Episode 18 – The Ancient Magus’ Bride Season 2
After weeks of build-up, it’s finally time for the 10,000-pound elephant in the room to come crashing through the walls. We, the audience, knew something was up the moment Morrigan and her terrifying steed showed up at Elias’ cottage to inquire about Chise. There’s never a great time to have some old Celtic gods searching you out in particular, but to have Cernunnos breathing down your neck at Yule is especially ominous. The winter solstice is traditionally a time for death and rebirth, when the dark of night looms largest over the hemisphere before slowly receding until the height of summer, so it’s only fitting that our slow-broiled conflict finally hits its tipping point.
The wild part is that we still don’t know exactly what’s happening or why. The implication is that Philomela’s been battling a curse this whole time, one that’s been trying for months to push her into absorbing the magic of every student and teacher in the College, an impulse she’s been actively trying to resist. Yet even that isn’t entirely clear, and it’s hard to say what the end goal is for whoever placed that curse. The obvious suspect is Lizbeth, yet the Principal’s nonchalant attitude at the end of this episode, combined with how deliberately lax her defensive measures were, suggests that she’s been winding up her schemes in the background. Lord knows Philomela’s not a coherent source for answers, as the closest hint she gives is that she wants to leave the school and “greet [her] mother and father, who are waiting in hell.” Knowing this show, it’s impossible to say if that’s a metaphor or purely literal.
Yet all those questions merely enhance the horror of Philomela’s transformation. After countless episodes of pressure gnawing at her, inside and out, something finally snaps, and it is both fascinating and terrifying to behold. It’s telling that the final straw is just Veronica’s knocking at the door – a cold, monotonous, almost robotic reminder of the forces in her life that have kept her caged and anxious for so long. In a sense, her transfiguration is almost cathartic, finally allowing her to express the seething anger she’s kept holed up for so long. The way she excoriates Rian before draining his magic is scary. Still, it’s also our first glimpse of Philomela’s rage, of the resentment that her kind nature and abusive upbringing have tried to tamp down for different reasons. With or without the apparent curse, this was a break that would always happen – but now Philomela has the power to take others down alongside her, and she’s run out of energy to prevent that. Given the much more prevalent visual allusion to vines, it’s perhaps a coincidence that the mass of tendrils sprouting from her resemble exposed nerve endings, yet it’s fitting nonetheless. Philomela’s pain is out in the open now for all to see.
There are, of course, mysteries left to be resolved and conflicts left to play out. We’re still waiting for the werewolf’s return, not to mention everything with Lucy’s family and the full aims of all involved parties that need to be answered in the remaining episodes. Yet this still feels like the climax of this season, as all the bubbling tension rises to the surface and explodes in all its unsettling glory. It’s tense, engrossing television, and I can’t wait to see it all pay off in the coming weeks.