. On the shore, a young, dark-skinned woman is chained to a cart, pulled by soldiers. She is being brought to her execution in a coastal fort made from local stone. Soon, the woman, Carmen Eguiluz, is tied to a stake, with a pyre beneath her feet, ready to be burned as a witch.
The Inquisidor reads a heavy-handed list of charges against her:
“We fear women because they tempt, they seduce, and they think. We fear women who do not obey, who rise up, who question. This one you see here, Carmen Eguiluz, is a friend of the devil. She has bewitched animals. She has used plants and herbs to enchant people and make her masters ill. She has seduced a poor innocent man with her charms, in her arrogance, thinking she’s equal to her master. Therefore, by virtue of the encyclical, Summis desiderantes affectibus, I sentence you to burn here and in H-ll.
In nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti. Amen.”
He gestures to a soldier to light the pyre with a torch. As the fire burns, the priest chants in Latin and Carmen begins a spell in another language. The dogs in the square howl as they chant. The red sparks from the fire turn to green-blue sparkles in the turquoise water, as Carmen is transported to modern day Cartagena, where she materializes a little way off shore.
There’s a massive party on the beach, with masks, music and a bonfire. Carmen stumbles toward two guys who are dancing at the edge of the crowd. One looks at her filthy sackcloth shift and tells her she’s wearing a cool costume. Then he asks if she’s okay, as her eyes roll back in her head and she passes out.
Cue the opening title sequence, which is short, but has bright, colorful animation that’s an ad for Columbia tourism all by itself, and a theme song that’s been stuck in my head for days.
Carmen wakes up in the emergency room at God’s Hospital, as a doctor examines her and begins treating the severe burns on her feet and lower legs. The doctor asks many questions, which Carmen ignores in favor of asking for the ingredients to a healing remedy. The doctor insists that she needs more than a home remedy for burns this serious, and wants to know where she learned this remedy.
Carmen remembers back to her childhood, when she lived with her uncle, who raised her after she was separated from her parents. She used the same remedy (raw onion, aloe vera, apple vinegar, water…), mixed with her magic, to heal the wounds on an enslaved man’s back who’d been whipped until his back was flayed open. As she spread the mixture, the wounds healed immediately. Her uncle swore both Carmen and her patient to secrecy.
Back in the present day, the doctor tells Carmen she’ll have to stay in the clinic until her feet heal. When Carmen asks what year it is, the doctor and nurse both stop and stare at her, then the doctor sends the nurse to inform the police that they might have a protocol 1. The doctor returns to Carmen and tells her that there’s always a way to heal wounds, no matter how traumatic. She asks what Carmen remembers.
Carmen thinks back to the slave market in her own time, when she was sold to her current owner. The slave trader puts her on display in front of the crowd, describes her as a strong virgin who’d make a good domestic worker, and forces her to her knees. Carmen maintains her self-control and dignity as much as possible during this horrifying process.
Before the seller can dehumanize her further, a young man interrupts, raising Carmen to her feet, asking her if she’s okay, and telling the slave trader not to treat her like that. He nods to his father to purchase her, to stop someone worse from buying her. Carmen and the young man, Cristobal de Aranoa, feel a connection with each other.
This is an appalling scene all the way around, and buying Carmen isn’t saving her. But Carmen and Cristobal are people who are trapped within their time and culture. Cristobal couldn’t do much to successfully help Carmen during the slave market. It was brave for him to stand up to the slave trader, and he tried to do what he could for Carmen in the moment. This is just the beginning of their story.
Back in the present, Carmen notices that her necklace and stone pendant are missing from her neck. She becomes anxious and wants to leave the hospital. The doctor explains that her belongings are in a nearby locker, but she needs to stay in bed until her burns heal and they can be sure that she’s safe from whoever gave her these injuries. The doctor orders a sedative to help Carmen rest.
As the sedative takes effect, Carmen remembers more of her past, when she was a domestic worker in the Aranoa house. She and Cristobal would hide notes for each other in a crack above one of the windows. They were in love and arranged secret meetings.
On the day Carmen remembers, she finds a note from Cristobal, asking her to meet him at their secret garden. She wears a pretty dress for their meeting and the scent of water lilies and honey, for real love (Cristobal hopes it’s for eternal love). They kiss.
Cristobal’s mother, Isabel, leads a group of men to expose their affair. She demands to know when Carmen started using a spell on Cristobal. Carmen denies using magic on him, saying that she’d never force someone to do something. She magicks the dogs into threatening the mob, but stops when Cristobal asks her to.
Carmen is arrested and carried away. Cristobal is held back so he can’t interfere, but he shouts the whole time, reassuring Carmen that he’ll help her and telling his mother that she’s wrong about them.
Cristobal isn’t a perfect Prince Charming, but, his feelings for Carmen are sincere and he stands behind them. He seems to be her only friend with any influence in the 17th century. Carmen fights for herself whenever possible, but she risks her life when she does.
In 2019, when Carmen wakes up from the sedative, the TV next to her bed is on. She’s mesmerized by it. A news reporter says:
“Another body that was badly burned was found this morning on an abandoned road, surrounded by a ring of fire. This would be the fifth female victim of the criminal known as the Bonfire Killer.”
The doctor walks into the common area between rooms with two police detectives, explaining Carmen’s situation to them. The doctor is momentarily called away at the same time as Carmen begins to work a spell to make the clinic lights go out. Once the clinic is dark, she grabs some modern clothes and her necklace from the lockers, then runs out of the hospital. Pablo Corcel, the lead detective on the case, got a good look at Carmen’s face before she left. He and his partner go looking for her.
Carmen runs as far as she can stand from the hospital, then stops to use her magic to heal her burns. They heal instantaneously. The home remedy must just be a cover to hide that she’s using magic.
She looks like a modern girl now, and is healthy, but she’s all alone in the future. She remembers her 17 century trial for witchcraft.
Isabel de Aranoa, Cristobal’s mother, accused Carmen of accepting the Devil’s help to seduce her son and to read and write. She produces a letter written by Carmen to prove the accusation about reading and writing. She provides the coerced testimony of Carmen’s friend, one of the Aranoa slaves, Hilda, as proof that Carmen seduced Cristobal.
Cristobal interrupts the proceedings, insisting that he wasn’t seduced by the devil and that he taught Carmen to read and write himself. He declares Carmen innocent of all charges, including being a witch. Carmen shouts that her only crime was to fall in love with Cristobal. She claims that she knows how to read and write because of her own intelligence, not witchcraft.
The Inquisidor has heard enough. He condemns Carmen to burn at the stake for witchcraft and heresy. Cristobal renounces Catholicism as his religion and says that if they are burning Carmen at the stake, then they should burn him, too. Cristobal’s father, Fernando, shouts that he’d rather see his son dead than belonging to the devil, and shoots Cristobal in the abdomen. Carmen believes she’s just seen Cristobal’s murder. She drops to the ground, screaming in emotional agony.
Carmen is taken to prison, where she continues to weep in desolation. A man’s voice speaks to her from the next cell, wondering what type of witch she is and whether she is special enough to help the both of them escape. He has her repeat a magical chant which causes her to levitate so that she can look through the ventilation grate which connects to two cells. The spell also activates three marks on her forearm, which he says signify that she is a powerful witch. Aldemar the Immortal, her neighbor, is delighted to see this.
He offers Carmen a deal. He’ll help her achieve what she wants most in this world, saving Cristobal’s life by going back in time and stopping him from getting shot by his father, if first she’ll go forward in time to the 21st century to aid his colleague Ninibe.
In the present, Carmen recovers from her injuries, then asks people on the street where she can find the Caribbean Seaboard, since that’s where Aldemar told her Ninebe would be. A live band plays in the background and people are out enjoying the beach and the evening. One suggests she talk to the police and points out that a police car is just coming around the corner.
It’s Detective Corcel and his partner, Tino, still keeping an eye out for Carmen. She dodges cars and runs across the road, slipping into an alley into the old part of the city. She finds Cristobal’s house still standing, now a hostel for travelers, and hides inside. The detectives follow her into the old part of town and then lose her, but decide to wait and watch for her.
As Carmen moves through the house, the current owner, Adelaida, escorts her guests to and from their rooms. Carmen runs into the library to avoid being seen, but finds into a teenage boy, Adelaida’s grandson, Johnny Ki, instead. He’s lighting a joint just as Adelaida calls him to help carry luggage. He throws out a quick, harmless blackmail threat to convince Carmen not to tell Adelaida about the cannabis before he runs off.
Carmen is in the room with the crack over the window where she and Cristobal left letters for each other. She finds paper and a pen in the desk in the room, and writes him a quick note. She explains to him that she refuses to believe that he’s gone forever, so she’s made a deal with a wizard, and is in their house, but in the future, trying to find a way to bring him back to life. The unknown future world scares her, but she’s more afraid of losing him. She ends the note by saying she loves him, then puts it in the space above the window.
Johnny Ki must not come back, because she falls asleep on the rug on the library floor. In the morning, she’s awakened by the sound of someone playing the piano and investigates. The piano player introduces himself as Esteban and asks if she’s a student or a tourist. Carmen answers that she’s a student, because there are so many things to learn there. Adelaida enters the room and Carmen tells her that she needs a room.
Adelaida gives Carmen a tour of the hostel and Esteban goes back to practicing. He takes piano lessons from Adelaida.
As they walk, Adelaida tells Carmen the recent history of the house. Her late husband inherited it from his great-grandfather. They decided to turn it into a music school, but then Pepe, her husband, died. She became lonely and depressed, so eventually she turned it into a hostel instead. Now she has guests from all over stay there.
Johnny Ki leaves his bedroom and greets them, managing to look both guilty and innocent at the same time. Adelaida tells Carmen that he’s her grandson. He’s lived with her since both of his parents died. He’s had a hard time in life, so she forgives him his moodiness.
Adelaida asks how long Carmen is planning to stay. Carmen explains that she doesn’t know how long she’ll be there, because she needs to find someone, an acquaintance of an acquaintance, and she’s not sure how to begin her search. Carmen was told to look for a woman named Ninibe along the Caribbean Seaboard, but she fears that it’s too big an area to search. Adelaida chuckles, and tells her that while it’s a big university, they should still be able to find the person she’s looking for.
It turns out that the phrase Aldemar used refers to the nearby university, where Ninibe is the head of the biology department. Carmen gets cleaned up, appropriates another outfit, and magically enlists the help of a few neighborhood dogs to help her sneak by the detectives, who haven’t given up the search for her yet.
She falls in love with the university when she sees the campus for the first time. In the main plaza, she notices a girl on a bike, Alicia, and a guy notices her, Daniel. She walks through gorgeous gardens to get to Ninibe’s office. Ninibe’s office doubles as a greenhouse. Inside, Carmen finds a couple, León and Mayte, who are stealing a few cannabis seeds and a few private moments.
When Carmen enters the room, Mayte isn’t into kissing and groping and is telling León to stop, but he doesn’t listen. Carmen rushes over and pulls León away from Mayte. Mayte tells her it’s okay, he’s her boyfriend and she was just afraid they’d get caught. She wanted to get the seeds and get out as fast as possible, because her dad would be very angry with her for taking seeds.
Carmen tells them she won’t say anything to anyone, she’s just looking for Ninibe. At that moment, Ninibe enters the room, so Mayte and León take off. They point out an orchid that Mayte’s father sent for her, then practically fly out.
Ninibe, a confident woman who appears to be in her late 30s, asks Carmen what she needs. Carmen gives her the stone pendant that she got from Aldemar and they discuss sending Carmen back to her own time. Ninibe is more concerned with freeing Aldemar. Her disciple will help Carmen with the time travel ritual.
Ninibe notices the marks on Carmen’s arm from using magic and is concerned that she’ll draw their enemy, Lucien, out if she continues to use her power. She warns that Carmen must stop using her magic while she’s in the 21st century:
“Lucien smells witches’ power from a distance. We can’t have him finding you before… before you travel through time again, do you understand? Lucien can never be allowed to find you. If he does, he will want you to work for him and use your magic for evil. And if you refuse, he’ll turn you into ashes, just as he has done with many of us. But don’t be afraid. As long as you’re with me, by my side, nothing will happen to you. I’ll take care of you. Okay? Do you want to meet our partner? Let’s go. Welcome.”
Carmen is thrilled that her trip to the future is falling into place so easily now, and excited to spend time with Ninibe and her partner. As they’re walking together to see Ninibe’s partner, Carmen asks if people know they’re witches in the 21st century. Ninibe tells her, “No. There’s no need. We don’t call ourselves witches anymore. Now we go by different names. Doctors, scientists. I’m a biologist. [‘A biologist?’] Yes, this is how we camouflage ourselves in this world. I chose the beautiful science which studies living beings. But the kingdom I love most is the world of plants. They’re powerful, aren’t they?”
Carmen agrees that plants are very powerful. We’ve already seen her respond to the plants in her environment several times.
They begin to speak about more practical matters, like how they stay hidden from Lucien, though they know he’s near. Then the girl who rode her bike near Carmen in the plaza walks by. Ninibe calls her Alicia and chases after her, out into the courtyard. Esteban is sitting nearby.
Alicia tells Ninibe that she doesn’t want any part of whatever Ninibe’s up to. Ninibe follows Alicia outside, where they have a brief argument. Ninibe insists that Alicia has to help, because they have to work together so that he doesn’t win. Alicia flat out refuses to help, because she doesn’t want to take the risk. She won’t let Ninibe force her into doing something she doesn’t want to do. Ninibe says that she can force Alicia, but she must decide to back off anyway.
The next thing we see is Ninibe on the phone, telling someone that the one they’ve been waiting for is real, she’s there, and she’s brought the stone. She’ll be able to help them beat Lucien and free Aldemar. They’ll finally be able to sleep in peace when Lucien stops chasing them.
A threatening black shadow monster approaches Ninibe and she screams for help, dropping her phone and bag. The time stone falls out of her bag. A glass ball also rolls away from the bag.
Meanwhile, Carmen is lost in her own thoughts, enjoying the gardens, not realizing that she’s not safe in the 21st century, either. Then she feels her magical marks glow and knows something is wrong. She goes out into the corridor, and finds a crowd discussing Ninibe’s sudden disappearance, so she turns to run the other way.
She only gets a few feet before Esteban blocks her way and asks what she’s doing there. Then Detective Corcel approaches from the other direction and is surprised to find her near another crime scene. She looks between them and tries to find a way past their suspicions.
I love the immediate juxaposition of Carmen going from being burned at the stake in her victim’s shift, to reappearing in the same spot, 373 years later, where a black same sex couple is dancing on the beach and her shift is nothing more than a relic of a time long past. Then she wakes up in the clinic and begins to discover what’s changed and what hasn’t, but the initial, symbolic splash of immersion into the present day gets the point across very quickly. In the past, we are walled in and we burn for simple actions. In the present, we have the open water and we dance with whoever we want, we wear whatever we want, and we help whoever we want.
Did Carmen transport directly into the water because sea waters have risen over the centuries, or is the seawall that held the water back in 1646 gone? Or maybe because she was on fire and needed to cool off her burns?
Aldemar the Immortal sounds like the name of a conman name to me. Real immortals don’t need to be so braggy about it. If they are, they have giant egos and weak powers, that need to be fed constantly.
Pepe’s great-grandfather probably would have been born in the mid or late 1800s. (I’m 57 and one of my great-grandmothers was born in 1887. Constanza Duque, the actress who plays Adelaida, is 67, so I’m assuming Pepe was her age or older. ) That leaves about 200 years between Carmen’s time and Pepe’s known ancestors.
Could Pepe be descended from Cristobal’s family? It seems entirely possible that the family gradually sold off the land, but kept the house and a few other buildings in the family as the world changed, the Industrial Revolution took people from the fields to manufacturing, and slavery became illegal. It’s likely that they were able to maintain their affluent status for many generations.
That would make Johnny Ki and Cristobal related in some distant way.
Adelaida mentions that when Pepe died, she wasn’t the only one who became depressed. The house and the plants withered, too. To me, that sounds like a witch’s house, which is attached to the witch’s bloodline. Was it actually Johnny Ki’s presence which restored the good mood of the house and gardens? Or does this house just like to be full of people? Maybe it’s very sensitive to the moods of the people who live there, so it became happy when Adelaida cheered up again.
Who is Ninibe’s mysterious partner? Where was Ninibe taken?
That was not a great introduction to León. Mayte may have written the incident off because he’s her boyfriend, but he wasn’t stopping when she said stop. That’s something to keep an eye on.
The Inquisidor’s Charges, Explained
Encyclical= a letter written by the Roman Catholic pope, to be circulated amongst the Catholic Bishops, priests or the entire community. The Inquisidor is referring to what is actually classified as a papal bull in modern times, Summis desiderantes affectibus.
In nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti= Latin for “In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.
Summis desiderantes affectibus= the direct Latin translation is “Desiring with Supreme Ardor”. This document, a papal bull published in 1484, is the Inquisidor’s legal justification for prosecuting and punishing witches, in addition to Malleus maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), the inquisition’s most famous handbook, which was produced two years later, in 1487.
“Issued by Pope Innocent VIII on this date in 1484, the papal bull (a written, legal order, so-called because of the bulla, or lead seal, used to authenticate the document) known as Summis desiderantes affectibus recognized the existence of witches and witchcraft and extended papal authority for the pursuit, imprisonment, and “correction” of witches “according to their deserts.” (Source: The Monstrous Regiment of Women)
Carmen has been accused of using magic to make Cristobal think he’s in love with her, of using plants in her magic to poison people she doesn’t like and to make others like her, and of magically controlling the dogs present at her arrest, who threatened to attack the people who were against her. She did briefly make the dogs bark, but the rest isn’t true, even though she is a witch.
The Problem with Esteban- Slight Spoilers
I wrote a little in my review and in this recap about the issues with Cristobal as a love interest for Carmen, and I’ll continue to address them as they arise. But, as I’ve done research on this show, I haven’t noticed anyone complaining about Esteban’s romantic interest in Carmen, even though he’s her teacher. He’s also much older than her. (The actors are 11 years apart in age, which normally wouldn’t bother me, but it seems magnified in this case, when the differences in class, status and experience are added into consideration.) A relationship between them would likely be against university policy because of the potential for him to use his authority as an instructor to unduly influence her.
As you can see in this episode and the next, Esteban is taken with Carmen from the moment he meets her, and he lets his feelings affect the way he treats her in the classroom. As the season continues, he also exhibits some dubious behavior outside of the classroom, such as low-level stalking, looming over Carmen, and opportunistically gaining consent for (non-sexual) activities from intoxicated women. Sexual harassment by a teacher or boss is such a common issue in modern times that I can’t be the only one who Esteban reminded of my own personal experiences.
Portraying slavery as the horror that it was (and is) is important. So is acknowledging the present day dangers that women face. Esteban’s behavior is not okay. I really wanted to like him as one of Carmen’s love interests, despite the fact that he seems old enough to be her father at times, but he’s just too creepy.
This is only episode 1, so I realize that most readers haven’t seen the scenes that I’m referring to. Just be aware that he’s not necessarily what he presents himself as. And let me know what you think about Esteban and Cristobal, once you’ve watched more of the season!
Image courtesy of Netflix.