The Owl House is an episodic cartoon about a girl who gets sucked into a magical world. There's only 1 season so far. It's littered with flaws (wildcard magic system, deus ex machinas everywhere, most character development is botched) but has enough good ideas to be interesting for critique, an incredibly good finale, and no bad messages.
As I watched it I critiqued each episode without future knowledge. These critiques assume knowledge of the story.
The first episode starts with a good move by introducing Luz as the victim of an authoritarian, presumed nonconsensual school system. This gives her some measure of rootability to start with, increased when she is condemned to be sent to a more dystopian prison camp for her noncomformity.
Luz's transportation into the Boiling Isles is pretty out-of-nowhere, the portal just happens to be in the woods right next to her home and the owl just happens to lead her there now of all times. But we can forgive a little ham-fistedness in an intro episode.
Eda's introduction, Luz fixing the TV and the escape from the guards is all really rushed; they should've stopped for a bit to explore the characters and the world more. I would've taken the exposition Eda gives later, added more, and put it before Luz fixes the TV. That would give time for Luz to gradually become more comfortable with the Boiling Isles instead of jumping straight from "fuck what is this place get me out of here" to "oh look at me I know exactly what I'm doing and I can fix TVs".
After their escape, Eda describes the mission to regain the demon king's crown and powers and send Luz back in return. This is good. It makes sense, and it's a good set up for a season climax.
Wait, WHAT, we're doing it right now?!? What are the writers thinking?
Luz is a kid who just got teleported into a new world, threatened with murder and chased by guards in the span of a few minutes. A real child - or a person of any age - would be shell-shocked and need to rest. And there's no reason why Eda and the demon king would consider this urgent. But Luz expresses no such vulnerability and the next thing we know, they're already at the conformatorium. She doesn't even express any fear about breaking into the lair of a dangerous tyrant in a world she knows very little about with people she just met! This does not make Luz seem very relatable.
Put aside what this does to Luz as a character. It's a disaster for the plot too, because it trivializes what was made out to be a big obstacle: now we know a tyrant powerful enough to oppress a whole town of monsters is not enough of a threat for our heroes to spend more than half an episode overcoming him. What are they gonna have to do for the season finale now?
In terms of message, this sequence does strike a great note when Luz talks to some prisoners and finds out they're all imprisoned for victimless crimes. She preaches to the audience about how victimless crimes are unjust and tries to free them, but this is an anvil that needs to be dropped. Honestly if I was writing this scene I would've made all 3 of the unusual traits blatant analogies for real-world victimless crimes (the conspiracy theorist is already an analogy for psychiatric "hospital" prisoners, though I don't know if that's intentional).
I object again about trivializing the enemy and moving along Luz's growth too fast when Warden Wrath is shown to be easily tricked and Luz gets some self-aggrandizing dialogue after stunning him (with the same arms that were "weak and nerdy" earlier), then they succeed not only in their mission but in freeing the prisoners from earlier. The villain's trivialization is complete and Luz is already a confident accomplished hero, which will make it hard to have satisfying character growth for the rest of the show.
I love that this episode subverts the terrible "prophecy" trope, while using it to highlight Luz's flaws. It's actually a brilliant recovery from episode 1 as it addresses one of the core problems by repositioning Luz to near the beginning of an arc. I would've choreographed the confrontation better so Luz doesn't basically defeat Adagast with one swing, and also delete the pointless 5-second scene in Luz's mindspace with the fake companions, but overall it's a good episode.
Luz's plan to quid-pro-quo with Willow is great: it's unironically clever, and it's the first time Luz has had a proper level of agency in a positive way. Gus is also a good character to introduce: he sets up the important fact that most Boiling Isles people don't know how to recognize humans, and is the first favorable male character.
But it's absurd that the plant seed turns out to be powerful enough for Willow to beat up the principal and break the whole school's security. And when it looks like it won't be enough after all to defeat the powerful antagoist, the tension ends with a deus ex machina, as Luz tries to get Eda to rescue Willow and Gus only for the writers to reveal that they're already saved because apparently the principal was so impressed by Willow's plant magic that he's all fine with the cheating and with her infesting the entire building with a creature that beat him up. Not to mention that doesn't explain why he pardons Gus, who played a role in Luz and Willow's escape.
This time around the writers create a problem for themselves by saying that humans don't have the magic organ and then solve it awkwardly: it involves a different casting method that our powerful experienced mentor character hasn't even heard of. There was no reason they had to do this. They could've just not said that magic requires an organ humans don't have. They could've said instead that magic can only be used within the Boiling Isles, or that the ability to learn it is gated behind an experience or all sorts of possibilities more elegant than this.
It's also a deus ex machina that the magic rune appears during the same video in which it didn't before. Nobody lampshades it.
Having Amity be dishonored in the duel and then comforted by Luz is a good way to redeem Amity and reconcile the two. But the way it happens is clumsy as hell. First, it's a deux ex machina that Lillith cheated, because it wasn't revealed until after Eda's cheat is exposed, and doesn't make sense anyway because if she knows Eda will cheat then the better plan for her should be to expose Eda's cheat without cheating herself. Second, it's not believable that Amity didn't know, because - nevermind how Lillith got that glyph on her without her knowing - if it was making a big difference, she should've been surprised to see her spells more powerful than normal, but she gave no indication of surprise.
This episode has, again, a lot of good ideas. It's a way for Luz, Willow and Gus to bond again, it reuses Eda's curse, and gets Luz more involved with magic. I was a little upset though that Amity's redemption seems to be canceled. Right after an episode where she reconciles with Luz, why are the writers using her as an antagonist again without much conversation? She doesn't get dialogue that explains this regression of attitude. I'm also upset that Amity and her friends didn't even succeed in their conjuration at all. Amity was the top student at the school, is explicitly an expert at abominations which seems similar to this, and this is what the writers decided?
Willow's power level is also ridiculous. In episode 3, we could chalk it up to that seed being rare and powerful, but now we're shown that as long as Willow can touch a plant, she can defeat an entire squad of expert monster hunters. This is really a problem.
And there's yet another deus ex machina as the walking house just happens to shake the ground in a way that just happens to knock the elixir into a position where Eda can drink it.
This episode mostly serves to undo what episode 6 did to Amity by making her sympathetic and bond with Luz again. Episode 6 is still a really awkward hiccup in Amity's history, but this is the right direction to go. Introducing Amity's older siblings is a great way to do it too; The harm they inflict on random people for fun quickly overshadows everything Amity's done so far, and we learn that Amity is elitist as a coping mechanism because she suffers that from her siblings. It's fulfilling to see Luz come to her senses and take a stand against them when they decide to seriously harm Amity, and a perfect setup for the two to re-reconcile.
How sad that the episode deploys the horrible trope Poor Commmunication Kills. When Amity catches them and assumes Luz was trying to read the diary, Luz never tells her that she was actually trying to stop others from reading it, despite plenty of opportunity to say this. This information would completely undo Amity's reason for being mad again, so instead of accept the logical consequences of the events they wrote, the writers force Luz to behave nonsensically so we can have artificial drama.
Also, why in hell does Amity not use any magic during the struggle against the book? Doesn't she have any abilities that would be useful here? Her character is getting disconnected from what she originally was: the witch who was mean because she was more powerful than her peers, aka an elitist. Now we can just forget she even has magic, which ruins that.
The premise is a fine one: teach Luz, Eda and King to acknowledge each others' troubles. We can justify waiting so long to have Luz break out of prison because she doesn't know how Eda's powers work, but you'd think at least Lillith, who knows fully well what Eda can do, would've been prepared for that.
It would've been a fine idea to re-use the ability that was introduced in the beginning of the episode to solve the end. Except, um, this power is a plot breaker if you can just use it on enemies? Is there no counter to this that you would expect to be available to soldiers and a powerful witch hunting a powerful witch? Why didn't Eda ever use this before, and will she ever use it again?
I was missing Gus, so I'm quite happy that he gets an episode in the limelight. The other kid's betrayal is a good one; I was fooled! It also plays well with Gus committing a similar mistake in the same episode. The other kid's evulz is a little over the top though.
The "detention" scene is silly, as it shows that Gus is powerful enough to defeat the whole machinery, which raises the obvious question "how does this work as a punishment if a single student can defeat it? Hasn't this ever happened before?" It also serves the baffling and counterproductive function of showing the school to be much worse than we thought, just as principal Bump is being humanized and Eda is agreeing to send Luz there.
Despite multiple issues with this episode, it's my favorite thus far.
The first mistake is Luz developing "Hexside pride". Um, choosing to study there is understandable, but the episode right after she saw how the school tortures children as a punishment for disorderly behavior is not a good time to have our protagonist espouse pride in this institution! This is jarring and makes Luz seem like she doesn't care about the child abuse that goes on at Hexside.
The episode does something similar to King, who for the first time seems downright evil instead of just a self-absorbed idiot. Put aside him taking the dangerous half-transformed Eda to a place full of children; this show established a standard of characters being stupid. He intentionally uses monster Eda to terrify and endanger these children, and when he apologizes it's only to Eda. King was never a character I liked, but this is a whole new plane of unsympathetic.
The main story of this episode is excellent. Luz causes her own problem by violating Eda and faces the karmic and logical consequences. The interaction between Luz and Albert is good enough, but it gets even better when the way Luz saves herself from the bat queen is by using information from the beginning of the episode in noticing the interlock and making a complex character out of this antagonist.
Naturally such a great episode had to be followed by what's definitely the worst, at least on its own terms (it doesn't damage the rest of the story the way other bad episodes do).
This whole plot is just a trainwreck. First Luz and King write a whole book in what we can only assume is a single day because the other episodes have generally been one day each. That's already enough to make this unreasonable as a canonical addition, but maybe workable for comedy.
When I saw King's book being over-the-top successful, I thought they were about to show us that he was just imagining it. Nope! This one-note idiot comic relief character actually wrote a massively popular book! If I was at the episode pitch meeting, it would take some effort to convince me this was a serious suggestion.
Finally the confrontation with Pinyet is a bunch of nonsense. He puts his writers in a death trap with clearly too little time to write anything coherent (he doesn't know about Luz's book), so his actions don't make any sense. Then it turns out destroying the contract destroys the cage; deus ex machina for the umpteenth time. Maybe you can argue this makes sense because Pinyet uses the contract to put King inside the cage, but the cage was originally created for Luz who had nothing to do with the contract, so I don't buy that. And then when they open his suitcase of transformed authors, they're all suddenly able to run and attack Pinyet when they couldn't move before as he was playing with them in the other room?
There's a beautiful irony in the typewriter telling Eda she doesn't want to know what happened with Luz and King, it's like the characters themselves disowning the episode 🤣
This episode is also pretty good. Continuing Luz's magic learning was long overdue, and this is a perfect setup for it. The way she learns it makes sense. We learn about training wands in the process. It's good that Amity finally uses magic again, and now we know she has fire abilities. I just hope the writers remember that and use it from now on.
This episode is a nice step on Luz's arc: she sees the harmful rigidity of Hexside first-hand and how Eda was right. Having the rebel kids save the school and convince Bump to let them break the rules on the first episode of this is very starry-eyed, but it works. The only part of this episode I didn't like was the reveal that the rebel kids regularly use their hideout to escape detention while the guard is sleeping. That was totally unbelievable because it would require not only that the guard regularly falls asleep, but also that the kids can somehow predict when he'll wake up, or else it would be a plothole that they aren't caught.
This episode does pretty well with building relationships, but has several fumbles.
Twice it invokes "whoops they dropped the spray bottle in such an unlikely way that it just happened to squirt them both", and during the show, having King just deftly dodge two monsters much larger than him and get the required elevation trivializes the opposition again. If I wrote that scene I would've had the kids assist King in getting to a position where he could throw the necklace.
It was also jarring to me when it's revealed that Eda's magic depends on Albert. Wait, what? Has it been that way the whole time? No other witch seems to need a Palisman. Even trainees Willow and Gus don't need anything like that. This is especially awkward because it's used to get Eda captured only for her captor to let her escape with no effort.
Amity's memory shows that she never actually disliked Willow, only ceased friendship because of her parents threatening her. This raises a lot of issues:
Couldn't Amity have told Willow the truth from the start?
Couldn't they have still hung out sometimes while Amity's parents weren't around?
The Blights' rule is against associating with "weak" people, so why didn't Willow get whitelisted after she took the top student badge from Amity in episode 3?
The dialogue during the brunt of the episode is also poor; characters don't act surprised to find out these major reveals, and don't show much emotion.
The writers continue to spurn any chance to explore the magic system, even though Luz is now studying at a magic school. We see her learn a third spell from a glyph on a plant, but where did that plant come from? Surely that isn't on all plants in the Boiling Isles? Did she get it from Hexside? If so, she must've learned more about how the glyphs work and why there are two different ways to do magic, right? Why are we not getting any of this information?
It's kind of funny that the writers choose now of all times to explain how Luz has electricity and internet. 15 episodes overdue, but I'm impressed they're thinking about things like that for once.
I'm mad that the writers take away Amity's spotlight for this episode. Sure, we just had an Amity episode, but that's a reason to not put this one next, not a reason to have Bump say this would be Amity's story and then give it to Luz instead (it would've been fine if Bump had just said it would be Luz). Not only does it make Amity look like a whimp, but it doesn't make sense because everyone heard Bump say it would be her. So everyone knows that she chickened out; isn't that even more embarrassing to her? What happened to "I can't show weakness"?
The battle with Grom rests on a nonsense portrayal of fear. Luz's fear is facing her mother, so if she knows the Grom isn't really her mother, why is she afraid? The same thing happens with Amity's fear: her fear is being rejected, but the Grom of course can't fulfill that, so it just turns into a symbolic representation of it.
Also, Amity's fear doesn't work with this plot because as soon as either her or Luz is chosen she knows they won't be dancing together anyway, so she had no reason to fear rejection after that.
The reveal that someone is sending Luz's mom letters in her name is an interesting one. I hope the writers don't botch this.
Other characters' acceptance of Boscha's over-the-top villainy is somewhat jarring. Especially after she throws seemingly lethal fireballs at Luz, the reasonable response to her is not "let's settle this over the game" but "let's take this dangerous aggressor out by any means necessary".
The leaning on the fourth wall with the training montage is hilarious, and Luz's lesson about treating reality like fiction is a good one, but a bit awkward this far into the show (it would've been most appropriate as an alternative to the solution used in episode 2), and is undermined by the unbelievable fact that they outplay the best players at Hexside when both Willow and Luz are completely new to the game. It is a really nice touch that they win using the thorn vault, after we learn about the move's history.
The reveal of the Rusty Smidge is clumsy in multiple ways:
It's not believable that Willow didn't tell Luz about it
That the protagonists lose the match anyway renders their fakeout victory pointless
But Luz's rant about it is my favorite part of the episode, because she's voicing one of my own criticisms of Harry Potter.
It's somewhat of a deus ex machina that Eda wins the Grudgby match against Lillith. It's not unreasonable that Eda is the better player, but showing her plan to cheat sets up the expectation that she won't just win normally, and it renders the whole plot thread pointless. The outline is like:
Establish a possible danger to Eda
Show her plan
Show her plan fail
Show her win anyway
What was the point of Eda's side of this episode besides filling screen time?
Episodes 18 and 19
I really didn't expect this but these two episodes are by far the two best episodes I've ever seen in any show. They're almost as good as they could've been without more history setting up the included plot devices. Almost everything is done right:
It has been mentioned before that Eda's curse is worsening, and this lead is now brought to the perfect conclusion.
Luz, Gus, and Willow's magic are all put to use during their infiltration.
We witness Eda's temper in the bridge confrontation with Lillith, a side of her we've never seen but is perfectly suited to a finale, over the perfect trigger for her.
This duel is the first actually good witch duel. It's appropriately joke-free and actually makes them seem powerful and skilled, unlike every other magic battle up to this point. The trash talk between them is on-point. The choreography shows that Eda would've won if she didn't have to worry about Luz, which makes Luz's guilt when she returns home all the more salient.
Lillith's admission that she's the one who cursed Eda is handled spectacularly. The trash talk leads to it naturally and the voice acting and how both characters react to it are perfect.
Eda's last words are perfect. It's the only time she shows delicate emotion, and she knows exactly how to spend her last moment.
I like how the characters get a break between episodes, giving Luz time to reflect and plan without Eda. It feels like a coming of age, well-deserved and perfectly executed.
Luz's line "Us weirdos have to stick together" from episode 1 is finally reused.
Luz has grown so much since she started learning magic that she's able to hold her own against Lillith! It's a delicious trophy for her but letting her actually win would violate the power hierarchy too much, so the writers gracefully end the duel in a truce.
Luz's victory against Belos is - to my shock! - believable because she doesn't win through raw power, but through deception.
The harm-sharing spell introduced in Lillith's memory is re-used perfectly.
Lillith's character is permanently altered in a satisfying way. They can do so much more with this in season 2, and I'm excited to see what they come up with!
The finale also realigns the show's moral compass: the government is evil, and it's too serious to be a laughing matter all the time.
I'm so surprised the writers did all this right!
The only thing I'm really dissatisfied with is that Amity is not used. Her being injured is not an excuse because the writers could've just not showed us that she was still injured, and even without that they could've used her anyway (idea off the top of my head: she uses an abomination as a crutch).