On Congregations, Real & Shadow

Picking up with the other major theme of Episode 8: The Congregation. Once again we see the inner workings of the Congregation and the associated disagreements which give rise to new alliances.

Daemons Are Important, Baldwin (Or The Congregation’s Politics Are Special)

One of the larger additions to the narrative has to be the way the Congregation actually works, and how Gerbert, Knox, and Satu become a team.

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Knox’s distrust of vampires is evident from the moment Gerbert enters the Witches’ Archives. He immediately reaches for his petrosphere – as if it not only focuses his magic, but can protect him. By the end of the conversation, it is evident that they will work together, not because of a common interest in bettering the world for creatures (that idealism belongs to Marcus and Nathaniel), but out of a mutual desire to see the de Clermonts fall. Unfortunately for Baldwin, as the sitting family member of the Congregation, their plans are directed at him. Believing that they can oust him, they naively believe that Marcus would be easier to control. (Which makes me wonder if they’ve actually met Marcus because I think he’d be more of a challenge than they realise… Sidenote: anyone else love how Marcus lounged everywhere in the Bishop kitchen?!)

Anyway, we eventually learn that Baldwin has called the Congregation to order to prosecute Satu for her role in taking Diana. That’s all great, but Satu argues that Baldwin has betrayed the Congregation because he was working with Matthew to rescue Diana, on behalf of the Knights of Lazarus. (Baldwin’s comment ‘My brother has always been a thorn in my side, why would I help him?’ is both apt and does not really help him. After all, he did help Matthew…) The Knights of Lazarus, we learn was founded roughly at the same time that the Covenant came into being. Gerbert describes it as a way to help further vampire causes, which Baldwin denies, describing it as a philanthropic venture meant to help anyone who cannot help (defend) themselves for whatever reason. Gerbert then charges Baldwin with treason, noting that the punishment for that is death by beheading and fire. Baldwin then declares ‘That is a punishment suitable for the fourteenth century, not the twenty-first!’ My first thought here was pretty much Baldwin, you’re kinda working on a medieval committee that literally hasn’t seen it necessary to update its working guidelines in centuries, so I’m not sure your protestation really has that much weight…

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Okay, we’re going to pause in the action for a moment to dissect some stuff. In these conversations, Knox once again references his desire for Diana and Ashmole 782 – and his fear that Matthew has them and can use them to harm the witches. Book and Diana’s body are once again conflated: this has occurred so much within the narrative that we rarely (ever?) get mention of one without the other. When Diana is questioned earlier in the show about the book by Matthew, he’s not necessarily separating the two, either, but rather conflating her experience with it and her knowledge of it with her powers and ability to call the book; the actions of body are connected to the manuscript and obtaining it. She might discuss it as separate from herself, but Matthew constantly reminds her that they are intimately linked: her magic responds to it, it illustrates them, her parents knew it would be important for her. That we see witch and manuscript mentioned again in the same breath by Peter Knox highlights the agency of the book and the ways the witches have conceived of Diana as a passive object that will carry out their will (aka get the book for them). In the middle of a life and death situation for Baldwin that concerns the Congregation and its reach, Knox is more concerned about the book/Diana, even though he is on board with the kill/oust Baldwin plan. And, as we already know, Knox does not care who he harms to get Ashmole 782.

Okay, so back to Baldwin’s death sentence. Oh, Agatha. Have I mentioned I love her? Right as Baldwin’s life is about to be decided, she reminds the Congregation (Gerbert, really) that everyone gets a vote AND daemons like to give everyone a voice. BAM! She’s bought Baldwin a few minutes, at least. The way Agatha leads the daemons slowly out of the chamber after being told to hurry is just incredibly badass. It demonstrates her power, and more broadly, the power of the daemons: the witches and vampires might think that they can dictate the daemon’s actions, but they cannot. If the other creatures are going to attempt to ostracise them and overlook their problems, the daemons are going to do everything within their power to push back against that and assert their value. And it’s not just daemon power that she’s highlighting here, but female power. In the Middle Ages – and this is very much a medieval group, as the show has established – women often utilised power in non-traditional ways in influencing the men around them; they were seen as alternatively a softening influence and a detrimental influence. (I mean, honestly, women in power are still fighting these stereotypes.) Her ability to navigate the Congregation in the subtle ways we have seen throughout the show reflects this in a modernised way. She works them, alternately confronting and working around the group (and individual members) when necessary. Compared to Satu, who overtly wields her power and then must cover it to regain and keep it, Agatha’s subtlety, patience, and mental acumen gives her the ability to carry out her plans.

After a beat, the Congregation members are shown walking in as Baldwin sits watching their entrance. I’d love to know what Domenico and Gerbert say to one another (and the others, maybe?). Unsurprisingly, Gerbert and the witches vote in favour of Baldwin being killed/found guilty. The daemons and Domenico (and Baldwin) vote against. Now we can breathe. And look at Domenico to figure out what game (self-preservation) he is playing. After Domenico tells Baldwin he owes him, Agatha tells him that while she has her own reasons, he also owes the daemons.

Okay, so this scene is loaded. We see the divisions within the Congregation, how alliances are formed, and get another reminder of the importance of daemons. While book readers will know that daemons are key to the future of creatures, viewers have not quite gotten to that point. But we have been given so many clues that this is the direction of the narrative. This is another. As daemons can save creature kind, they save Baldwin at this moment. They are constantly undermined and devalued, but they are exceedingly powerful in ways the other creatures overlook either intentionally or ignorantly. Despite their equal voice on the Congregation, that equity does not carry through outside of the halls; thus, Agatha and the daemons must work in other ways when necessary – and work within the Congregation to forge their own alliances and collect debts that they can use later when they need something. By saving Baldwin at this moment, Agatha not only works to save her family, but she is also positioning the daemons alongside the most powerful family in the vampire world (which coincidentally runs the Knights of Lazarus who will also work to protect her family). As with minorities more broadly, they must work within the system but also work outwit it in order to challenge and correct it. It’s a delicate balance, and we’ve seen it fictionalised throughout Agatha’s narrative arc as she has gone from subtle movements, almost timidly playing the Congregation’s games (as she tells her son to follow their rules, for now) to effectively harnessing the Congregation’s rules to serve her own ends and further her cause.

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A Shadow Congregation

As the Congregation is settling its own issues, we also have the formation of a Shadow Congregation (or Conventicle as it is called in the books) when Hamish, Sophie, and Nathaniel arrive. There’s a lot happening in Madison once everyone arrives. Diana is practising her timewalking skills while the others prepare for Halloween, get to know each other, and work on plans for the future.

When Sophie presents the chess piece to Diana, it is bathed in light, reminiscent of Diana in the opening scenes. It once again reinforces the connection between the goddess and Diana that is firmly established when Diana bargains with her to save Matthew. It also literally highlights the importance of the object to those present. As Matthew will note later, it’s clear to him that this, along with the earring the house presented him, have helped him determine where/when they should hide.

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Sophie’s announcement that she is born of witches (cross-species, according to Miriam) is met with scepticism. Matthew’s later comment that if she is telling the truth shows his deep-seeded prejudices about daemons and witches despite his friendships with individuals. Before she even tells them, Nathaniel encourages her not to say anything. She responds ‘Vampires witches, and daemons all together under the same roof. If we can’t tell them, who can we tell?’ Importantly, Sophie suggests, they have to be able to trust one another in this. The longer that they are together, it becomes clearer that they are struggling with their prejudices, but, more importantly, share a common ideology.

This is most evident with Nathaniel and Marcus. As they round the corner of the porch, they are discussing the ancient nature of the Congregation and the Covenant. ‘The problem is those rules haven’t actually changed since their establishment during the Crusades,’ Marcus tells Nathaniel, who responds, ‘That’s what I mean! The Congregation using ancient texts to corroborate modern prejudices.’ This is an amazing moment when considered in parallel with Baldwin’s exclamation that death by beheading and fire belong to the fourteenth, not the twenty-first, century. The two Congregations are related by their opposition and it is becoming evident to members of both that maybe medieval systems of justice and creature understanding are not appropriate for the modern world. A few seconds later Sophie tells Emily and Sarah that Nathaniel ‘wants to change the world. It’s hard to do that on your own.’ By joining this Shadow Congregation, Nathaniel has allied himself with people who have the same ideas and who have the power to pursue them openly.

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These are our first hints that this group will not only challenge the Congregation on the Covenant but also work to change it in larger ways. It’s not a simple matter of philosophy for Marcus and Nathaniel, but a call for action. Marcus, as we know from Time’s Convert, has very definite ideas about democracy and families; Nathaniel, as the show has shown us with his attempts to bring daemons together, clearly has ideas about government and the way creatures should interact and be governed.

A striking moment comes at the end of this part of the narrative when the daemons are leaving. Matthew tells Nathaniel that they face a ‘hell of a fight ahead.’ Nathaniel’s response is beautiful in its simplicity: ‘I’ve been fighting all my life.’ Nathaniel is not surprised by this, but Matthew seems to be surprised to find himself in a fight of this kind – he’s never considered he would suddenly be betrayed by the structures he has upheld and those he loves put in danger because of them. With Diana, he is suddenly confronted by his own prejudices and the racism in the creature world he has perpetuated and ignored. We have a moment, similar to those we are seeing in current political debates, where someone in power realises that they are fighting for something different than for what they thought they would be fighting. They have been forced to confront social problems and decide whether they wish to uphold such prejudices and the past they represent, or push forward. Nathaniel (also Marcus) and Matthew represent different generations and approaches to problems (they also represent different time periods and associated ways of thinking). The fact they are able to come together, as different creatures with different historical backgrounds and ideologies, is key to the forward momentum of the narrative. Once again, the All Souls world provides a mirror to our own opinions and political situations that asks us to confront prejudices and interrogate our own society and how we want the world to work. It also provides opportunities for people of all backgrounds to identify with aspects of different characters and moments in the narrative. The show is just as much about our world, our past, and our material culture as it is about that of vampires, witches, and daemons.

 

My other thoughts on Episode 8 can be found here: 

On Light

On Timewalking & the Objects Necessary

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