The season 3 premiere of A Discovery of Witches explores power, grief, and vengeance as Diana and Matthew attempt to process a devastating loss and prepare for a dangerous future.

The show is based on the series of fantasy novels by Deborah Harkness. Season 3 draws from the final book of Harkness’ trilogy, The Book of Life.

A Discovery of Witches S3E01 Review

Love & Loss

The season 2 finale of A Discovery of Witches ended on a tragic cliffhanger, as Peter Knox appeared to kill Diana’s Aunt Em.

Well, Em held on long enough for Diana and Matthew to return to Sept Tours, but not much longer. As such, much of the premiere episode has quite a somber feel, as the different characters explore grief in their own ways.

Interestingly, both Diana and Matthew instantly jump on the vengeance train. Diana’s reaction is obviously personal; now Knox is responsible for the deaths of three of the people closest to her. (“I will make Knox pay for everything he took from us,” she promises Sarah.) And though Matthew didn’t know Em that well personally, his guilt leads him to make a similar vow: “The Congregation will never harm our family again. I promise,” he says. His guilt about not being able to control – and protect – his family proves a running theme throughout the episode, and no doubt will continue to play out throughout the season.

Alex Kingston as Sarah Bishop - A Discovery of Witches _ Season 3, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Des Willie/AMCN/SkyUK

The problem with vengeance, though, is it tends to blind you to other things. As Matthew and Diana launch into figuring out a way to bring down Knox, stop the blood-rage vampire killings, and use a combination of science and the Book of Life to heal the species… poor Sarah gets a bit left out in the cold. (Despite their moving funeral for Em, I’m pretty annoyed with Diana for leaving Sarah to eat dinner with Baldwin. You’re going to abandon the woman who raised you while she’s suffering, just so you can hear about some vampire drama you don’t even believe in? Really? Come on, Diana!) The moment Sarah confesses no one seems to notice or care that Em is gone was heartbreaking. I appreciated the unexpected character who jumped in to console her and help her process her grief. Though again, I expected more from Diana.

The Ties That Bind

The de Clermont Covenant drama once again ratchets up in the final season premiere. As previously mentioned (and shown throughout the past two seasons), Matthew struggles a lot with his overwhelming sense of familial loyalty. I had hoped his interactions with Philippe in the past would help him resolve some of these feelings in the future. But it seems like Matthew is doomed to repeat the sins of his past. (Present. Whatever.)

Matthew Goode as Matthew Clairmont - A Discovery of Witches _ Season 3, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Des Willie/AMCN/SkyUK

Baldwin sucks. He’s over-confident and overbearing, he believes in vampire supremacy, and he’s protecting Peter Knox. I know this. You know this. Matthew knows this. And yet, everyone is still letting him call the shots because of some centuries-old familial appointment.

And when Marcus recommends a way out of the situation, Matthew tears into him like Marcus is the one ruining the family.

But seriously, can’t we just… kick Baldwin out of the family? Magically disown him? Have a family vote to strip him of his position? Something? His level of power – for reasons difficult to understand – is sort of comical at this point. When Diana, Matthew, and the gang all leave Sept Tours, it’s meant to be this big show of solidarity. The times are changing, the storm is coming, et cetera, et cetera. Baldwin, you’re on the wrong side of history. 

But when I was watching, I was just thinking… why are we letting this ONE dude make ALL of these people leave?

And I’m worried the only answer is going to be “so Matthew can dramatically take over later at the end.”

The Beginning of the End

The pacing of this first episode feels a bit off. It’s difficult to start an episode (and a season) with a death, and then not make the entire episode about that death. While as a fan of the series it’s exciting to see the core plot advancing and taking new turns by the end of the episode, the final scenes feel so disconnected from the opening ones. At the same time, the show is sort of self-aware about it – even having Sarah bring up that her compatriots seem to move on abruptly from their loss.

Teresa Palmer as Diana Bishop - A Discovery of Witches _ Season 3, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Des Willie/AMCN/SkyUK

Overall, the season 3 premiere does continue to lay the groundwork for the show’s most important character and plot points headed into the end. We can clearly see the challenges both Diana and Matthew will face are shaping up. Plus, the conflict between creatures continues to grow from a simmer to a boil. Undoubtedly, the final season of A Discovery of Witches will look a lot like this first episode: a bit of drama, a bit of heartbreak, and a bit of magic.

A Discovery of Witches season 3 premieres Saturday, January 7 on Shudder, Sundance Now, and AMC+.