In life, many things tried once deserve a second try in order to fully appreciate them. My personal list would include things such as avocados. Running. Anchovies. The Bachelor franchise (despite the trash-can fire that was this past season). Snorkeling. The work of Roberto Bolano. (2666 was a hard entry point, all right?). Hard liquor.*
This list** now includes Netflix’s fantasy series, “The Witcher.” Based on short stories from Andzrej Sapkowski, it was first made into a popular video game I’d neither heard of nor played. But I had only one thought when I first watched the Netflix trailer last spring:
“This could either be really good, or absolutely terrible.”
Reader, it’s both. I gave it a go last fall, and after two episodes, I gave up. But after a little encouragement from some fellow fantasy aficionados, I tried again … and now I’m hooked.
Let it be said: the pilot is terrible. It’s clunky and a little cheesy. The writing struggles to find its footing as we follow Geralt the Witcher and Princess Cirilla of Cintra in a Game of Thrones/Lord of the Rings esque-fantasy world, that has the usual offerings of elves, humans and mages … with additional Eastern European folklore-inspired species. But to be fair, mostly all pilots are like that. They’ve got to be interesting enough to get viewers to keep watching, but they’re rarely a good indicator of what the show is actually about. For that reason, the pilot and second episodes feel like they belong more to a “monster of the week” television show. The rest of the episodes continue in that vein, but as you watcher further, you realize something:
Every “monster of the week” story actually lends something to the bigger plot, and they’ll often circle back around.
By the fourth or fifth episode, the show is in full swing. The writers have locked down the tone, all the main players are on the board (Yennefer of Vengerberg is a personal favorite), and the plot moves along briskly. Bigger discussions about destiny, legacy and one’s personal versus communal responsibility get interwoven with the monster-fighting. Not everything is explained in detail — the creators often assume the audience is smart enough to keep up with the clues and hints.
It’s fascinating to watch a show where no one is truly good or bad — everyone exists in shades of morality. There’s also lots of interesting, complex women on screen (rare for this type of fantasy), and their story lines are handled with as much focus and gravitas as Geralt’s. Could it be because the showrunner is female (Lauren Schmidt Hissrich), and took care to make sure that the show is conscious in its storytelling? I’d say yes.
I don’t want to give too much away, because part of the joy of watching “The Witcher” is learning how to put it all together, story-wise. It’s easier to picture the first season of “The Witcher” as a giant disassembled clock, and every episode gives you a clue as to which piece goes where.
(And if you don’t want to watch for the puzzle, you can also just watch for the sword-play: it’s often done in a single shot, without cuts. My boyfriend, a stage combat aficionado, commented on it several times).
One thing’s for certain though — getting the unofficial theme song out of your head (sung beautifully by Joey Batey, who plays Jaskier the bard) will be difficult.
Toss a coin to your Witcher, oh Valley of Plenty, oh Valley of Plenty….
*I really used to hate the stuff. I’ve since come to appreciate a strong Manhattan, a quality G&T, and a margarita on the rocks, with salt, always.
**it will never include bowling. As I’ve oft stated, I don’t hate bowling. But if there are a hundred things to be done, bowling does not make that list.