Several years ago, I whipped up this “Star vs. the Forces of Evil: A Metal-as-Heck Primer” for what was, at the time, the most viscerally audacious show Disney XD had put on its animated docket since Gravity Falls. “Imagine if Buffy Summers punched a demon into another dimension,” I opened, “and in return got her hands on a star-shaped crystal that plunged her into a funhouse-mirror […] version of Sailor Moon.” I mean, just imagine!
Cut to 2022: Not only have Star and Marco saved their respective universes and quashed more magical would-be genocides than your favorite billion dollar dragon show could even dream, but Disney has let SvtFoE’s singular strain of transgressive witchity weirdness take deep root in its animated originals slate. First we got Matt Braly’s frog-world-turned-existential-war adventure Amphibia in 2019 (read my Q+A with star Brenda Song here), and then we got Dana Terrace’s very witchy, very gruesome, very queer anti-fascism romp The Owl House in 2020, and then finally, in 2021, we got Bill Motz and Bob Roth’s cheerfully murderous buddy comedy The Ghost and Molly McGee. What a line-up!
But while each of these series has earned a fervent fan following, it’s safe to say that The Owl House stands flies (on a charmed palisman stick) in a (flyer derby) league of its own. And with the first of three planned hour-long “Season 3” specials set to premiere this coming Saturday, now is the perfect time for fans both new and old to catch up on what’s been happening both on and off the Boiling Isles. To that end, please enjoy this “witchin’ primer” to all things Owl House…
Set in a magically disturbing parallel dimension in which the only discernible civilization lives amongst the bones of a slowly decomposing demonic Titan, The Owl House follows the adventures of 14-year-old Luz Noceda (Sarah-Nicole Robles), a self-described “weirdo” who escapes from the normcore camp her single mom wants to send her to for the entire summer (I mean, you flood ONE school hallway with a box of back-up book report snakes…) by stumbling through a grifter witch’s magical portal to another world. There, she burrows into said grifter witch’s grifty life, offering to work as her apprentice in exchange for being taught magic.
As the seasons progress, Luz, along with the grifter witch—better known as Eda the Owl Lady (Wendy Malick)—and an adorable skull-headed dog-demon named King (Alex Hirsch) bond into a little found family while fighting back the forces of authoritarianism and showing other (mostly teen witches) that there are ways to live that don’t require giving up power and creativity for a lifetime of conformity. Luz also discovers and develops her own form of glyph-based human magic, which comes in handy in Season 2 when Eda’s innate witchy powers fizzle out and she needs Luz to teach her a different way of wielding magic.
Luz Noceda: The primary POV protagonist. Human. Dominican-American, clinically anxious, and canonically bisexual.
Eda the Owl Lady: The secondary POV protagonist. The Boiling Isles’ post powerful witch, on the run from the law for refusing to give up her wild magic to “conform” and join an official coven. Cursed with a mysterious inner owl beast that needs to be quelled by magical elixirs. Has a sideline passing off human trash as extra-dimensional treasure.
Willow (Tati Gabrielle) and Gus (Issac Ryan Brown): Luz’s first teen witch friends, both students at Hexside School of Magic and Demonics, both social outsiders in different ways. Willow is a powerful plant witch, while Gus has particularly strong illusion magic.
Amity Blight (Mae Whitman): Hexside’s brightest pupil, youngest of a villainously ambitious industrialist family. Specializes in abomination magic, and making Luz blush. Real enemies-to-lovers situation here.
King: Mysterious demonic origins, orphan, delusions of grandeur coiled up in an adorable puppy-like body.
Hooty (also Alex Hirsch): A viscerally upsetting bird-tube-demon-thing that either lives in or is the soul of Eda’s eponymous Owl House. His voice is excruciating, his manner is grating, and every scene he’s in has the capacity to make your stomach turn. 10/10, would unleash this nightmare on all my enemies!
Lilith (Cissy Jones): Eda’s older, more insecure sister. Incredible history nerd. Starts as the primary Emperor’s Coven antagonist in Season 1 before being disillusioned and joining the good guy weirdos on Luz and Eda’s side in Season 2.
Emperor Belos (Matthew Rhys): Masked Big Bad and self-made tyrant whose low-key rhetorical style and mysterious “Day of Unity” grand scheme is more chilling than any screaming demon could hope to be.
Hunter (Zeno Robinson): Emperor Belos’ right-hand man kid, a True Believer who’s gutted to discover he’s violently disposable to the one person he thinks of as family. (If you’re getting huge Zuko vibes from that description, you’re not wrong!)
Raine Whispers (Avi Roque): Eda’s high school sweetheart and possible one true love, a non-binary witch who rose to become leader of the Bard Coven as a means of dismantling the Emperor’s corruption from within.
The Life Lesson
To quote Eda: “Plenty of witches would have ditched this rock already. But you keep learning, and you keep fighting.”
The Quick Watch Guide
Episode 1.1, “A Lying Witch and a Warden”
Nothing close to the strongest (or most subtle) episode of Season 1, the pilot is nevertheless critical to get oriented to Luz’s new, weird, “Clearly not the PG-fantasy world I always dreamed about!” situation. That it also slips in some solid jabs at human-world trash (Eda’s description of a television as “this black shadow-box that reflects only sadness!” is maybe too good?) is a nice bonus.
Episode 1.3, “I Was a Teenage Abomination”
The show is still warming up here, but this episode gives us the introduction of not just Hexside, but also Willow, Gus, and Amity, as well as the unsettling but canonically critical concept of unkillable purple-goo “abominations” as a core magic skills track in the Boiling Isles.
Episode 1.7, “Lost in Language”
A classic enemies-turned-almost-friends romp that starts in the library and ends in the living, ravenous pages of Amity’s diary. It would be entirely unremarkable, save for the fact that it all but shouts that Luz + Amity are headed down the path of adorkable romantic end game…
Episode 1.12, “Adventures in the Elements”
…which comes into even sharper focus a few episodes later, as Luz and Amity’s not-a-date hang is interrupted by Amity’s excitable twin siblings. Major blushing ensues! Also, Luz learns to listen to the island and find new glyphs in the (gross) beautiful slivers of its (again, gross) natural splendor.
Episode 1.16, “Enchanting Grom Fright”
And then they go to GROM. AKA, Hexside Prom, meaning it’s also deadly, and in the ookiest, most psychologically unsettling way, meaning that yes, there’s a joke of fedora-wearing jerks who want to debate online. Still not quite an official date, but there is an abominable battle dance, and wow did it break all the relevant corners of the internet (i.e. tumblr) when it first aired.
Episode 1.18, “Agony of a Witch”/Episode 1.19, “Young Blood, Old Souls”
In the first, you get an explicit description of Emperor Belos’s obsession with Eda and proto-genocidal agenda against wild witches, as well as long-awaited boss witch battle between the Clawthorne sisters and (not unrelatedly) the reveal of Lilith as the source of Eda’s curse. In the second, you get a formalized exposition of Belos’s mythic origins and potential plans, clarification of Lilith’s original motivations and newfound disillusionment, Luz’s strategic destruction of the portal door, and Lilith’s act of restitution. Together, they tie up all loose world-building ends and set the stage for the race towards Unity Day in Season 2.
Episode 2.3, “Echoes of the Past”
King’s origins are intentionally mysterious, but the second season starts cracking the door open a bit at a time. The real reveal comes closer to the end of the season (Episode 2.17, “Edge of the World”), but the fake-out history lesson behind King’s birth and the disturbing tendon-stone creature guarding them both shouldn’t be skipped.
Episode 2.6, “Hunting Palisman”
The adopt-a-palisman concept here opens the door to some nice character notes and solid visual gags (not to mention it adds some extra gutting depth to Belos’s palisman-only diet). But the main reason to include this episode in your TOH binge is to get introduced to Hunter (AKA, the Golden Guard), Season 2’s main Emperor’s Coven antagonist. Real Zuko vibes off this kid, but done well, that’s not a bad thing. (And yes, it’s done well.)
Episode 2.8, “Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Hooty’s Door”
I’m very sorry to tell you that any Hooty-centric episode is appointment viewing, but this trippy triptych of an outing marks a major turning point in the season’s three biggest arcs—i.e., King’s origins, Eda’s curse, and Luz and Amity’s romance—that you really, genuinely, can’t miss it. Again: I’m very sorry.
Episode 2.12, “Elsewhere and Elsewhen”
Most of Season 2 is dedicated to Luz trying to find a way to open a new portal back to Earth, after destroying the original one in the Season 1 finale. Her first scheme involves rumors of another human reported to have arrived in the Boiling Isles several hundred years earlier, which eventually finds her and Lilith dropping through the beach sands of time to talk to him in person. It goes very badly!
Episode 2.7, “Eda’s Requiem” / Episode 2.15, “Them’s the Breaks, Kid”
Low-key gunning for Luz and Amity as the series’s sweetest love story is the right-person-wrong-time romance between Eda and Raine Whispers, her high school sweetheart turned Bard Coven Head Witch turned secret anti-Imperialist resistance fighter. Raine’s safety is a core motivating factor for the last handful of episodes, so getting a handle on their past and current relationship with both Eda and totalitarian authority is key to catching up on the full scope of Season 2.
Episode 2.16, “Hollow Mind”
After taking a character-building trip through Willow’s mindscape in Season 1, Season 2 drops Luz and Hunter deep in the dangerous wilds of Belos’ mind, which genuinely wants to kill them. A lot of horrifying things are revealed, and by the end, Hunter is officially on the run,
Episode 2.21, “King’s Tide”
The Day of Unity has finally arrived, just as King’s true identity is revealed and a new, worse antagonist is released into the world. A harrowing fight ensues, which ends with Luz and her teen witch friends stranded on Earth, with King and Eda and everyone else trapped in the Demon Realm with a cosmically powerful danger.
Special 3.1, “Thanks to Them”
Who knows! Tune in this weekend to find out, and then come back in 2023 for the rest of the story. (And then, obviously, join the legions of Owl House fans incensed at Disney for cutting such a powerfully creative, beloved series down before its time.)
The first of The Owl House’s three finale specials premieres Saturday, October 15th at 9pm ET on both Disney Channel and Disney XD. The remaining two installments will air in 2023.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.
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