I have, very reluctantly, been convinced to finish The Witcher. A show I initially blew off as mediocre at best. A show that is being praised amongst many of the more critically minded people I know, even though I am almost positive that it is incapable of sitting cozily amongst the competent shows Netflix has to offer. What I have decided to do is to finish this with the caveat that if I have to suffer through every episode I will complain the whole way. This will be a chronicle of the verbal temper tantrum I will have during every episode I watch. What I will say is that should this show turn it around, should it get its act together and scrape together a decent story I will absolutely give it credit. However, I am quite sure I am in for no such surprise.
This will officially be the second in this series, the first being my initial reaction in Agitated Author: The Witcher so Far where I posted a couple of my issues with the storytelling and the reason for my surety of the lack of skill involved in the making of this show. That said let me begin my review of episode 2 of The Witcher; Four Marks.
Going to try and keep some of these complaints brief, and I will start it out with things that I liked.
1) Special effects. 2) Music (though nowhere near as good as the game, but what is really?).
On to my problems with the episode.
The episode begins with this weird assault on the new character Yennefer. There are so many weird choices here, but I will point out I was not even sure if it was a regular attack or if these kids planned to do something sexual in nature. Either way the whole thing escalated far too quickly to make sense. That kind of thing doesn’t just happen unless they were longtime bullies, which would make it incredibly weird that they seemed to not know her and that she tried to hand the girl the flower that set the whole thing off, or the town is just violent, but that kind of thing needs establishment and there was none.
Almost immediately after that there is a scene where Yennefer’s father gets approached by a woman inquiring about the price of his pigs, the father tells her ten marks, then she asks for the price of Yennefer he tells her six marks. Her mother exposits that the woman is a witch and that he can’t sell their daughter, he gives this ‘She’s no daughter of mine’ spiel and the witch haggles him down to four marks before she is sold off to the lukewarm protest of her mother. Not sure if the mother’s response was bad acting, bad direction or both, but if they wanted me to believe the mother really didn’t want her daughter sold they did nothing to sell me on that notion. However what REALLY bugged me about this scene was the way the father sold his daughter. I get it, he sells his daughter for less than a pig, surely meant to convey how little he thinks of her, but for that to win out over greed is weird. They did not set up that he hates her soooo much that he would be willing to short himself four marks at the beginning of the haggling, then accepts two less than that. On that logic if he left the price for his daughter the same as the pig he would have ended up with 8 marks. Was it really worth it just to be petty? Later it is revealed that she is someone else’s child, but even then, why downsell? The thing is I knew from the start that it was really there so Yennefer could cry about it later. Would have been better if he tried to sell her for the price of a pig and was haggled down, slowly showing that she wasn’t even worth that much to him. It would have shown everything necessary about him and would have been a more natural development of that scenario, though I argue that the witch even asked about the price of pigs at all was contrived, but I digress.
Just a moment to mention the absolutely childish way this show is written and edited after the witch (who’s name is Tissaia) buys Yennefer the girl refuses to go with her, smash cut to her being locked in a room. How was she transported? Magic? Force? Did they talk on the ride over or was she treated like luggage? It is relevant to establish characters, their relationships, and world-building, but isn’t shown.
The story cuts back to Princess Ciri (Miss Why Have I Been Protected All My Life) where she is stumbling through the forests and decides to hide by covering her blonde hair with mud, except not all the way… Like the guards are sure to stop any young woman wandering alone in the woods and give her at least a glance, the disguise would only work for about a second. Again it feels like the writers put this in so this character could walk around covered in mud to make her situation more tragic, not because the plot or logic dictated it, but because sad things happening makes sad scene sadder. I call this fact when the mud is pretty much gone in the next scene with her.
We are then taken back to Yennefer being taught by Tissaia with a bunch of other girls, and it’s fine if not contrived, but I must once again bring up the editing. There are scenes in what is presumably Tissaia’s mansion, a school where she teaches magic, it may be a part of her home or elsewhere, and this spot where Istredd, a young man Yennefer met while accidentally teleporting, hangs out. Wherever they are the exterior of Tissaia’s is a building on the mainland connected to a bridge that leads out to an island on the ocean. Often between scenes this shot is shown, yet I don’t know what it means. Is the structure on the mainland the school where she teaches? Or is the school on the island? Or is the island where Istredd is? Or vice versa? Or is it that both places are on the island and the structure on the mainland is not a house but a very serious gate? You can try to make assumptions based on the fact that in some of the shots you can see someone walking across the bridge, but are those the characters we just saw in the previous scene? Or are these just random people strolling across the bridge? Establishing shot that establishes nothing. *inhales deeply* SIGH~
In the B plot Geralt gets into a scuffle with some elves and the show has the nerve to act like the titular character is actually going to die in the second episode. Like it has the gall to ramp up the music and cut away as if I’m going to be on the edge of my seat. This is amateur hour.
Okay so here we come to the big fat no sense making whale that both episodes seem to have. In the first one it was… well it was everyone’s reason for doing anything. It was all just nonsense. This episode’s overall was follow-able there were obvious cuckups on the details as mentioned before, but I was basically able to follow the progression of the plot through the slapdash editing. Then came the big double, double-cross reveal. Let me see if I can even explain this. Alright, so Yennefer and Istredd are meeting in secret on Tissaia’s Island… or her mainland estate, it’s unclear. Point is they meet in secret (the fact that their meeting is a secret is news to me at this point but whatever).
Know what, let me take this moment to point out that every fact that should be made clear to the audience beforehand never is, it’s just something that gets brought up when the plot needs it. The Nilfgaardians are elves, or at least have elves in their ranks, that isn’t mentioned or explained until episode 2 and trust they had time in episode 1 to establish that. They tell you everyone blames the Queen for what happened in Cintra, but it’s never really clear what the common folk thought of her before or if this change of heart was simply because she lost the battle. I hope it will be explained at some point but I mean come the f**k on with this last-minute mention of pertinent information. It’s like listening to someone who doesn’t know how to tell a joke, “A guy walks into a bar and the bartender says, ‘Why the long face’ oh, by the way, the guy was a horse.”
ANYWAY back to my point, Yennefer and Istredd slowly… or quickly there is no clear indication of the amount of time that has passed at this point, start to fall in love. Okay so until now a few things have been made clear about Yennefer; she likes Istredd, she thinks she is cursed, her deepest fear is that she will never meet someone who will love her. With that in mind watch the writers botch this all the way the f**k up, Yennefer goes to Istredd and tells him they have been found out and she has to leave, he tries to calm her and they end up talking about all about her fears and hopes. Apparently understanding why she must leave (I assume he does because I don’t) he then busts out this flower that he used to teleport her home when they first met and offers her the chance to escape and they kiss. Her all crying and emotional and him being weirdly intense with all seven acres of forehead he has. Then she takes the flower and runs off.
It is then revealed that she faked all that stuff to get Istredd to give her the flower on Tissaia’s orders, why? To see if she would. And she did, no hesitation, and at the end of the deed Yennefer’s like ‘Am I gonna get to go to Hogwarts now?’ (paraphrasing) and I am just baffled. Sure it was mentioned that she very much wanted power or to be good at something, but the writing in no way indicated that she valued that over love. And if this rushed romance was meant to mean nothing to her really because she just thought of herself as unlovable then it really should have SHOWN THAT. Instead what they have are two completely different ideas for a character and they do not unveil which one is correct until the big reveal happens, but the only reason it seems to work is because the writing just lied to the audience. It told us she really cared for this guy, but really she could give a flip about him compared to the chance for power. They could have even had her seem conflicted about turning in the flower to show a struggle between two ideals, the desire to be good at something; useful and the possibility of finding true love, the one thing she thought she would never get. Instead, as I said before, the audience does not get to know things until the script randomly decided it’s time for The Big Feels (TM).
Then this trash writing parkours further up the failure ladder by revealing that Istredd was using her as well and the information that was told to him in her ‘love confession’ is being told to his master which… my gawd how to unpack how dumb this is.
Alright normally this would be fine, even expected, given how Yennefer looks at this point in the story and how quickly they fell in love, it is totally reasonable to assume he was using her for some reason. (Btw it is only now that the script tells you that he’s been trying to get info for a month but… I mean when did that month start? Unclear. Moving on.) HOWEVER this is where this goes to shit. Why is Istredd hanging out around Tissaia’s island? When I first saw him I assumed he worked there, but turns out no, he just hangs out in these crypts for reasons I guess. The script has not decided to explain that yet (I wish I could describe how much I HATE that this show does this). So dude is just hanging out and is a lowkey spy for a dude. Sure, sloppy, but sure. Yet to reveal that he is betraying her AFTER we already know she is doing the same to him is so crap, so poorly constructed, so AMATURE. The only place they could legitimately scrape sympathy from the audience would be to find that after Yennefer gave her heart and (presumably) first kiss to Istredd that he had just been using her. Granted even that crumb of emotion would be lost under the revelation that she didn’t care, but that aside there is nothing to gain with this reveal. Given how much it lacks impact it may as well have been revealed that he was a spy from the beginning and then the big reveal would be that Yennefer wasn’t being duped at all because she didn’t care. It would not make her reasoning make sense, but it would build that Big Mood they are always so desperate to cultivate. The looming worry the viewer would feel upon knowing that the poor girl was being used would be a legitimate option for creating drama, but NO these ABSOLUTE GREENHORNS decided to just go for the most nonsensical presentation of the issue.
AND EVEN THEN there is this moment where they have a dramatic pause, like yeah Yennefer won’t be hurt by his betrayal but she is still in danger, nefarious forces are working against her. Then right after that they show her watching her friend being turned into an eel to power the island and cares about as much as she did about betraying Istredd which is to say not at all. She is an uncaring sociopath at best why would the audience care that she is being worked against? Cause her dad sold her for cheap? F**k off.
So I sat, I sat for a long time and tried to make this absolute trash heap make more sense and I came to this POSSIBLE conclusion. Yennefer was sent to Istredd to get the flower from him, she was meant to control her emotions and get the flower with the secret of how to use it and return. She really did love him and brought the flower back to appease her master. They conjured a portal to… somewhere, who knows this show doesn’t care, and she ran because she could not abandon… him, Tissaia… I dunno. But even this feeble explanation makes NO sense. Upon returning with the flower Tissaia says she succeeded meaning she did not succumb to emotions… but she cried and kissed the guy so… wat? And how was it even a test if there was nothing at risk if she didn’t do it? It wasn’t even a, ‘I’ll kill him if you don’t’, she was just asked to get the flower from him. Yennefer comes to Istredd saying that Tissaia has found out about them and she will be sent away, but since we know that isn’t true then her teacher found out about her supposedly illicit meetings was like, ‘Cool beans, think you can get a flower off him?’ It really changes nothing, just brings up new questions. And if the implication was that she uses her wiles to get him to open the portal with the intent that they escape together and she still took the flower and reported to Tissaia then we are back to my original complaint. That’s the problem with writing your characters, not with personalities, but with plot points. They do what is needed in the scene, not what is required for the character to make sense or the scene itself for that matter.
The most frustrating thing is that this show has all the elements it would need to be good, the pieces are there, but like a toddler trying to put together an IKEA dresser the writers just don’t have the necessary tools or skills to fit them together properly. There was a line Yennefer gave stating that her twisted spine, magic use and lack of possible love were a result of her true father’s blood in her, but they did not make that a real point. They did not even make it clear, is that fact? Is that a thing that happens to half humans? Is there a real curse or does she just FEEL cursed? Was her love of Istredd destined to come to nothing and that’s why she didn’t care or did she just make herself feel that way? That could be very interesting, and teach us a lot about the character, instead these chimps used it as a way to slide in that clunky ‘I was sold for four marks’ plot point in again.
This show makes me sad.
See you next time.