This is a recap of season 1 episode 1 of the TV series A Discovery of Witches. My season 1 review/book vs TV series comparison can be found HERE. All of my A Discovery of Witches posts are listed at the tag, HERE.
Let’s take a trip in the wayback machine to season 1, when Matthew and Diana began their journey together. I’m enjoying writing about S2 so much that I’ve decided to give S1 a try, since I’ve also had some requests for it.
Season 1 of A Discovery of Witches is based on the book of the same name by Deborah Harkness, which is the first book in her All Souls Trilogy. The story follows Diana Bishop (Teresa Palmer), an American witch and historian currently working at Oxford University in the UK. She’s never been comfortable with her magic, but after she discovers a mysterious, ancient book in one of the university’s libraries and meets Matthew Clairmont (Matthew Goode), a vampire who studies the biogenetics of creatures (witches, vampires and daemons), a whole new world of possibilities opens up for her.
We begin with a short prologue in Oxford, England, present day, at the Autumn Equinox. Vampire Matthew Clairmont watches witch Diana Bishop as she rows under the bridge he’s standing on. In voiceover, he remembers the wisdom of his vampire father, Philippe de Clermont: “Once the world was full of creatures. But it belongs to humans now. We creatures have all but disappeared. Daemons, vampires and witches, hiding in plain sight, fearful of discovery. Ill at ease, even with each other. But as my father used to say, in every ending, there is a new beginning.”
Diana finishes rowing and prepares for the presentation she’s giving to the faculty later in the day. Before leaving her apartment, she pauses to look at a photo of her dead parents. Then she rides her bike across campus. As she locks up her bike, she drops her stack of presentation notes, which blow away in the wind. Without thinking, Diana uses her magic to pull the papers back into a tidy stack. She realizes what she’s done and looks around to make sure no one else noticed, but she’s safe.
Diana’s presentation on alchemy and 17th century thought is a success. The faculty head (Sadie Shimmin) asks her to write it up for publication and tells her that the university will consider her for a faculty position that’s opening up. Diana has until late October to write her paper.
Diana’s fellow witch and old friend Gillian Chamberlain (Louise Brealey), a historian who also teaches at Oxford, says hello after Diana finishes with the faculty head. They haven’t seen each other in six years, so they decide to catch up over tea. Gillian says that her career isn’t as successful as Diana’s. She invites Diana to celebrate the equinox with her coven, but Diana turns her down, since she doesn’t practice magic after what happened to her parents. She confesses that she tries not to use her powers at all, but they pop out occasionally, like what happened with her presentation notes.
The next day, Diana visits the Bodleian Library to study several rare antique alchemy books for her paper. Gillian is also at the library. Diana requests one of the books, Ashmole 782, for the first time. When she opens it up, she and the book have strange reactions to each other. Diana realizes that it’s a magical book and takes note of several quirks, such as missing pages, unusual alchemical drawings, and hidden writing that moves underneath the visible print. The print from one of the pages slides into her skin, then touching an illustration leaves a burn. Diana slams the book shut and returns it to the front desk.
Meanwhile, all of the creatures in the vicinity, including Gillian, Matthew and his vampire research partner Miriam Shepherd (Aiysha Hart) are also physically affected by the book. Miriam tells Matthew, “Our blood- it’s reacting to something.” Matthew is drawn to the source of the power he senses and finds himself outside the Bodleian just as Diana exits.
As she distractedly walks out of the library, Diana bumps into a man and realizes a moment later that he resembled her father. He’s gone when she turns to look for him. Gillian rushes outside, calling to Diana to find out what just happened with the Ashmole book. Diana is so disoriented that she ignores Gillian and walks away, but Matthew sees both of them and hears Gillian. He has enough clues to find Diana again.
Vampire and physician Marcus Whitmore (Edward Bluemel) tries to convince his coworker James (Adam Stevenson) to go out to a club now that their shift is over, but James decides to get some sleep. James is mortally wounded by a hit and run driver moments after he says goodbye to Marcus. In his grief, Marcus tries to turn James into a vampire right there in the street, but the process fails and James dies anyway.
In the morning, Miriam finds Matthew in their lab, already obsessing about Diana. He’s discovered that they work at the same university, which will facilitate his stalking, and that she’s a witch from a powerful family. “She’s a direct descendant of Bridget Bishop, the first woman to be executed at the Salem witch trials.”
Matthew has been searching for Ashmole 782, the book that Diana had, for more than a century, but couldn’t find it. He’s excited that she may have uncovered the book he believes can help creatures understand their origins. Miriam is skeptical that Diana could have found the book if it’s been missing for so long. Matthew suggests that Ashmole wasn’t missing. He thinks it could have been “waiting”.
Ashmole 782 slides backwards into the recesses of the shelf it’s stored on, going back into waiting.
Diana dreams of the book, her father and spiders, then sees herself wrapped in spider webs. Once she’s fully awake, she calls her Aunt Sarah (Alex Kingston), who raised her, in upstate NY and tells her about the book. Sarah is upset that she returned a magical book rather than trying to understand it. Sarah’s partner, Em (Valarie Pettiford) joins the conversation when she hears Sarah becoming upset.
Diana tells them that Oxford might offer her a fulltime job, once she’s written her paper. Em is happy for her, but Sarah sees her devotion to her career as a way to avoid dealing with her magic. Sarah thinks it’s significant that Diana saw her father right after she had the book. She encourages Diana to take Ashmole 782 out again. Diana refuses to delve any further into anything involving magic and hangs up on Sarah. Em tells Sarah to give Diana a chance to cool off before she brings it up again.
The police take Marcus’ statement on James’ death. He explains away the abnormalities with the situation by saying he was using his medical skills in an attempt to save his friend’s life. Matthew waits for him afterward, to yell at him about potentially getting caught and not getting James’ consent first. Marcus couldn’t bear to lose his friend and for James’ medical skills to be wasted, but he admits he made a mistake.
Matthew takes Marcus to his lab so they can figure out why the siring failed. Miriam is testy and a little territorial. Not sure what that’s about. After Miriam takes Marcus’ blood, they discuss their research in the local pub.
Marcus complains that they didn’t tell him failed sirings have become commonplace among vampires. Matthew snarls at him that he didn’t need to know, because he’s not supposed to be siring anyone, anyway. Miriam threatens to separate them if they don’t settle down. Marcus asks again about the secrecy, making a heartfelt plea to Matthew’s better nature that totally melts Matthew’s anger away.
Marcus is sincere, but he also totally has Matthew’s number. You either have to stand up to Matthew calmly and be stubborn enough to never back down or you can admit you made a mistake and feed him a sob story that leaves him feeling like he’s the one at fault. Responding to Matthew’s anger with your own anger or defensiveness just sends him into a cycle he has difficulty stopping by himself.
But in relation to Marcus’ question, I’d like to know why they’re discussing the big secret in a bar. I’m going to assume they’re using their super quiet vampire whispers, so humans can’t hear them.
Matthew explains that they haven’t told anyone about their research yet because they don’t understand enough about what’s happening. They’ve identified the issue, but they don’t know its cause. They’re hoping that Ashmole 782 might shed some light on the subject.
Miriam: “Matthew thinks Ashmole 782 covers early creature history. It could help us understand our evolution, our origins.”
Matthew: “The witches cannot be allowed to have that information. Some would want to use that knowledge to destroy us.”
Matthew intends to talk to Diana and take the book from her if necessary.
Diana is at work in the Bodleian Library again, this time without any magical books. She goes up to the second floor for a reference book, but can’t quite reach it on the highest shelf. Her magic takes over, pulling the book off the shelf, but it overshoots and she misses it. The book falls from the balcony to the first floor, where Matthew is now standing. He catches it, of course.
The witch and the vampire stare at each other for a moment, as Matthew says, “Yours, I believe.” Diana goes downstairs to retrieve it from him. When she reaches for it, he notices the burn on the palm of her hand from Ashmole 782. She notices that he’s a vampire. He gives her his card and lets her know that he already knows who she is. He makes a long speech about how much he admires her work. “You have a wonderful way of evoking the past for the reader.”
It sounds like a normal complement, until you realize he lived through the past she’s evoking. And that he didn’t know who she was two days ago. Then he says he’s unlikely to forget her, after that display of magic, which he thought was against witches’ rules. She says the incident with the book was an accident. He mockingly asks if she’s not in control of herself. She tells him she’s fine and dismisses him, which probably hasn’t happened to him in awhile. Once she’s back at her spot at the study table, she checks on him, but he’s gone.
The head of Gillian’s coven sends out a text asking for information about the disturbance they all felt when Diana opened Ashmole 782. Gillian considers her loyalties, then tells Sylvia (Nila Aalia) about Diana.
Matthew continues to stalk Diana. She takes a meal break in a cafe and looks him up online. Of course that’s when he walks in to question her further, pretending it’s a chance meeting. She tells him that she’s already done her homework on him and asks what he wants from her. He stops pretending and asks where Ashmole 782 is. She tells him she returned it. He doesn’t believe her and threatens her to make her give it to him, pretending again that his “warning” isn’t an implicit threat. He also treats her like a child, telling her that the book is important and he won’t be the only one looking for it.
He’s saying she should hand it over to him, as the only adult in the room, so that the creatures of London will leave her alone and she’ll be safe. Let’s note that witches usually have covens to protect them and share information. The normal advice would be for her to go to her coven, not to trust a vampire. Matthew is essentially lying to her here, presenting himself as the only potential safe harbor for the book, because he wants it for himself, the vampires and his research. Her safety doesn’t actually concern him at all right now.
What happens between Diana and other witches later in the story is irrelevant to Matthew’s side of this conversation, but not to Diana’s. If Diana was a normal witch, with the use of her powers and who felt comfortable with other witches, they wouldn’t be having this conversation at all. She would have known what to do with the book when she found it or she would have done what Sarah told her to do, with the help of the local coven. The reason why Diana instinctively didn’t go to the local witches, aside from her own current inability to use magic, is an important part of the story.
Diana finishes her day of work in the library, then goes out for a drink with her friend, Sean the librarian (Tomiwa Edun). He asks about her family, so she tells him that she’s an only child who was raised by her aunt and her partner. Her parents were murdered while on a research trip to a village on the Ukraine-Russia border. She tells Sean that the villagers killed her parents because they thought they were witches. Sean is shocked that people still believe in such superstitions in the 21st century.
Diana is uncomfortable with her magic because witchcraft cost her parents their lives. It gave her a sort of phobia about using her magic and even being part of her own culture.
Meanwhile, in the forests of Finland, witch Peter Knox (Owen Teale) brings a local hunter (Zak Rowlands) out to meet reclusive fire witch Satu (Malin Buska). Satu lives in a ramshackle old cabin next to a lake and apparently needs the occasional human sacrifice. Peter sends the hunter ahead to search the cabin. Satu takes offense and magically buries him alive in the center of a ring of fire.
Satu has style and no issue with using her powers.
Peter quickly tells her he found the guy in the local pub, as if he’s worried she’ll mistake him for another yahoo. Since Peter is a very powerful witch, this is a very interesting development. He asks if she’s always this “assertive’. She says the equinox gives her powers a little bump. He says she’s proven herself worthy, so he’ll take her to be sworn into the Congregation. But first, they need to investigate a disturbance
in the Force.
I wonder how far that ripple Diana and the book caused could be felt. That suggests something more than a powerful witch opening an ancient book happened. Something connected or was broken.
On Diana’s next visit, not only is the library crowded, but “hotshot scientist” Matthew Clairmont is sitting at her table. Sean says that Matthew requested the seat across from her. Diana takes her spot and quips that she’s surprised Matthew can handle a southern exposure. He smugly tells her not to believe everything she reads and that he thought she might like some company. He points out that the crowd is made up of other witches who are there to watch her. Then he basically says, “I told you so.”
Diana gives him a dirty look and points out that people are looking because they’re talking. After someone asks them to be quiet, she realizes that she won’t get any work done in the library with Matthew demanding attention, plus an audience of witches, so she leaves. Matthew makes another smug remark instead of showing any remorse over driving her away from her actual work.
Gillian follows her out of the library, because of course she was sitting right behind Diana instead of at her own usual spot in the library. She asks about Diana’s conversation with the vampire, then warns her off of consorting with the other species.
Everyone’s suddenly so worried about Diana’s safety.
Diana heads back to her room, but stops at a cart on the way to get a coffee. She’s not taking the danger she’s in seriously yet and reads a book while she’s in line, so distracted that the line moves around her. Matthew continues to follow her. Later she goes out for her usual run and row, with Matthew still watching.
Once she’s out on the water, Matthew searches her rooms.
Peter and Satu meet with Gillian and Sylvia. Peter manages to be rude to all of them in the first ten seconds. Gillian tells them about Diana and Ashmole 782. Peter says it sounds like the book he’s been searching for. Satu forces Gillian to give Diana’s name.
When Diana puts her boat back in the boathouse, Matthew suddenly appears behind her and asks if she thinks she’s safe alone in the dark?
Diana: “Are you stalking me?”
Yes. He is stalking, threatening and gaslighting you.
Matthew: “I’m merely pointing out that rowing on your own is a risk. So, the Book of Life. What did you do with it?”
She’s been rowing on her own for years. It wasn’t a risk until you came along. Therefore, you are the threat who is making a threat.
Diana: “I don’t know what that is.”
Matthew: “A witch of your powers, how could you not know?”
Because she’s not psychic? Gillian doesn’t seem to know either.
Diana: “Just because you saw me in the library, that was unusual for me. I don’t use magic.”
Matthew: “Don’t lie to me, Diana. I can feel your power.”
Liars always assume that others are lying, too. But why would he be able to feel that she’s powerful, when apparently no one else can? The other witches seem to think she’s a basic, inept witch. They don’t feel she’s hiding great power.
Diana: “If you want the book, why don’t you go get it? I told you I gave it back.”
Matthew: “I don’t believe you.”
Entitled much? Matthew acts insane in this scene, as if she’s stolen his pirate treasure. He’s not willing to say out loud that he’s tried to get the book and it won’t appear for him, even though it appeared for this inept witch.
Diana has had enough.
Diana: “Okay, let’s say I’m lying. What are you going to do? Rip my head off to get the truth out of me?”
Matthew: “I could. But it’s not how I operate.”
Anymore. He’s coiled like a snake. But she’s tensed like a tiger. She won’t go down easily. This is not a predator stalking prey, like he thought it would be. She’s as excited by this argument as he is, though she’s not descending into uncontrolled rage the way he is.
Diana: “I’m going to say this to you one more time. I don’t have your book.”
He’s standing between her and the door. She walks past him and he lets her go, but he turns to get the last word. Obviously. But in order to do so, he has to finally admit the truth.
Matthew: “Ashmole 782 has been missing for centuries, and yet you were able to call it up. Aren’t you curious why? That book has never appeared to me or anyone else, no matter what we’ve done. Only to you. It could be the key to our survival. So isn’t it strange that the only creature who can summon it is a witch who can’t control her magic?”
Now that intimidating her and stealing from her didn’t work, Matthew does what he should have done from the start and is honest with her. But he has to ruin it with a snide tone, since in his mind revealing this information to a witch means giving her control.
Diana finally understands why everyone is so interested in the book and in her, so that she can make responsible decisions going forward.
Matthew brushes past Diana as he drops his bombshells, then stops outside to pick up the jacket she dropped when she was carrying her boat inside. He sniffs it like the creeper he is and gets all inflamed like a predator. He tells her, “Walk past me slowly. No sudden movement. Go! But don’t run.” Diana does as he says, but turns to look back at him once she’s past, strangely unafraid.
I never get tired of seeing the location shots of Oxford or Teresa Palmer in that vivid blue that she’s in for the first few scenes. Her blue coat in particular is gorgeous and brings out the blue in her eyes.
Yes, we are supposed to root for Matthew and Diana as a couple, despite Matthew’s behavior toward her. Matthew is a problematic character, there’s no way around it. Diana is strong and stands up to him, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s written as a controlling repeat stalker with anger issues. Diana deserves better.
The Congregation is the governing board of magical creatures, which consists of 9 creatures. Three individuals from each of the species- witches, vampires and daemons. I don’t think the books mention anything about human sacrifices to prove worthiness for a place on the board. Maybe that’s just Peter Knox’s special test for his witch proteges.
Satu is just a little dark and dramatic. Obviously she’s one of my favorite characters, along with Marcus “What? I was only making a vampire in broad daylight in the the middle of the street” Whitmore. In this episode, Satu, the witch protege, killed someone and was praised for it. Marcus, the vampire protege, tried to save someone and was scolded for it. We weren’t introduced to any daemons, which tells you about their place in the creature world.
When Marcus tries to turn James, he looks around to make sure no one is watching, then holds his arm up as far over James’ head as possible to drip blood in his mouth. Is this to get maximum acceleration and impact with the blood drops? Shouldn’t the taste and vampire enzymes do what’s necessary to bring him around? Or is Marcus making sure people see him? Maybe Matthew was angry because he knows Marcus isn’t exactly stealth whenever he does this process.
Images courtesy of AMC/Sky One.