Around the Water Cooler: “Witches of East End,” the Season 2 Mini-Recap and Cancellation (MAJOR SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who:  “Witches of East End,” aired on cable TV, specifically on Lifetime, from 2013-2014.

What: “Witches of East End,” a supernatural drama about a family of immortal witches. Julia Ormond (Legends of the Fall; Sabrina) plays the matriarch, who is cursed to bear two daughters and watch them die over several lifetimes while her younger sister is cursed to die and be reborn as a cat with nine lives to live. In this current life cycle, the two daughters, Ingrid and Freya, are not aware (as of yet) that they are witches.

SYNOPSIS

Ingrid (Rachel Boston) is a feminist, a librarian, and characterizes herself as a rationalist.  Freya (Jenna Dewan Tatum) is a romantic and is engaged to the wealthy son of a local family after a whirlwind romance.  Both girls are oblivious to the fact that they are immortal witches, daughters of mother Joanna (Ormond), who was cursed at the Salem Witch Trials to watch them die and to give birth to them all over again over countless centuries. Their mother decided to offer them a chance at normal lives, unaware of magic; however, past lives and odd occurrences are catching up with them, and now Ingrid and Freya are in danger – both of being exposed for who they are and for their lives in this current cycle.

When: The series finale aired on Lifetime, Sunday, October 5, 2014, at 9:00 PM.

Where: The show is set on Long Island, New York.

Why: My love of supernatural and fantasy stories made me curious, and I did like Charmed.  Normally, the fact that the show airs on Lifetime would be a deterrent, but my curiosity got the better of me.

How – as in How Was It? – THOUGHTS

I reviewed the premiere of the second season.  If you need a refresher, read here.

As noted in that review, this viewer’s initial impression is that there was a disjointedness to the start of the second season. While the first season was fast-paced and twisty in that guilty pleasure, addictive sort of way, the second season faltered in focus, scattering the story line in various directions that seemed to dovetail at the end but took some unexpected and less compelling by-ways. In fact, this program, which was already on unstable legs with some less than stellar performances and whimsical but scattered supernatural focus, lost its way early through midway into the second season, and the network’s early support of the show culminated in its cancellation, apparently due to ratings decline.

Part of the problem, in this viewer’s opinion, is that the second season attempted to start where the first season left off, but there was little to no explanation of how certain characters ended up the way they were – as if time was missing after all. Subsequently, throughout much of season two, there was a marked lurch when the story was changing gears, and new developments seemed to come from nowhere from even more implausible corners, which is saying something, considering that Witches of East End and its concept demand a certain amount of suspension of disbelief.

The tone of the first half of the season was also a bit different than the tone of the entire season preceding it.  The advertising for the show’s new season repeatedly suggested that “darkness is coming,” but early episodes were a bit clunky in attempting to establish the new antagonists.  As this viewer predicted, the “darkness” in question was Joanna and Wendy’s father, the King of their home land, Asgard; he was the primary villain, but he had the help of Joanna’s lost son Frederick (Christian Cooke) for a time as well as of a loyal soldier named Tarkoff (James Marsters, Buffy the Vampire Slayer); both characters straddled the morally ambiguous fence at different points throughout the season.   There was also a “Beast” or Mandragora, who seemed to be in the King’s service as well.  Many questions were answered in what would be the program’s final season, fortunately; yet, this show still suffered from a sophomore season slump while already buried on a cable network known more for its movies of the week and questionable reality television than for its original scripted programming.  Cancellation, therefore, however unfortunate, even as this viewer was still devoted to the show and the story until the end, was not a surprising twist of fate, in this viewer’s opinion.

Let’s examine each character’s journey this season to recap, though the recap is less recap and more detailed summary of the thirteen episodes.  Viewers wanting more detail should watch the show!

Joanna Beauchamp (Julia Ormond)

Joanna started the season poisoned while dealing with the aftermath of the open portal into Asgard at the end of season one. The aftermath also included the appearance of Joanna’s long lost son Frederick, Freya’s twin, who initially chose to remain in Asgard in service to his grandfather, the king Nickolaus.  All throughout the season, the Beauchamps, particularly Wendy, struggled to trust Frederick; though Frederick had a mission to lure his mother and aunt back into his grandfather’s fold, he found his loyalties shifting.

One of the casualties of the season is Victor, Joanna’s former husband and Ingrid, Freya, and Frederick’s father.  He meets a grisly end at the hand of Frederick’s friends, more Asgardian devotees, who also kidnap Freya and configure it in such a way that Victor must sacrifice his life to save his daughter, which leads Joanna to blame Frederick for his death for the rest of the season.

We also find out that Joanna had a relationship with a woman named Alex, who helps save Ingrid from the “Beast” that came through the Asgard portal.  Joanna is further wooed by Tarkoff, a friend of the family’s, who, as it turns out, also pursues her at the behest of her father, though his aims are more selfish.  Tarkoff always loved Joanna and schemes to finally “have” her through domination and submission; however, his aims become nefarious and desperate.  Frustrated by Frederick’s lack of movement toward the King’s secret goals, as Frederick finds himself pining for his mother’s and sisters’ love, Tarkoff takes drastic action by lynching Ingrid and Freya in the garden, with Joanna discovering her daughters in this state and realizing her worst nightmare of witnessing their deaths once again.  Joanna, as a result, attempts to commit suicide by slitting her wrists, but Wendy heals Joanna with magic.

King Nickolaus himself appears through the portal, the darkness referred to in the season’s tag line; in fact, it is his spirit that possessed Frederick initially.  We eventually find out that he is here to steal powers from Joanna, Wendy, Ingrid, and Freya (he repeatedly says that he gave these powers to them, but it’s unclear which is the chicken and which is the egg).  Wendy, however, summons the King, as he is the only being powerful enough to resurrect Ingrid and Freya.  He agrees to do so under the guise of reuniting his family, and this apparent change in attitude draws Frederick to him once more.  Joanna, however, is not convinced and spurs her sister and Freya to accompany her to a previous life to retrieve a magical item from her past self capable of defeating her father, though Ingrid stays behind, seemingly for the purpose of aligning herself with her grandfather.

Though the girls almost get stuck in the past, particularly as Tarkoff, not dead after all at Frederick’s vengeful hand, catches up with Joanna; drugs her with opium; and stays her magic with a talisman in an effort to have her submit to his will, the girls are able to jump back to the future just in time, leaving Tarkoff in the past, though alive.  Upon their return to the future, following the King’s successful theft of Ingrid’s powers, Joanna and the girls ultimately cast a spell from the Gardiners’ grimoire that causes the King to die; however, this also leaves Tommy the paramedic, his final host body, dead.

Joanna forgives Frederick, but their good feelings are short lived, as the season ends with someone having mysteriously taken Frederick’s life and written “Death to Witches” with his blood near his body.  In addition, Wendy sacrifices her last life to save Tommy. We’ll never know how Joanna accepts these losses, though.

Wendy Beauchamp (Madchen Amick)

Wendy is pursued by a suitor, a paramedic who works at the hospital and who has a daughter; his name is Tommy.  He learns of her magical double life reasonably quickly and is comfortable with the truth about her witchy ways but then becomes a host body for her father as he enters this earthly plain, because his strength and easy acceptance of the truth about magic and witches apparently render him the ideal host for the powerful king.  Wendy also spends much of the season mistrusting Frederick, with good reason, as he secretly hosts the King of Asgard in his own body to start and causes death to several East End citizens, as the King seeks a new vessel.  Wendy, despite being the supportive aunt and sister who also falls in love with Tommy, saves Joanna from the brink of self-administered death and summons her father’s spirit forth to save Ingrid and Freya from death by hanging in this life cycle.  She also, while in the past, helps Freya to realize that one of her gifts is to recognize Killian’s soul, in whatever form it is in and in whatever lifetime, as the two are soulmates. Wendy, never her father’s favorite according to his words, willingly if not eagerly helps to facilitate his death and willingly sacrifices her last life to save Tommy, the unwitting and initially expired host for her father’s soul, ending her season in death.

Ingrid Beauchamp (Rachel Boston)

Ingrid continued to flirt with the dark side this season.  First, she is pursued by the Beast, known as a Mandragora, which is draining the life from her via nighttime sex (ew), apparently on orders from her grandfather.  She also attempts to assert her independence by moving out of her mother’s house and gets a new job, but this is a forgotten and mostly snooze-worthy story line.

Ingrid discovers that Dash (and, therefore, Killian) are also witches. She tries to help Dash when she finds out that he killed someone by covering up the trail of his crime through magic, though Dash starts falling for Ingrid, to the point of obsession, which causes discomfort for Ingrid, given that he was formerly engaged to Freya and given that Ingrid was romantically linked with Dash’s relative Archibald in a past life.  This discomfort is short lived, however, as Ingrid and Dash, seemingly connected souls, share a night of passion; Ingrid also tries to help Dash to not succumb to the dark temptations of his family’s grimoire and magic.  Through machinations by Tarkoff, Ingrid, along with her sister, meet what appears to be their death in this life cycle, until her grandfather is summoned forth to save her.

When she and her sister are alive again, Joanna is determined to end her father’s life via a device held in the past; however, Ingrid chooses to stay behind under the guise of becoming closer to her grandfather.  It seems, however, that her true purpose is twofold: to learn what, if anything, her grandfather is planning and to stay close to the Gardiners, particularly Dash.

Though Nickolaus forbids Ingrid from seeing Dash, as he and Killian are also, apparently, immortal witches or reincarnated souls from Asgard with dark and traitorous histories, Ingrid first finds Killian, who poisoned himself upon learning of Freya’s death, and attempts to help save him. She also learns from Dash that the body of his victim has surfaced. Though Dash previously attempted to burn his family’s grimoire in order to avoid its temptation, she helps magically reconstitute it with the aim of finding a spell to defeat her grandfather; however, when Nickolaus learns that Ingrid is seeing Dash, a dark soul he once knew in Asgard, Nickolaus tortures her and takes her power as well as reveals his plan to take the powers of everyone in her family.  He also informs Ingrid that she is pregnant, which she later confirms, worried that either Dash or the Mandragora could be the child’s other progenitor.

Ingrid finds the spell to help defeat her grandfather and is able to do so along with her sister, mother, and aunt, despite the initial loss of her power.  Lasting damage is done, however, and Ingrid ends the season not knowing what to do about the new life inside of her.

Freya Beauchamp (Jenna Dewan-Tatum)

Freya spends the first couple of episodes of season two seeking Killian, only to discover him in a remote location via astral projection with a powerful twin spell she is able to cast with Frederick.  She also learns that Killian is now married to a mysterious woman named Eva.  When she goes to find him in Santo Domingo, she is confronted by Eva only to admit that nothing happened between her and Killian (other than longing glances and a few passionate kisses).  Freya informs Killian of his mother’s death, which spurs him to return to East End.  Their tenuous soul relationship is fueled by Freya’s grief over her father’s death and by a spell that allows Freya to relive one of her past lives, in which Killian is Edgar Allen Poe and Freya discovers that she loves Killian’s soul repeatedly, only to watch their love fall victim to tragedy in every lifetime.  Upon this discovery, she blesses Killian’s new marriage.  She also entreats her former fiance Dash to help Ingrid when her life is threatened by the Mandragora.

Freya, like her sister, falls victim to Tarkoff’s off the grid antics and the resurrection by her grandfather; however, she follows her mother and aunt into the past.  There, she learns that she and Killian are meant to be together, as she is able to recognize his soul in any lifetime.

Freya returns to the future in the nick of time and helps to defeat her grandfather.  With Ingrid’s help, she finds Killian, wasted away by poison; however, her magic heals him, and they are briefly and momentarily together until Killian goes to see Dash in jail, and the latter casts a spell to switch their bodies.  As the season ends, Freya is happy to be with Killian at last, except that Killian’s body is inhabited by her former fiance, Dash.

Killian Gardiner (Daniel DiTomasso)

After his brother left him for dead following his non-marriage to Freya, we next discover Killian married to Eva.  He’s also living in Santo Domingo, unaware that he is a male witch, until a gambling incident forces him to accidentally discover his powers, which is confirmed by Eva through her own secret spell casting.  When Killian is inspired to return to East End after learning from Freya of his mother’s death, he reunites with his brother Dash, who had been racked with guilt over the possibility of murdering his brother.  Their reunion leads to their discovery of their family grimoire, which is full of dark magic; in fact, Dash accidentally casts a spell that drains Killian of his life force until Ingrid arrives to help reverse the spell.  Killian also is able to fight through the spell that Eva has cast on him, via slipping something into his drinks, which apparently helps her to retain youth (if I remember correctly, she also tries to get pregnant by him to help allay her own curse).  His own magic allows him to see her as the old woman she is, and find his love for Freya, even though both seem to realize that they are star crossed; Eva dies as a result. Killian and Dash clash heavily when Killian learns that Dash intended to murder him on his wedding night.  Killian further learns from Frederick that he has also lived several lifetimes and may be descended from Asgard.

When Ingrid and Freya meet apparent death at the hands of their grandfather and Tarkoff, Dash and Killian subsequently discover their dead bodies. Killian is consumed by grief and decides to poison himself, to be with Freya in the afterlife.  He sees her in dreams, however, in which her soul spirit informs him that she is alive (as she was saved by her grandfather).  He calls Ingrid, who attempts to stay the poison with a potion based on dream clues, though she admits that Freya’s the more talented with potions.  Killian eventually dies, though Freya’s love, grief, and magic subsequently revive him. Their reunion is short lived, however, as Dash, now in jail, engineers escape by casting a spell to switch their bodies, leaving the Killian-wearing Dash in Freya’s arms and the Dash-wearing Killian stuck in jail at season’s end.

Dash Gardiner (Eric Winter)

Dash succumbs to the dark side faster than any of the other witches in the series.  After being consumed by guilt at the thought that he might have murdered his brother Killian, he also causes the death of another man as part of a spell to help save one of his patients, who happens to be blackmailing wealthy Dash regarding the attempted murder of his brother.  He grows closer to Ingrid in a weird parallel to his grandfather Archibald, who Ingrid loved in a previous life, as she is quite susceptible to dark temptation, based on the events of the first season; he tells Ingrid of his newly discovered powers and legacy, and she helps him to cover his crimes through magic.  He falls into obsessive love with her, particularly after she helps him to save Killian when he casts the life force draining spell in the family grimoire, a hand-me-down from the erstwhile Archibald and Penelope. Dash also helps Ingrid discover that she is sleep walking to the Beast; Ingrid attacks Dash, and the Mandragora begins feeding on him until it is defeated by Joanna and Alex.

Dash and Ingrid share a night of passion.  When Dash and Killian discover the girls’ temporary death, they fight, as Dash descends into darkness without Ingrid to anchor him. Dash reveals his former intent to kill his brother, which causes them to beat each other bloody.  He also learns from Nickolaus in Tommy’s body that he was someone called “Bastian” in another life, and that he may be descended from Asgard.

In his grief, he ends up sleeping with a detective investigating murders in East End in which bodies turn up with symbols carved into them: these were caused by Frederick and others while possessed by King Nickolaus, as the King looked for a new host body. Her name is Raven, but in her investigation, she pieces together that Dash is responsible for at least one murder, the one formerly magically covered up by Ingrid and Dash, and arrests him.  When Killian comes to see him in jail, prepared to forgive and stop hating his brother, Dash casts a spell, learned from his family’s grimoire that he promised Ingrid not to touch, which causes he and his brother to switch bodies.  He ends the season wearing Killian’s body and smiling evilly at his incarcerated brother as he hugs his former fiance Freya with his brother’s arms.

In the end…

Despite the unevenness of season two, the plot did pick up by the end of the season, and the performances improved, though, unfortunately, Mrs. Tatum continued to struggle in that respect.  Unfortunately, the show also ended on some meaty, never to be resolved cliffhangers, with Frederick’s killer unidentified (I would guess Tarkoff, though); Wendy having met her apparent death; Ingrid’s pregnancy; and the body switch of Dash and Killian.  The show was also shot well, with some fun visual effects and consistently dark-washed cinematography that lent to the creepy nature of the stories being told.  It’s also a shame that viewers will never be able to delve into the history of Asgard, which seemed like a logical and tantalizing next direction for the story. Though the program boasts a small but robustly passionate fan base that has been attempting to save it, it’s been nearly a year since the Witches of East End bowed. Personally, in this viewer/reviewer’s opinion, though the program offered some decently compelling moments, the writing and performances were so inconsistent, this viewer was neither surprised nor disappointed by the cancellation, despite the fact that the show provided some decent summer viewing.

Lingering Questions

1) What is Asgard, really?  Why did it burn Mike up when the portal opened upon Ingrid’s touch?  Why did the Beauchamps leave to begin with?  What will happen now that the portal is open?

Answer: Asgard is the home world for all of our witches, in all lifetimes.  The Beauchamps left to escape Joanna and Wendy’s father, a culpable tyrant who controlled and manipulated his children and, subsequently, his grandchildren. With the portal open, he was able to hitch a ride in Frederick, Joanna’s son and Freya’s twin, who aligned himself and his loyalty with his grandfather.  Nefarious schemes and hi-jinks ensued.

2) Why is Ingrid the key to the portal?  Why does she seem to be the most magically powerful after her mother?

Answer: Still questions without answers.

3) Why did Joanna and Victor ultimately split up?

Answer: Joanna and Victor had a complicated romance, sullied by Joanna’s repeated grief at watching their daughters die and her powerful magical ability, which she used to various ends.  Plus, they both have lived a really long time.

4) What’s going to happen as Dash (and possibly Killian) discover their magical abilities?  Is it significant that these two men, so connected to Freya, also have these abilities?

Answer: It was significant in that Dash and Killian both appear to be reincarnations of other lives descended from Asgard, same as Ingrid and Freya. Killian was hesitant about his magic and was not tempted by it, while Dash grasped control of his magic quickly and was lured toward dark aims, afflicted as he is by a dark nature seemingly embedded in his soul for lifetimes, and owing to the discovery of his family’s grimoire.  See above for further details.

5) Was Archibald from Asgard?  How did the Gardiners come by these abilities?

Answer: Seemingly, yes, Archibald was from Asgard or descended from Asgardians, though nothing is as yet confirmed, including how the Gardiners obtained their magic through anything other than heredity.

6) Wendy’s on her last life: how much time does she have?

Answer: Apparently one season.

7) Why is Frederick here?  Is he after his mother and aunt for whatever deeds offended their father?  Or, is he really trying to get away from his grandfather, as he repeatedly suggested (I’m with Wendy, though…I don’t believe it).

Answer: Frederick was used as a vessel by his grandfather, King Nickolaus, as a means of traveling to this world, though Frederick also yearned to reconnect with his mother.  I think Frederick, ultimately, was driven and torn by two impulses of loyalty: one for his grandfather and one for his mother.  Was he really trying to escape his grandfather’s clutches?  In his mind, perhaps, at one point, though he was very easily swayed by the idea that Nickolaus could have been reformed when he was summoned to help save the girls.  I think Frederick’s hallmark trait is that he loves his family, all of his family, regardless of their faults and misdeeds, despite the fact that different factions warred with each other; I think he saw himself caught in the middle, in some respects, though youth and arrogance may have initially caused him to side with his grandpa.

8) What is the symbolic tattoo/scar indicative of?  Why did the random patient and Frederick both have it? Does Wendy’s mysterious paramedic have it too?

Answer: The tattoo/scar is a magical sigil of King Nickolaus, allowing his soul/essence to occupy another body as a vessel.  Frederick was the first to have it, being the vessel that brought the King from Asgard to this world.  The King, via Frederick, sought another host, though, and so other symbols were tattooed on various people, who could not handle the magical hosting and died.  That is, until Nickolaus discovered paramedic Tommy, who ultimately become the ideal host body.

9) How are Killian and Freya going to be reunited – are they going to be reunited at all?  Who is the girl with the owl tattoo, and is she there by chance or with a purpose?

Answer: They were reunited after Freya dying and Killian dying and Eva dying. There was death and magical healing, as Killian and Freya’s souls are intertwined.  Eva, the girl with the owl tattoo, was using Killian’s magic to stave off her own death, but she was unable to compete with his soul-enforced love for Freya.  I think she was trying to have a baby with him too; honestly, Eva’s story line is hazy to me, as I finished this show quite some time ago, and she was my least favorite addition to the cast roles.

10) Why was Dash learning about Ingrid’s blood results significant?  Will he make the connection that the Beauchamps are witches also?  If he does: what then?

Answer: Dash realized that the Beauchamps are witches, which was also confirmed by Ingrid.  This led to much magical intermingling, in every way possible.

11) Wendy’s new stranger – unless he is Asgardian.  I feel as if he was introduced just to give Wendy more to do other than be the free spirit that is endlessly protective, though sometimes flippant, about the safety of her sister and nieces.

Answer: As it turns out, Tommy became King Nickolaus’ vessel.  He was still mostly uninteresting, but Wendy’s sacrifice to him in the end was moving.

12) Ingrid’s new job, though I enjoy the presence of Tom Lenk, otherwise known as Andrew from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Does this mean she is leaving the library? Either way, unless it ties into the larger story: yawn.

Answer: Still yawning.  At some point, Ingrid going to work was an afterthought and forgotten.  Though, it should be noted, that two Buffy alumni appeared, i.e. Tom Lenk (Andrew) and the former Spike, i.e. James Marsters.  Also, Freddie Prinze Jr., otherwise known as Mr. Sarah Michelle Gellar in real life, had a guest spot on the show. Theoretically, Buffy fans should have flocked to this one, especially if they dug Willow’s character.  SMG did, but others did not.

PARTING SHOTS:

The second season of the Witches of East End was far more inconsistent and scattered and lacked the magical twists and turns of the season preceding it, particularly as it struggled to offer one galvanizing villain early on when season one presented the interesting and brilliantly portrayed Penelope so quickly.  The writers, instead, chose to employ one overarching villain and several red herring possibilities loyal to this villain, which rendered both character and viewer unaware of the true source of the looming threat, but for the eminent and omnipresent “darkness,” for more than half of the season.  The first season was far more addicting, most likely due to the love triangle between Freya, Dash, and Killian; the novelty of the Beauchamps’ magic; and the exploration of past lives, particularly Ingrid’s.  On the other hand, the second season was, at times, compelling and interesting but lacked the same addictive qualities, since Freya ultimately (and always) chose Killian and since the rest of the story was less new. Thus, this program definitely succumbed to the second season slump after such a riveting and well written (if not necessarily well performed) first season; in fact, this viewer continues to believe that the writers and producers were less comfortable with the show’s new direction after likely expecting only one season.  Sadly, the lack of confidence and possibly of story planning, particularly during the early episodes of the second season, caused the show to lose viewers and the network to lose faith in the show, which is unfortunate, because this viewer wanted to visit Asgard and the connections between the characters, especially between the Beauchamps and the Gardiners, more deeply. Perhaps, it would be worth reading Melissa de la Cruz’s original novel(s) now that the show has been given early walking papers, if they retained any similarity.

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

Canceled!  Witches of East End was canceled after only two seasons, with what was ultimately the finale airing on October 5, 2014.  Fan campaigns to save the show have been unsuccessful to date.  The show is available to stream currently on Netflix.

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