The following contains full spoilers for The Witcher Season 2, Episode 4. For a refresher, see our review of the third episode, or check out our spoiler-free review of the first six episodes of Season 2.
“Oh my god, Dara’s back!” I yelled involuntarily when Ciri’s erstwhile companion from Season 1 popped up midway through Episode 4, now sporting an afro and clearly in the throes of adolescence. We last saw Dara as he parted ways with Ciri following their battle with Doppler Mousesack — one of Season 1’s most criticized storylines outside of Brokilon, in which he also featured prominently (Season 1 had a lot of heavily criticized storylines, come to think of it). As a wholly original character who wasn’t particularly well-received, his exit from the story seemed destined to be permanent. Apparently The Witcher’s writers had other plans.
Dara figures into this episode’s C Plot, which introduces the titular Redanian Intelligence and Djikstra, a towering figure in both the books and the games. Played by a glowering Graham McTavish, Djikstra personifies the Witcherverse’s often brutal realpolitik. He makes his entrance into the show by throwing a knife through one noble’s throat and forcing another to drink poison, whereupon he begins laying out his plan for Cintra. As establishing character moments go, it’s pretty good.
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Despite the episode title, Djikstra doesn’t figure prominently into this week’s plot, his only other big scene involving him striding back and forth and rambling animatedly to an owl. Still, it’s good to have him. As I discussed in my Episode 3 review, this Witcher adaptation’s politics haven’t really landed to this point, mainly because they tend to be related in the abstract. Djikstra is just the sort of backroom schemer that this show needs, and McTavish’s energetic performance makes him an immediate standout.
With Djikstra enacting his plans in the background for now, the plot picks up this season’s two main threads: Geralt’s continued training of Ciri, and Yennefer and Cahir’s flight from Aretuza. The former gets a nice shakeup with the arrival of Triss Merigold, who is immediately concerned about Ciri’s treatment in the all-male Kaer Morhen. Their rapport is reflective of The Witcher’s generally strong handling of female friendships, encouraging Ciri to shed her training rags in favor of what looks like Zelda cosplay from Breath of the Wild (I like it!). She’s jeered by Lambert and Coen, now the stand-ins for basically every Witcher in Kaer Morhen.
Ciri’s attempts to fit in at Kaer Morhen while retaining some part of her identity has been one of this season’s more heartbreaking story threads. “My grandmother fought battles wearing dresses. You can do both,” she mumbles.
As for Triss, she’s in Kaer Morhen for a bit of Witcher CSI, working with Geralt to unravel the mystery behind all the strange mutations impacting the local monster population, which they are eventually able to connect to Ciri. She’s also there to hit on Geralt, much to the delight of Triss stans (Disclosure: I’m one of them), prompting a cute scene where Ciri briefly becomes a smirking teen watching as the adults flirt. Geralt’s heart lies with Yennefer though, meaning that this particular ship has likely sailed.
Meanwhile, Cahir and Yennefer are on the run in Oxenfurt, a dingy medieval city where elves are being persecuted by forces from the Northern Kingdoms — ostensibly the good guys, but here not so much. Fantastic racism is uncomfortable territory for settings like this in the best of times, not the least because such scenes can come off as simply tasteless in the wrong hands. The Witcher does enough to get the point across without ever really crossing the line, but it also unironically adapts Martin Niemöller real-life Holocaust quote, which isn’t necessarily the direction you want to take a show that in some ways is still closer to Xena: Warrior Princess than anything.
Speaking of Xena moments, Yennefer and Cahir end up in the care of a pair of elves who guide them through the sewers. In an incredible moment, one of them expounds at length about the amazing life they’re going to lead once they get out of the sewers. You can probably guess what happens next. That poor elf was just one day from retirement.
Anyway, Yennefer and Cahir eventually meet up with Jaskier, now boasting a nifty leather trenchcoat and still sulking over his breakup with Geralt. Jaskier and Yennefer immediately pick up from where they left off last season, icily addressing each other as “witch” and “bard” while Jaskier chastises Yennefer for how badly she smells after her jaunt through the sewers. But it’s Jaskier, surprisingly enough, who has one of the more tender moments of the season with Yen, bonding with her as she opens up about losing her powers, and he tells her to find a new purpose, a better one.
I was a big fan of Jaskier in Witcher Season 1, and I’m still mostly a fan him here, even if “Burn, Butcher, Burn” is unlikely to join “Toss a Coin To Your Witcher” in the annals of viral show tunes (who knows, maybe I’ll be proven wrong). Jaskier was the heart of the first season, infusing every scene he was in with comic energy and creating a great odd-couple dynamic with Geralt, but his silliness clangs in the episode’s climax as he tries to smuggle Yennefer and Cahir to Cintra with a group of elven refugees.
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After using his celebrity to seemingly win safe passage, he can’t resist getting into it with a guard, resulting in an ugly scene in which an elf is kicked and beaten, possibly to death. Such scenes show that while The Witcher has made strides this season, it’s still prone to the sort of wild tonal shifts that characterized some of the first season’s worst moments.
Putting aside these problems, it’s a packed and largely enjoyable episode, featuring the successful introduction of Djikstra, the return of Jaskier, and fun and humanizing moments like Geralt’s portal sickness. It’s an episode that encompasses almost everything that has defined Netflix’s adaptation of The Witcher to this point, with all that entails. In short, an enjoyable but flawed episode for an enjoyable but flawed show.