Title: The Witcher, Episode Two: Four Marks
Release Date: December 20, 2019
Streaming on Netflix
Created by: Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, based on the series by Andrzej Sapkowski
Running Time: 61 minutes
Saved by the Bard
The Witcher‘s second episode, Four Marks, hopes to improve on a rough premiere episode that I rated quite lowly. With the series staples out of the way in yesterday’s article, I’m going to delve more deeply into what happens in each episode, so let this stand as a spoiler warning for tonight’s episode. Despite yesterday’s bad review, I’m still hopeful that the series can turn itself around. Some problems seem systemic, but others were more indicative of the show just not knowing how to get started and be where it wants to be. It might still have good characters and an exciting story to tell. Let’s find out.
Spoilers below for Four Marks, episode two of The Witcher.
We open this episode on two townsfolk being mean to an awkward, hunchy girl with purple eyes even though she is nice. Under duress, she uses magic, what the show calls “portaling,” to teleport out. Drawn by her outburst, a witch comes and buys her from her douchey dad for exactly four marks(!)
The hair and eyes that the camera keeps lingering on are a dead giveaway that this is Yennefer, a sorceress that Witcher fans will undoubtedly know. If you’re new to the world, don’t worry about it right now. She’s usually older and more put-together, but I’m sure she’ll get there.
On the other side of the episode bumper, we’re back with Cirilla—Ciri—our deposed princess-cum-Queen with the magic screams from episode one. After giving herself a not-at-all-convincing dirt dye-job, young Ciri learns that she is shite at surviving by herself in the forest. Fortunately, a convenient mute black boy pops out of nowhere to help her out. Hurray for deus ex machina! He even shares his food with her. She thanks him by giving him one glove and naming him Ratboy. Once she’s found her way, he fades back into the foliage, and she promptly forgets about him.
Once again, we’re getting some great cinematography. Though pallid greys have been the norm, we are moving into dramatic shifts toward other colors and lighting from scene to scene. While I love the idea that different places in the world have different aesthetics, there is one misstep here. The environment of Geralt’s plotline is much brighter this episode, giving it a similar light quality to Yennefer’s. That can muddy the jumps, particularly since the episode switches back and forth between its storylines so frequently. Given that the main character of each is always prominent, it’s not difficult to tell where you are, but keeping the different light quality would have been a helpful visual cue to help the audience adjust, especially since we’ve upped the storyline count from two to three.
As we check in on Geralt sullenly drinking in a tavern, we’re also treated to his second sword this episode! A grand day it is. Our witcher is finally prepared to slay whatever comes for him. He carries both with him in the tavern where we find him, but only one—presumably the steel—gets worn on his back. The other stays with Roach (the horse) unless he needs it. On his way out, Geralt negotiates a fee to do a simple job for a farmer. They settle on 150 ducats (notably, a different currency than the German marks for which Yennefer was sold and the episode is named). Fortunately, 150 is the exact amount of money that is already in the pouch of gold the farmer has on him.
Tonight, The Witcher seems willing to let Geralt play straight man and shift its chicanery off to a hanger-on bard, which is definitely for the best — allowing Geralt to be gruff and someone else be funny plays much better than last night’s attempts to give Cavill funny lines to gravel out. The bard, Jaskier, is inspired by a similar character from the books and games (where he’s named Dandelion–Jaskier is Polish for buttercup) who is a longtime friend/companion/annoyance of Geralt’s.
Riffing to himself, Jaskier comes up with a name for Geralt to replace “the Butcher of Blaviken.” It’s “White Wolf,” his traditional moniker. Immediately after, he says, “There I go again, just delivering exposition,” cutely lampshading the fact that he is just serving as the writers’ mouthpiece. I like the reference, but I’m also becoming acutely aware of how hard writers are trying to force in as many references to the source material as they can. If they aren’t going to use the material, just tossing it in as fan-service doesn’t do anyone any good, and they risk making a show that is only enjoyable if you’re already familiar with the world of The Witcher.
Anyway, Yennefer is struggling in magic school, but there is an older boy (Istredd) who is nice to her. So far, this plotline is cliché and predictable, and I’m confident she will someday be a greater magicker than all these other girls.
Ciri is hanging out in a refugee camp, seeing the other side of her people’s lives. Would you believe that not everyone loved her grandmother, the queen! The rude awakening is formulaic, but there’s some lovely acting here as Ciri bonds with a woman over their respective losses.
In an attempt to complete his contract, Geralt fights a sylvan, which means ugly man-goat. This is a weak scene with some awkward mid-fight banter between Geralt and the sylvan. Geralt is rewarded for his paltry repartee with a blow to the head and surefire concussion. Pretty bad witchering, honestly. He and his bard wake up later, bound by elves, with Henry Cavill very clearly wearing a different wig. It’s whiter, with a different texture. That’s fine, moving on.
We learn that elves are being chased off by humans, who are also trying to commit genocide against them (for the second time), and, in a callback to the first episode, Geralt whines about the lesser of two evils and suggests that his captors just go somewhere else. He also delivers some more of his big, profound, wise pronouncements, and they still come off as self-righteous and idiotic. He has no moral high ground, and Cavill’s delivery plays as stilted and annoying instead of thoughtful.
Either way, a mix between Geralt’s uncompelling platitudes and the sylvan’s beseeching sways the elves, and they free their prisoners.
Hogwarts magic school, Yennefer reveals that she’s a quarter elf—it’s why she’s got a hunched back, for some reason—then she summons a portal. This is a big deal, but the show doesn’t do a good job of explaining why since both she and the boy she met did the same thing earlier.
Scene change number 46! In Ciri’s story, the camp is being raided. Her friend spews some size-centric invective at a little person, who retaliates by stabbing her. Fortunately, Ratboy reappears to rescue the petrified princess once again. He then reveals himself as an elf named Dara. Also, he can talk. Everything is coming together. Elves connect us all.
Geralt and our bard friend part ways, which concerns me. Our gruff hero was helped considerably by the bard’s presence, so if he doesn’t return or get replaced, I worry that we’ll be back to Cavill shouldering a load he can’t handle tomorrow.
As the episode wraps up, we get a shot of Yennefer set to Jaskier’s promised new song about the witcher. Yen accepts that the weak must die so that the strong can flourish and sacrifices her former classmates to a magic pool of water. Then she smiles. I think this kid’s gonna make it.
Verdict: Geralt’s plotline continues to provide action, while Ciri’s provides the best acting and most compelling storyline. The former’s was helped considerably by the presence of Jaskier. Our new addition, Yennefer, seems like she could get interesting, both based on what the show has provided so far and on knowing something about the character. So far, it hasn’t caught up, but it’s had one fewer episode to establish itself, and the other two had a weak first outing. In all, Four Marks was a better episode than the first, with less of what made The End’s Beginning terrible and more of what it did well. However, it still had some stilted writing, and it suffered from jumping between plotlines too frequently. It’s clear that Ciri and Geralt—and perhaps Yennifer too—are going to meet up at some point, and I can’t help but feel like the show is going to be stronger once they do. If the review of tonight’s episode was confusingly jumbled, then it gave the correct impression of the episode it was about.
Four Marks’ line of the episode
Istredd: Come. Do you know whose skulls these are?
Yennefer: Dead people?
- A step up over episode one
- More focused plotlines, less proper noun spam
- I feel like we’re heading toward something interesting, even if we aren’t quite there yet
- Starting to get to know characters and things are starting to hint at connections in a way that makes the world feel connected instead of random
- Jaskier’s addition provides a good foil for Geralt
- Writers largely pumped the breaks on over-dramatic, try-hard dialogue
- Still some weak writing, particularly for Geralt
- Jumping between three storylines every 40 seconds is a bad way to tell a coherent story. How much time is even passing?
- As with the other two in The End's Beginning, Yennefer’s storyline started out with a lot unexplained—where is she? Why? What’s the deal with witches? Old magic? Brotherhood?
- Really toeing the line between staying true to the source material and fanservice
- The Witcher's combat choreography is really well done, but there was almost none in Four Marks.