Houses and Daemons and Spellbinding: Oh My! (Aka The Penultimate Episode)

Spoilers, darling…

Before we dive too much into episode seven, I want to say how much I enjoyed this episode, especially for the small moments throughout. It’s become commonplace in this production to be able to talk about materiality, creature rights, and the beautiful cinematography. Frankly, it’s kinda spoiling me, and since we’re probably looking at a year or more for season 2, I just want to reiterate how much fun this has been. As adaptations go, this one has captured quite a bit of the book’s heart and ideas on materiality in ways that I think a lot of us were worried about. But, despite its faults (I mean, nothing is perfect – well, maybe excluding the books!), it’s been amazing to see it come to life.

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So, the Bishop House. I haven’t heard a single person say they don’t love the house or that they were dreading seeing it on the screen. Sure, there might have been a little worry about how an animated (haunted) house would come across, but like all the tricky elements of the series they have chosen to portray, the production has done it splendidly. All of the hints and BTS pictures we’ve gotten suggested that the House would be amazing. And boy, it was. First off, we have another normally inanimate object portrayed as a living character. While it is different from Ashmole 782, the Bishop House is also imbued with magic and is shown as active. It might act out if it does not like Matthew. It definitely does not like it when they argue. (So calm down, Sarah!) And it also decides when members of the family need certain things. While this is no surprise to book readers, non-readers and readers alike are reminded that, in the All Souls universe, quite a bit of the material culture encompassed in the narrative is more than what it seems. Even paintings, graves, and other seemingly non-magical objects have meaning that elevates them and shapes their portrayal in the show/world.

One of my favourite parts of the house is how it seemed to be the one that cast the series of counterclock-esque memories (if you’re confused, see The Book of Life, chapter 25), showing Matthew, Diana, Sarah, and Em(ily), how Diana was spellbound, Knox checking Diana’s powers, and Stephen and Rebecca leaving. It’s as if the house senses that they need to understand what happened (and what it happened), and in the show’s portrayal, it is the one with the answers. In the book, Emily is well aware of Diana being spellbound and that her parents did it to protect her – same as their trip to Africa (this is another change from the books) where they died. Yet, in the show, Em seems to have guessed and gone along with it rather than been an active protector of their secret(s). It works because the house manages to show everyone (rather than Emily tell) what they need to know. This is also a clever way of doing it visually without having Em narrate what is happening.

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In particular, the spellbinding scene is a fantastic glimpse into the young Diana that Stephen and Rebecca spellbind to protect. She’s playful and loves the story Rebecca tells her about the Shadow Prince; she’s also more comfortable with magic, even if it does scare her to some degree. In the books, the ribbons that bind her are described as colourful, and many book fans were expecting to see these in their vivid colour last week, and, as I noted, were disappointed not to see them in colour. Given that they foreshadow her colourful weaver’s cords, it seemed an odd creative choice. I was kinda surprised that even though Rebecca described them as colourful in her story (which she is retelling to Diana as Stephen works the spell), they were the colourless/silver/white webs that we have seen throughout the season. But, they do tie all of the spider flashbacks together and confirm our suspicions that they do have something with the weaver caught up in her ribbons/magic/binds. This does, however, still foreshadow them and also sets up the cords Diana will have (and absorb) in The Book of Life. Where Diana was magicless and colourless, she will become powerful as she embraces her magic, and literally more colourful. (I mean, she’s going to end up with the ribbons, an arrow, a firedrake, and a manuscript within her and written into her body – not just her skin – by the end of this.) I like the arc of colourless and mostly powerless to colourful and powerful that the production has set up here. Like every change from the books that we have seen, it serves to develop the story in the visual medium. Unlike including colourful ribbons from the start, it also provides visual diversity so that viewers are constantly drawn to the narrative in its visual format.

The other thing we see in the Bishop House scenes is hints of Diana as a weaver, as well as hints of what a weaver does (this is coupled with how magic dies). First, we have Sarah telling Matthew that the spells he wants Diana to learn no longer work, and haven’t done so for generations. This is indicative of weavers dying out, and magic more proudly. Coupled with Emily and Sarah discussing spellbinding and Em’s words defending her choice not to go to Sarah with her suspicion (because she was not quite sure and all they had were old, forgotten and ignored stories about spellbound witches, and because she also sought to protect Sarah), we’re reminded of not just weavers, but Matthew’s words early in the series about magic dying. Witches have forgotten their magic and renounced their powers. Along with this, it seems, they’ve forgotten their lore. Finally, we also see Diana almost succeed in lighting a candle before she catches dried herbs on fire. Magic does not work in the same way for her. Matthew also details this later when he describes need as key to her power: she must feel, not think, to make it work. As a weaver – and one who has been spellbound most of her life – she must find a unique way to utilise her magic.

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And then, there is the moment that the House gives Diana (and everyone else) one of the missing pages from Ashmole 782. I, predictably, have feels about this manuscript page. It is definitely based on the Harley Splendor Solis which Deb has noted is the inspiration for the image, and is what Colleen Madden based her drawing on for The World of All Souls.

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This is a completely different style from the images that we saw in Ashmole 782 in the first episode. The Splendor Solis imagery is alchemical and gives the process of finding the Philosopher’s Stone, but its imagery is altogether different from the Donum Dei, which the alchemical child is drawn from. While we have a child in an alembic in the Splendor Solis imagery, the images are quite different: the Splendor Solis images are surrounded by elaborate floral and narrative frames. This is included in the (al)chemical wedding that we have in the show, but – as far as we know from the folios we have seen – the folios still in the manuscript are based on other alchemical imagery. The fascinating thing with this, once one gets over the momentary confusion of having them all mixed together – is that this is a composite manuscript in more ways that one. I’ve worked with alchemical miscellany that include the image cycles of the many texts they include, but they do not usually mix these texts or images up. You get the complete cycle, then another, etc., etc. But, Ashmole 782 throws out all rules that I (and manuscript scholars more broadly) expect with cycles, which are normally coherent wholes within a larger whole. Ashmole 782, we know, is made of the skin and blood of all creature types. It makes sense, really, that the imagery its creator(s) would deploy draws on many different alchemical texts and image cycles to tell its story. The way its imagery is mixed reflects the mixing of creatures. After all, as we’re learning, that mixing is key to the survival of creatures and the Book of Life, once again, encapsulates this idea. As for colours and media, it seems to be largely the same as the other folios we have seen, with red, silver, and gold being important (as they are in alchemy); moreover, the wedding image also has the feel of a pigment that isn’t exactly period.

Most importantly, though, for this version of the image: the White Queen wears Matthew’s insignia. In case it was not evident already, the White Queen is Diana. The fact that both wear Matthew’s insignia is highlighted in the image. While the manuscript illumination shows it as part of the decoration on the Queen’s gown, Diana wears it as a brand on her skin. Both versions serve to highlight that the Queen/Diana belongs to the Prince quite literally. She is his partner, his property, his other half. Only together can the alchemical process be completed – and only with them together, can creatures be protected.

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Oh, and I think Diana needs to remind Sarah and Miriam not to have a tug-of-war, verbal or physical, with the manuscript folio. But at least no one tries to spill anything on it…

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We also get to see Knox’s petrosphere again. This time, however, it is in Satu’s hands as she returns and confronts him about what he knows, as well as her betrayal. I found it interesting that Satu takes it and seems to try to use it. It does not appear to react to her as it does to Knox. There could be multiple reasons for this, but two stick out in particular. One, her magic, she admits, is drained – and that must include that she drew/borrowed from Meridiana. Two, it is not hers. While it is a magical object that witches can use to direct their power, it does not work for her because she is a weaver, and we learn that spells don’t work for weavers as they do for witches. This seems to be the better explanation here. If another witch tried to use it, I imagine they could. But, as a weaver – and a depleted one – Satu is unable to use it to its full power.

Knox – even when he is not directly in the scene – hangs over Diana and her memories of her parents that the House shows her. We are told that Rebecca should have been on the Congregation – which would have allowed the witches to overpower/overthrow the de Clermonts – but Stephen kept her from it. Knox’s anger and hate comes through as he recounts this. While he may have somewhat backed off of Diana in front of the Congregation, as soon as Satu relays Meridiana’s prophecy that Diana is key to the end of vampires, his hate and prejudices return and he is refocused on ending vampires and the de Clermonts. While we do not see it as overt as his hate for vampires, his dislike of other creatures is encompassed in this: surely he does not expect to end vampires without ending daemons? Though, daemons are seen as second class citizens, so it is unlikely that Knox (muchless any of the other witches) has considered the daemons in his plans beyond how he can use them to achieve his goals on the Congregation.

Timewalking! How many of us wish we could timewalk? I love that it is introduced by Matthew recognising a 17th century box in remarkable condition; Em tells him that Stephen brought back only seconds before Diana timewalks to the barn. Before this, though, Em tells Matthew three objects are needed to steer when you go back a great distance. This sets up a key point for next week: to escape the Congregation, and give Diana time to understand her magic with witches that understand how different it is, Diana and Matthew will need to timewalk to the past. We’ve already been introduced to one of the most important objects: the Diana statue/chess piece that Sophie has – and that seemingly starts Sophie’s curiosity/visions of Diana. Oh, and in the trailer, we see the dance scene at Sept Tours that we know from the books that Diana practices timewalking by returning to, with Matthew. (And he has his tie on!)

Daemon power and (often lack of) authority within the world of creatures is once again illustrated by Agatha and Hamish. In the opening vignettes, we have Baldwin questioning the other members of the Congregation about Diana and Satu. Not only does this scene confirm that Baldwin is doing what he can as a knight to protect Diana (and, by extension, Matthew), it also shows us a fiery Agatha. When Baldwin declares ‘Let us each take care of our own,’ Agatha, now fully aware of her family’s precarious place in the coming conflict, responds ‘I intend to.’ Unlike Agatha’s wavering earlier, here, she is committed to doing what she has to in order to protect her family, which means she is going to be aligned with the de Clermonts to some degree as they fight to overturn the Covenant.

Agatha’s knowledge in these matters and her (newer) desire to do more than play by the Congregation’s rules and work more slowly than Nathaniel would like, is also evident when she visits Hamish in his London headquarters. (That view!!) Telling Hamish that Sophie is born of witches is dangerous: and she tells him that she knows he knows just how dangerous it is for her to admit that to anyone, including Hamish. Suddenly, for both Agatha and Hamish (and daemons more broadly), a ‘daemon saviour’ does not seem quite so impossible. The fact that this – cross-species families – could rewrite what they know about daemons is clearly tempting to them both. Agatha, we know, is tempted by the Book of Life because of what it could reveal about daemons; Hamish is the same, and his earlier passionate description of daemon struggles to Matthew in episode 2, reminds us that he wants to do something to fix it. For daemons, the Book of Life could not only reveal origins, but the Book and the acknowledgement of the importance and viability of cross-species families presents the opportunity to gain the status that they need to highlight problems within society that directly impact daemons while giving them the ability to implement solutions that they cannot under the Covenant and without the status the other creatures enjoy. In their exchange here, all of the discussions about daemons the show has included seem to come together, and the figures posed to do something (both behind the scenes and on the Congregation) seem to ready themselves that their time to act is quickly approaching.

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Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least quickly mention Sarah’s amazing bumper stickers. Another example of tiny details that the production borrows from the books to create a richer visual experience of the narrative, and make readers giggle in delight.

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