Recent TV: The Witcher

Like many people, I recently inhaled the first season of The Witcher. I enjoyed it a lot, even if in some ways I think it’s a bit of a mess?

One part of the messiness is that the show does not do an excellent job of communicating to you off the bat that the various plotlines are not all happening at the same time. I found that out because I looked at a summary of the first episode after I watched it (which I did because often either the actors are not great at enunciating the names, or the sound editor is not great at making sure those moments are loud enough, so I was having trouble figuring out what anybody or anywhere was called), and there are a few hints here and there about the non-simultaneity, but I think it’s entirely possible not to realize what’s going on until Geralt meets up with some characters you saw die several episodes ago in someone else’s plotline.

And the structure is kind of choppy in general. Lots of Geralt’s plots are basically monster-of-the-week deals which appear to be drawn from short stories, and while they do end up echoing forward in a few places, it means he doesn’t have a lot of through-line except “I’m a monster hunter and I wander around being paid to kill monsters.” I’m told the second season and onward will be more cohesive, with the central characters interacting more frequently, so that will probably help.

Finally, the ending . . . kind of isn’t. An ending, I mean. It’s a stopping point with some amount of cliffhanger, but — if you’ve watched Nirvana in Fire, you know how the episodes there often seem to go to the credits at absolutely arbitrary points? It feels a bit like that. There’s not no payoff, but if you’re expecting a clear narrative shape to the season (as I was), you won’t really find it here.

But! Having said that, I still enjoyed the heck out of it, and that is about 98% due to the characters, dialogue, and performances. I am much more willing to put up with a main character who is stoic, grim, and frequently cynical when there’s no shortage of other characters ready and willing to take the piss out of him at every opportunity — and many of those characters are women. My impression (from those who know the source fiction and/or the games) is that this is largely an innovation of the TV show; certainly the presence of characters of color fits under that header. I’m glad of both things. The first episode alone has four women playing significant roles in the plot, and that’s before Yennefer shows up to be a protagonist. And while there’s a lot of nudity, most of it female, the show (mostly) isn’t nearly as exploitative about that as it could be — I could have done without Stregebor’s illusion of naked women wandering around his garden. They do put Geralt naked in a bathtub not once but twice, though, plus a number of shirtless scenes.

Also, Jaskier is hilarious. Geralt’s “rarr I don’t have friends rarrr” attitude means we don’t get as much of him as we might otherwise; hopefully he’s returning for season two. Even if he has earwormed us all with “Toss a coin to your Witcher.” 😛

Fair warning: do not start a drinking game that involves taking shots when somebody says “destiny” or when Geralt says “hmmm.” Not unless you want to court liver failure. Taking a shot when Geralt looks at something for a moment and then delivers a deadpan evaluation of “fuck,” though, might be entertaining.

The show is very violent, and like I said, the overall narrative structure isn’t all that hot. But I find it very pretty — the costumes are way better than on Game of Thrones — and fun on the level of smaller plots, and I’m looking forward to what future seasons do now that the component pieces are in place.

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