You know what my problem is? Hope. When I see a show that’s flawed but interesting, I have this undying hope that the next season will learn from whatever mistakes were made while maintaining whatever impressed me. This has burnt me several times, most notably in the transition from Legend of Korra’s season 1 to season 2. However, the latest culprit is Netflix’s The Witcher. I enjoyed season 1 because it was different from other recent fantasy shows, and I like Henry Cavill. I don’t really know why; I’m not a big fan of any of his movies or roles. But I find myself rooting for him to get another chance at greatness. Maybe it’s his screen presence, or the way he really sinks into whatever role he’s playing. But I’ve always been reluctant to blame, say, Zack Snyder’s disturbing take on Superman on the actor playing him. Season 1 of The Witcher was meandering and confusing at times, and had some moments that undermined its own immersion. But Yennefer’s character arc, Cavill’s portrayal of Geralt, and the setting won me over enough to tolerate the confusion – and Calanthe, who was absolutely unbearable. Regardless, let’s take a look at season 2.
Geralt and Ciri travel to the home of one of Geralt’s old friends, who is cursed to live as a beast. He offers them the hospitality of his enchanted home, but something is off. Eventually, Geralt realizes his friend is harboring a monster, a succubus-type creature who feasts on the blood of humans, because he’s fallen in love with her. Geralt does what he must, and they move on to Kaer Morhen, the home and birthing place of Witchers. Reunited with mentor Vesemir and his brothers, Geralt shows Ciri the ways of the Witcher as she struggles with her power. Meanwhile, Yennefer has survived the battle at Sodden Hill but has lost her powers. Intrigue continues within the Brotherhood as Nilfgaard allies with the elves to make war against the Northern territories. Yen, Fringilla, and Elven leader Francesca are tempted by a mysterious force that seeks to gain Ciri as a vessel.
The first thing I noticed about the second season was its focus. The emotional core of this season is the relationship between Ciri and Geralt, or at least, it’s supposed to be. Their bond develops way too fast and doesn’t feel all that believable. As soon as Geralt has custody of Ciri, he treats her as a daughter, and she wants to emulate his profession and moral code. This isn’t organic enough to feel real to the viewer. Despite focusing too much on the characters and not enough on the story – the first episode is a one-off that doesn’t connect to the overall plot of the season – The Witcher season 2 failed to get me invested in their relationships and struggles. Ciri is trying to understand and master her power, and even considers being a Witcher, but none of this amounts to much. The big threat of the season doesn’t have much to do with the girl becoming either a mage or a Witcher. Geralt’s internal development relates to being a father, but it’s not very interesting since he pledges to be one and does a pretty good job from the beginning, all things considered. After taking all of season 1 to bring these two together, the result is boring, undercooked, and, somehow, slow-moving. Amazing how they manage to make it feel like the story is moving too slowly at the same time as constant action takes place.
Meanwhile, Yennefer has the worst subplot of the season. She was one of the best parts of season 1 to me, and her journey is one I was looking forward to this season. It was brutally honest to show her fighting and sacrificing everything to become a mage, only to realize it wasn’t worth it. Ain’t that just the way? Anya Chalotra is utterly arresting in this role, too. However, her season 2 arc is uninteresting, predictable, and goes in a circle. She ends up right back where she ended season 1, with a display of tremendous power and a complex relationship with Geralt. What was the point? Taking her power away was a bold move narratively. I was interested to see how she coped without what she has come to define herself by. But the show isn’t interested in this, and instead, Yen spends the season trying to get her powers back, and she ultimately succeeds in a way that’s both stupid and too easy. This was not a satisfying story for a main character. For that matter, Yennefer and Ciri’s relationship is remarkably rushed too. They’ve known one another for all of one episode, but Yen is already telling Geralt that she couldn’t betray Ciri and understands why she’s so special. She helps a strange girl (who she was previously willing to sacrifice to a mysterious witch deity) channel magic one time and suddenly wants to be her mom. What the hell? Yennefer and Geralt lack any real chemistry once they reunite. Even Geralt’s anger at her actions rings hollow. It’s obvious why he feels this way, but none of the emotions connect well this season because it’s hard to connect with the characters.
The villains and Nilfgaard get a lot more focus and screen time this season, but not more development. Fringilla is now a major point-of-view character, and you know what? I think that would have been a great idea if they had actually done something with it. Like Ciri and Yennefer, Fringilla has a circular arc where she considers joining the Brotherhood again but, instead, ends up where she started. This season adds very little to the overall story. The Black Knight also features more this season, but all we learn is that he’s a fanatic. I feel like that didn’t even need to be said. Finally, we have the elves. They ally with Nilfgaard and Fringilla, in particular, and, yet again, this amounts to little. Another character kills the baby of the Elven leaders, forcing the otherwise lazy people into action. In season 1, I felt bad for the elves, but this time, I’m not sure how were supposed to feel. I don’t mean this as a compliment; a skilled writer like those who worked on Arcane can make you sympathize with every character, unable to take a side. That’s not the case here. It’s hard to care who wins because most of the characters are boring, and we don’t understand their motives well. In many cases, they come out worse than in season 1.