DISCLAIMER: This recap of the Mayfair Witches series premiere episode, “The Witching Hour,” contains spoilers. Proceed at your peril.
Welcome, witches and shape-shifting entities! Mayfair Witches is finally here with mixed reviews. Full disclosure: I’m approaching these recaps purely as a viewer, not a reader of the source material. I hope to dissect it as a visual medium. Of course, not having read Anne Rice‘s Lives of the Mayfair Witches trilogy will color my opinion of this series.
“The Witching Hour” sets the stage with sumptuous set design, lush scenery and a perfectly eerie, spellbinding score. The witchy aesthetic is alive and well. The atmospheric visuals and auditory delights are immersive on their own. I appreciate the lack of exposition. Even as a non-book reader, I still don’t want character backstories and narrative beats spoonfed to me, and I didn’t feel that way with this episode.
That said, we don’t know these characters yet. This outing spends its energy cramming pertinent plot details and family lore into its 52-minute runtime. We know the basics. For example, Rowan is a brilliant, empathic neurosurgeon who prefers the no-strings-attached approach with her relations. But that all feels surface-level, at least for now. For non-readers, “The Witching Hour” will find them trying to follow the story over developing attachments to the core characters.
Ready to delve into “The Witching Hour”? Let’s get to it.
We open with a doctor visiting a catatonic Deirdre Mayfair (Annabeth Gish) at her home. Her caretaker, Delphine (Deneen Tyler), chastises said doctor for arriving late. Deirdre needs her Thorazine shot. The doc wants to delve into Deirdre’s files to learn more about her condition. While researching, he discovers she’s been catatonic for the past seven years, and there was a suicide attempt. Suddenly, he spots a man outside the window, looming above Deirdre. However, the mystery fella disappears without a trace when the doctor returns to the porch. Delphine claims there wasn’t a man with them.
Then, we’re in San Francisco. Dr. Rowan Fielding (Alexandra Daddario) meets with her mother, Ellie (Erica Gimpel), on her houseboat. Yes, a top neurosurgeon resides on a houseboat. It’s the perfect apparatus for seeing the world. Ellie embraces her daughter and wishes her a “Happy Adoption Day.”
Later, Rowan comforts her young patient, who’s about to go into surgery. When she enters the operating room, Dr. Norman Keck (Jim Gleason), her superior, is there to perform the procedure while she assists him despite the child being her patient. The hospital bigwigs are present, so Keck wants them to watch him work. Rowan corrects Keck when he uses the wrong surgical approach, and the boy starts bleeding. Thankfully, Rowan ensures her patient has a successful surgery.
Next, Ellie delivers some upsetting news to Rowan — her cancer is back. Rowan approaches Keck with a hefty favor. One of the hospital’s biggest donors, Daniel Lemle, has a company called Revenia that’s making incredible strides in stem cell work. She would like to apply as a research assistant with Revenia and submit her mother for their cancer trials. Rowan asks Keck if he can recommend her to Lemle. Unfortunately, Keck scolds Rowan for making him look bad in front of the donors. Hey, you did that to yourself, dude.
While Keck rants about how Rowan’s not ready to lead and rattles on about her purported arrogance, white noise drowns out his words. Then, we see the carotid artery in Keck’s brain burst. Keck collapses.
Meanwhile, young Deirdre (Cameron Inman) sits across from Father Duffy (Joseph Meissner) in confession. She talks about receiving visits from Lasher. She scratches “Lasher” into the wood in front of her. Her aunt Carlotta (Beth Grant) picks her up from school and admonishes Deirdre for interacting with Lasher. She orders Deirdre to remain in her room. However, Lasher (Jack Huston) visits her anyone because, well, he’s a spirit. Deirdre’s ostensibly infatuated with him and wants him to whisk her away from here. Girl, never go with the demonic shape-shifting entity.
Back in the present, Rowan tells Ellie about her exploding Keck’s brain with her mind. Ellie, who’s undergoing chemotherapy, reassures her daughter that she can’t burst brains. After sending Rowan off to get her a strawberry milkshake, Ellie calls the adoption agency in search of the agent who handles Rowan’s case. She doesn’t have a name, though. The woman unearths Rowan’s files. We learn Ciprien Grieve oversees Rowan’s adoption case. Ellie asks if Ciprien can return her call.
Next, Rowan visits her friend with benefits, Max (Jordan Cox), while he’s working his bartending shift. Max blows her off for a date, but Rowan pretends to pick up another guy to make Max jealous. It works — we see Rowan and Max getting down and dirty on Rowan’s houseboat later. Afterward, Max notes the “revolving door of guys” in Rowan’s life and how it must be lonely for her. Max is looking for “the one,” but Rowan only wants a good time (and no breakfast).
In Flashback Land, we see Cortland Mayfair (Harry Hamlin) host a lavish party with costumes, masks and a boa constrictor. Young Dierdre arrives at the party, presumably sneaking past her aunts to attend. Her uncle Cortland gushes about how much Deirdre resembles her mother. He describes what Deirdre’s late mom was like. Deirdre doesn’t believe she jumped. Then, Cortland introduces her to Patrick (Sam Evans), a handsome stranger. The pair take to the dance floor.
While Deirdre dances with Patrick, Lasher lurks in the shadows, watching her. The night is a swirling, spinning mess of alcohol, vertical dancing and horizontal tangoing. The following morning, Carlotta waits for Deirdre outside while a concealed corpse on a stretcher leaves the premises. Uh-oh.
Next, Ciprien (Tongayi Chirisa) stands outside the Mayfair property. He places his hand on the gate and a window to another time opens. We see a lifeless woman dangling while Lasher stands below her. He looks away, seemingly making eye contact with Ciprien. Ciprien calls Ellie and informs her that Lasher is tied to the Mayfair property, thousands of miles away from Rowan. So, Ellie knows something’s up with her daughter. Ellie merely wants to ensure Rowan’s safety, especially since Ellie’s time on Earth is ending. Ciprien vows to watch over Rowan.
Later, Rowan attends a presentation spearheaded by Daniel Lemle (Tobias Jelinek). We discover that Revenia’s objective is to crack the code to immortality. After his speech, Lemle approaches Rowan. She admits she didn’t know she was attached to the longevity project. Lemle confesses he did his research on Rowan before meeting her. He understands why she would want to put her mother on the cancer patient trial list. Lemle invites Rowan inside to show her where she’ll work. This screams “ick.”
Sure enough, Creepy McCreepface takes Rowan to his office and proceeds to urinate in the bathroom with the door open. You know, right within her line of sight. Lemle invites her to the opera with him, which Rowan politely declines. After urinating and not washing his hands (ew), Lemle reveals the trial must consist of 30 patients per the FDA’s strict regulations. Thus, Rowan must remove one patient from the list to ensure her mother makes the cut. While Lemle insists it’s all “minutiae,” Rowan views the names as more than letters on paper — they’re people. Her mom wouldn’t want Rowan risking someone else’s life to save hers. Rowan refuses to partake in that selection process.
Then, Rowan does it again. She bursts Lemle’s brain in a fit of rage. Later, Rowan crawls into bed with Ellie, beside herself after inadvertently using her powers. Ellie doesn’t have the energy to deal with Rowan’s belief in the supernatural, so she gently asks her daughter to stay with her now. Ellie’s time is precious.
Meanwhile, young Deirdre meets with Father Duffy again. We see Deirdre’s very pregnant. Deirdre discloses her concerns regarding Patrick. She believes Carlotta murdered Patrick to keep Deirdre a prisoner. Duffy doesn’t want to entertain this accusation. Deirdre asks the priest to help her escape. Again, Duffy evades her wishes.
After Father Duffy departs, Deirdre clambers onto the balcony railing, planning to jump. Lasher pushes her back inside. She meets with Lasher inside the house, and he shows her his true nature — a creature of many faces and forms. Then, Lasher asks Deirdre to become one with him. He urges her to bind herself to him of her own free will. He promises to take her away from her aunts.
Next, Deirdre goes into labor. She gives birth to a baby girl: Rowan. Meanwhile, in the present, a priest prays over Ellie as she lingers on the threshold between life and death. Rowan lies with her mother as she takes her final breaths. Carlotta yanks Rowan out of Deirdre’s arms and drives her to an undisclosed location. She hands the baby to none other than a young Ellie.
Ellie, too, is a Mayfair, and, per Carlotta’s insistence, she gives up the “Mayfair” surname and vows to keep Rowan out of the witchy limelight. In the present, Ellie passes. These scenes of Rowan entering the world and Ellie exiting it are beautifully interwoven.
Then, the doctor visits an older, catatonic Deirdre. He notices the bloody claw marks on her breasts. She’s trying to remove the necklace that binds her to Lasher. The doctor removes it for her. He also lets her in on a secret: he won’t administer her Thorazine. He wants to see what she’s like without it. Meanwhile, Ciprien learns that Lasher is on the move, so he phones Ellie. Unfortunately, there’s no answer on the other side.
We see Rowan’s houseboat floating on the water in the middle of a raging storm. She gets out of bed after hearing a noise. Upon leaving her bedroom, she spots a man outside on the deck. Lasher peers at her through the window. Uh-oh.
Daddario holds her own with the material given to her. It’s nice to see her in a leading role, and I’m curious to watch how she fares throughout the season. I’ve no doubt we’re in for a treat. Beth Grant is always a treasure, no matter how large or small the part. I’m unsure how to feel about Jack Huston as Lasher. Before writing this recap, I did some research on the character, and now I’m iffy about whether he truly encapsulates this role. The charm is lacking. I feel a character like that should have charisma oozing from his pores. That said, it’s only the pilot, and I’m interested to see where he takes Lasher.
I loved Tongayi Chirisa in iZombie, and I have a feeling I’ll love him here. So far, we haven’t seen much of his Ciprien to form much of an opinion. Harry Hamlin does charming well, but we already knew this.
All in all, I’m intrigued. “The Witching Hour” isn’t a rock-solid premiere and has its fair share of speed bumps; however, it whets the appetite enough to keep viewers invested until the next episode. The world is rich and intricate, so here’s hoping we dive into more of Anne Rice’s vast literary mythos as the season continues. Here’s hoping we fall in love with these characters.
Mayfair Witches drops new episodes every Sunday at 9 pm on AMC, with simultaneous streaming on AMC+.