I’ll give Mayfair Witches this much. I never have any idea what’s going to happen next. The villains are all ambiguous, the protagonist is steadfastly unlikeable, and the love interest is continually absent and/or imperiled for no reason. I can’t tell if this episode was successful because I still don’t know what it was trying to do.
Mayfair Witches has one constant, though: its habit of introducing an interesting female character and then immediately disposing of her. In this universe, dynamic women are just useful plot martyrs for Rowan to either sulkily avenge or resent. Feminism! R.I.P. Ellie, Deirdre, Delphine, Carlotta, Ghost Aunt, Suzanne, and now Tessa (presumably). I would have preferred a show centered around literally any one of you rather than Rowan “Blank Stare” Fielding Mayfair.
In fact, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that Mayfair Witches kind of hates women. Case-in-point: “Tessa” begins with Rowan discovering that she is pregnant with either Lasher’s demon seed or Ciprien’s ostensibly more benevolent embryo. In either case, had I been in Rowan’s position, I would have written myself a prescription for Mifepristone STAT, because this definitely qualifies as a risky pregnancy, and I value my own life. Abortion is generally safer than pregnancy in the best of circumstances, I have to imagine maternal mortality rates are even greater when there’s magic involved.
But hey, it’s Rowan’s choice. Or, actually, maybe it’s Lasher’s choice. She’s not sure, which is why she now needs Tessa to get in touch with him for her. Unfortunately, Tessa isn’t available to help at the moment because Tessa is locked in a covered dog kennel in a remote warehouse. She is also bound, blindfolded, and gagged, which hamstrings her ability to “glamor” (Tessa’s “gift” is the ability to momentarily entrance a man into doing what she wants, which is supposed to be poignant, I guess), and reinforces the fact that Lasher hasn’t chosen her to be his new designee after all. She does give it her all, though, and almost gets creepy Medical Examiner Keith to free her before he’s interrupted by one of his witch-hunting pals.
The good news for Tessa is that the witch hunters are taking their sweet time to decide precisely how and when to burn her at the stake. They want it to have the greatest impact, obviously, so they’ve already decided to film the murder for the internet. The real trick is getting Tessa to do magic on video and thus prove to the world that a real, honest-to-goodness witch is being set ablaze here. There is also some debate about the best person-burning fuel, which is confusing because I thought these guys had burned women alive before.
Anyway, the brainstorming session gives Tessa’s mom enough time to assemble the Mayfairs in her living room to plot a rescue mission. Rowan’s unannounced visit at the crack of dawn has alerted Alicia Mayfair to the fact that her daughter is missing, but other than that, nobody has a lot of confidence in Rowan’s ability to be helpful. This is pretty understandable, in my opinion. Theoretically, I support Rowan wanting to rid herself of Lasher at all costs. But I also agree with the rest of her family, who all think that Rowan is kind of the worst. Imagine your long lost relative suddenly drops into town, comes to the funeral in sneakers, murders your aunt, sneers at your family traditions, rejects her inheritance, makes everybody get together to perform a big ole dangerous ritual (which she half-asses, by the way), refuses to help when you give her hard evidence that the family is being targeted by misogynistic murderers, and then comes asking for a favor. I mean, the nerve. “Didn’t we all just go to great lengths so you can bail on this family?” one person asks. An excellent question.
If Rowan really wanted to help, she could just Mayfair-up and call Lasher because he clearly has not left her. But despite even Uncle Cortland’s hard sell, Rowan refuses to do this. “What if he’s with her and she needs him and I call him away,” she whines. Well, if that were the case, then Tessa would be safe and we wouldn’t be here, now would we? I’m sorry, I know I should empathize with Rowan on this, but I’m too focused on Tessa’s impending death.
As long as Rowan is being difficult, the family has to call up a freelancer to scry for Tessa’s location. (This is beside the point, but how is it that no one in this enormous family of witches has the ability to scry?) He’s having trouble isolating Tessa’s position because she has too many siblings or whatever, giving Rowan an opportunity to do her first useful thing. Since they know that Tessa has to be wherever Deirdre’s heart is, why doesn’t Alonzo use Rowan’s blood to scry for the heart instead? It works!
Of course, Rowan then cancels out her one good deed by physically threatening her uncle. As everyone sets off in Tessa’s general direction, Cortland — having learned from Dolly Jean that Rowan is pregnant, which is somehow significant — makes a last attempt to convince her to call Lasher. Now, I don’t know what Cortland’s game is here and there’s a decent chance he’s at least a little bit evil, but he also has ALS. ALS is a brutal, painful, degenerative disease that leads to extreme physical disability if it doesn’t kill the person first, and Rowan uses her magic powers to turn up the volume on Cortland’s symptoms to get him to let go of her arm, a move I find to be shitty. Jojo, Cortland’s daughter and the Mayfair who seems to actively hate Rowan the least, sees her do this and asks what the hell is up. “Sorry Jo, no time to explain, you better stay here with your dad while I go attempt to be a hero,” Rowan says, more or less.
Guided by the combined powers of GPS and raven, Rowan gets to Tessa first, just as the teenage witch is being set on fire while still valiantly denying that her family are witches. I know I’ve been pretty harsh about this episode so far, but I won’t pretend that what happened next isn’t great. Rowan comes storming in, magic fingers blazing, and starts zapping brains left and right. No matter that Jojo pretty clearly said no killing anybody. This is great fun. Rowan manages to get Tessa off the pyre with no more than a single gunshot wound to the shoulder, but this is where the good vibes come to an end.
And where is Ciprien in all this? Once again, poor Cip has been trapped in one of Lasher’s patented mind prisons. In order to escape from the burned-out husk of a memory of 17th-century rural Scotland, Cip’s first task is to locate the necklace, and Suzanne’s sister has conveniently appeared out of nowhere to lead him directly to it. Tragically, however, Cip has just followed her into a trap. Another trap, I mean. It’s a trap within a trap. I do not see the point, but Lasher cackles with delight at having successfully lured Ciprien to Suzanne’s cottage — as if Cip would never have tried searching for the necklace in the single most obvious place to look without Lasher’s influence.
Now, if I understand the specifics of this Rube Goldberg Machine of a master plan correctly, Lasher first lured Ciprien to the Mayfair House to rescue Rowan so that Lasher could then manipulate Cip into impregnating her. He allowed Ciprien to leave the Mayfair House so that he could later trap him here in this memory, using the necklace as bait. Then, Lasher conjured Suzanne’s little sister to lure Cip into the cottage within the memory, where he is now trapped. Now, Lasher is waiting for Rowan to finally call on him out of desperation because he also orchestrated Tessa’s capture and vigilante execution attempt. Our evil genius finally leaves Ciprien to contemplate his existence … in a room full of witchy escape-hatch ingredients. It takes Cip about 30 seconds to whip up an exit portal.
The final twist of the afternoon is that Ciprien, too late as usual, learns that his head Talamasca boss has been working with Lasher all along. And also Uncle Cortland. They all want Rowan to call down Lasher to fulfill some prophecy, and it takes Keith, of all people, to do it. Keith is a real asshole, and so just when Rowan and Tessa think they’re safe, he comes charging back and shoots Tessa in the neck and kills her. This is what finally gets Rowan to call Lasher. Good job, everyone. A perfectly executed, very logical plan.
Loose Ends, Predictions, and Concerns
• Tessa’s hands were tied in front of her, so she probably could have untied her own blindfold and gag pretty easily, right?
• At some point, this show is going to have to explain Rowan’s cake fetish to me.
• One of Tessa’s captors is now a practicing witch hunter because her husband got laid off by a Mayfair company, and this is just the wildest possible backstory to give this woman, who could just as easily and far more believably have been characterized as a conspiracy theorist or an overzealous fundamentalist Christian. No, let’s make her just a poor woman with a grudge.
• Lighting the pyre with a tiki torch was a cute touch.
• I think we’re supposed to remember the word “henbane” for the future.