Joey Batey really does belong in the eighties as a sitcom sidekick, doesn’t he? Opening credits for the Netflix series, “The Witcher”, done “Night Court”-style
Did they intentionally wait until the last episode of the first season to bring in the biggest “Game of Thrones” comparisons? Like, not only is there a “Wall” to defend—sorry, sorry, a “Keep” to defend from the North (wait, wait, is it the South)—but the episode opens with Henry Cavill vs. Army of Darkness. Even more, “Witcher” scores with the two “repeat” elements. The zombie creatures in “Witcher” are far more terrifying than anything in “GoT” and the battle for the Wall—sorry, the Keep—is better than any of the battles in “GoT,” any season.
Maybe because it’s a mage war, with Anya Chalotra, MyAnna Buring, and back from long ago (and last episode) Anna Shaffer magicking it up to stop the invading army.
It’s far from perfect—a couple of the one-on-one fights have no intensity because it’s obvious shitty Kylo Ren (Eamon Farren) and his girl Merlin (Mimi Ndiweni) aren’t going to die—or get any better at the whole acting thing—but when it’s large scale battle stuff, director Marc Jobst brings it.
While Chalotra has a battle episode, Cavill disappears after his fight with the Army of Darkness because they need to keep the viewer in suspense about how and when the Cavill and princess Freya Allan story lines are going to converge. While it’s obvious Allan is simultaneous to Mage War, it’s not clear when Cavill’s Bruce Campbell antics occur.
The episode compensates, with Cavill, by giving him some childhood flashbacks before he was a witcher and when he’s just discovering he gets powers from Earth’s yellow sun. Wait, wrong show. It’s a bit of a cop out to do the flashbacks in the last episode of the season and probably would’ve gone far in humanizing Cavill throughout; but it sort of removes him from the show where’s got top-billing. Odd move for a season finale. Especially if he and Allan are destined to Lone Wolf and Cub.
There’s some pretty good stuff with Chalotra bonding with gal pal Shaffer and Buring—some of it even passes Bechdel—but given her relationship with her fellow mages implies history and depth, it just makes Chalotra’s character development between episodes four and, I don’t know, six even more of a shafting. Though jumping ahead thirty to forty-two years isn’t going to go well no matter what. But still… Chalotra’s the best actor the show’s got, her part ought to be better and not, you know, annoying.
Buring’s got some great stuff this episode too.
And Cavill does get a sidekick again at one point—altruistic farmer Francis Magee, who’s perfectly good at being likable. If it doesn’t seem likely he’d survive in a world of monsters.
As for Allan’s part of the episode… eh. She’s a plot pawn, moved around the board. Long fall from her spot in the first episode.
The season finale cliffhanger sets up an entirely different show when it returns, so it’s hard to be anticipating… though I’m sure I’ll be back. Wife’s not going to pass up the Henry Cavill beefcake.
“The Witcher” never expressly says “we’ve been Westworlding you” but this episode is where they show how they’ve been Westworlding the viewer. It’s Freya Allan’s part of the pilot, only with Henry Cavill mixed in. It’s been twelve years since Cavill was last in Jodhi May’s kingdom, which means Allan is like eleven and a half or something. Okay. Fine. She seems a little older, really doesn’t matter.
So while the show’s revealing how Cavill didn’t actually forget about his responsibility to Allan (which they still haven’t explained other than he feels responsible) and tried to save her in the first episode, May being a tyrannical warlord grandma blinded her to the better choices for Allan’s safety. Again, fine, whatever. If “The Witcher” were confident enough in its story, it wouldn’t have needed the fractured timeline because the show gets nothing out of the fracturing other than some momentary surprises. Lacking momentary surprises.
But while Cavill’s Back to the Future II adventures in the first episode are twelve years after he was last in the castle, there’s also Anya Chalotra’s arc. She’s visiting old boyfriend Royce Pierreson, who’s doing some Planet of the Apes-style archeology to discover the world before the three worlds converged or whatever. He’s basically just a cameo to set Chalotra up for going back to the mage training castle where she spent episodes two and three. There, she avoids mentor MyAnna Buring until the most dramatically effective moment while corrupting the current crop of students. And has flashbacks. Flashbacks to episodes two and three. In case anyone forgot, even though it was only four episodes ago and it’s a Netflix show so the episodes were intended to be binged.
Maybe if Chalotra had been introduced in the first episode instead of second, the flashbacks would… no, they’re just pointless. Worse, they take away from Chalotra getting to act in the present. Because she’s presumably had some character development between this episode and last, only… we don’t get to see it and we don’t get to infer it from her actions because her actions are mostly setups for exposition or flashback.
This episode is the season’s shortest at forty-five and change and it feels like at least ten minutes is reused footage.
The ending has Freya Allan revealing she’s got a different superpower than we knew about before—she’s got some arc about trying to survive among war refugees or whatever, doesn’t matter until the cliffhanger. Only it seems like her time in the magical forest was really important so it’s too bad the show didn’t use that time better.
Also, there’s a big exposition dump from Buring about the bad guys, who are basically medieval fundamentalist Christian Nazis.
But, hey, at least the timelines are all synced? And the “Destiny” drinking game rules are in full effect here as well.
So this episode, set sometime after the last episode as far as Henry Cavill and Anya Chalotra are concerned but still before the first episode as far as Freya Allan’s storyline (there’s some exposition about the political situation leading up to the attack in that first episode, but still just proper noun-filled blather), is where “The Witcher” all of a sudden seemed like it was revealing itself to be a romance novel. Only it’s not—the wife reminded me romance novels have a particular structure and the show doesn’t follow it; it just looks like a romance novel whenever Cavill’s making eyes at Chalotra; he makes all their embraces look like a romance novel cover, which seems to be the point of the show.
This episode’s probably the best in the series so far. Like… it’s an actual good hour of television. They’re all going dragon hunting. Cavill and now steady but still unaging despited the indeterminate advance of time between episodes Joey Batey join up with fun old man Ron Cook (who’s got two sidekicks of his own, warrior women Adele Oni and Colette Tchantcho) while Chalotra’s babysitting royal idiot Jordan Renzo. There are also a group of dwarves and another of “Reivers,” who are just crappy humans. It’s a race to kill the dragon. The casting is mostly good, especially with the dwarves and even though Cook isn’t great, he’s fun. It helps. And Chalotra, Batey, and Cavill have a good dynamic together. Plus Cavill and Chalotra are effective making eyes at each other.
Though there is a scene where Cavill’s got to fall asleep and it’s so awkward you wonder if he’s never actually fallen asleep in real life. Like, he doesn’t seem to know how to do it.
Meanwhile Freya Allan’s in danger with the assassin as they go through the forest. Not the blissful forest from the last couple episodes but the crappy forest where you wonder how Allan and her elf sidekick, Wilson Radjou-Pujalte, aren’t freezing. Radjou-Pujalte is better this episode. Allan’s arcs have, frankly, been crap for the majority of the season at this point, despite her being established as the protagonist in the first episode. This episode’s suspense arc doesn’t make up for the previous episode’s weak plots for her, but it does start to get her on solid ground.
Decent CGI with the dragon and an okay surprise at the end… like I said, it’s an entertaining hour of televised amusement. Took the show long enough.
There’s another Batey song over the end credits and I’m even more convinced they paid him with exposure because there’s no good reason to have the song there. Or maybe someone thought Batey’s bard—who lionizes Cavill over the years through song—should be more important than the script writers did. “The Witcher”’s got a lot of problems with narrative perspective, narrative distance. It’s never good enough to really matter but still… the problems are there, even if they don’t matter much overall.
Oh, and now revealed to be main villains Eamon Farren and Mimi Ndiweni (his mage, who has history with Chalotra) really aren’t anywhere near good enough. Like, Farren’s terrible, sure, but if Ndiweni were stronger she could cover it. Only she’s not strong. At all. Ineffectual would be the appropriate descriptor. How “Witcher” manages to cast so many parts well, then so many parts poorly… it’s unfortunate, as uniform performance quality would help a bunch.
This episode has storylines converging, something I really thought they’d wait to do until the season finale cliffhanger. Instead, Henry Cavill and Joey Batey run across Anya Chalotra in their quest for a cure to Batey’s magically inflamed throat. The episode opens with Cavill trying to find a djinn’s bottle so he can wish for sleep—the episode’s set an indeterminate time after the previous one, at least for Cavill and Batey (something Batey mentions but with an intentional lack of specificity, maybe because Batey still looks the same age—I’m assuming Cavill doesn’t age normal because he’s a mutant). Because Cavill and Batey are bickering, things go wrong with the djinn and Batey gets a magical owie; they need a mage, Chalotra turns out to be the mage.
Since we’ve last seen her, she’s become a rogue mage who’s trying to recover her ability to bear children, something you have to give up to be a mage. At least if you’ve got a uterus. It’s unclear if gonads get snipped.
Chalotra’s ostensibly a prisoner but has been mind controlling the populace and keeping them going in an Eyes Wide Shut party with season two “Game of Thrones” level nudity.
Cavill’s fun playing the tough guy, especially with Chalotra and Batey around—not sure there’s so much been character development in the series as better writing for what Cavill can do and do well. Plus Chalotra and Cavill trying to get the djinn stuff sorted out lets Cavill play hero in a better situation (he’s trying to save sympathetic regulars—Chalotra and Batey—not fighting for what’s right). There’s a lot with the three wishes and some emphasis on the third mystery wish. “The Witcher”’s predictable, but in a well-executed sort of way.
Now for the poorly executed stuff. Princess in hiding Freya Allan is still in the magical forests of Endor playing with the… oh, wait, wrong franchise. She’s still in hiding with the forest Amazons and since they’re warriors, the bad guys can’t get in. This episode finally gives chief bad guy Eamon Farren a lot to do. Shame he’s terrible. At least when he’s on horseback wearing his silly bird head—it looks like something Gonzo would wear—he’s not emoting or delivering dialogue. He gets off the horse this episode and gets some shapeshifting monster to help him go after Farren.
Adam Levy’s back as the Allan family mage; he’s good. Wilson Radjou-Pujalte’s around as Allan’s young elf friend. He’s not good.
Shame there are only three episodes left, as the teaming up of Cavill, Chalotra, and Batey has paid off better than anything else in the show so far.
Last thing—apparently there are songs (bard Batey’s) over the end credits now. His “Witcher” theme song was a few episodes ago but this one has what the wife described as a poorly written Nick Cave song over the end credits. What’s strange about the songs is they’re done without fanfare, like they promised Batey to put his songs in without paying him for exposure.
Is tricking a viewer with time periods called a Westworlding it yet? “The Witcher” does a soft Westworld this episode; initially I thought they were just cheap with the CGI establishing shots—Henry Cavill and returning sidekick Joey Batey go to a royal wedding auction (we get a little about the gender politics, but not a whole bunch) and it’s the same city as from the first episode. The one princess on the run Freya Allan runs away from. Because it turns out Cavill’s story is in the past from Allan. How far in the past depends on Allan’s age, which hasn’t been discussed, but it appears to be at least fifteen years after Cavill’s timeline.
It’s not so much a narrative trick as a way to simultaneously introduce characters regardless of time period… if they’d announced the time difference with onscreen titles, it’d be perfectly fine. They don’t and it’s a bit of an eye-roll but still basically fine. Because Cavill and Batey hanging out with Jodhi May and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson is pretty good. May’s great. Björn’s great. May’s particularly fun giving Cavill crap. They talk a bit about how the aforementioned gender politics work. There’s something called “male tradition,” which is pomp and circumstance and the women who rule would rather just go out and kill their enemies and not have silly traditions. What’s so weird about the gender politics is they still seem to be weighed towards patriarchy—May’s daughter (Gaia Mondadori, who’s not good but also doesn’t have enough material to be good) is being married off at this ceremony. Mom May doesn’t like the situation but it’s (male) tradition so her hands are tied. She also really doesn’t like Mondadori’s true love, Ossian Perret, for some obvious but bad reasons.
There are a lot of exposition dumps, some better than others. The multiple ramblings about “destiny,” which is basically the Force in “The Witcher,” comes up multiple times. Then there’s a Quickening scene straight out of Highlander but it turns out not to have anything to do with Destiny or the Force or magic and is just filler before May gets more to do. So long and kind of tedious, but May’s great so it doesn’t really matter.
It’s so much, of course, I haven’t even gotten to Allan or Anya Chalotra yet. Allan goes into this hidden forest place—basically a de facto Amazon (if there are dudes, they rarely get screen time) Green Place—where she can drink a magic potion to forget her past and live a magical future in Ferngully or whatever. It’s fairly disappointing stuff as the Allan stuff was the best part of the first episodes.
Chalotra’s story is about her miserable life in the present; thirty years have passed since she became a mage last episode and basically all she does is nursemaid idiot royals. The idiot royal in this episode is Isobel Laidler, who’s not as good as she ought to be. Chalotra’s completely passive until the end of the episode—odd move considering they’re reestablishing the series’s strongest character basically from scratch—and she still manages to occupy her scenes with Laidler. “Witcher”’s casting is either good or ineffectual, with Cavill basically being the only in-between. He’s got undeniable presence, but mostly a physical one. Though he’s a lot more fun playing civil at the wedding than monster hunting.
As for the “Witcher” drinking game, any time Adam Levy says “Destiny,” you drink. Levy’s May’s mage who’ll go on to be Allan’s pal in the present. What we now know is the present. Or whatever.
It ought to be a lot more uneven thanks to the Westworlding and Allan’s back to nature arc being lackluster, not to mention Chalotra’s entirely different character, but May’s performance is strong enough in the A plot to hold it all up.
Oh, and the episode finally ties at least two of the first episode’s outstanding threads together… with exposition obviously, not scene. Because “Witcher”’s all about that exposition.
I didn’t even realize Freya Allan’s princess on the run character was missing from the episode until she shows up for the cliffhanger setup. Because Anya Chalotra’s B plot is so compelling; also Henry Cavill’s A plot. The monster plot is decent this episode. But Chalotra’s story is all about her getting to her “enchantment,” when they remake mages into their ideal whatever before they go out and serve on royal courts. Things don’t go well for Chalotra or mentor MyAnna Buring’s plans for the future.
What’s even more impressive is how Chalotra manages not to get drug down by the exceptionally weird sex scene with beau Royce Pierreson. “Witcher” gets its nudity this episode and it’s weird at best, more likely icky. Like… I think it’s supposed to be empowering slash sexy with Chalotra’s CG-ed hump during the sweaty sex. It’s an “okay, they did that” moment, but unclear why they did it. Especially given the enchantment means Chalotra gets her bones magically broken into the perfect form.
She makes the show so they’ve got leeway.
On to Cavill and the A plot. He’s monster hunting a “shtriga,” which in “Witcher” world is a monstrous babe born to a cursed mother. This monster has already taken out another witcher, who—it turns out—are not all blond so how did everyone know Cavill was a witcher in the first episode. The distinct armor maybe? Funny how a show with so much exposition never has the right exposition.
After some beefcake—the first Cavill beefcake (had to make sure the wife was paying attention) in the show (but no bum even though the woman he’s with is uncomfortably topless)—Cavill goes to budget Ironforge where some dwarves hire him to take on the monster.
Wait, wait—there’s also the “look at his scars” sequence with Cavill, which isn’t particularly good but always got to remember… Return of Swamp Thing never gets credit for coming up with that sequence.
So it turns out the monster is the daughter of king Shaun Dooley’s (dead) sister, who his general (Jason Thorpe) loved from afar and there’s all sorts of twisted history and jealousy and whatnot. Dooley doesn’t want to kill the niece, monster or not, and has his own mage (Anna Shaffer) trying to come up with a better solution. Cavill teams up with Shaffer to try to save the monster, which culminates in a big fight scene where Cavill really should have called “Martha.”
Some more backstory on “Witcher” world, including how three worlds collided—humans, elves, and monsters (I think, I’m sure on the first two, not 100% on the monsters)—but the novels are from before Warcraft so I guess Warcraft ripped off “Witcher”?
Good performances from Thorpe and Dooley help the A plot. Shaffer’s a good foil for Cavill, who seems to be getting a new sidekick every episode. He also has power up potions he guzzles before fights, which really makes it feel like a video game adaptation.
Some bad makeup, but also some really good makeup… a nice Tim Burton “homage” dance sequence… magical creatures can lose consciousness… all sorts of things going on.
“Witcher”’s kind of a low all right, but Chalotra’s performance definitely makes it worthwhile.
Another episode another main character… this time introducing peasant girl Anya Chalotra, who’s got magical powers. She’s got a spinal birth abnormality, leading to a pretty big hump and something going on with her jaw. She’s hated by all—including her father (who’s half elf and so it’s his fault she’s got the birth abnormalities but also why she’s got the magic, also because she’s a girl… no magic for man elves or something). The father sells her to witch MyAnna Buring, which is kind of weird since the previous episode said something about only dudes could be witchers. Or something. There was so much talking in the first episode, I’m sure I glazed over on some of it.
Anyway, the episode’s split between Chalotra and her troubles becoming a super-sorceress, Cavill as he gets a singing sidekick (a trying way too hard but vaguely adorably Joey Batey) and discovers his monster prey is actually just trying to help out exiled elves, and also princess Freya Allan, who’s living in the forest, on the run, and coming across other refugees from her kingdom. Chalotra’s got the most affecting arc, as she’s getting involved with hot boy Royce Pierreson but also trying to get her magicks on. Cavill and Batey’s arc is an exposition dump about the state of things with the elves. There’s way too much elf-related exposition, but at least it matters for almost everyone involved, not like the constant blathering about faraway kingdoms last episode.
The CG on Cavill’s monster prey is pretty bad, which certainly seems to suggest the reason there isn’t more monster hunting is they don’t have the budget for monsters.
Lars Mikkelsen’s back for a particularly dumb reveal.
Allan’s arc is somewhat effective, but more because she’s discovering what a crappy world she really lives in. Not even the monsters or the bad soldiers or whatever, her country people are awful too. Good thing she makes an elf friend (see, every story arc has something to do with elves, so all the exposition informs rather than bewilders).
Though Chalotra’s the big upswing. Even if she’s got absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the plots yet.
Still not “worth watching,” mind you. Just… on an upswing.
There are so many names to learn in this episode. There are at least seven principals and then there’s a bunch of supporting cast and then everyone they’re information dumping about. “Witcher” is all about the exposition. Except when it’s not and then so long as it’s not about titular character but definitely not protagonist Henry Cavill, it’s fairly solid stuff. Let me see if I can recap without running out of breath.
Cavill’s an enhanced human who has video game powers—he’s strong, can heal, is an accomplished swords man, and can force push people when the meter’s charged enough. During the opening action sequence, with Cavill versus a monster (he’s a monster hunter, all witchers are apparently monster hunters), isn’t particularly good. Iffy CG and not great choreography. But the scene where Cavill takes on a bunch of regular guys? Pretty good stuff. Not super exciting, but far more competent than the battle scenes.
Anyway, humans hate witchers and can tell them by sight. Because of the blond wig? It’s unclear. So while townspeople are being mean to Cavill, Emma Appleton is nice to him. Then a little kid, Mia McKenna-Bruce, takes Cavill to meet the town wizard (Lars Mikkelsen, who ought to be stunt casting and is instead bland White man casting—discount Liam Cunningham in “Game of Thrones” terms). Mikkelsen tells Cavill a story about mutant girls born during an eclipse. Bonus points if you don’t just follow what Mikkelsen’s blathering about but can figure out why writer (and series creator, based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s novel series and its subsequent video game adaptations) Lauren Schmidt wants to do so much exposition since Mikkelsen’s not good at saying it and Cavill’s not good at listening to it. Though at least Cavill’s supposed to be ignoring it.
Long story short, Mikkelsen wants Cavill to kill Appleton. Cavill refuses, leaves town, where Appleton tracks him and tries to convince him to kill Mikkelsen for her. What is a witcher to do, especially since Appleton’s willing to up the ante with some seducing.
Meanwhile, completely unconnected to Cavill, Mikkelsen, and Appleton is princess Freya Allen. Who looks different from McKenna-Bruce after a while but not initially. Especially since Allen’s one of the characters with the funky eyes. Various people in “Witcher” have funky eyes. It usually means they have superpowers.
Allen lives with queen grandma Jodhi May (who’s technically old enough to be a grandma but not realistically) and king grandpa Björn Hlynur Haraldsson—of the Nordic cast, he’s far and away the best). Björn’s the fun one, May’s the badass warrior queen (“Witcher” doesn’t explain the differences in the fantasy world’s gender politics but there’s definitely something). They’re preparing Allen to rule, she just wants to goof off. Little does she know she’s got superpowers and her destiny is to hang out with Cavill.
Once we hear it’s her destiny, the episode makes a little more sense—at least from her perspective—but otherwise it’s weak as both pilot and prologue. Cavill’s not important to the story yet because it’s Allen’s story and they haven’t met yet.
It’s well-acted enough from May, Appleton, and Allen, but the fantasy land is nowhere near compelling enough with the way they set it up. Nonsense names and exposition dumps and no monsters after the first scene.