A spoiler-free review of Episode 1
Anne Rice might be best known for her Vampire Chronicles novels, amongst which the bestselling Interview with the Vampire has now seen multiple adaptations, most recently brought to life in AMC’s 2022 television series by the same name.
But within Rice’s gothic horror world, which AMC has dubbed the Anne Rice Immortal Universe, there be witches, and the Mayfair Witches have a dark and compelling history taut with mystery that should lend itself well to a chilling mystery series. Based on Rice’s best-selling trilogy, Lives of the Mayfair Witches, the eight-episode series centers on Rowan Fielding (Alexandra Daddario), who discovers she is descended from a powerful family of witches haunted by a powerful spirit known as Lasher (Jack Huston). Rowan’s seemingly confident and calculated life—she’s a gifted neurosurgeon, after all—is thrown into chaos when she discovers a burgeoning power within herself that she cannot control.
Rice’s love for New Orleans and its rich, gothic history has always made for gorgeous film and television adaptations, and Mayfair Witches is no exception. In the debut episode, “The Witching Hour,” the lush and haunting backdrop of Mayfair Manor is outshone only by the lavish mansion and decadent parties of Cortland Mayfair (Harry Hamlin). In the recent past, a young Deirdre Mayfair (Cameron Inman) escapes to the seeming freedom of Cortland’s estate, but behind the scenes it’s clear he’s manipulating events to achieve his own ends. For what purpose is unclear, but his laissez-bon-temps-rouler sort of attitude is more uncomfortable than disarming. What is clear is Lasher, the sometimes-companion of young Deirdre, is not at all welcome to the rest of the Mayfair clan.
Throughout the frenetic first episode, Rowan is anxious to discover her biological family history. While she has an incredibly close emotional bond with her adoptive mother, events lead to Rowan questioning her new supernatural gifts. In present-day, adult Deirdre (Annabeth Gish) is seemingly a withered invalid, kept safe and under control using antipsychotics. When her new physician decides to stop her treatment, Lasher appears again. Coincidentally, Rowan will find herself haunted as well.
If you’re not quite following the time-hopping storyline, you’re not alone. It would presumably take an in-depth knowledge of the novels to see the connections being teased out in this first episode, they’re so ethereal. Showrunner Esta Spalding (On Becoming a God in Central Florida), Writer Michelle Ashford (Masters of Sex), and Director Michael Uppendahl (American Horror Story, Walking Dead) have delivered a turbulent first episode that, given a little more runtime, might settle into compelling television. While the series debut doesn’t quite achieve anything particularly novel or emotionally riveting, it manages to satisfy a “just-one-more-episode” sort of intrigue that confirms Mayfair Witches is more mystery/thriller than its drama/horror counterpart, Interview with the Vampire. While the plot might tug you along throughout the first half of the season, Rowan is unlikely to capture your interest beyond her immediate predicament. Her whirlwind backstory is at times both empowering and flailing. Which isn’t to say she isn’t interesting—who wouldn’t want to follow a supernaturally gifted, brilliant, and beautiful neurosurgeon around? But you’re much more likely to stick around to find out what happens to Rowan, rather than what she chooses to do.
Episode one of Mayfair Witches debuts on AMC and AMC+ on Sunday, January 8 at 9:00 pm ET/PT. The eight-episode series then releases weekly.