December 15, 2013

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Witches of East End”


In this new era of serialized television drama, plot–and the skill with which it’s doled out–is more important than ever.  An overall clumsiness with the handling of its storylines is what’s held back Lifetime’s WITCHES OF EAST END from being more than a pleasant diversion, and tonight’s season finale was sadly no exception.  The episode, written by series creator Maggie Friedman and directed by John Scott, brought the season’s trio of central storylines to their climaxes, with cliffhanger conclusions for two of them, but there was little satisfaction or, more important, surprise to found in any of them.

East End‘s storytelling shortcomings were best illustrated by its major plotline, about the “shifter” who had bedeviled our heroine witches Joanna Beauchamp (Julia Ormand), her sister Wendy (Madchen Amick), and Joanna’s daughters Freya (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) and Ingrid (Rachel Boston) all season.  The show took weeks to “reveal” what any viewer who was even slightly paying attention had figured out almost instantly:  the shifter was Penelope Gardner (guest star Virginia Madsen), bitchy rich lady and soon to be Freya’s mother-in-law when Freya married nice-guy doctor Dash (Eric Winter)… unless she decided to go for Dash’s bad-boy bartender brother Killian (Daniel DiTomasso).  Watching the Beauchamps spend one episode after another spinning their wheels as they tried and failed to figure out the identity of the shifter just made them all look, well, dumb.  And in the finale, the scene where Joanna at long last figured out that Penelope was the villain (on the morning of Freya’s wedding, of course) was horribly written, basically having Penelope stupidly give the game away because she couldn’t keep her temper around Joanna for thirty more seconds after having hidden herself for years.  Joanna then underscored how slow she was by not realizing that the person pretending to be Wendy was–guess who!–the shifter, because that’s what shifters do.  The battle between Penelope and the Beauchamp sisters was over almost before it began (not much of a special effects budget on this show) and anticlimactic in the extreme, with Penelope being pushed into a furnace like Mrs. Lovett at the end of Sweeney Todd.

Meanwhile, the show’s romantic dilemma was also dealt with by rote, as Freya’s conveniently-appearing father (guest star Joel Gretsch) happened to have with him some proof that it was Killian, not Dash, who was her soulmate–again, something that was painfully obvious as soon as Freya started insisting episodes ago that the man for her had to be Dash.  Equally predictably, once Penelope was dead and her two sons regained their own supernatural powers, Dash immediately turned into a bad guy, sending Killian’s believe-me-not-dead body off on his boat in a weak cliffhanger.

The final story was even worse, and had been from the start.  Rather than simply having the Beauchmps be garden variety witches, they turned out to be refugees from the planet Asgard (no, really), reachable via a portal located in the local tunnels.  One might have forgivven East End all this if it could at least have been roused to come up with a Thor joke or to wonder if relatives of theirs had given Haven its Troubles, but no such wit was to be found, and by the episode’s end Ingrid had been forced at gunpoint to open the portal (super-witch that she is, a pistol was all it took to make her open the doorway to hell), which brought about the instant death of guest star Enver Gjokaj and the appearance of a shadowy CG character who’ll presumably be cast with a human for Season 2.

It’s too bad that East End is so retro and plodding when it’s forced to tell a story, because otherwise it’s often quite charming.  Amick, Dewan-Tatum and Boston are likable heroines, able to shade their characters into screwball comedy while staying emotionally grounded, and Ormond provides the family’s gravitas (even though she should spend the off-season working on disguising her English accent).  On Sunday nights, when cable is overstuffed with Very Serious Dramas, East End provides some welcome fizziness.  Despite ratings that were only slightly above-average (it probably has the unexpected demise of The Client List to thank for its survival), Witches of East End has been renewed for a second go-round, and this time, perhaps someone high up can cast a spell for more inventive plotting and some finesse in the telling.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."