Björn Hlynur Haraldsson

The Witcher (2019) s01e04 – Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials

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.

The Witcher (2019) s01e01 – The End’s Beginning

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.

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