Before a Fall
Episode 7 Before a Fall is an odd duck. It’s about 10 minutes shorter then the usual hour-long runtime. It adapts no clear source material and retreads ground the show has already covered. Seemingly the only purpose of the episode is to indulge the Dunkirk Fuckery (Patent Pending). Being the penultimate entry in the season most of its time is only a setup for the coming finalé. It’s an episode where basically nothing happens. Even with its 47 minutes, it feels drawn out and aimless. It has brief moments that resemble parts from the short “Something More”. But it’s clearly not an adaptation. It’s a good chance to see how the series fairs when producing original content.
It does not fair well. Ciri shows some good character development in a well-designed but cartoonish setting. Geralt debates the Citran royals with newfound determination. But ultimately accomplishes nothing. Yen gets to show some emotional growth, and the lack of it as well, while revisiting her past and being reimmersed in Aretuza’s underwhelming political struggles. The rest of the runtime is just a hand-picked bouquet of the most unremarkable parts of episode 1 with barely any new details.
Purely a plot necessity rather than a narrative work, it’s hard to find value in this particular outing. A much better choice would have been to trim the episode even further, perhaps by omitting scenes we have already seen. Then the remaining 30 minutes or so could be attached to episode 8, making it an extended season finale. Not an unheard-of move in modern television.
Geralt and re-Cintra
We begin with Geralt observing the Nilgaardian approach. The scale of the army hardly comes through in this segment. The way the camera pans over the hillside had a nauseating feel to it, the shot lacked focus and at moments seemed to have a few odd frame skips.
Geralt then has a clandestine and heavily expository meeting with Mousesack in what looks to be some type of wine cellar. The reveal of the child surprise being a girl gets far too little attention. The conversation is cut short by some supposed assassins. The shadows appearing on walls, the beat of footsteps, and apparating figures confuse much more than threaten. Geralt’s brief disorienting stroll through the cellar feels like a Scooby-Do segment. It’s not explained how the assassins keep disappearing, and why they make Geralt scurry around before confronting him. The camera work and direction add a mystery and supernatural tint to these events that are completely unsupported. The assailants don’t even look like assassins, they are just the Cintran guards.
The Deus Ex Mousesack teleport brings up more questions than it answers. If the Druid has the ability to magically hop around with a companion, surely he could have teleported Ciri away during the siege. It’s another example of the inconsistent magic being a detriment to the storytelling.
There is some unnecessary setup delivered while Calanthe peruses the streets of Cintra. The show has an addiction to spouting exposition. It’s been 7 episodes, the world should be established by now. On top of this, much of the detail in this episode is just rehashing things from the pilot. Since the audience knows how things will play out, there is no tension concerning any of the proceedings. The series is not cerebral enough to pull off its attempted time-play. There’s is no AHA moment, there is only an unsettling sense of Deja Vu.
The Citran setting is still bland. It’s been using the same single establishing shot for the entire series, and it’s starting to get old. The limited view of the market also lacks life or any tangible feel.
Geralt and Mousesack confront the Queen who goes from hostility to attempted subterfuge in a matter of seconds. Calanthe’s portrayal is still a strange mix. She never fully recaptures the fair and virtuous portrayal from episode one. Her superiority and stubbornness are much too exaggerated, with several facial expressions feeling cartoonish rather than sincere. Her supposed wisdom and stature never come through.
There are several hints in the episode that Geralt somehow already missed his opportunity to take the child surprise. If this is the case, it would have served the story much better to highlight when exactly this missed opportunity passed. Since the rules around the law of surprise are still shaky, such constraints feel like they are just made up on the spot. It’s also never explained why Geralt suddenly cares so much about the child he neglected for the past decade. Could have used more time spent inside the witcher’s mind leading up to his change of heart. Borch’s hocus-pocus last episode is a cheap motivator for such a turn.
Fake Ciri is a good misdirect and a great example of taking inspiration from the books and plating it in a fresh way. There is some inconstancy in the scene regarding Mousesack. He himself claimed destiny cannot be cheated, just moments ago, but now he is willingly going along with the deception. It’s another example of characters lacking clearly defined motives.
Geralt’s track through the castle to find real Ciri is again framed with an unearned sense of mysticism. Like much of the show’s inconsistencies, it can be explained away with “the forces of destiny” but it is feeling extensively like a cheap copout. It is hinted that the medallion may have some role here, but the exact use of the witcher amulet also goes unexplained in the show. Geralt getting a glimpse of real Ciri is a good example of revisiting past scenes, since it is framed from a new perspective. The reveal of the fake princess is a bit too quick, serving as a momentary sidetrack rather than a plot point. Only a few minutes pass between Geralt’s two conversations with the Queen, making the scenes blend together.
The second confrontation with Calanthe delivers some smart dialogue and makes a case for both contending perspectives. Both the witcher and the Queen provide some witty and revealing lines. My only gripe would be how ambiguous Pavetta and Dunny’s demise remains. Without detailing their deaths it’s difficult to understand the impact it had on Calanthe. Eist’s arrival is handled in a very nonchalant manner, even though the Queen was previously anticipating him. He just walks on on-screen at the perfect time like a sitcom character.
Getting Geralt trapped just as he stops under the arch is a moment much more suited to a Looney Tunes episode. Like what if Geralt just decided to stand a bit before the arch? Or he just walked straight through? This might work for Wile E Cayote but it is jarringly out of place in a supposedly serious production. The surrounding streets of Cintra are clearly green-screened in. Not a single civilian roams the lifeless capital which looks like a stock asset from a PlayStation 2 game.
The episode provides an inconsistent imagery to Cintra. In some scenes, the detailed armors, coat of arms, and castle interiors bring a cohesive look to the setting. In other scenes, the bland stone corridors, lifeless streets, and generic backdrops hint at a severe lack of identity.
After a 20 minute break, Geralt’s story resumes in the heat of the Nilfgaardian attack. He appears to be in a different holding cell which suggests the Cintran’s moved him at some point but it’s rather unclear. The image of Geralt just waltzing from one trap into another is hard to believe. His escape from the cell is similarly unbelievable resulting in an almost slapstick moment. This is framed by the show reusing much of the siege footage from episode one. A bit of reuse would have been just fine, but complete scenes and conversations are lifted over without much alteration. And the changes are an odd choice as well. New lines of dialogue are inserted into scenes we have already seen. It just makes me doubt my memory. The show is not remotely as clever as it thinks it is. Revisiting the scenes strikes as needless repetition rather than the intended big reveal. There is some very brief fighting as Geralt dispatches a few soldiers but most of his actions during the siege are skipped. Only bodies and bloody hallways hint at the fights we never got.
The soldier which Geralt randomly questions spouts some religious nonsense before expiring. The show hints that at this point Geralt truly believes everyone is dead and he failed to save the princess. Even though the white wolf is never particularly emotive, I would have expected a greater reaction to this horrible news.
Full of padding and unnecessary retrospectives. Geralt’s segment feels inconsequential to the greater narrative. On a positive note, the back and forth with Calanthe does produce some good dialogue. Sadly the interconnected world the show looks to establish is half-baked at best.
Ciri’s segment is again at the forefront of bringing some actual life to the show. The village setting is very well realized and parades an array of flavourful moments. Ciri is visibly hardened by the trials and tribulations she suffered throughout the series. The kind woman who approaches the incognito princess seems very out of place. She is much too kind without any reasoning, making the audience side with Ciri’s paranoia. This is supposed to be a war-ravaged land, it seems odd the good-hearted lady is so concerned by a single wandering orphan.
The track through the village is a wonderful look at the bleak but lively environment. Ciri pawning her ring for some gloves rings with just the right amount of desperation. Stealing the horse is both a good comedic beat and shows how the princess has come to prioritize resourcefulness over her morals.
Ciri talking to the horse by the fire is a great thematic parallel, right until it’s called out. The framing of the shots through the wreaths and the excellent sound design lend a foreboding sense to the brigand group’s approach. The scene is an excellent emotional rollercoaster. It really makes us afraid for Ciri while also highlighting her fond remembrance of courtly life might not be accurate from all perspectives. It brings some harsh reality to Ciri’s situation and it adds great contrast to see someone from Ciri’s past.
Then the magic starts and it all goes to shit. The audio gets way overdramatic and the sped-up effect of the sequence really did not hit the spot. It looks both cheap and confusing. The prophecy is just put forth without establishing its significance. It’s a shame the episode drops the ball so hard in its final moments.
Yen’s story picks up at the needlessly grandiose set of the obelisk excavation. It’s a beautifully realized and unique setting. Big props to the direction for bringing it to life. Considering we only get a brief establishing shot of it, it feels strange to get such high production value. I’m not complaining, just considering the limited budget of the show, half these extras could have been used on the CG streets of Cintra. The show does parade these granite obelisks throughout most of its settings and the consistency is starting to bear fruit. It does wonders in creating a unique visual identity for the show. But I could have used some explanation about the stone’s in-wold significance.
Maybe it’s just the lingering quality of the setting making me soft, but it is surprisingly nice to see Istredd again. Perhaps I have fallen into the same trap as Yennefer, but their relationship seems much better in hindsight. There is a good amount of world-building around Nilfgaard, here the empire is portrayed as a socialist utopia rather than a religious autocracy. The series has presented many different descriptions of Nilfgaard but has so far failed to reconcile them into a cohesive vision. It does not help that for the majority of the series the empire is portrayed as the cliché bad guys.
Yen and Istredd instantly hit on a fresh and sexy chemistry that was completely absent from their younger romance. It gives both characters a good chance to showcase the development they underwent during the show. Yen really opens up about her history, a shame we never got such emotions while witnessing it. The sorceress does tilt into desperately romantic, but Istredd’s thoughtful refusal brings a poignant and bittersweet rebuttal. In fact, Istredd delivers some superb heartfelt dialogue before he storms off. But the audience is not given even a minute to contemplate because Vilgefortz instantly jumps into the scene.
And let me just say: OH GOD NO! Please DONT!.GOD, WHY? WHYYYYYYYYY? Please no. Every day I live in fear of what they have done to my poor man Vilgefortz. Sure it’s not too bad in the context of the show, but in this instance, I am unable to divorce the book’s version from the on-screen portrayal. It’s just such a stark departure from the source material, and it produces the worst possible effect. Instead of a powerful, roguish, and handsome sorcerer, the show gives us a pompous soyboy. You are telling me this slimy cuck is supposed to beat Cavil’s Geralt half to death in about 2 seasons? This dude has robbed and raped his way through the Continent? This dude is gonna orchestrate the genial intrigue that provides the throughline of the saga? This dude is gonna salivate over Ciri’s capture? I don’t see it. And if it’s not this dude, then why is he even called Vilgeforzt?
Maybe the series is building towards the unexpected reveal of the mage’s villainy. But as it stands the show massively fumbled the introduction of its supposed central antagonist.
The conversation itself is heavily expository and only serves as a plot device to get Yen to be our audience insert during the Aretuza events. It never explained why the mages have taken such an interest in Nilfgaard. The time period where Yen’s story takes place has not yet been revealed leading to dubious caution from the audience. It should have been made very clear from the beginning when exactly these scenes are set so they could be contextualized in the greater narrative.
Yen walking the corridors and reminiscing about her youth is a nice touch. The repeated voice lines and cutaways to scenes from episode 2/3 are much too heavy-handed. It would have been more impactful to have the capable actress’s performance sell her emotional state, rather than the mediocre editing. Especially the scene of Yen glimpsing her younger self in the mirror is a vastly overindulgent moment. The show either does not trust itself to make its point clear or does not trust the audience to pick up on anything remotely subtle. We get it, Yen changed.
The sequence with the young students is a good narrative shift. The botany scene is strangely shot even before the drugs start to take effect. The sorceress continues to be much too extravagant in dealing with the trainees. She projects an uncharacteristically self-aggrandizing image. The improvised ayahuasca trip with the students is again a novel idea but very badly executed. The makers of the show have clearly never done drugs themselves. The whole scene is like a parody of a DARE PSA. I kept waiting for one of the chicks to suggest ordering Dominos. The nauseating camera work and cliché lines add nothing to the narrative. Either give some significant moment resulting directly from the intoxication or the conversation could have been presented just as well without tripping balls on some sage.
Aretuza going the pay-to-win route is a conceptually good reveal but it strikes severely underwhelming in contexts. Returning to the eels is an unwelcome reminder of one of the show’s most befuddling additions. Yen’s continued reminiscence goes on for way too long. The trainees deliver a surprisingly competent rebuttal to Yen’s raving, before being rushed off by Tessia.
The conversation with the headmaster is an excellent character moment for all involved. It’s a rare beat of grey morality where I can understand where both sides are coming from. Even though episode 5 bruised the great relationship between Yen and Tessia, this scene does a great job of presenting the complex emotions the pair hold towards each other.
Yen’s brief meeting with Triss fairs much worse. It’s never explained how the sorceresses know each other. Without any previous history, it’s hard to buy into their instant friendly tone. Triss does bring the little sister vibe surprisingly well, easing the concerns surrounding her previous appearance. The pair’s history does, unfortunately, remain one of the show’s greatest omissions.
Once the council of mages begins, the show again puts forth its weak game of thrones impression. There is simply no political intrigue to underline the debate. Furthermore its rather unclear why exactly the mages have such a sudden hostility towards Nilfgaard. The show had ample opportunity to lay the foundations of this conflict but somehow missed every opportunity. Even the audience is uncertain about Nilfgaard’s intentions. Not because it has been presented as a mysterious morally ambiguous empire. The audience is uncertain because Nilgaard has not been consistently presented at all by the show.
The pointless debate gets even more nonsensical with Fingilla’s cartoon villain entrance. Some generic minions apparate behind the sorceress between cuts, further ruining any sense of immersion.
This would have been a good point to flash out some of Nilfgaard’s religious aspects, and finally, cement an identity for the empire. Unfortunately, the show continues to retread its campy bad guy characterization. Cutting from the debate straight to the Nilfgaardian siege robs any doubts the viewers may have had about Fingilla’s intentions. There is a clear frustration painted on the faces of Vilgeforz and his supporters during the council’s incompetent rambling. Sadly this is the same frustration the viewers feel during the scene.
As the focus shifts away from Yennefer, the arc ends on an incomplete and vexing note. It’s again clearly a setup to position all pawns in their place ahead of the finale. As a result, this entire story feels much more like the chewy connective tissue rather than the juicy meat of the series.
Notes to die on:
- The only redeeming thing about this episode is that it does not last long.
- Someone needs to take out the entire writer’s room on a proper psychedelic binge, at this point I can’t imagine it would hurt the production.
- Bringing the war to the forefront of the story is a bad decision. The greater political landscape was always just a backdrop for the witcher’s personal struggles.
- At least this episode consolidated the timelines into a single narrative, hopefully retiring the objectively failed experiment of the Dunkirk Fuckery.
I rate this episode 50 promised Skelligan ships.