Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Witches of East End, Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

We have a very rich, very exclusive, very swanky party. And a woman, outside of said party, drawing pictures in the sand – she’s Joanna Beauchamp, at least according to her confused neighbours walking their dog. She turns away from them and walks away, completely silently.

Ok, clearly her neighbours have not read Ms. Manner’s column, when one finds a high society lady playing in the sandbox, one does not approach her, clearly.

From here to a big house where we have sisters Freya and Ingrid Beauchamp, with Freya freaking out about her engagement party since she had nervous making dreams, and Ingrid trying to keep a level head on her shoulders. Joanna is their mother and they all go to the party (without more playing in the sand).

The party seems to go on for a while before Freya and Dash, her fiancé (and I deserve a medal for not snarking that name) get a moment to establish their chemistry alone before his mother shows up to win gold in the “using compliments to be insulting” event over her soon-to-be-daughter-in-law. She’s good. But don’t worry, Freya, you can’t help your upbringing, she’s happy to teach you proper etiquette and style and everything else you need to know, you backwards hussy, you. Did I mention she’s good? She’ll even take Freya shopping for a bra that actually fits! This woman can gut an elephant at 300 paces with her tongue.

Wounded by her mother-in-law’s expertly vicious verbal mauling on her party night, Freya mutters “I hope you choke on it” when the older woman bites into a canapé – and she promptly starts choking, attended by her son.

Freya rushes to Ingrid to tell her this stunning news (Ingrid wastes time worrying about Dash’s mother – don’t worry Ingrid, she kind of had it coming), Ingrid dismisses the silliness of her over-dramatic sister having powers when Freya spots a new man entering the party – the man from her sexy dream that had her all anxious. A man she’d never met before. Unnoticed by everyone, the white flower in Freya’s hair turns red. Ingrid has another explanation to why there is nothing magic going on. She’s actually really really really good at that.

Meanwhile, 2 guests stagger from the party to Joanna’s sand pit and find Joanna’s 2 nice neighbours bloody and dead in the sand.

Joanna talks with her soon-to-be-son-in-law, Dash while he expositions about a portrait of the man who built the house, Archibald Browning. Joanna calls old Archibald a “son-of-a-bitch” before quickly editing that to being something she’d read, since he was alive in the early 1900s. We also learn that the architecture was weird and that Dash has recently refurbished the whole house.

And the house is what Ingrid elaborates on to her friend, Detective Adam Noble – talking about tunnels and animal sacrifices and S&M sex orgies. Now, there’s some selling points for the estate agent to mention! Apparently she wrote her dissertation about witch-craft, the occult and cults. Adam’s just have a break up and Ingrid and Adam are very much into each other and they haven’t dated because Ingrid, with her self-esteem, assumed Adam was joking when he invited her out. Unfortunately for her, she can’t follow this up because he gets a call about a couple being attacked and has to go check it out.

Next awkward scene – Freya, her fiancé Dash and Killian – the hot guy from her dream, Dash’s little brother. Freya runs into the house, hyperventilating – and then sees Killian go upstairs; she follows him. She follows him upstairs into his room and gasps about her dream – he apparently had the same one. They kiss – and as they kiss the vase of flowers behind them bursts into flame.

Downstairs, Ingrid picks up a picture of what looks like her…  from decades ago. But it crumbles to dust in her hands. Freya comes to her senses before she and Killian more than kiss and she hurriedly leaves the room. As she runs through the corridors, bouquets of flowers bloom and then explode in a shower of petals as she passes.

Cut to the next day, a cat runs across the road in front of a car. The driver breaks, hurries to see if she hit the cat – and finds a naked woman unconscious in the road.

In the Beauchamp household, the camera focuses on one of the pictures with a begging man in it, which I assume is relevant. And Ingrid reads out the gruesome details of the double murder (including the man having his eyes and tongue ripped out). Freya smashes a cup with her flashback of Killian, but Joanna puts it down to clumsiness – and second thoughts about the wedding; apparently Dash’s mother isn’t the only one who isn’t a fan. Even Ingrid thinks she’s rushing into it to avoid the fact she’s wasting her life as a bar tender. Freya, all anxious and guilty, leaves to go see Dash. And have sex with him before being upset by how much he travels with Doctors Without Borders.

Back at the Beauchamp home, Joanna greets her neighbour as she heads off – then a second Joanna with strange, staring eyes enters the house (much to the neighbour’s confusion). She goes to the picture of the begging man and holds up a candle, chanting in a different language. The man in the painting moves, coming closer to the frame, growing larger and the fake Joanna’s face grows shadowed and skeletal. Until the real Joanna unexpectedly returns to hurriedly pick up something she’d forgotten – the fake Joanna vanishes. Possibly through an open window, leaving her smoking candle behind.

At the hospital, in the morgue, the naked Cat-woman gets up, grabs a white coat and leaves.

At work in the library, Ingrid notices her friend Barbie is upset – her latest round of IVF failed and they can’t afford another one. It would take, quote “a miracle” for her to get pregnant. Barbie half jokes about Ingrid using witchcraft to help her – since she studied the history of witchcraft for her dissertation.

Later, Detective Adam turns up in the library in time to hear Ingrid complain about her underwear (definitely an item – only love interests and bosses appear during awkward conversations on TV) to ask for her witch expertise about the murders, identifying the symbol in the gravel around the bodies. She thinks the symbol is a combination of several from different cultures. Keeping the picture to research and arranging a coffee date with Adam, she then suggests a fertility spell to Barbie. She doesn’t think it’ll work – but it can hardly hurt. They also drag in the man Ingrid was complaining about her underwear to – and he wants to make hats. Ok then. Because I know that when I’m considering experimental magic spells for desperate friends, the milliner is always my first stop.

Joanna returns home to find the cat lady on her porch. It’s Wendy Beauchamps, her sister – a sister she hasn’t seen for 100 years. Well that explains her comment about Archibald. While Joanna expects Wendy to ask for money, Wendy claims she’s there to save Joanna’s life.

Inside they have more sisterly bonding over the decades they’ve been apart and the many times Wendy has died (she is apparently cursed to have 9 lives, there’s a suggestion that Joanna is cursed as well) and how Joanna doesn’t hate Wendy, she was just mad. Back to topic – the death threat – Wendy says they need the girls’ help and lights the fire with a click of her fingers – until Joanna pours her drink on it. She doesn’t want to involve her daughters. And no magic in the house – and the daughters don’t know what they are “this time”, Joanna is seeing if she could change their fate.

It seems Joanna has Ingrid and Freya, they learn how to use their powers – and then they die because of them – whether persecution or by another means. And shortly after they’re dead, Joanna is magically 9 months pregnant with Ingrid again, with Freya shortly following. The new Freya and Ingrid learn how to use magic then die because of magic – and the cycle happens again. Over and over Joanna watches her daughters die, be reborn, learn their powers then die again. Over a dozen times, neither of them have lived past 30. She’s trying to change it this time round. Wendy’s doubtful – she’s sure the magic will find them

Especially since, at her bar, Freya is trying to explode olive jars with her mind. She fails, thankfully – but then Killian arrives for some heavy flirting –if you can call assuming she’d come back to his boat to have sex, flirting. She throws a drink at him and storms off.

In the library, Ingrid, Barbie and the nameless man (looking it up – Hudson), begin the fertility ritual. Hudson has brought silly hats. And he giggles like a small child over the word “semen”. I should note at this point that Wikipedia describes this character as “Ingrid’s gay best friend”. After chanting, nothing happens and Hudson announces he’s bored and they go get a drink. As they leave, the pentacle they were stood in glows.

Back to Joana and Wendy who really do bounce off each other well as sisters. Wendy reminds Joanna that, despite her curse of immortality, she could still die – and that she had a dream of Joanna with glowing green eyes, a shifter doing evil things in her name. She dealt a tarot spread – one she’s done repeatedly and always getting the same results. Imposter, revelation of her daughter’s power, death, destruction, upheaval. Joanna refuses to believe and re-deals the deck getting the same result. She tries again. Same result. She believes – now they need to figure out who the enemy could be.

Joanna assures Wendy that Dash, Freya’s fiancé, is human because she tested his hair and blood (in an adorably clumsy flashback). Dash may be human but they have an enemy as powerful as them who wants Joanna and her girls dead.

That night Freya has another hot dream about Killian – and how he’s been waiting 400 years for her. She comes down to find Joanna and Ingrid talking about eccentric Aunt Wendy – and her cat; with more glorious snark between Freya and Wendy. Ingrid and Freya have their own excellent sister moment over Freya’s attraction to Killian. Wendy greets Freya and Ingrid but Ingrid recognises the necklace she’s wearing from the old picture that dissolved in her hands and backs away – leaving as soon as she can looking very abrupt. Freya, Wendy and Joanna go shopping and Wendy is clearly not keeping the secret close

While they’re out, Fake!Joanna goes to the house to chant at the painting again. This time, the man comes out of the painting along with a lot of sand, a raging thirst and some painful looking sunburn (the painting is a picture of a desert). Fake!Joanna promises him revenge on the witch who trapped him if he comes with her.

Killian goes to the bar to agree to be friends with Freya (and flirt some more). Being platonic friends is totally easy and not in any way a torture of incredible sexual tension! So much so that neither see guy-from-the-picture watching them. He follows her into the bathroom and greets her by name, though he expected her not to remember him. He won’t let her leave and throws her into a wall when she tries. Apparently he proposed to her (a past Freya) and when she said no he got “a little bit angry” – which apparently means he hit her - and Freya trapped him in a painting of a desert for 80 years. He knows magic but isn’t as good as her  - so demands she casts a spell (with a scented candle) – and transports them both into a 1920s era painting on the wall

And, at work, Barbie runs up to Ingrid all excited because she’s pregnant! Ingrid still has trouble believing the spell actually had anything to do with it but Barbie is convinced especially since she had a dream of Ingrid handing her her baby. Barbie also gloriously lampshades this whole scene as a movie trope.

At the Beauchamp house, Fake!Joanna stabs Wendy.

In the hospital, the woman who was attacked at the beginning of the episode wakes from her coma – and identifies her attacker and her husband’s murderer as Joanna to Adam.

Joanna comes home to find Wendy stabbed – Wendy tells her not to worry and concentrates on confirming the attacker is real and communicating the vision she got from her vision stew – about the ex-boyfriend attacking Freya. If he kills her in the picture, she cannot be reborn. Ingrid comes in during all this and is rather confused and shocked.  Joanna quickly tries to explain to Ingrid that they’re all witches which Ingrid is having trouble with.

Exposition interrupted by Adam at the door – arresting Joanna for murder and attempted murder. Joanna hurriedly tells Ingrid she has to save her sister while Ingrid reels in horror at being the centre of such a trope.

This show is huge. So damn huge. And rushed. I am stunned that this episode was only standard length – I felt sure, by the end, that it was a double episode special. It could probably have done with being a double episode – or having all this plot spread over 2 episodes rather than diving in at the deep end. So much happened, so many characters were introduced. I think it was very packed in and it suffered for it

I did like the interaction between the Beauchamp family. It’s one of those shows where you can really believe that these people are actually related to each other – their banter, their bickering is wonderfully well done and it made them really appealing as characters. I hope this continues as strongly as it has so far.

The world and concept seem interesting enough to keep me engaged – I think I’m going to enjoy them especially since the show seems to have a complete sense of its own cheesiness and is happy to play to that and not take itself too seriously (I particularly liked Ingrid openly lampshading the trope of her having powers all along and not knowing it).

Inclusionwise – we have Barbie and Adam who are both Black; I can’t say we’ve seen enough about them to make any judgement calls yet.

Hudson has similarly been around for, if anything, even less time – but my judgement is calling. Firstly this character is not only not openly identified as gay yet but we haven’t even heard his name. So why do I call him Hudson? Because within 2 seconds of his appearance he was such an utter cookie-cutter stereotyped that I took myself to wiki and found Ingrid's gay best friend.

Can we please get past the whole “GBF” trope? Gay men existing as pets, helpers and emotional support for straight women is demeaning, reductive and dehumanising – especially when they inevitably come with a double fist load of gross stereotypes (he wanted to make pretty hats. He squeals and giggles. He is a child when people mention the word “semen”.) Hudson needs to rapidly change as a character or this could be a worse GBF than Orphan Black and one of the more offensive portrayals we’ve seen since Da Vinci’s Demons

And statements like “most offensive portrayal since X” would have more impact if the period of time between grossly offensive portrayals weren’t so short, media land.

Still – in the end I am left… pleasantly surprised by the show. Yes, I went in with low expectations and found them considerably surpassed.