Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Owl House still doesn’t have a handle on its central trio

The Owl House
The Owl House
Image: Courtesy of Disney Channel
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Of The Owl House’s three main characters, only Eda really feels like a complete character; her journey holds the most pathos and intrigue. At this point in the series, we’ve learned that this powerful, if not well-liked, witch is suffering from a curse from an unknown entity that causes her to transform into an uncontrollable beast, held at bay with a series of potions (which is a clever allegory of watching an elderly person who has to take their medications). We know that the curse is getting worse, and that it reflects Eda’s personal fears of her aging/growing weaker, which is the impetus of her B-plot in this episode. We know that she has a not-quite-fully-explained hatred towards organized instructions concerning magic, refusing to enter any coven that would restrict her powers, which has inadvertently caused tremendous conflict with her sister, a conflict that’s the thematic backdrop of said B-plot. Eda herself, as voiced by a game Wendie Malick, is great, and I’m deeply invested in her story, issues, and history.

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I can’t say the same for Luz or King.

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I’m immensely curious how readers of this review are feeling about The Owl House so far; there doesn’t seem to be a lot discourse about it online, but that doesn’t suggest it’s failing or anything. I can only express and explore my personal response to the show, and I’m struggling to get behind Luz and King as characters. King, at least, is pretty established as the comic relief, and his illusions of grandeur and vain attempts at global conquest are meant to illicit more laughter than sympathy. (There’s some backstory about demons once being powerful or something, and how they’re not anymore, but it’s a concept not developed enough to buoy King’s often-pathetic pursuits). Luz, on the other hand, feels like there’s a significant part of her character that’s missing. In the review of the first episode of the season, I mentioned how it doesn’t really seem like Luz is that much of a problem, so her concerns about being too “weird” and “different” never quite tracked. After 10 episodes, though, it’s clear that Luz is indeed a problem, what with the sheer number of terrible choices she has made, but it’s difficult to tell if the show is engaging with Luz’s overwrought tendency to just jump headfirst into whatever she wants on a whim, or is just using it to jumpstart conflict. Breaking into the academy, stealing Eda’s staff, bringing her friends into the Owl House without permission, constantly dismissing Eda’s (admittedly neglectful) “teaching” methods–even accounting for Luz being a specific kind of child who struggles with patience, concentration, and maintaining attention, it’s hard to empathize or connect with her. It doesn’t help that “being a witch” is still a kind of unclear concept in the show overall. Luz’s goal doesn’t seem to have an endpoint.

That actually brings us to the episode proper. “Sense And Insensitivity” shows that Luz’s goal in the real world was to be a writer; this reflects her penchant for writing and reading fanfics, but it feels like a late revelation thats a little hard to parse with how the character was introduced. Still, it’s something, and during a book fair, she and King decide to enter a writing competition. They begin their writing duo, with a couple of self-aware gags at the expense of a writing team (including a winking “Save the Cat” gag), but Luz leaves the room, allowing King to completely overtake Luz’s contributions with his own. Luz is hurt, but King, completely self-absorbed in his self-worth and lust for adoration, goes to a random tavern to demand people read his manuscript. He’s immediately kicked out; but the publisher of a famous author’s books happens to be there. He magically speed reads the copy, loves it, signs King, and he’s an instant star.

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The speed with which all this happens is startling; the contest is completely irrelevant at this point, which raises the question why have it in the first place (really, any particular inciting incident could have led to this point). King says “he won the contest” but he didn’t–he become a famous writer, which is a whole different track. Still, Luz is deeply hurt by King’s dismissal, but she shows up to the premiere of his second book. King’s outline of it is garbage in the eye of the publisher, and the little demon realizes he needs Luz’s ideas to “rebel” off of. The publisher overhears this, captures both King and Luz, forcing them to write a second book, or else they get crushed into weird, living cubes. Drawing the symbol in the copy that allows Luz to cast the only spell she’s learned so far is admittedly a clever idea to escape, but it’s all fairly perfunctory.

The B-story finds Eda chasing after her sister, Lilith, for a flower that supposedly grants immortality. It’s solid motivation for Eda, to get over on her sister’s, and her own, belief of her fragility. There are some really funky moments during this storyline: Lilith at some point emerges from the forest covered in leaves and dirt, like she seen some stuff, but nothing comes of it? The flower happens to be a trap set by the creature that sold the siblings the maps, but the two bond together, and take it down easily. Even though Eda’s and Lilith’s relationship needs way more development, just being aware of Eda’s struggles allow their short, brief armistice to show the inherent warmth between them, ultimately with Lilith letting Eda go for now.

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But back to the A-story: what I think hurts this central relationship is that Luz and King (and to different extent, Eda) is that, after eleven episodes, these two or three characters aren’t really the disparate and semi-desperate unit that bonds together. Everyone really is moving on their own directions, only coming together when the plot allows it; there’s no sense of developing friendships, mentorships, camaraderie, or anything really. Luz mostly treats King like a pet; King treats her like a convenient lackey. This makes the attempt at pathos—King’s understanding that his lusts for adoration and power is the pipe dream that everyone already knows—shrug-worthy. It’s not like they get closer after the entire experience. Perhaps this show is trying to engage in a type of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia kind of energy, or a more chaotic take on the family unit in Gravity Falls. But the former is steeped in the cast’s interpersonal chaos for maximum comedy effect (comedy is subjective but got to be honest, not much of The Owl House is funny), while the latter, despite their darker impulses, strongly stick together. The Owl House doesn’t seem to know what to think of its central trio, and can’t quite muster up stories to explain them. But at least Eda is on a timetable.


Stray observations

  • Okay, so the biggest concern that sort of bothers me is the fact that Eda is the most wanted witch in the Boiling Isles, but she seems to hock her wares in the same exact location every day. I can buy that her home is “hidden” in some way, and in the general sense, Eda’s so powerful that it may not be worth fighting her all the time, but the implication that they can’t find her is absurd.
  • About one-third of The Owl House is sort of driven by winking self-awareness of the medium and storytelling in general, but I think it may be too early in the show’s run to be so meta (especially since I originally thought that was sort of the show’s point). Including this episode, “Witches Before Wizards” threw shade on the “Chosen One” concept. “Once Upon a Swap” shows the ridiculousness of a “body swap” episode by committing a unique storytelling structure to it. A number of jokes and beats rely on the assumption of magical creatures and spells being wondrous and spectacular, only for the reveal to be that they’re mundane, boring, or part of a scam. If The Owl House wants to place a more cynical eye on Harry Potter-esque wonder and imagination, that’s fine, and I’m all for it! But it needs to commit to that, and so far, it only does it in fleeting, random moments.
  • Sorry, but I am just not buying the developments between Amity and Luz. The Owl House tried to pull a “reverse bullying” card in “Lost In Language,” implying the lazy chestnut “maybe the protagonist is the real bully,” but it’s nonsense. Amity treated Luz like garage from her introduction on, and no amount of reading to children is enough to change that specific point. Look, as I mentioned earlier, Luz as a character is problematic on purpose, but trying to find depth in Amity while ignoring her earlier treatments towards Luz (and the other Academy students) is disingenuous.
  • There will be a review for the first season finale whenever it airs!
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Contributor, The A.V. Club, with a clear preference for all things cartoons; check out his main blog at http://www.totalmediabridge.com.

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