AMC’s expansion of the “Immortal Universe” offers just barely enough pagan intrigue to keep your attention.
AMC’s newest installment in Anne Rice’s ‘Immortal Universe’ may not blow you away, but it’s intriguing enough to warrant a longer look. With the Disneyfication of mainstream television, it’s a relief to know that some networks are still willing to take a risk on a less well-known franchise. While not as much as a household name as its predecessor Interview With the Vampire, Mayfair Witches presents a slowly unraveling southern gothic, whose promise far outshines its performance.
Alexandra Daddario, better known for smaller roles in American Horror Story and The White Lotus, steps uncertainly into the spotlight as Rowan Fielding, a Bay Area surgeon with a terrible, secret power. Rowan is set apart from everything, be it her career, her relationships, and even choosing to live on a houseboat rather than live near anyone. The only thing that seems to ground her is the presence of her adoptive mother, Ellie (Erica Gimpel). After Ellie’s death from terminal cancer, an encounter with Ciprian Grieves (Tongayi Chirisa) lays just enough breadcrumbs to lead Rowan to her birth city of New Orleans, and to the mysterious family legacy waiting to be claimed.
While playing more fast and loose with the source material than Interview, the show suffers somewhat from an identity crisis. Between the humid claustrophobia of New Orleans and the misty gray of the Pacific Northwest, it’s difficult to find footing in the first episode or latch on to Rowan with any kind of sympathy or interest. Daddario is capable enough but lends a brittle edge to Rowan’s isolation and self-destructive tendencies that don’t exactly endear her to the audience. The more fascinating elements of the pilot (and the series at large) are the sprawling Mayfair family, and the flashbacks into the life of Rowan’s birth mother, Deidre (Annabeth Gish).
Kept a prisoner via Thorazine by the beady-eyed matriarch Carlotta Mayfair (Beth Grant) and manipulated by her flamboyant Uncle Cortland (Harry Hamlin), Deidre is the tragic heroine of The Mayfair Witches far more than Rowan. Carlotta brandishes her cruelty with a vicious hand, while Cortland is the more subtle poison. Deidre may be the center of the Mayfairs’ legacy, but that only serves to show just how little control she has over her own life when put in between these two opposing forces.
And, what, exactly does it mean to be the Legacy Mayfair? Those directly descended from Scottish healer Suzanne inherit not just the crumbling Mayfair mansion or the extravagant emerald necklace that is passed down from mother to daughter, they also inherit an unruly sex ghost named Lasher (Jack Huston) who gets passed down through the family like Aunt Hilda’s tea service. Huston throws all of his considerable Byronic fuckboy energy into the role, but the possibilities of Lasher feel too ephemeral, more tied to the inherent magic of the city itself than the Mayfairs.
One true saving grace of Mayfair Witches is Chirisa’s Ciprian, an “agent” attached to a centuries-old order that monitors and records everything paranormal. Ciprian has some unusual abilities of his own, which allows a spark of genuine connection with Rowan. While Rowan seems helplessly fascinated with the elusive Lasher, there is a wide-eyed innocence and curiosity in her interactions with Ciprian. Chirisa’s innate charisma coaxes out the more nuanced aspects of Rowan’s character, her uncertainty and vulnerability, and the two have a few exchanges laden with toe-curling chemistry.
While it may not live up to the dazzling heights of Interview with the Vampire, The Mayfair Witches shows enough potential to be a tentative recommendation. The complicated family history and the open secrets of the powers the Mayfairs wield (both worldly and otherworldly) serve as a tantalizing promise of what this show could be if given a chance to stretch its legs.
Anne Rice’s The Mayfair Witches premieres Sunday, January 8th on AMC and AMC+.