In episode 4, Matthew brings Diana to Sept-Tours, the ancestral French home where he was sired and where his vampire mother still lives. Matthew’s mother, Ysabeau, is a well known witch hunter, leading to a rocky start for her relationship with Diana. They leave Oxford in the hopes of avoiding further trouble with Peter Knox and the witches, but taking your girlfriend home to meet your mother isn’t exactly the most unpredictable move, so Peter and the Congregation discover where they are before long.
Matthew and Diana drive to Sept-Tours, rounding a section of road that overlooks the picturesque estate and village as they approach. Eventually, we’ll come to know this section of road very well, but for now, Matthew speeds through without giving Diana a chance to take in the view. As they drive through the village, she asks if the villagers know that the de Clermonts are vampires. He answers that they do- it’s safer for vampires to have a community, just like witches.
It’s also the only way the de Clermonts could have lived there through generations of humans without trouble arising.
Matthew’s mother, Ysabeau de Clermont, is waiting for them outside when they pull up to the castle, but she doesn’t speak when Matthew introduces her to Diana. She leads them inside, then as soon as they’re through the door, she scolds Matthew for being inconsiderate. She speaks to Diana in Medieval French, then criticizes her for only speaking modern English and French.
Ysabeau sets a high bar for her son’s girlfriends. A witch is going to have a hard time ever reaching it.
As Ysabeau sweeps across the room to sit down, the de Clermonts’ ancient vampire housekeeper, Marthe, rushes in to say hello. Her greeting makes up for all of the warmth that Ysabeau’s lacked. When Marthe tells Matthew that she’ll make up a room for Diana, he says she’ll be sleeping in his tower. As he leads the way toward his rooms, Ysabeau continues to give Diana a cold stare.
A cold stare from an ancient, aristocratic vampire is an exceptionally cold stare. Diana manages not to melt.
Upstairs in Matthew’s tower- because of course he lives in a storybook tower when he’s at home with family- he tells Diana to get some rest. She notes that his mother isn’t exactly friendly toward her. He says it’s because they hardly ever have visitors anymore since his stepfather Philippe died, as if Ysabeau is just out of practice.
Diana asks how Philippe died. Matthew says he was killed during World War 2, then he practically runs from the room before she can ask anymore questions. He does at least tell her to let him know if she needs anything.
Back in Oxford, Marcus goes to check Matthew’s apartment, joking with Miriam on the phone about Ysabeau’s fierce attitude toward witches as he climbs the stairs. He finds Juliette waiting for him inside. She asks if Matthew is off chasing Diana. He denies any knowledge of Matthew consorting with a witch.
Juliette tells him Gerbert will be angry with her if she goes home empty handed, so she’s very motivated to get the answer. Then she asks if Matthew still pines for her the way she pines for him. Marcus tells her Matthew has forgotten about her. She physically attacks him and is winning the fight when Miriam races into the room. Miriam tears Juliette away from Marcus and roughs her up some, then lets her go. Juliette taunts Marcus for needing to be saved, then asks them to tell Matthew she called.
Miriam: “Eternity’s a long time to be chasing a man who doesn’t want you, Juliette.”
At Sept-Tours, Matthew discovers that Ysabeau has locked the door to Philippe’s office. She refuses to open it as long as there’s a witch in the house. Matthew brought work with him and wants to use the office. He points out that Diana didn’t kill Philippe. They have a tense moment, then she gives him the key.
Ysabeau: “Her kind killed him, nobody else.”
As he enters the office, she asks if he’s really thought about the consequences of what he’s doing.
Diana dreams of snow or ashes falling and sees her mother, as she looked after she died, standing at the window. When Diana speaks to her, Rebecca turns and says, “Diana?” Diana has a flash of being encased in spider webs again, then she wakes up.
She’s still recovering from the nightmare when her aunts call from Upstate NY. She tells them she left Oxford because Peter Knox threatened her. Em says that he threatened Diana’s parents, too. Sarah and Em become frantic when Diana tells them where she is. Ysabeau is infamous for killing entire covens of witches in the 1950s and 60s, especially elderly witches in South America. They urge Diana to leave Sept-Tours immediately.
Many of the Nazis who escaped justice after World War 2 hid in South America. It sounds like Ysabeau was hunting down Nazi witches.
The Congregation gather for a meeting in Venice. It’s Satu’s first time, so Peter introduces her around. Agatha is happy to meet her, since they are the only two female representatives. She points out that the vampire members have been white males for the last 900 years. The current vampire members are Badwin, Gerbert and Domenico.
The members of each species place their three keys together to form a single key, then the three new keys are turned in three separate locks in the door to the meeting chamber at the same time, ensuring that all members must be present to officially meet.
Matthew uses his computer to closely examine the photos of the crime scene from the deaths of Diana’s parents. He makes a shocking discovery.
Baldwin calls the Congregation to order, noting that Peter asked for this emergency meeting. Peter stands and tells the group that Matthew has abducted a witch, breaking the rules of the Congregation. Therefore, he’s formally requesting their help in dealing with the situation.
They all look SHOCKED!
Meanwhile, Diana’s looking pretty peaceful for a kidnap victim. Matthew is quietly giving her a tour of the castle. He tells her that back in the old days they used to use the whole house, but now most of it is closed up. She notices the door to Philippe’s office, which Matthew left open, probably just to bug his mother. Diana lets Matthew know she’s figured out that Ysabeau resents her, and all witches, because Nazi witches killed Philippe. He confirms her guess, but says it has nothing to do with Diana. Diana says, in an understanding voice, “For her it does.”
Miriam is babysitting Marcus in the lab when he insists she give him his lab results, even though she’d rather wait until Matthew has had a chance to look at them. She gives in and tells him that they found markers they’ve seen with other failed sirings.
Before she can explain any further, Baldwin calls Marcus and accuses Matthew of trying to start a war. He’s taken Peter’s lies and exaggerations as the truth, though Matthew is actually breaking the Covenant, so Peter didn’t have to embellish much. Marcus gives Baldwin as little information as possible and tries to defend Matthew, but Baldwin is the head of their vampire family, so Marcus has to obey him.
This is the beginning of the consequences Ysabeau was worried about.
As Matthew and Diana prepare to go out for a horseback ride, Ysabeau asks Marthe what she thinks of Diana.
Marthe: “I haven’t smelt such power for centuries. Sweet and green. Like the spring.”
Ysabeau: “She’s bewitched him.”
She’s not used to Matthew being (relatively) nice to someone.
Diana rides one of Ysabeau’s horses, named Nar Rakasa, which means Fire Dancer in Arabic. As soon as they get out onto the trail, Diana tells Rakasa she wants to see her dance and spurs her to gallop. Matthew rushes to keep up. Diana laughs as she rides. Eventually Matthew smiles, too.
In Venice, Peter explains that Matthew has been stalking Diana, which isn’t a complete lie. Now she’s disappeared from her rooms, which is also technically true. Peter claims Matthew has broken the peace between the species. Other members attempt to understand why Matthew would suddenly abduct a witch. Satu says that according to tests done when she was a child, Diana isn’t powerful, taking away the usual motivation for a vampire to kidnap a witch.
Peer tries to steer the discussion in a different direction, but Baldwin stops him, revealing to the Congregation that Diana found the Book of Life. Peter admits that Diana knows where it is and how to retrieve it, but it’s not currently in her possession. Agatha is adamant that the Book of Life belongs to all of the species and must be shared with the Congregation.
Obviously that’s not what the witches or the vampires had in mind.
Baldwin, as head of the Congregation, decides to send a representative to Sept-Tours to collect Diana so they can make her appear before them and answer their questions. Matthew will be forced to turn her over.
Diana decides that she doesn’t want to impose on Ysabeau any longer and she can’t hide from Peter Knox forever anyway. She tells Matthew that she intends to go stay with her aunts in Madison. He replies that she can’t leave, because she’s in more danger than she realizes.
When he examined the crime scene photos, he discovered a chalk circle under the debris of the type witches use to cast a spell. Witches killed her parents, then tried to cover up the evidence. Diana walks away, too shocked to respond.
Satu confronts Peter in the Witches Archives and asks why he didn’t tell her that he was the one who tested Diana as a child. She can’t understand how he could have missed her power. Peter takes out a palm-sized stone ball that he uses the way witches in other fictions use a wand to focus their magic and says an incantation which freezes Satu in place. He says she’s supposed to be his ally, then tortures and threatens her. When he lets her go, he explains that witches can only protect themselves against everyone else through cooperation. He acts like he’s being kind to her, but it’s really a show of dominance.
Agatha looks through alchemical illustrations, then calls Nate. He tells her the baby has started moving and asks if she discussed a rule change for daemon gatherings with the Congregation. She explains they didn’t get a chance and asks to speak to Sophie.
Agatha asks Sophie why her statue of the Huntress reminds her of alchemy. Sophie says that the moon in her hair makes her think of the White Queen and the person she’s meant to give the statue to works with alchemy. Sophie has had visions of the woman the statue is destined for. She’s in a castle with seven towers (in French=Sept-Tours). Sophie continues, explaining that seven is also an important number in alchemy- 7 planets, 7 metals, 7 stages of transformation.
Sophie can feel that the process of transformation is beginning, but it’s not time yet. She knows the woman is with her Dark King and can see her face clearly, but his face is distant and fuzzy in her visions. Agatha tells Sophie not to say anything to anyone about this. Sophie realizes that Agatha must know who the woman is and demands to meet her. Agatha refuses to tell Sophie who she is, since the woman (Diana) is a troublemaker who’s in big trouble with the Congregation.
Diana soaks in a bath and thinks about her nightmare and what she’s just learned about her parents’ deaths.
Matthew finds Ysabeau examining the crime scene photos. She asks if he told Diana the truth and he confirms that he did.
Matthew: “Well, she’s not falling apart, if that’s what you were hoping. One of the reasons I’m drawn to her is her bravery. She reminds me of you. You were open-minded once. Loved everyone for who they were. Why can’t you at least try?”
Having dropped his guilt bomb on his mother, he leaves to let it have its effect.
Baldwin assures Gerbert that Matthew wouldn’t keep the book for himself.
That’s true. He’ll keep it for Science.
While Baldwin is sure Matthew will bring him the book, Gerbert sees Matthew as a selfish wildchild who does whatever he pleases, rather than an obedient family member.
I suspect Matthew was quite wild and selfish while he was with Gerbert’s protege, Juliette. That was the entire point of creating Juliette- to draw one of the de Clermont lieutenants away from his duties.
Gerbert says that not only is Matthew out of control, the witches and daemons are unruly. Vampires no longer rule the creature world with an iron fist the way they used to. Baldwin reminds him that they need to at least make a show of modernity and democracy. Gerbert isn’t fazed and continues criticizing Matthew and the de Clermonts in general. He’s angling to oust the family from their seat of power.
Diana confronts Ysabeau in Philippe’s office, where she’s still sitting alone. Ysabeau tries to scare her away with vague threats, but Diana won’t budge. She tries to talk about Philippe’s death, but Ysabeau grows angry and refuses to engage. Diana tells Ysabeau about her own parents’ deaths at the hands of witches. Ysabeau uses it as an opportunity to insult all witches.
Diana: “There is good and evil in every species. My parents were the best. And I’m a witch who’s willing to make up my own mind despite the stories I’ve heard about you.”
Ysabeau: “Why were they killed?”
Diana whispers: “I don’t know.”
Ysabeau: “Whoever did it, make them pay. It doesn’t take the pain away, but it helps.”
Through sharing her grief, Diana begins to break down Ysabeau’s walls.
Over dinner that night, the family engages in mostly amiable verbal sparring. Ysabeau is testy, but engaged in the conversation this time. They explain to Diana that vampires enjoy wine, though it doesn’t affect them the way it affects warmbloods. Most vampires drink even more than the de Clermonts do. When Matthew says the family is known for its restraint, Marthe slips in, “With regard to wine, perhaps.”
Those quiet, perceptive little barbs are why she’s one of my favorite characters. There’s no doubt in my mind that Marthe, with her understated wisdom, deserves as much credit for holding the family together for the last 2,000 years as Philippe.
After dinner, they light a fire and reminisce about the old days, when they’d have huge Christmas parties in that room. The castle was filled with music and dancing. Louisa and Ysabeau were especially known for dancing.
Matthew winds up an antique phonograph machine and puts on a jazz record. Then, in Archaic French, he asks Ysabeau to dance. She accepts and they cut a rug for a few minutes.
When the song ends, Matthew puts on a tango and turns to Diana. She complains that she doesn’t know how to dance, but the others cheer her on until she finds her rhythm. Ysabeau tells her to let Matthew lead, at least during the song. Eventually, Diana becomes so involved in what she’s doing that her magic takes over and she literally glows. The others marvel at her power.
They take a walk under the stars before bed. Matthew says he hasn’t seen her enjoy her magic that way before. Diana tells him she’s glad she was with him. They kiss passionately, then Matthew wonders, “What spell have you put on me?”
As their coven meeting winds down, the coven’s leader, Sylvia, stays behind to talk to Gillian about Diana’s latest exploits. They’re both flabbergasted by Diana’s betrayal of her own people in favor of vampires. Gillian makes excuses for her friend, but Sylvia shows no sympathy.
Gillian asks how the Congregation will punish Diana. Sylvia says that both she and Matthew will be interrogated, but first Peter wants more information about Matthew’s activities in Oxford.
Of course he does. Sylvia leaves unsaid that Gillian is the pawn they’ve chosen to secretly “research” the vampires. I would give Sylvia a break for her harshness toward Diana because of the witch wind incident, except she was happy to put Diana in danger by revealing her identity to Peter before that. As a coven leader from his own region, she must have some idea about his true nature and what she was exposing Diana to.
As Matthew and Diana continue their walk, she asks him to tell her about William Harvey, the famous 16th and 17th century English physician who is considered the father of experimental medicine. Matthew thinks his memories make for a boring story, but as a historian, Diana will take any first hand source of information she can get.
They are interrupted by the appearance Domenico, acting as the Congregation’s representative. He and Matthew recall that they haven’t seen each other since the Crusades. Matthew tries to send Diana inside, but she refuses. Ysabeau and Marthe appear instead. Domenico says that Diana needs to hear his message anyway.
Diana is ordered to appear before the Congregation and to give them the Book of Life. She refuses, telling Domenico that the Congregation can get the book themselves. He replies that she needs to come with him and tell them how to get the book.
Matthew gets angry and tells Domenico that Diana won’t be going anywhere with him. Domenico realizes that this is about more than just the book- Matthew and Diana are breaking the Covenant together. Diana asks what the Covenant is. Matthew turns to stare into Diana’s eyes while Domenico tells him he’s insane
Ysabeau senses that this the calm before the storm and has Marthe hurry Diana inside. Matthew explodes into violence, putting Domenico in a bone-breaking chokehold, then forcing him to leave. Domenico goes, but he promises to get revenge on Matthew.
Ysabeau didn’t know the Book of Life was involved. Matthew explains that’s how he met Diana, but their relationship has become more. She tells him that everyone can see that. If he doesn’t turn Diana over to the Congregation, they’ll kill her.
Diana asks Marthe about the Covenant. She explains that it forbids interspecies relationships. There used to be more creatures and they wielded more power in the world. Philippe created the Covenant to help protect the balance of power between the species. No one has ever publicly broken it before.
Matthew and Ysabeau return. Matthew tells Diana that the Congregation will leave them alone from now on because they aren’t going to break the Covenant. If they contine to disobey the Congregation, the next visit won’t be as friendly and eventually it will spiral into a war that could expose creatures to humans. He won’t be the cause of that.
Diana refuses to accept his decision. She knows they’re bound together in some way and tries to remind him of their connection. He’s just winding up with some especially insulting comments when he gets a call telling him that his lab has been broken into. Inspecting the damage provides the perfect excuse to run away from her and from his feelings. He prepares to leave, but forces Diana to stay at Sept-Tours instead of allowing her to go home to her aunts.
Diana continues to throw herself at Matthew. He’s just broken up with her and turned her into a hostage in fact, rather than just in Peter Knox’s mind, but this is the time she picks to tell him she loves him. She begs him to forget everything else and say he loves her back. All he’ll say is, “You know how I feel.”
Cruel, controlling and withholding, Matthew de Clermont’s signature tactics.
When Matthew walks out and Diana tries to follow, Ysabeau stops her. She allowed outside once he’s safely started down the driveway, so she runs out and cries so hard over him that she creates a rainstorm- another elemental power, known as witch water.
Really, really, really not setting up a healthy relationship dynamic here. Declarations of love definitely shouldn’t include begging the other person to acknowledge your right to make decisions for yourself and to allow you bodily autonomy. I think it’s obvious why it’s taken so long for Matthew to find his true love. He had to wait for a woman who was so damaged, desperate and ignorant of her own rights and culture that she accepts whatever he does to her as his way of showing love, as if the 2nd half of the 20th century never happened.
When it’s this easy for Gillian to fool you, you’re in trouble. Gillian clearly searched the lab, acting on Sylvia and Peter’s orders. Now Matthew is running right off on a fool’s errand in order to avoid Diana and his feelings for her. But in doing so, he’s also taking away some of her protection and leading her to believe that she’s not in as much danger as she thought.
Despite his age and education, Matthew really isn’t much of a strategist. He’s intelligent but impulsive and quick to anger, which means he thinks he should be in charge, and as the white male main character, he’s frequently put in charge, but he’s actually not good at leading.
All three of the women who are also staying at Sept-Tours are better decision makers, whether there’s a crisis or not, but the patriarchal structure of creature society places Matthew in charge of them. I wish Deborah Harkness hadn’t done this to an otherwise interesting universe, but here we are. Here’s hoping that she eventually allows creature society to evolve past its misogyny. There’s no reason for so much of it among species with such strong women, as many other writers have shown.
I always feel a little sorry for Juliette. She’s a villain, but it’s because Gerbert did something to make her as addicted to Matthew as a vampire’s thrall is addicted to their blood. As long as she stays with Gerbert, she’ll never get past it, because it’s the way he keeps her enthralled to him. And she seems to be so mentally ill that she’s helpless to take care of herself on a day to day basis.
We see much more of the Congregation at work in the TV series than in the books, which is a welcome change for me. I love seeing more of the minor characters and the machinations and schemes they’ve been using on each other for centuries.
Images courtesy of AMC.