Rare Species

Hope everyone savored the few drops of quality in the previous episode because it’s a steep downhill ride from this point on. Saying episode 6 Rare Species adapts the “Bounds of Reason” short story, is like saying The Lion King “adapts” Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Well yes…but technically no.

Taken on its own terms, the episode is plain mediocre. It parades fleeting but varied supporting roles around a rushed and unrefined plot. The action choreography and CGI are both underwhelming in their own right. It makes the entire affair reek of a dwindling budget. The acting and overall dedication of the cast do their best in selling the woefully truncated emotional development of the main characters. The series clearly fails in capitalizing on the setup of previous arcs. None of the reveals or twists hit their intended marks concluding the plot on an unsatisfactory note.

Compared with books, the episode is a calamity. It’s like serving up only the bones and throwing the rest of the chicken in the bin. A worse offender than the maligned episode 4, this plot forgoes all the subtlety and philosophical overtones while simultaneously eliminating almost all of its best character moments. Not only was the original short story a unique and well-told adventure, being the first outing in the first book, it was also a stellar introduction to the world of The Witcher and its core characters. The series on the other hand strips the story of all its color and reduces the characters to mere caricatures of themselves. I could go into detail on the painful omission of Sheepbagger or Dorregaray. Or I could lament the lack of history given to Yennefer and Geralt. I could even moan about the grievously sparse use of Borch himself. But the perfect example lies in what the show did to the character of Eyck. The competent noble knight is swapped with an impulsive fool who shouts some repetitive lines, kills a deer-dude then proceeds to shit himself and die. I literally could not make up a worse take on the source material. If you are a fan of the books, this is the point where it’s best to stop watching.

The Ciri portions of the episode are just plain bad without needing any comparison. The entire doppler storyline fizzles out in a confusing mess of wasted character moments.

I want YOU to hunt some dragons

Unreasonable Bounds

The episode begins promisingly enough with an always-welcome dose of Jaskier. There is little tension built by Geralt’s overdue return and the dudes trying to loot his stuff are much too eager about it. Not even a moment of conflict develops before Borch waltzes in from nowhere to settle affairs. Borch Three Jackdaws is a unique presence accompanied by the two Zerrikanian warrior women, even though his character lacks the grandeur and complex worldview of his book counterpart. He comes off as a quirky noble obviously hiding some sort of secret.

As custom dictates the story treats us to a nice dimly lit tavern interior. This tavern has a lot more life to it than previous attempts. More importantly, this diverse array of characters continues to play a part in the story to come. Borch getting straight to his bid of finding the dragon is a rushed proposition, skipping over all the necessary ideological setup. While the conversation is somewhat intriguing, Borch never gets to present a cohesive moral argument.

Yen’s entrance lends a good air of mystery to the unfolding events. It serves as a cheap albeit sympathetic motivation for Geralt to get involved. While Borch dishes out suspiciously accurate sagely wisdom Jakier is more occupied by the man’s companions. The bard’s attempts at flirting with the Zerrikanians provide a steady supply of comedy all throughout the episode. Even though Vea and Tea get little characterization, their throwaway lines act as great foreshadowing. On this note, the foursome from the books that Geralt and Broch have with the warrior-women would most certainly have helped spice up the initial exposition.

The context of the dragon hunt gets distorted in the show’s interpretation. It’s framed too much like a competition making it an artificial game rather than an organic event. Stripping the story of its more irregular elements makes the entire ordeal feel too organized, robbing it of the quintessential unpredictability which made it engaging in the first place.

The motley crew of dragon hunters is a shadow of its book counterpart. Ignoring the previously mentioned omission of the story’s most interesting participants, the characters retained by the show do little to bring complexity to the plot. Both the dwarves and the reavers lack a sense of being a cohesive unit. Reavers are needlessly villainous while the dwarves are inexplicably friendly. These different factions clearly suffer from an overall cheaply designed aesthetic. The cursing Irish dwarf is a tired trope. I would have expected more from Yarpen Zigrin’s characterization since he is the first significant dwarf the series presents. Like almost all roles in this episode, Yarpen gets reduced to an overused stereotype. As mentioned Eyck is the most painful portrayal since the stereotype he inhabits isn’t even in line with the knightly perspective he’s supposed to represent.

Once the dragon hunt gets on its way, the show puts forth a nice change in scenery. The mountainous forest is a fantasy formality, but it does lend a sense of scale to the event.

The encounter with the hirrika deer-dude sets a new low for the series in terms of CGI quality. The creature looks like an anime version of the werewolf from Prisoner of Askaban. Except the 2004 effect looked significantly better. Luckily Eyck quickly dispatches the abomination. The comedic framing of the knight’s actions did not work for me personally but it does give a chance for Geralt to act as resident monster expert. Yen cozying up to the knight builds some initial intrigue, but the extent of her pretend affection is never explained.

UwU

The scene around the campfire is a nice change of pace but it’s very heavy on the exposition. The details dished out about Nilfgaard are forced and self-serving commentary. It was high time we got some necessary explanation about the big bad empire’s structure and intentions, but this may not have been the appropriate moment for it. Both this discussion and the upcoming Nillgaard focused segments of the episode paint the “black ones” as religious zealots. This fanaticism has not been adequately portrayed in the previous episodes and feels shoehorned in. The Dunkirk Fuckery has deprived Nilfgaard of establishing a unique identity for itself. The switch from irrelevant kingdom to conquering empire was not outlined with enough significance. The religious motivations that are stated here are a poor cop-out for the lack of character the empire has received. This also brings into focus another issue with world-building, the witcher show has not yet presented a cohesive religion which is a staple of most medieval fantasy settings. Yennefer even brings up Fringilla just casually while discussing Nilfgaard, which is an odd choice since the familiarity she projects can only be applied to the audience and not the characters at hand. These dudes have no idea who the fuck Fringilla is.

Like this deluge of exposition wasn’t enough, the conversation turns to another heavily expository subject: Dragons. The show is clearly not trying to be subtle but deducing Borch is a golden dragon does not take much detective work. The character practically gives away all intrigue of his persona leaving only a hammed-up sense of sketchiness. Since the scene has already been an unending barrage of exposition, the intricate detailing of dragon colors feels oddly placed. It does give an appreciated opportunity for Geralt to flex his knowledge of monsters, and it’s always nice to have Cavil deliver more than 2 consecutive lines.

The death of Eyck is a mercy at this point for viewers. His demise builds zero mystery as Boholt and his gang has been portrayed as clear villains from the outset of the adventure. On the topic of Boholt and his posse, is it just me or does the number of reavers fluctuate wildly throughout the hike? I counted 9 of them initially, then 6 at camp, and eventually, about 15 showed up for the final fight. It’s a small inconsistency but it does detract from the already flimsy sense of immersion.

The “shortcut” sequence is again a nice change of pace adding a welcome sense of urgency. The scenery of the mountainside passage does not fit previous establishing shots of the region and makes the setting feel disjointed. Not nearly enough tension gets built by the perilous trail before things start going wrong. Borch’s demise is much too sudden. It lacks any impact since by now even the thickest audience member could guess the old man is more than he seems. The effect of Borch and the Zerakanains slow motion falling into the mist is very cheaply executed, feeling like a snippet from a bad Bollywood production. Cutting straight to the camp also lessens the punch of Borch’s “exit”. Would have liked to see the characters dwell more on the trio’s demise while still navigating the mountainside passage.

“Borch being enveloped by the mist”

Once at camp there is an excellent scene shared by Geralt and Jaskier. Their relationship is the crowning achievement of the series. The pair produce a great moment of friendship, framed by some outstanding shots of the scenery. Jaskier trades his usual comic relief traits for a more genuine and somber discussion, giving this scene even more emotional weight.

Geralt’s subsequent scene spent frolicking with Yennefer upsets the pacing of the adventure. One moment the party braves a deadly pass to gain a few minutes, the next scene Geralt and Yen can take their time knocking boots and having pillow-talk? It removes all sense of urgency from the narrative.

Once Geralt and Yennefer emerge it’s completely absurd how much time it takes them to realize the camp has moved on. It’s another example of conflating the camera’s perspective with the character’s field of vision. The action gets going seemingly out of nowhere. Yen freezing the dwarves in place is again an inconsistent and much too convenient use of magic. The characters arrive at the cave greeted by dragon-Borch and his girls. The attempted twist completely misses its mark and the retroactive explanation to the story is delivered much too hastily. The dragon CGI is upsettingly budget. The creature’s texture does not blend with the rest of the environment, and the model’s sparse movement feels too rigged. Its eventual fire breathing is straight out of a beginner AfterEffects tutorial. The telepathic communication, although faithful to the books, in context seems like an excuse to save on lip-syncing.

Boholt’s arrival is a measured plot convenience. The ensuing fight is the worst action the show has produced thus far. Its many jump-cuts, shaky-cam usage, and over-dramatic delivery make the brawl feel disorienting and insignificant. Not a single drop of adrenaline is induced by the action. A disappointing contrast to the pulse-pounding ferocity of episode 1’s sequence, or even to episode 4’s dynamic free-for-all. The clearly disposable thugs are quickly finished off. Even the showdown with Boholt feels hollow and anticlimactic.

The fight scene commits an absolute atrocity when it comes to representing characters. WHY? I ask. Why is Yennefer the magical lady fighting with a sword and a dagger? She makes some vague hand gesture towards one of the goons, and then suddenly becomes a fencing master. Her proficiency with swords has not been established, in fact, it feels unnecessary considering she is a user of magic. But somehow Yen forgets she has a supposed arsenal of spells up her sleeve. It is clearly a budgetary concern, but it’s painful nonetheless. Compared to her book version, wreaking havoc and swinging fireballs to turn the tide of the battle, this iteration feels completely impotent. It’s an inexcusable offense to both Yen’s role and the world’s magical lore.

As if the fight scene has not yet already reached the bottom of the barrel it also treats viewers to one of the most cringeworthy moments I ever had the displeasure to witness. Yen sharing a kiss with Geralt as the reavers are force pushed in slow motion is both cliché, cheap, and tonally inconsistent. Does the kiss somehow amplify the Aard sign’s power? Even with some previous foreshadowing or explanation, the kiss would feel woefully out of place amidst the already cheesy and poor action.

As it was demonstrated in episode 1, a good fight scene showcases and builds character. The fight at hand though actively damages the portrayal of its participants.

Jaskier being left behind is a good comedic beat. The bard and the defrosted dwarves arrive just as the dust settles. Borch coming forward resolves the remaining tension too quickly. It presents a dubiously neat happy ending for the dwarves and hardly a resolution for all others involved.

The entire episode is dedicated to reconciling the emotional ties of the main characters, but in the very last scene of this arc, they come untangled all at once. Borch is merely an artificial plot device here, fuelling the conflict with facts grabbed out of thin air. But before we discuss the ending to the plot, we must first circle back to an element of the episode I haven’t yet addressed: The relationship between Geralt and Yennefer.

Yenralt revisited

We saw the beginning of Geralt and Yennefer’s romance in the last episode. Even though it was a tad rushed it served as a good foundation for future development. This development never happened. As much as I like to complain about Yen’s unseen leaps in character, the story here falls into the exact opposite problem. Even though it’s implied that the pair shared several subsequent encounters since the one we witnessed, their relationship has not progressed in any meaningful way. Their initial confrontation establishes the pair has a woefully limited history. At the start of the arc, they mutually put up a much too cold facade. It’s highly unsatisfactory to witness them having so little connection. Not even the acting can sell the pair’s current dynamic. Borch simply proclaims Geralt is in love with Yen, instead of the show actually putting it on display. At every point, their interactions feel unsure and strange. Since the audience is left guessing as to where they stand, none of the dialogue carries any meaning.

Then out of the blue, their hostility turns into bickering and then into flirtatious mockery. There is no underlying motivation behind the rapid softening of their attitudes. The primary problem with the episode’s portrayal of the couple is that the major reveals they go through are all things they should already have discussed by this point. It’s a good character moment when Yennefer’s motherly ambitions are revealed to Geralt. Except it should have absolutely come up already, even if Geralt spent only a fraction of the implied time with the sorceress. It’s the driving force behind everything Yennefer does, they should be way past discussing it. Likewise, Geralt letting slip of his child’s surprise lands on a complete dud. If the witcher truly cannot help but reveal his innermost thought to Yennefer, how come this is the first time the child surprise has come up. It’s the very reason Geralt got caught up in the entire Djinn storyline, to begin with. If they truly confided in each other, these details would have been revealed already.

This leaves us with two possible options, either Geralt and Yen have not met more than once since their initial junction. Or they have met several times, but all they do is fuck like rabbits without uttering a single line of dialogue. This would also hint that the episode at hand is the first time they have an actual conversation, which is underwhelming in its own right. In the books the pair have been circling each other for over 20 years, even living together for long periods of time. The show tries to portray this familiarity based on a longer shared past, without actually giving them the requisite history. It’s the most contradictory mix of simultaneously feeling like it’s only their second meeting while also implying they have built both intimacy and resentment during repeated encounters.

and Rabbits be fuckin

Even though the late reveals heavily detract from the relationship’s believability, they do bring an opportunity for the pair to finally forge an emotional bond. The thematic irony of Geralt dreading a child while Yen covets having one is an obvious but poignant contrast. This also ties nicely into the greater narrative of the dragon egg.

The scene inside Yennefer’s tent escalates the reignited passion of the pair. The near-death experience of the cliffside trail is a flimsy justification for the sudden burst of emotion. Yet despite all the inconsistent lead-up, convoluted history, and rushed development, through some type of black magic the scene manages to sell the romance. Contrary to all circumstances that diminish Yen and Gerlants relationship, for a brief moment in the tent I believed in the pair.

The reason this moment works is due to several factors: First, the characters showcase emotional maturity, instead of getting immediately down and dirty like previously, this time they focus on the passion and emotional connection they share. They have a proper conversation for a change. Second, it’s one of the few scenes not totally rushed in this episode. The direction takes its time to linger on a kiss or stick around just showing Yen caressing the sleeping witcher. And most importantly the scene smartly capitalizes on the little setup it has to work with. The pair finally opening up about their innermost desires and fantasies is a special moment that has been coming for a long time now. This is one of the only chances the characters get to genuinely express themselves through superb performances by both actors.

Now I am not saying this one scene makes up for all the shortfalls the plot has committed so far. In fact, the scene works best when looking at it in isolation and not dwelling on the mistakes the setup perpetrated. Much like Sapkiwski intended, this could very well be the first time we see Yen and Geralt and not much context would be lost.

All is not fixed though as once the pair emerges from the tent they immediately return to bickering. The newfound tenderness of the relationship is quickly lost in the cheap action sequence, never to be recovered.

The final scene between Geralt and Yen is plagued by the same contradictory history which ruined much of the pair’s screen time already. Borch just suddenly outs Geralt’s wish for no apparent reason and nobody blames him for it. The hostility of the couple is just as intense and rushed as their love was previously. The question of the last wish seems like something they should have well debated by this point. It appears they have discussed the Aard witcher sign’s potency in great detail, but never got around to bringing up the event which brought them together. It’s a huge oversight by the writers to choose this issue as the catalyst for their break-up. Both Yen and Geralt turn overdramatic amidst the heated argument. But a proper confrontation laying bare their past grievances is sorely missed since Borch needlessly interrupts the proceedings.

We were given just a brief glimpse of true connection, only for the show to almost instantly shatter its meaning. Within the same episode, we have Geralt and Yen being cold with each other, reconciling their differences, sharing a tender romance, bickering, then arguing, and eventually breaking up again. In fact, barely 15 minutes pass between them affirming their relationship in the tent then seemingly ending it upon the mountain. It’s an extensive amount of development the show hastily crams into the confines of an already bare-bones story.

Geralt taking his anger out on Jaskier is also an unfounded move. The break-up with the bard feels forced and out of character for both parties involved. Nonetheless, it is effective in showcasing how the witcher alienates his closest allies. Seeing Geralt beef with Yen and then Jaskier right after one another does not compound the effect, in fact, it lessens it. The show clearly aims to prepare Geralt’s mindset and circumstances for the tail end of the season. Unfortunately, it comes at the cost of putting a rough and hollow conclusion on the show’s two most important relationships.

But hey…. Ciri is also in this episode.

Ciri and Nilfgaard

Fucking wish she wasn’t.

Ciri getting the destiny and child surprise exposition from Doppsack is the absolute worst way to deliver it. Coming from a disingenuous source, and glossing over most details, the audience never gets to see Ciri’s true reaction to learning the main mechanics behind her plot. Having a clearly evil presence establish Geralt’s role starts off the witcher-princess relationship on the wrong foot. It’s a very strange choice to provide the exposition at this moment and seems to be a constraint of the meandering story’s sudden urge to make its point.

Doppsack remains appropriately creepy throughout the whole exchange. It’s an expertly crafted creepiness, but it does get monotonous as the narrative goes on. The transition from sunny Brokilon to the snowy forest hints at some passage of time, but does not give concrete details.

Dara is way too suspicious of Doppsack, while Ciri is much too trusting of him initially. It would have served the tension much better to tone down both viewpoints and establish a general sense of unease. The over the top exaggerated stances make the trio feel like a bombing improv group. Dara’s paranoia is even a bit too convenient for the plot, detracting from a sense of immersion. It’s a perilous situation on paper but the events never build the required tension.

Ciri starting to ask questions is a hastened departure from her trusting self, mere minutes ago. The questions are transparent setups, with the show again channeling a bad Poirot plot. Doppsack tripping up makes little sense since it is established he should possess all memories and feelings of the original version. “YOU HAVE ARTHRITIS” is a “MARTHA” level bad reveal.

ARTHRITIIIIIIIIIIIIIS!

The doppler gives up the act too quickly, rushing the revelation. Choosing to break characters at this point seems unreasonable. The resulting fight with the creature finally brings some action and excitement to Ciri’s circumstances. It’s a nice change of pace for the princess adding some tangible peril to her circumstances.

The tussle itself is a bit underwhelming with some frustrating choices. Like why does Ciri not straight up stab the doppler. She just grabs the knife and rubs its neck in a very halfhearted attempt. The Doppler seems to regress back into its natural form. The effects and make-up lend this state a serviceably wicked look.

Once the doppler is subdued Dara attempts to question it. It’s a very strange scene since it’s Ciri who answers all the questions. The “I’m special” line is beyond cliché and out of place coming from the princess. Ciri’s unforeseen bloodlust is a jarring turn in character, and so is Dara’s hesitance of killing the monster. Based on the story so far, I would have expected the roles to be reversed. The doppler quickly regains his advantage, bitch-smacks Dara, and gives the escaping Ciri the usual headstart.

The plot shifts over to Niflgaard’s perspective, showing Chair conversing with a captured Ciri. The scene feels off from its very first moment but the exact source of the weirdness is difficult to pinpoint. This encounter finally gives Cahir the chance to open up. The nilgaardian is in dire need of a make-over. This scene gave him some material to work with that helps break the one-dimensional bad guy image. A conversation between Chair and Ciri this early on is a departure from the books, but a very welcome one. It gives a great opportunity for both characters to express themselves in a new context and it’s a great way for the audience to start getting invested in Cahir’s side of the story.

Just as I began to think the writers are executing on a cool idea, it turns out it’s all a sham. It’s not even Ciri, it’s the fucking doppler. Take everything positive I said about this scene and chuck it in the bin. This is a horrible idea. Once the doppler turns into Cahir 2.0 it becomes a standard fight sequence with very noticeable use of a body double. After the doppler reveal is made, the scene loses all meaning. The rules about what the creature needs to assume someone’s shape are as unclear as ever. Even though the fight is somewhat engaging I kept asking myself: Why exactly am I seeing this? The entire sub-plot concerning the doppler fizzles out and completely loses its meaning. It seems utterly superfluous to the greater narrative. I can’t even begin to think what motivated its inclusion in the story. Maybe this is all set up for the doppler’s return in season 2 (it’s not). But if this is the appetizer I am not too curious about the main course.

After the doppler flees, Cahir just straight up mercs an entire tavern. The tiny fraction of sympathy that was built for the character is instantly obliterated. Fringilla and Cahir have a conversation that goes extremely hard on the fresh religious zealotry. This insignificant conversation also shoehorns in not one but two iconic lines from the book. First Fringlilla pulls the “you mistake the stars reflected” line out of her ass, with no relevance to the dialogue at hand. And then Cahirv ends the episode by menacingly babbling about “time of the sword and ax”. Not only is the dialogue bad on its own, but it also butchers some of the best lines the books produced. It’s a painfully missed opportunity.

The show gives a brief aside to clear up Ciri’s circumstances. Since the princess’s capture is skipped the scene feels disjointed from the previous ones. It’s not even clear why the murderous doppler choose to leave the princess alive. It’s the second time the show pulls the Dara ex Machina. The elf’s instant hostility towards Ciri is unexpected. The argument the duo has is rushed and devoid of emotional stakes. It just serves to separate Ciri from her most constant companion and make room for her seasonal arc’s conclusion.

Overall the entire Ciri plot feels forced and unsubstantial. The show could have just skipped from her wandering in the woods from episode 2, straight to this point. Not only is the episode itself unsatisfactory, the way the narrative runs out of gas makes the entire Brokilon and Doppler plots feel like needless additions.

Final Notes

  • The extreme uneven quality of the episode is emotionally exhausting.The Yennefer + Geralt plot is much too rushed and does not capitalize in its setup. The scene the pair shared in the tent is a high point that does not compensate for the rest of the botched episode.
  • The more we hear and see of Nilfgaard the worse the portrayal of it gets. It’s gonna be a real uphill battle in the future to bring humanity to the empire and its key representatives.
  • The grandiose nature and moral quandary which made Bounds of Reason stand out is completely absent in this adaptation. They did my boy Eyck dirty.
  • The least the show could have done to make the Borch reveal less obvious is perhaps not give him a shirt made of actual scales.
  • The song scoring the credits is again an absolute delight and should have been incorporated in the episode.

I rate this episode three jackdaws.

Just kidding.

I rate this episode an arbitrary number of Reavers somewhere between 6 and 15.

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An unsophisticated critique of all things witcher. Currently suffering through the Netflix adaptation. Written by Marcell Sarosi. Edited by Robert Simola.

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The Bitcher

The Bitcher

An unsophisticated critique of all things witcher. Currently suffering through the Netflix adaptation. Written by Marcell Sarosi. Edited by Robert Simola.

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