by Kristin Battestella
Netflix just kept insisting I continue watching the 2014 second year of Lifetime's Witches of East End. Against my better judgment, I tuned in for the thirteen episode season – which unfortunately doesn't rectify the errors of the series' tepid debut.
Witches of East End opens with a memory loss reset from the end of the first season in “A Moveable Beast” and a jarring trying to be sexy whilst also trying to be dark and dangerous tone. Good or bad histories are dropped to introduce a long lost Beauchamp family member in “The Son Also Rises,” making it tough to take the Asgard war yada yada yada seriously in “The Old Man and the Key.” There are already too many plots at once with fast editing and faster, talking on top of each other conversations, and Witches of East End throws everything at the screen – including twincest – while poor torture scenes and sociopath Asgard enemies in “The Brothers Grimoire” waste time. Pieces of plots can be good, but the quality is mixed with so many hate worthy, hammy teen moments ruining potential developments. While the women look the same in “Boogie Knights,” the men look ridiculous, and this disco flashback is an obvious excuse for Jenna Dewan Tatum to dance. The intercut weekly plots and interwoven season arcs are poorly combined, disregarding what is happening in another time or in someone's head as if all the action were linear acts. Neat magic that would be fun to see is talked about rather than shown in favor of would be scandalous or juicy attempts, but it's tough to care about romance when everyone's allegiances seem to change from week to week just because soap opera styled plots say they should. Repetitive dialogue is often found in the same scene, where more time is spent arguing than doing something, and flak continues to divert the increasingly high stakes or imminent death crises in “When a Mandragora Loves a Woman.” I'm not against romance, but forced steamy retcons from episode to episode as needed illume the hollow threats and empty fodder. Uneven A, B, C structured storylines on Witches of East End counteract each other's trying to be heavy impact. Significant or not, characters disappear in “Art of Darkness” while others said to have been around suddenly appear, and the saucy language and partial nudity of “Sex, Lies, and Birthday Cake” is yawn worthy when once again, more interesting character developments take a backseat to round and round romance.
Kills, family history, and magic discovery are set aside in increasingly poorly shot and directed plots – Witches of East End moves fast to cover the weak acting of the younger cast when even three intercut sex scenes don't help. More absurd sex rituals and unsexy bondage compromise the escalating spells and counter magic in “Smells Like King Spirit.” Action and rivalry fall prey to convenient deaths and a love spell that results in absent anger, grief, and compassion. One or two overall story arcs would have sufficed yet there is little emotion in the thin cliffhangers of “The Fall of the House of Beauchamp.” We know resets and easy fixes are coming thanks to past life excuses and little consequences with music montages undermining what should be heavy moments and voodoo sidetracking unrelated to the Asgard plots. Witches of East End is very poorly paced and tosses an ambiguous FBI agent into this late mix because each episode must outdo itself every week. Fortunately, the 1840 brothel snooping flashback in “Poe Way Out” is good fun. There's still too much exposition and instant happenings amid not just A, B, and C but even D plots – far too much for a forty minute runtime – and another flashback is told within the past time rather than shown on its own. Witches of East End could have had Asgardians hiding in period with agents chasing them through the timelines all season long! I'm glad almost all of the subsequent “Box to the Future” continues the past Poe possibilities, against the clock races, possessions, and lets the spooky séance mood run with the period melodrama. One overall story should have been done all along, and while I admit much of the try hard paranormal romance light isn't my cup of tea, the rampant structural flaws on Witches of East End can't be ignored. Quality elements are squeezed in too late, and obnoxious people, plans, or objects change for good or ill from scene to scene – interrupting any compelling tricks and forward momentum in “For Whom the Spell Tolls.” Off-camera torture, pregnancy bombs, and convenient magic resolve nothing in this Witches of East End finale where there was apparently no consideration of cancellation. Easy resolution, Romeo and Juliet cheats, body swaps, and underworld surprises prove nothing was learned from the first season's ups and downs. Witches of East End backpedaled when its time was running out only to peak with an unresolved ending. Shit.
In this era where there aren't many roles for strong, older women, Witches of East End could have been a great, empowering series for its stars. Unfortunately, the flip flopping script is quite unfair to Julia Ormond as family matriarch Joanna Beauchamp. I totally forgot she was an art teacher, and we don't get to see Joanna do any real magic until near the end of the season – because she must now do the very thing she has been trying to prevent all season and we're supposed to just go with it. Apparently, Joanna was also a wild seventies witch who dabbled in interracial lady love, but rather than being treated as something mature, the lesbian leanings come off as trying to shock alongside character growths that reset each episode. Joanna was an opium hooker and had a femme romance yet all we ever see her do is spout some Latin? Pity. In and of herself, Mädchen Amick as feline sister Wendy is really the only character on Witches of East End about whom I have no complaints. However, Wendy is continually screwed in the romance department, as if her only role in the series is to have one fatal affair after another to prove how much a good woman can withstand man crap. Likewise, Rachel Boston as good librarian turned bad girl daughter Ingrid is continually defined by her male relationships – be it flirting with some otherworldly bestiality, warlocks, or an unplanned pregnancy. She keeps telling everyone she is an expert on witchcraft but is perhaps the most messy of all the ladies with the most magic misuses. Adding to this back and forth wishy washy is the newly through the Asgardian portal brother Christian Cooke (Where the Heart Is) as Frederick Beauchamp. Whether it is a miscasting or bad writing or both I don't care, but Witches of East End never should have added another family member to its already crowded storytelling.
Jenna Dewan Tatum's moon eyed Freya and Daniel Di Tomasso as fighting women off left and right Killian also go one round too many at the romance circus. Grief sex in the back of the bar when the bodies of so-called loved ones aren't even cold? Had they both disappeared in the pointless Santo Domingo storyline, Witches of East End might have been better for it. I never though I would be against so many shirtless guys, but the lack of substance hiding behind the man candy is insulting. There is some potential to Eric Winter's Dash being caught between the euphoria of doing bad magic and its healing power, but the magic versus his doctoring and science falls prey to dumb blackmail schemes and sibling rivalry. Fortunately, James Marsters (Buffy) adds much needed suave as the seemingly nonchalant businessman and evil Asgardian henchman Tarkoff. He's been in pursuit through history and is down with some torture love! Instead of pining for Joanna, Witches of East End could have paired down its characters and plots by having Tarkoff be Wendy's ex, saving time and money while strengthening what is available in house. Rather than ruining another interracial romance and derailing with voodoo stereotypes, fellow Buffy alum Bianca Lawson could have been Tarkoff's fellow antagonist instead of the Fredrick and company drivel. But alas, Marsters is stuck doing same thing every episode with no resolution, and the cliché, sacrificial gay best friend exit given to Tom Lenk is inexcusable. Witches of East End is downright embarrassing when all the gay or ethnic characters are simply there to die! Fine guests such as Ignacio Serricchio (Bones) and Steven Berkoff (Octopussy) go underutilized while a serious love triangle between Joel Gretsch as Joanna's husband Victor and Michelle Hurd (Law and Order: Special Victims Unit) as her past witch love Alex is a story that somehow was deemed unworthy compared to the other derivative, forced, ad nauseam steamy.
In addition to the rushed storytelling, Witches of East End sacrifices any bewitching mood with very poor scene setting CGI, CGI cats, CGI smoke, kinky tentacles, and one forest set for everything. Brief flashbacks to mystical portals and unseen Asgard wars dress our players in hokey Roman goddess Halloween costumes with toy centurion armor for the boys, shining the spotlight on obvious budget cuts. Witches of East End should not have been expanded to thirteen episodes, and padded action scenes try too hard amid dated fashions consisting of nothing but hoochie looks and slutty bra tops assuring the huge boobs show. Although for some that's not the worst of the show's problems, granted, and the magic effects and witchy whooshes do get better by the series' end. Perhaps viewers angry at what could have been will have a tough time appreciating the camp value here, for Lifetime feels just a little too late on the horror light bandwagon. Rather than being a show by and for women, Witches of East End plays into too many chick needing a man same old with standard weekly television flaws and phoned in copycat paranormal. There are other more fun, less marred spooky shows available, and while completists or fans of the cast can marathon Witches of East End, it's lacking in fillin the so-called hot, supposedly next big thing witch niche.