DISCLAIMER: This recap of the Mayfair Witches episode “The Thrall” contains spoilers. Proceed at your peril.
Welcome back, witches and shape-shifting entities! “The Thrall” finds Rowan and Ciprien trying to escape Lasher’s demonic playground inside the First Street residence. Before diving headfirst into the cons, I’d like to dissect this outing’s pros. Finally, Rowan gains agency. Instead of incessantly reacting to everything that transpires, she takes action. Rowan hones her abilities. She tries to find the truth and sacrifices her well-being for Ciprien’s health and safety.
Secondly, Alexandra Daddario, Tongayi Chirisa and Beth Grant are fantastic. They act the hell out of this episode. The visuals, as usual, are darkly atmospheric, immersive and lush. I want to live in the Mayfair house. The camera work is sleek and fluid. Lastly, after four episodes of meandering and narrative trudging, it feels like the story is going somewhere.
Before I delve into the negatives, let’s dive into “The Thrall.”
We open with the Village Glovemaker (Jay Howard Thames) knocking on a door in 1600s Scotland. Florie (Emma Rose Smith) answers, revealing his wife and son aren’t ready to be seen yet. Suzanne (Hannah Alline) cradles VG’s son in her arms after his wife gives birth. She presents him to VG. VG catches sight of his son’s little fingers, which appear to be webbed. He assumes this is Suzanne’s doing, that she fed his wife poisons and potions that led to his child’s “deformity.” He declares that the little boy isn’t his son and leaves in a huff.
Later, Suzanne knocks on a door with a basket of greens and herbs. She’s looking for the Village Glovemaker’s wife. She asks Florie where the woman could be, especially since she gave birth to her son hours ago. Suzanne and Florie are drawn to a man spewing vitriol about witches. Another woman informs Suzanne that he’s the king’s witchfinder. Said witchfinder reveals he found the Village Glovemaker’s wife, who’s in the cage behind him looking quite dead. VG lurks nearby, watching the spectacle unfold. Suzanne pulls Florie away after learning the witchfinder’s there to “cleanse the village.” Side note: isn’t VG the man Suzanne was jerking off a few episodes ago?
Next, in the present, we see Rowan (Daddario) lying in bed with Ciprien (Chirisa). This is, ostensibly, post-sexy times. Ciprien offers to make breakfast and heads downstairs. Mind you; they’re still in the Mayfair house. Admittedly, when I watched this scene immediately after the one preceding it, I thought I had missed something.
After Ciprien brings Rowan breakfast in bed, the pair decide to spend the rest of their day in that spot. Then, they repeat the sequence all over again: some light smooching, and Ciprien makes breakfast. Only this time, his breathing is more labored, and he plods up the stairs as if he has weights on his ankles. We see the wound on his torso from where Carlotta stabbed him in episode four.
The third time’s the charm. Ciprien cooks breakfast but moves even more slowly than the last time. He pauses in the burnt dining room to catch his breath, where Carlotta set the space ablaze to rid the house of Rowan. When he returns to the bedroom (it looks like Deirdre’s room), Rowan takes his temperature and notices he’s running a fever. She also examines his torso wound. Rowan’s memory returns slowly but surely. She searches her clothing to find a clue as to why they’re in Deirdre’s room. She finds Carlotta’s knife among her belongings.
Next, Ciprien touches the handle to glimpse the story. He sees Carlotta trying to kill Rowan. As we know, Ciprien got in the way. Rowan is determined to get Ciprien to a hospital. However, her cell phone is dead, and the landline phone is disconnected. She helps Ciprien descend the staircase and vows to ask the neighbor for assistance. Unfortunately, the doors won’t open.
Rowan tries opening the windows around the house while Ciprien weakly casts a spell to open the front doors. Rowan returns to Deirdre’s room and fiddles with the windows to find Ciprien standing behind her, looking the picture of health. He’s holding a tray of food. Ciprien claims Rowan hit her head and currently suffers from a concussion. Okay, Cip, no gaslighting, please.
While Rowan and Ciprien eat upstairs, the camera pans to an injured Ciprien lying in front of the doors on the ground floor. He spots a man no one has seen for some time — Stuart Townsend (Kellan Rhude), a Talamasca agent assigned to protect Antha Mayfair. Stuart calls for Antha while he waits impatiently at the bottom of the stairs. Fun fact: actor Stuart Townsend played Lestat in the 2002 film Queen of the Damned.
Anyway, Ciprien pieces together who Stuart is and asks what happened to him. Stuart states that Ciprien fell for Rowan, as he did for Antha, which angered Lasher. Now, Lasher is hellbent on killing Ciprien so he can have Rowan for himself. Meanwhile, Rowan finishes her breakfast in her mother’s bedroom. This second version of Ciprien, the healthy one, vanishes into thin air before her eyes.
Thus, Rowan races downstairs to aid the real Ciprien, who’s resting there. Rowan can put on her doctor’s hat here if they can’t get out of the house. She searches the bathroom for medical supplies when she encounters a distraught Millie (Geraldine Singer), who sits in a bathtub with water while fully clothed. She appears to be blipping as if she’s switching back and forth between this reality and an unseen one. Millie mourns her sister Carlotta and demands to know where she is.
Rowan returns to Ciprien with supplies, including a bottle of vodka. She gives him painkillers and tries to dress his now-infected wound. Ciprien urges her to pause for a moment. If his death is the only way she can leave the First Street house, so be it. Of course, Rowan refuses to accept defeat. She addresses Lasher, much to Ciprien’s dismay. Lasher (Jack Huston) finally materializes. Rowan orders him to release Ciprien, and she’ll do whatever Lasher wants. Suddenly, Ciprien flies through the wall and out of sight.
Then, Rowan finds a light blue flapper dress, complete with jewels and a headband, laid out on her mother’s bed. It’s giving “creepy captor coerces his captive to carry out his carnal cravings” vibes. (Sorry, I had to commit to the alliteration.) Rowan puts on the finery and heads downstairs. Lasher wants to dance with her, claiming that’s what she also desires. He also believes she craves cake, so he presents her with a table full of delectable cake.
Lasher tells her everything she purportedly desires because men are notorious for knowing precisely want women want. He believes she craves elation, desire, sensuality, etc. He shows her a memory of when she was a child, running through a field with her friends. She wept when she found an injured fox she couldn’t save. Rowan also carries a torch for our Cip. Lasher claims he gave Rowan that time with Ciprien. Whatever, dude.
Next, Lasher transports Rowan to that field. They marvel at the fireflies dancing around them. They kiss (ew). Rowan lights up when the aforementioned fox comes back to life. Lasher declares Rowan can control what she wants in life. She wanted Ciprien; she got him. She wanted Carlotta out of the picture, and it happened. Incredulous, Rowan still asserts it’s all Lasher’s doing.
When they return to the house, Rowan notices Carlotta (Grant) suspended before her. Lasher reaffirms Rowan’s desire to kill Carlotta. Rowan denies it. She removes her jewelry and tries to depart despite Lasher informing her she can’t leave until she “finishes this.” She’s determined to find another way out.
Meanwhile, Odette (Keyara Milliner) discovers Ciprien on the floor of his apartment. Lasher returned him to his home as promised. Ciprien dies, but not before urging Odette not to call an ambulance and to step out of the way while his coworkers handle his body. An emotional Odette clears the space while Samir (Ravi Naidu) and a Healer (Suleka Mathew) from the Talamasca arrive. Samir informs the Healer that Ciprien was assigned to watch Rowan. The Healer shakes her head, wondering aloud how many more members they’ll lose to the Mayfairs. She conducts a spell to revive Ciprien.
Then, Rowan finds Millie in her bedroom. She’s still blipping in and out of reality. Rowan tells Millie that Lasher has Carlotta and that she can help Millie get her back. Millie silently helps Rowan piece together the antidote, the solution to eradicating Lasher. She finds a book with steps and ingredients for a particular spell. Rowan learns that Carlotta keeps water and herbs in the basement, so Millie leads her there. Rather, Millie locks Rowan in the basement. It’s Delphine all over again.
While Rowan gathers herbs, Lasher appears. He squarely places the blame on Carlotta. Carlotta medicated Deirdre her whole life while holding her captive in this house. Lasher notes how Antha, Rowan’s grandmother, was also intelligent and curious, which, according to him, aren’t “easy things to be under Carlotta’s thumb.” After Rowan hears the door lock to the basement, she wanders in the direction of said door, tripping over the gory remains of Delphine. Lasher assigns blame to Carlotta for that, too.
Rowan wills the door to open, doing the very thing Lasher claims she can do. Well, he’s a deceptive, demonic entity whose motivations, at least on this show, are obscured. Anyway, the Healer continues casting her spell to bring Ciprien back to life. After she recreates Cip’s stab wound on her torso, she procures Carlotta’s knife from said wound. Admittedly, this moment is pretty badass. Ciprien’s eyes fly open. He lives! Odette, who watched the display while in hiding, breathes a sigh of relief.
Rowan decides to free Carlotta. She can bring Carlotta to justice, and the latter can explain the attempt on Rowan’s life, stabbing Ciprien and Delphine’s corpse in the basement. A frustrated Lasher vanishes. Rowan hopes to utilize her ability to open the front doors, but Carlotta claims there’s another method of egress. She leads Rowan to the balcony, the same one from which Antha purportedly jumped.
Carlotta claims Rowan can’t return to her old life in San Francisco. Whether she likes it or not, Lasher is bound to her now. The only way to free herself of his influence is to jump. Rowan believes Antha didn’t take her life willingly, but Carlotta contributed to Antha jumping off that balcony. Suddenly, something in Carlotta shifts. She maliciously declares she should’ve killed Rowan when she was a baby. Rowan uses her mind powers to kill Carlotta by stopping her heart. Carlotta tumbles over the balcony railing and lands on the ground below. Lasher looks on with pride.
Then, Ciprien chats with his sister after coming back from the dead. She urges him to steer clear of Rowan and the Mayfair house. However, he plans to free Rowan, no matter the cost. He plants a kiss on Odette’s forehead before leaving. Meanwhile, Rowan flings open the doors of the house. She stands on the porch and takes it all in, looking more empowered. She confidently walks away. I love the camera angles in this scene.
As mentioned above, “The Thrall” does some things right. It’s not a perfect episode. Mayfair Witches still struggles to thread Suzanne and Rowan’s stories together. Some of the editing and storytelling are disjointed (and jarring). While Huston is a talented actor, I don’t think he’s the right fit for Lasher. Unless he makes a significant pivot in the last three episodes of the season, I can’t imagine myself changing my mind.
I see the attempt at sensuality and seduction executed onscreen, but it just feels … blah. Bland. I’m not connecting with any of it. The only character I like is Ciprien, who was created for the show. Beth Grant makes for a deliciously wicked and nuanced villain, but now she’s out of the picture. And from what I’ve gathered from book readers, it seems Mayfair Witches is a very loose adaptation of the novels. It’s disappointing when an adaptation doesn’t take full advantage of its rich source material.
This show should be thrilling, sexy, dark, heady and witchy. We did see more magic in this episode than in previous ones, which I appreciate, but I feel like there’s a missed opportunity to explore the lore here. It’s not hitting the mark for me. I hope episodes six, seven and eight turn things around.
Mayfair Witches drops new episodes every Sunday at 9 pm on AMC, with simultaneous streaming on AMC+.