“Yellowjackets” Season 2 – François Arnaud, Nicole Maines, and Nia Sondaya Join Cast in Recurring Roles

Horror

Anne Rice is known for her vampires. Her 1976 novel Interview with the Vampire is considered a seminal text on the undead world thanks in large part to a progressive 1994 adaptation starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. What many casual fans may not know is that Rice is also well-versed in the world of witchcraft. Published in 1990, her novel The Witching Hour is the first of a trilogy following the Mayfair Witches, a powerful family of New Orleans spellcasters.

After acquiring the rights to Rice’s entire catalog in 2020, AMC released an ambitious reimagining of her most famous text. Though it flew mostly under the radar, Interview With the Vampire premiered to positive reviews and has been praised for its exploration of race and sexuality while drawing viewers in with a campy tone. The network’s followup series, Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches stars Alexandra Daddario as a lost Mayfair daughter waking up to her magical powers.

Though visually enchanting, the series fails to live up to its predecessor’s bite and casts a middling spell over the audience. 

Dr. Rowan Fielding (Daddario), a San Francisco neurosurgeon, has always suspected she’s different. Adopted at birth, she’s grown up with the terrifying power to kill or maim her enemies simply by imagining internal damage to their bodies. When her adopted mother dies, Rowan begins to search for information about her familial roots, hoping to understand this destructive talent. She learns that she is the long lost descendant of a centuries old line of witches whose power is somehow linked to a mysterious man known as Lasher (Jack Huston).

Hoping to protect her from this malevolent clan, agent Ciprien Grieve (Tongayi Chirisa) tracks Rowan down and attempts to explain her complicated lineage. Unsure who to trust, Rowan is drawn to the historical Mayfair Mansion and vows to unravel the mystery of her past for better or worse. 

Though the narrative jumps through different eras of the Mayfair line, the story is built around Rowan’s gradual discovery of her powers. While Daddario has been successful in other ensemble casts, ranging from the horror titles We Summon the Darkness, Texas Chainsaw, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle to the highly praised HBO series White Lotus, she falters here creating a charismatic vacuum at the heart of the show. Daddario has mastered a doe-eyed innocence that works well in contrast to more audacious characters. However she struggles to lead a slimmer cast with a halting and subdued tone that often reads as clueless. 

This lack of magnetism cannot fully be laid at Daddario’s feet as Rowan is a rather weak character to begin with. Hailing from a novel published in 1990, the young witch feels like a dated version of the perfectly flawed heroine we’ve come to expect at the center of YA novels. She’s a brilliant neurosurgeon and a witch with unprecedented power, but she struggles with intimacy and often lets others walk all over her. Rowan’s solitary life (on a houseboat no less) provides a too-perfect lack of personal entanglements just waiting for a mystery to sweep her away. These quirky traits could be embellished to add depth to her character, but she unfortunately falls into the Not Like Other Girls trope and fails to anchor a story she should be driving. 

Beth Grant is a fascinating villain as Carlotta, the family’s current matriarch. Callous and cruel, her willingness to sacrifice her own flesh and blood is chilling though conversations with her sister Millie (Geraldine Singer) hint at a more complicated motive. Jack Huston is the more overt villain Lasher, but when cast in contrast to the manipulative Mayfairs, he often seems like an appealing partner. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Annabeth Gish as Rowan’s birth mother and Harry Hamlin as her flamboyant uncle. These veteran actors are wonderful additions to the cast, but often feel underused. The series MVP is Ciprien, an agent from a long line of magical investigators who takes it upon himself to protect Rowan from herself and her family. He is by far the most compelling character and the series becomes vastly more interesting whenever he is on screen. 

Intended to be the tentpole of an expansive Immortal Universe, last year’s Interview With the Vampire had the luxury of name recognition. Adapted from Rice’s most famous novel, viewers were familiar with the expansive text and perhaps more patient with the somewhat meandering story. The Lives of the Mayfair Witches is little known outside of the most dedicated horror fiction circles, leaving the series at a distinct disadvantage. When viewed as a whole, the series will likely feel like a slow-burn journey in which Rowan reclaims her magical heritage. Unfortunately, the story takes a while to heat up and viewers unfamiliar with the narrative arc will likely have a difficult time becoming invested.

Filmed on location in New Orleans, there’s plenty of visual interest from glittery masquerade balls, rambling gothic mansions, and a nighttime funeral procession through the city’s streets. While this set dressing is stunning, it exists on the periphery of a story that takes too long to kick into gear.  

Anne Rice is known for compelling characters who struggle to reconcile magical powers with their human inclinations toward morality. This will likely bear out as the season unfolds to reveal intriguing heroes and villains every bit as complex as her vampire cast. Showrunner Esta Spalding has proven herself capable of creating captivating female characters with her quirky Showtime series On Becoming a God in Central Florida and likely has a firm grasp of where Rowan is heading. Unfortunately many viewers may become frustrated with the slowly unraveling plot and abandon ship before the story can venture into more satisfying waters.

As the sophomore outing in a burgeoning connected universe, Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches casts a lukewarm spell over its audience and only time will tell if the famous author’s name will be enough to carry this fledgling series through its early growing pains. 

Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches premieres January 8 on AMC and AMC+

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