Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | December 15th, 2021
The Witcher, Season 2 (Lauren Schmidt, 2021) 2½ out of 4 stars.
I did not review the first season of Netflix’s The Witcher, but I fell in love with it when, late to the game, I finally binge-watched the whole thing. Based on the eponymous saga of short stories and novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski—which has also been turned into a video game—the series follows one Geralt of Rivia, the titular mutant hunter of monsters, as he does what he was created to do and more. A terrific Henry Cavill (Enola Holmes) in the lead helped make that initial season sparkle, but it was the delightful oddity of the enterprise, from its fractured timeline to unique take on potentially clichéd fantasy tropes, that transformed the narrative into a delightful spectacle of strangeness. Sadly, though Season 2 continues the stories of all our beloved characters in sometimes satisfying ways, it does so in a far less experimental manner, and suffers because of it.
Everyone’s back, from Geralt to Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra, YouTube’s Sherwood series) to Princess Cirilla (Freya Allan, Gunpowder Milkshake) to Tissaia (MyAnna Buring, Killers Anonymous) to Fringilla (Mimi Ndiweni) and others. Even the bard, Jaskier (Joey Batey), hardly my favorite from Season 1, eventually returns. Fans, therefore, should find plenty to enjoy, even as the trajectory and aesthetics of the drama fall far short of what we have come to expect. To be fair, only six episodes out of eight were made available to critics, so there may be spectacular flights of cinematic fancy ahead of which I am unaware.
We begin just after the climactic Battle of Sodden, during which Yennefer summoned fire magic, thereafter seeming to disappear. Geralt and Tissaia, both for somewhat different reasons, mourn her loss, assuming her dead. Meanwhile, however, Geralt has a more urgent concern, which is watching over Cirilla (or Ciri), bequeathed to him when he claimed her via the “Law of Surprise.” Given that her home city of Cintra and her family were destroyed by the forces of Nilfgaard, she has nowhere else to go than wherever Geralt might take her. So off they go, both melancholy, to the traditional home of all witchers, Kaer Morhen.
But Yennefer is not dead, merely a prisoner of the elves, who have also captured her erstwhile friend and colleague, and now enemy, Fringilla. This latter is not the only Nilfgaardian fallen on hard times, as General Cahir (Eamon Farren, Lingua Franca) is held by the mages of Aretuza, soon to be tortured by Tissaia for information about the “White Flame” from whom he receives his orders. Slowly, the various plot threads take shape, though individual scenes are often so short that each segment only moves forward in fits and starts.
There’s a distressing lack of adventure, despite some occasional bursts of energy. Those surges don’t always appear to serve any greater purpose than to add a jolt here and there. Showrunner Lauren Schmidt is still at the helm, but she seems to have lost the riveting creative spark that made The Witcher so wonderfully weird. Worse, Geralt now emotes, and frequently so, often telling us how he’s feeling—or at least telling Ciri—which means little is left to the imagination. I far preferred his previously inchoate grunts, allowing us to discern the softie underneath the gruff exterior. Plus, aren’t witchers supposed to have had emotions magicked out of them?
One good aspect of the new season is that Allan, as Ciri, really gets to shine. She has the most rewarding growth of anyone, and given her apparent centrality to the entire enterprise, that is a smart storytelling decision. But now Yennefer, so captivating before, has much less to do, beyond licking her wounds post-Sodden and plotting a dispiriting future. I miss her terribly, even as we meet a horde of new folks along the way, as well as new creatures for Geralt to fight.
But not all of those fresh developments make sense, or at least not yet (there are those two episodes I have yet to see, after all), from the extensive new chronicle of the elves to the very creation of the continent through “the Conjunction” and more. The sluggish pacing, with its all-too-linear jumps, does not help. Nor does the tired use of slo-mo in a few of Geralt’s fight scenes. Nevertheless, it’s great to see old friends again, and we can all hold out hope that the apparent misfires will hit a bullseye by the end. Fingers and swords crossed.