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The 'title card' from Witches Before Wizards.

here we are, with our first 'normal' episode of the show, what with its title being displayed and its intro sequence and all that. as important as first impressions are, the second episode has a lot of heavy lifting to do too - when it comes to serialized television, this is where you ideally start getting a good feel on what your show looks like on a normal basis, where you ease us into the characters as they exist without the big inciting premise-establishing action. Witches Before Wizards is still somewhat clumsy in the way it introduces us to the world of the Boiling Isles, but much like the premiere, it does lay down some fundamental meta-narrative information about what type of story we're going to see unfold.

before we talk meta-narrative, though, let's talk normal narrative, the one you're seeing with your eyes and not piecing together on a corkboard in your mind palace. we open literally the day after A Lying Witch and a Warden, which is a narrative maneuver i enjoy quite a bit, minimizing any 'lost time' for Luz adjusting to life in the Demon Realm for viewers. as cheap of a laugh as it is, i do still crack up at the inexplicable sea monster telling Luz "good morning" right back when she's waking up. it's also here that we get to see Eda properly settled into her home for the first time. not exactly taking the best care of herself, what with the spiders in her hair, but in a cool sort of aspirational way. i want to be this much of a wreck when i'm that old, y'know?

A screenshot from The Owl House's opening theme sequence.

this is all cold open, though, because we have quite the excellent intro sequence to finally get a look at! opting for a nice tasteful instrumental (scored by season one composer TJ Hill), this sequence is really beautifully animated and does a fairly good job of hitting a lot of the iconographic beats you want to see - Luz twirling Eda's staff before having it taken away, King ruling over a massive pile of plushies, a few glimpses at those characters we aren't quite ready to meet yet, all that good stuff. i said it last time, but i'll emphasize again here that even if it's not much, you are going to be seeing this every episode and that kind of tone-setting is important. so, props to the crew for a really beautifully animated 37 seconds that you can get well-acquainted with.

when we return from that, Eda's starting her day with a bit of 'apple blood' and explaining to Luz that being a witch isn't going to be an easy process, no matter how eager she is. she does, at least, promise that Luz will get a magic staff like hers if she's willing to work hard for it. i won't delve too deeply for the sake of any first time watch-alongers, but this conversation is a bit incongruous with some things we'll later learn about the nature of magic staffs in this world, and not incongruous in the type of way where you can chalk it up to a character not understanding the information they're passing along to someone? it's always interesting going back to the start of a show that seems so tightly plotted and seeing what elements might have fallen into place during the creative process, or at the very least were watered down for an initial introduction.

continuity errors aside for now - the magic staff is a big symbol of progress as a witch and Luz is willing to put that work in, even if it takes the form of running errands for one of Eda's many side hustles. pretty much as soon as she and King are left to their own devices running errands, though, Luz gets caught up in a very particular train of thought, about how the Demon Realm is amazing and how there's no other humans around here, so there must be some amazing reason she wound up here. it's not a completely wrong-headed conclusion to leap so strongly too - it sure is weird that she stumbled on a magic portal not too far from her home, and moreso than that, Luz is a gigantic nerd who's still awestruck enough by the Boiling Isles to be thinking about it in the same kinds of terms as the Good Witch Azura books she loves.

A screenshot from Witches Before Wizards, with 'Adegast' posed in front of an identical portrait of himself.

it doesn't take long for the plot of the episode to keep rolling, and it's pretty easy to see at least the rough shape of what'll happen, as Luz's final delivery of the day leads her to a suspiciously nice castle, where a wizard named Adegast acts as an oddly gracious host and quite quickly appeals to Luz's sense of adventure by offering her a prophesied quest. i won't write this overview like i've never seen this, or any other story about a protagonist feeling out of place and getting buttered up. it is not some shocking twist that Adegast doesn't have the best intentions or anything like that. it's a pretty open-and-shut story structure, but even within that, i think there's characterization you can glean from this episode.

for starters, i think it's very easy for this type of plot to veer off the rails and characterize the protagonist as actively trying to cheat their way out of hard work, and that's not the vibe i get off Luz here. she's being naive, sure, but she's still bought into the idea of going on a mythical quest, and her complaints are never really about running errands for Eda, but rather about wishing for some quicker gratification. Luz is the type of person who's willing to do the hard work, but her mindset is so stuck in the types of stories she's surrounded herself with that she misunderstands what form that hard work is going to take when confronted with the reality of the Boiling Isles.

on the other side of this mentor and apprentice dynamic, it helps that the show doesn't paint Eda as completely out of touch with Luz. she and King have a laugh about how much of an easy mark she is for this stuff, but she also notices that she might be going a bit far and backs off about it, and realizes pretty much immediately after this conversation that there's probably something worth looking into if one of her delivery clients is trying to scam Luz like this. i feel like even early on, the writers have a good handle on how much of a hard time Eda should give Luz if they want to sell this idea of 'weirdos sticking together and looking out for each other'.

A screenshot from Witches Before Wizards, with Nevareth Bladestrife looking intense and angsty.

so, this plot might be a little one-dimensional on paper, but it's coasting by not just on these bits of characterization, but also on the increasing ridiculousness of Adegast's 'quest', which sees Luz meet such deeply-written characters like Nevareth Bladestrife, teen prince of Angstmore. by the time she's made it to the Celestial Staff, she's assembled a whole little posse of fantasy creatures who are constantly bestowing her with gifts and reaffirming her place as the chosen one. it's all very silly, but once Luz actually reaches the staff, there's a line i find pretty interesting - "I always suspected there was a reason nobody understood my wacky antics back at home."

not to put too fine a point on it or anything, but i think the process of unpacking that line and that general train of thought is what makes this episode work for me. i don't think it's uncommon (at least, amongst the type of audience who'd be reading me recap and analyze this show?) to find a lot of solidarity and belonging in a piece of fiction, and Luz made a pretty massive choice literally the day before this to stay in the Boiling Isles because she feels like she'd fit in more in a world who's residents are actively calling it "a cesspool of despair". she's looking for affirmation that she made the right choice, and her media literacy is working against her to some extent because she's looking a little bit past that into affirmation that all the things that alienated her in the human world are somehow satisfyingly connected to this moment.

so now, when Adegast reveals the trap for what it is, this is when i get to loop back to that meta-narrative stuff i was talking about at the start of this overview. The Owl House does not exist in a vacuum. there's plenty of media out there about discovering some kind of hidden fantastical world, whether it's modern 'isekai' anime or decades of western literature of dubious quality, and within these genres, predestined fate is hardly an uncommon element. even if they weren't written with these types of intentions, i think a lot of neurodivergent people gravitate towards the narrative concept that something that makes you different in a way that's difficult in the 'normal world' is actually going to serve you well in a much more exciting realm of fantasy.

it's not so much that The Owl House is completely dismissing that type of thinking out of hand - as we'll see throughout the season, Luz's enthusiasm for fantasy and creative thinking are going to prove incredibly important and useful. what the writers are putting their foot down about, though, is that these things aren't going to happen because someone told Luz she was destined for it. they're going to happen by virtue of Luz being her authentic self. it's a narrative move away from pre-determination and towards characters accomplishing things through who they are and what they do. the writer in me thinks this must be so much more interesting to craft a story around, and as a neurodivergent viewer, i find this type of thinking a lot more empowering than someone stumbling into a pre-made destiny.

A screenshot from Witches Before Wizards, with Adegast's true form puppeteering his wizard body.

anyways, to zoom back down to literal narrative - for as simple a plot as this is, i do like what we get to learn about Adegast. turns out he's a giant monster physically puppeteering various bodies, and his design is absolutely killer, but he's also doing all of this out of sheer spite for Eda, trying to use Luz as bait so he can take out a rival potion seller. it's all pretty delightfully petty, all things considered. Eda, once again showing that she probably cares a lot more than she's letting on, is immediately willing to walk into this situation knowing it's a trap, and we get a nice little fight scene, complete with Luz having a brief but really well animated internal struggle where she affirms that she's willing to learn magic the hard way.

oh, and once Adegast is defeated, he shrinks down to adorable scale and Eda eats him whole. brutal!

the episode ends with a scene i like quite a lot, for multiple reasons. on a dialogue level, it reaffirms the themes i've talked about here in a really satisying way. to quote the show wholesale -

Look, kid, everyone wants to believe they're "chosen". But if we all waited around for a prophecy to make us special, we'd die waiting. And that's why you need to choose yourself.

so maybe it was a waste of time to write so much about the value i see in how the show communicates this sort of angle towards 'chosen one' fiction, when Eda kind of hits the nail on the head here? maybe i was just looking for things to like in an admittedly rather predictable plot with not much going on? perhaps. i do appreciate the way the show lays this out, though, and when thinking about the next 41 episodes ahead of us, it's good to have this level of affirmation early on that whatever happens, it'll be driven by characters and their motivations.

A screenshot from Witches Before Wizards, with a view of the Bones of the Isles.

the other big thing worth highlighting in this scene is that the Boiling Isles are actually a gigantic skeleton. every establishing shot of Bonesborough so far has been situated in the ribcage, but this is the first time the show is calling attention to this and giving us a gorgeous look at this massive rotting corpse our heroes call home. this might be controversial, but here's a hot take; this sure did have me wondering where those bones came from, huh? the scene itself marks a nice balancing point between Luz's perpetual optimism and King's attitude of the Isles being a bit of a hellscape, but at the same time, it's a pretty inticing plot hook to establish that this world is nestled within a bunch of massive bones.

it's been exceptionally weird revisiting these introductory episodes so far. i talked a big game about how much depth these characters have, but early on, the show does rely a lot on these fairly simple plots to establish basic thematic bedrock for this world. last time, i talked about how a lot of the premiere's weirdness still feels thematically at home within the context of what The Owl House will become, and this time, i have to find a similar silver lining. Witches Before Wizards serves the function of priming us for how we'll look at Luz's journey - there's no pre-determined path ahead. i would say that i, personally, think it's good to set that foundation down now, because it presents a much more interesting alternative than any sort of 'chosen one' narrative, on multiple levels.

i think there's an equally valid case to be made that this episode is a bit one-note and relies a lot on how much you find these characters endearing. i would at least say that the answer so far is 'pretty endearing', but it's a case to be made nonetheless. we might be off to a bit of a slow start, but i will at least say the pieces are coming together and that there's a good time to be had watching this episode.

next time on The Owl House - Luz heads off to magic school!

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