The following review contains spoilers from the get-go. If you have yet to finish watching season 3, I advise you to wait to read this until you have.
You have been warned.
And it ends with a discovery!
Which saw the Covenant repealed, and the Congregation transformed, while the villains were killed or neutralised along the way.
As for the protagonists, Matthew became the leader of a scion, he and Diana started a family, and they overcame struggles within their extended family. And, after the literal and political battles that were sparked by their decision to be together, the world of creatures was left the better for it. “Once again our world is full of wonder,” said Matthew.
So, a happy ending, if tinged by the sadness of the family and friends lost on the way to it. But was it a good ending? Well, that’s what I’ll explore in this post, covering aspects I liked, and those I think could have been handled better.
With a little help from my friends
Connections and new friendships that formed between characters in season 3 (S03) of A Discovery of Witches (ADOW) were one of my favourite aspects of it. Amid all the drama and sadness that the characters were dealing with, it was nice to have bright and touching moments that resulted from those relationships.
A friendship that I really enjoyed this season was the one that developed between Sarah and Fernando, as they bonded over being widowed.
Sarah’s partner Emily having just died as S03 opened, this season saw her primarily dealing with that loss. And, sad as it was for her to be grieving, I was glad that the story point got some attention. Shows can sometimes ignore or skip over the emotional journeys of characters following major events and I’m pleased that ADOW didn’t do that in this case.
Some of the focus on Sarah in this regard was in the form of scenes with Fernando, who was mated to Matthew’s late brother and Philippe’s eldest son, Hugh de Clermont. Though Hugh died 700 years prior, Fernando’s grief remained, which allowed him to sympathise with Sarah. More than that, he offered her a listening and understanding ear, and reassurance when she needed it. It was also him, along with Gallowglass, that encouraged her to stay in London with her family, rather than go home to Madison to be alone with her pain.
On the day of the christening, when the two found and affectionately greeted each other, it really solidified to me that their conversations and mutual understanding had allowed a sincere friendship to begin forming.
Similarly built on a foundation of kinship, was the more short-lived though still compelling connection that Agatha established with the elusive TJ Weston, or Timothy.
But, before anything else, I have to commend Phaldut Sharma – and the directing and writing, I’m sure – for the striking performance he delivered. It is, I think, a large part of why Agatha and Timothy’s interactions captured my attention so well.
“You don’t have to explain, I know exactly who you are. You’re the one who will learn how it all began. The blood. The death. The fear. And the one who can put a stop to it once and for all.”Timothy “TJ” Weston, S03E04
Timothy isn’t the first daemon the show has introduced, and like others that we saw he’s gifted. Not only a talented pianist, but also seemingly endowed with insight or some level of foresight, considering his discernment of Diana’s importance. However, Timothy stands out in that he is very obviously suffering from poor mental health – something that we know is becoming more prevalent in the daemon community. And, though I can’t speak to the accuracy of Phaldut’s depiction, I can say that it was evocative and impactful.
The most resonating aspect of Timothy’s character is that much as the people and world around him can unsettle and upset him, he is still desperate to connect with others – it’s why he was so reluctant to let go of the page he has from the Book of Life, which connects him to his ancestors. It’s also why Timothy was so open to Agatha’s efforts to relate to him and gain his trust. She succeeds and he gives Diana the page, only to then tell Agatha, “you got what you came for. You don’t have to pretend anymore.”
He was willing to give up his last bit of human connection, even for the briefest of meaningful interactions. That sad moment was happily followed by Agatha’s reassurances that she and a whole community are there for him, and this leaves Timothy hopeful, if a little apprehensive. Which made his death soon after all the more sorrowful. As if we needed another reason to hate Peter Knox.
Finally, I wanted to mention Chris and Miriam. Though we only catch the barest glimpses of the early stages of their romance, I became quite invested in the couple. Especially during my second watch, when I knew where their relationship was headed.
Comparing the pair to Marcus and Phoebe – which I did a lot, once I noticed the romantic potential – I became much fonder of Chris and Miriam. While it was nice enough to see Marcus and Phoebe’s relationship beginning last season, I didn’t actively root for them like I did Chris and Miriam. Perhaps this was because Chris and Miriam allowed me another chance to see a reserved, mysterious vampire falling for a bold, gifted (at least intellectually) mortal. Or maybe it was because they initially came as a creeping, subtle, pleasant surprise. But I’m not really certain why.
Whatever the reason, I took a shine to Chris and Miriam’s relationship, alongside the others I discussed above, and more I didn’t get around to mentioning. All offered an appreciated chance to become invested in entanglements outside of the main pair, making the show all the more enjoyable and engaging.
Past decisions, present problems
Decisions of the past coming to haunt the present is a pivotal aspect of the ADOW plot; from Philippe’s establishment of the very law that eventually poses a threat to his family, to Diana’s parents’ decision to bind her magic to protect her, leaving her vulnerable to the threats that the series sees her face.
But, arguably more compelling, are the issues characters faced because of decisions they had made. Because in cases like that, there’s a chance to at least see characters thoughtfully reflecting on their pasts. Or, better yet, changing as a result of confronting their past, or getting the opportunity to show how and how much they had already changed in the intervening period.
This season, one particular character comes to mind in this regard: Matthew.
It’s no surprise that a dark and mysterious vampire would have a dark and storied past, and throughout the seasons we became increasingly enlightened on just how dark Matthew’s past was. Last season, it was revealed that Matthew was the de Clermont family assassin. This season, we met some new characters scarred by his work in this capacity – members of the extended de Clermont family.
S03 introduced the New Orleans de Clermonts, Marcus’s children and grandchildren. Their once larger numbers were whittled down by Matthew as he hunted them to protect the family’s secret of blood rage. Matthew had to appeal to the surviving family members in New Orleans as he sought to establish a scion, an official branch of the de Clermonts that would be headed by Matthew as opposed to Baldwin.
Unsurprising, that was not an easy task.
Understandably, the New Orleans de Clermonts were still harbouring anger over Matthew’s actions during his last, deadly visit, which was made most abundantly clear during his confrontation with Ransome, at the latter’s nightclub. But a persistent Matthew did eventually win them over.
The tipping point for Matthew’s success was, of course, his ability to recall the names and final moments of all the vampires he killed in New Orleans, helping to convey that he was remorseful.
But something I think was also important was Matthew’s relationship with Jack, despite Ransome’s initial anger at it.
It was clear that Ransome’s confrontation with Jack in the cemetery forced him to consider what it meant that Jack was still alive, despite having blood rage. And I think Jack’s continued existence was current and corroborating evidence that Matthew was disinclined to repeat his past actions, making his show of remorse all the more effective.
While Matthew may have once committed a monstrous act against his extended family, his affection for and protectiveness over Jack showed that he was not a cold, unfeeling monster now, if he ever was one. And I think that aided Ransome’s decision to join Matthew’s scion.
Another newly revealed de Clermont was much less forgiving and looking for more from Matthew than a show of remorse and change to overcome his anger over past actions. I’m referring, of course, to Benjamin.
Though introduced in S02, it’s not until S03 that we discovered who Benjamin Fuchs was and what his interest was in Diana and Matthew. Which, as it turns out, was revenge.
Now, I’ll simply ignore the logical leap that allowed Diana to discern that the Benjamin that Matthew admits to siring is the same one she previously met. So, to the point, Matthew admits that he sired Benjamin to prevent him exposing vampires to humans, and as punishment for considering that betrayal. After turning Benjamin, Matthew abandoned him hoping he would die or get killed, but took no further action to ensure that either of these preferred events took place. A “most terrible miscalculation,” as Matthew admitted.
Benjamin, who evidently didn’t die, instead dedicated his life to his own revenge, working in the shadows to destroy Matthew’s family. When Benjamin failed to use his son, Andrew Hubbard, to expose that the family line carries blood rage, he cold-bloodedly manipulated his grandson, Jack, into becoming a killer to do so, instead. This is in addition to other evil and vicious acts we saw him carry out, and that he presumably committed throughout the years, either in pursuit of his cause or just because he’s terrible. The least of his crimes was conspiring with Gerbert, and then Satu, to take down the de Clermonts.
All his efforts saw Benjamin get very close to his goal, but as he approached it, Matthew chose to confront him. And, in doing so, he finally accepted Benjamin as his responsibility, as he had failed to do since making him. In the end it was Diana that killed Benjamin, but that doesn’t take away from the fact of Matthew’s willingness to face his son. He faced his past and showed he had become wiser since he lived it.
Which goes to show, that you’re never done learning from your past, even if you are a centuries-old vampire. Or maybe the case would be especially so for a centuries-old vampire. After all, the more past you have, the more likely you are to have made a bad decision – or more – during it.
Faults in the end
After two seasons, 18 episodes, and just over three years of following the show, there was a lot of resolution I was looking forward to seeing in S03. And my anticipation of it only increased as the season progressed. But, as much as I was happy with the facts of the ending, certain elements of how those facts came to be didn’t quite satisfy my expectations.
Where the series’ foes are concerned, while their efforts against the heroes throughout this season continued to make for engaging viewing, I found that their final moments or the direction they took for longer portions of the season didn’t do justice to the story that came before.
The most distinct example of this for me was in the comeuppance that Gerbert faced; nothing more than the warning of a “day of judgement” to come. Which seems rather insufficient given how aggressively he targeted the de Clermonts, for a period that extends back beyond the beginning of the series.
That said, as much as I would have liked to see Gerbert experiencing some consequences, I can also acknowledge that there wasn’t much opportunity for it by the end of the series. There was no clear way for Diana or the de Clermonts to get back at him without facing their own consequences – given Gerbert’s wrongdoings were mostly shadowy – so his ending was, in that regard, reasonable. Even more so considering he is a powerful, well-established vampire. If any of the trio comprising Gerbert, Peter, and Satu had to come away unscathed it makes most sense it was him, and it could even be argued that all three being dealt with by the end of the series would have been a little too neat.
Yet I still struggle to accept that Gerbert essentially got away with everything, and I think that’s mostly because I was also unsatisfied by how things ended for the other two aforementioned antagonists.
When it comes to Peter, my qualm is that after his downward spiral during the season, it didn’t feel like the person being punished was the same that I had built so much ire against in the past seasons. By the end he was nowhere near the cunning, cold-blooded creature that had killed Emily and Diana’s parents, and while he was still capable of cruelty – as we saw with Timothy – it was less calculated than before. So as much as he still deserved what came his way, the sense of justice I expected to experience from it was lessened.
However, Peter’s end wasn’t entirely disappointing, thanks to the death scene itself. Sarah’s emotional and sometimes rhythmic delivery of Diana’s spell, and the visuals of the rushing wind capturing and then annihilating Peter, made for a very gripping moment.
For Satu, however, there was little to nothing that redeemed her final moments on screen. Which was a particular shame given all the build-up there was throughout the series around her and Diana.
Satu became obsessed with Diana early on in the series, beginning with her need to “see inside” Diana. That was, perhaps, partly because she sensed that their magic was similar. But it was also because of the sense of competition that existed between them, if only on Satu’s part. She became determined to prove that she was the more powerful and important of the two, with her confidence in this regard peaking this season. Meanwhile, after the events of S01, Diana still had a bone to pick with Satu after being trapped and tortured by the other witch.
So, there was a lot of pressure on this season to deliver a pay-off worth the resulting anticipation. Instead of that, we got a conversation between Diana and Satu that ended with the former spellbinding the latter.
Maybe that was supposed to help drive home just how powerful Diana is compared to Satu and other witches, but it just felt like a copout considering that the show had seemed to indicate something bigger to come. And my poor opinion of Satu’s ending was only made worse by the lead up to it, which saw her teaming up with Benjamin, a development that left me utterly indignant.
Given that Satu’s previous collaboration with other creatures, especially those outside her species, was reluctant, I couldn’t quite believe that she would willingly align herself with Benjamin. Making that even less likely, was that upon arriving in Chelm she senses that he “hurt” witches there.
The brief and improbable partnership didn’t even do either party any good, with Benjamin being swiftly wiped out after Satu was spellbound. And the two didn’t even seem to coordinate their efforts against Diana and the (abandoned) posse she brought with her to help retrieve Matthew. Which made it seem as though the alliance was nothing more than a device to get the two villains in the same place for the sake of a tidy final battle. Which I consider a poor reason for abandoning the integrity of Satu’s character.
Benjamin, on the other hand, was a character who I thought finished as strong as he started. After his intriguing entry, and the infuriating though engrossing trouble he stirred, he had a cathartic final battle with his father, before Diana killed him using the 10th knot. A quick, but significant death.
So, as far as the villains were concerned, the ending was something of a mixed bag. But they weren’t the only matter I was looking forward to resolution for in S03. The Book of Life was another major aspect of the show’s plot, which I watched with steady interest from the beginning.
And steady seems an apt term to use, as the search for the Book was an appropriately slow-paced venture from the moment Diana first realised it was worth seeking, to her final steps toward it this season. And between these points, I remained pleased with how the storyline developed. But I started to have issues with the story around the Book after it was in Diana’s possession.
Instead of showing us that it makes Diana more powerful, we’re told that it will. Diana becomes frantic and obsessive after absorbing it, but the show never explores why or if this is significant. And, Diana successfully uses the then-empty Book to convince the Congregation to abandon a rule that has stood for centuries, in one meeting.
The final point I mentioned strikes me as a particular downfall, because winning over the Congregation was the crux of success for the de Clermonts, their allies, and any creatures whose lives were hindered by the Covenant. And yet, the pivotal Congregation meeting was confined to minutes in the latter part of the finale.
No doubt, presented with the truth and confirming evidence, the Congregation would have eventually come around. But without the benefit of seeing the out-of-meeting deliberations, or even the benefit of a slow burn to the groups’ decision, the victory felt unearned. And, in my opinion, it could have been more impactful and satisfying had the meeting and its conclusion been made the A-plot of a full episode, allowing more time for tensions to simmer before the Congregation’s final vote.
In any case, the heroes prevailed, both in battle and council room. But sitting there watching the final episode wrap up, I couldn’t help but feel slightly hollow because of how certain elements just missed the mark.
I was, of course, happy to see a happy ending, and touched by the final scene. But I wish I could say the ending was both happy and great. Which it could have been.
The problem of Baldwin
Baldwin de Clermont was always a character I found captivating. He was domineering, intense, and capable of immense fury. And his frustrating antagonism towards the show’s main protagonists, primarily his brother, made him all the more interesting to watch. Or, more correctly, watch out for. His journey was an interesting one to follow as he went from the disapproving but complicit brother in S01, to the patriarch that was losing his grip on control and composure, in S02.
In S03, his character changed again. He was still scrabbling to control his family, but as he did so he seemed more defeated than angry. A logical shift in character based on the preceding events? Well, that’s a difficult question for me to answer.
Peter McDonald replaced Trystan Gravelle in the role this season, which meant a change of face to contend with. Add to that the character changing from one that always seemed to be simmering under a thin veneer of civility, to one that was calmer and seemingly only masking frustrated dejection as he earnestly tried to protect his family, then I think it’s understandable that I struggle to connect the two.
Given the change of actor, I can’t help but wonder if scenes this season would have played out slightly differently with Trystan as Baldwin, and what that might have looked like. It may not have changed anything at all, but the fact is I can never know. I also can’t properly assess Baldwin’s full character arc – one I’d really looked forward to seeing completed – because of the disconnect I perceive. Though I can be certain that Domenico’s confession about Gerbert’s machinations, and how it made it easy for Baldwin to stop fighting with Matthew, would have irked me either way. I had really wanted to see Baldwin make the decision for more personal reasons and under more nuanced circumstances. A casualty of time constraints, perhaps.
But, to be clear, I did not dislike Peter as Baldwin de Clermont. His version of the character was different than I might have expected Baldwin to be in S03, but no less valid and no less interesting to watch as I considered his internal struggle and external behaviour. I also inversely wonder what he might have done with the character in S01 and S02. Like with the scenario of Trystan in S03, I can’t be sure of if, or how, it would have made a difference, but I wonder.
But all that is a small price to pay for a casting decision that made it possible for the series to complete. I’m pleased Peter took up the mantle, and I enjoyed watching his version of Baldwin deal with his family, responsibilities, and troubles throughout the season.
Top 5 moments of season 3
Closing out my comments on S03, here are my top moments of the season. A list which took some effort to whittle down to just five.
Fernando visits Hugh’s memorial plaque (episode 7) – Having quickly become fond of Fernando this season, and sympathising with his loss and the ignorance he had to deal with in its wake, I was incredibly touched to see the memorial which Matthew carved to commemorate Hugh. It was long overdue.
Jack: “Do you think he’ll be able to cast spells?” Matthew: “I think he already has.” (episode 5) – After everything Jack went through and did, it was beautiful to see him being the sweet boy he should have always gotten to be, while being utterly enamoured with his baby brother.
Birthday celebrations/Gallowglass departs (episode 4) and Christening preparations/Timothy’s funeral (episode 5) – The joy over the twins’ birth while a melancholic Gallowglass left to avoid further confronting that the woman he loves isn’t his, is hard to separate from the Christening preparations playing out alongside Timothy’s funeral. In both cases, the juxtaposition was effectively evocative.
“No, it didn’t happen to us. It was done to us.” (episode 3) – A short but wonderfully delivered line. The anger and pain were palpable. And, given the speaker and a previous mention of US history in episode 2, I couldn’t help but draw a connection between Ransome’s statement and slavery and the transatlantic trade. Which made it resonate more deeply.
Happy and together (episode 7) – After all the trials and tribulations that the protagonists and others around them faced throughout the series, from enemies and from within their own ranks, it was nice to see them all finally able to just enjoy each other’s company. Gathered together as carefree, happy family and friends. And the preceding montage voiced over by Matthew definitely made the final scene feel even more heart-warming. Highly uplifting as it was, the final scene couldn’t be anywhere else on this list.
Okay, so I cheated and included a two-in-one ranking. But it’s my list, so I’ll do what I like. That includes noting some honourable mentions, such as Sarah destroying Peter; the spell Diana casts to find Timothy; and the Congregation beholding the tree of life (as I call it) which emerged from the Book of Life. All scenes which featured masterful visual effects.
Though there were aspects of S03 I wish had been different, I can’t deny that there was plenty I enjoyed, including my top 5 moments, the honourable mentions, and other things mentioned above or that I didn’t get the time to discuss. Despite my criticisms of this season or any in past, I look back on the ADOW journey with fondness. It was a lovely story, with good messages and themes, and I’m glad I watched it.