The Rise and Fall of Witches of East End

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you are spending this day free of work commitments, full of a smorgasbord of holiday foods, and surrounded by family. A few days ago, I talked about Charmed, a show where family held primary importance, and I’m going to talk about another today. As it’s the story of another close-knit, female-led dynasty of witches, Witches of East End was bound to draw a lot of comparisons with Charmed. The title of the show—and book series it is based on—is also extremely reminiscent of the famous book and film, The Witches of Eastwick, which had its own television adaptation, the sadly short-lived Eastwick. Despite my initial reservations about watching Witches of East End for fear of comparing it too much to other shows, I eventually gave in once I saw the first season was on my recently acquired Netflix. At first I was unsure about it, largely due to the heavy soap opera-ness of it all, but then I ended up really getting into it. After I finished, I couldn’t wait for the second season to premiere. However, things quickly went downhill from there, and I found myself so dissatisfied I didn’t even bother to watch the last few episodes of the season.

Witches of East EndMajor spoilers for the first and second season, and trigger warning for rape.

WoEE familyLet’s start at the beginning. Two 20/30-something sisters, Ingrid and Freya Beauchamp, living in their beautiful family home, discover that they are powerful, immortal witches, as is their mother, Joanna. Their mother has hidden all knowledge of their witch heritage, including the existence of their aunt, Wendy. Two local hunky brothers, responsible doctor Dash and charismatic free spirit Killian Gardiner, fill out the cast and heat things up in a love triangle with Freya. Add in a mysterious baddie who is killing folks, and you’ve got for some quality supernatural soap opera material. Is it a little unoriginal? Yes. Is it campy? At times. Is it enjoyable? Most definitely.

While the whole young-women-discovering-they’re-secretly-witches story is decidedly like Charmed, there are several big differences. The Charmed Ones each had their own unique, almost X-Men-like powers, which they used just as much if not more so than generic spell-casting, whereas the witches of East End all have more wide-ranging magical abilities. Also important to note is that while the former Halliwell generations are deceased (though they do make helpful appearances now and again), Witches of East End gets to examine inter-generational dynamics more since Ingrid and Freya’s mother and aunt are active main characters on the show. All in all, the first season is a quirky, fun romp with a good mix of action, adventure, and romance, with a touch of mystery and even some comedy, especially in the performances of Ingrid and Aunt Wendy.

#blacklivesmatter

#blacklivesmatter

My big issue with Season 1 is the treatment of characters of color. East End is a whitebread country club sort of place where mansions have music rooms and the girls eat fresh made fruit salad every morning for breakfast (who has time for that?). But the show does something far worse than create a world that is just a white-washed privileged upper class village. If you are a person of color in East End, you will most likely die. Dash, the brother who is a doctor, has a colleague and friend who is Indian-American, and after she gets too close to uncovering the supernatural goings-on, she is killed by the Big Bad. Even worse is the case of Adam, a Black cop who is Ingrid’s love interest at the beginning of the series. In the premiere, Ingrid casts a resurrection spell on her aunt, not knowing (1) her aunt was going to come back anyway and (2) the cost of this spell was that someone Ingrid loved would have to die. That’s right: Adam was killed off four episodes into the show (and lingered on for one more as a ghost). I’m obviously all for including diversity in casts, but I also believe that this trend of throwaway characters of color is actually very harmful. You clearly don’t intend to create a meaningful, long-term character if you’re going to kill them off after four episodes; it comes across as a shallow attempt to look for bonus points and approval, a way to check off a diversity box but not actually have to fully engage with and develop characters of color. Insidiously, it’s also implicitly implying that non-white lives are more disposable, a disgusting mentality that is proving to be all too prevalent in the real world. It’s my personal opinion that the lesser of two evils is having a monochrome cast rather than briefly including characters of color only to devalue their lives by throwing them away after a few episodes.

I would personally like to see the Gardiners take on the Winchesters.

I would personally like to see the Gardiners take on the Winchesters.

Then Season 2 happened. Season 1 ended with Dash and Killian uncovering powers due to their own unknown witch heritage, and their journey in coping with their powers was a primary plot point of Season 2. This, along with the arrival of Freya and Ingrid’s heretofore unmentioned brother, Frederick, injected a heavy dose of testosterone into the show. As a man, I was certainly curious and interested to see how menfolk would use magic, but the sudden shift, or at least split, of the narrative focus ended up feeling rather like hijacking it from the girls. The women at times seemed to be pushed to the periphery of their own story, and their close relationships with each other were also pushed apart by all the male characters, from Ingrid’s nascent relationship with Dash to Wendy’s new love interest, and even Frederick, being Freya’s twin, unintentionally created a distance between the sisters who had been so close, as Freya spent more time with him than with Ingrid.

There were some great things about Season 2, like the revelation that Joanna had been in a relationship with a Black woman in the past. But mostly it was filled with so many convoluted and problematic storylines, it was hard to keep track of them all. Continuing the show’s excellent track record for racial diversity, Bianca Lawson (of Buffy and Teen Wolf fame) joined the cast as Eva, a love interest for Killian — who ended up being some kind of evil Santería witch intent on getting pregnant with his child. Is it so outrageous to hope to some day see practitioners of Vodou or Santería or any number of related African-diasporic religions be the good guys for once? Sigh.

Why, why, why? Every week I prayed for the storyline to be over.

Why, why, why? Every week I prayed for this storyline to be over.

Equally disturbing, if not more so, the first half of the season was devoted to this magical creature called the Mandragora, who siphoned life energy off Ingrid essentially by raping her. Not only does the beast abuse and assault Ingrid’s agency and autonomy by magically roofie-ing her and having its way with her, the show doesn’t even give her proper time to cope afterwards. She has maybe one scene when she realizes what has happened, crying and lamenting over the violation, but it’s pretty much totally forgotten by the writers after that. A more meaningful instance of character development and female representation would have given her more time on the show to really discuss, get help and come to terms with her assault, and also her feelings towards being sexually intimate with anyone after the rape, considering she ends up having sex with Dash just a few episodes later.

Not even the incredible attractiveness of Frederick Beauchamp could save Season 2.

Not even the incredible attractiveness of Frederick Beauchamp could save Season 2.

I think the biggest testament to how disappointed the second season left me is that I couldn’t even be bothered to watch the last few episodes. There was this whole plot about the girls’ grandfather, some evil king from Asgard, trying to come to our plane of existence, but there were so many other plots going on, it kind of got lost in the mix until near the end of the season, and by then I had also lost any interest I had in the show. Season 1 at least had one unifying, consistent and cohesive plot that was easy to follow. After the tangled mess of dissatisfying storylines that was Season 2, I felt it was beyond salvaging. Witches of East End was recently canceled, and although there is a petition to get it renewed for a third season, I hope it does not return unless it makes some major changes. My advice? By all means, watch Season 1 (with some grains of salt), and then pretend Season 2 never happened.


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5 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of Witches of East End

    • Agreed. Season 1 had a cohesiveness that made it feel almost like a mini-series than a TV show, and then season 2 was just so all over the place! i didn’t know whether to focus on the boys and their new powers, Frederick and the “can we/can’t we trust him” game, the unnecessary love interests, and ughhh the mandragora. i really had high hopes for season 2; i think they should have focused on the boys coming to terms with their powers with the Beauchamps as their guides, maybe introduced Freddie, and then saved all the grandfather stuff for the next season

  1. I think this is one of the problems with having so many writers work on these shows. A lot of the time there’s no plot cohesion. The writers just seem to be throwing plots at a wall and seeing which one of them sticks. There’s no follow ups or follow through on many of the plot points introduced because the writers are in too much of a hurry to introduce new ones.

    The most successful shows seem to be the ones where the shows creator keeps a tight reign on his writers and has a clear vision of what they want to happen and everything that’s written speaks to that vision.

    • I definitely agree; i like your metaphor of throwing plots at a wall and seeing which stick! lol that seriously seems to be what happens. these aren’t even very long seasons; many shows still have 22-24 episode seasons (not too long ago almost ALL shows were like that), and things like WoEE have only about half of that and still can’t manage to keep cohesive. it’s sad, really

      is there no time set aside for writers to all get together to check in with each other?? you’d think they’d want a chance to smooth out continuity and cohesion problems, and my goodness, did a whole group of writers okay that Mandragora storyline and let it go from writers’ room to screen?? yikes!

      there were also just wayyy too many plots for season 2. i think it should have been more a setting-up, character development season — something like focus on the boys coming to terms with their powers with the girls as their guides, introduce Frederick maybe, but have us like him instead of toying around and teasing us with where his loyalty lies so much (that was just getting exhausting), then save the grandfather storyline for the next season

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