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.