Blissfully, “The Witcher” remains watchable (witchable?) when it turns its camera back to our happy witching family; the show works best when it’s more “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” than “Game of Thrones.” The dialogue remains delightfully arch, much of the humor still lands (fret not, dear reader, comic relief bard Jaskier [Joey Batey] is back and quippier than ever), and the half-season caps off with a fancy-dress gala—shades of Netflix sibling “Bridgerton”—that finally puts Geralt in a situation he can’t hack and slash his way out of.
And the monster fights. Oh, the monster fights. Each episode stops cold at least once to let Cavill and Allen slide around swinging swords and witching away, and these remain the show’s most thrilling moments. The monster designs remain suitably creepy, from a roly-poly jackapace to a mysterious cave creature that absorbs the flesh of three victims and puppets it like a giant man-rat king, with the heads of its terrified victims screaming in agony and begging for mercy.
It’s in this dirt-covered pulp action that the heart of the show still beats; if there’s one thing I miss from Season One, it’s that the fractured narrative sold the plot’s superfluousness hard enough that you didn’t feel bad that you had no idea which kingdom you were really in. Your eyes could just glaze over until Cavill unsheathed that sword and flung himself at yet another eldritch beastie. Now, you get some of that, but unraveling the dull plotting around it feels like homework.
“The Witcher” is like a relic of the heady days of streaming, a last gasp of the times when big-budget prestige streaming series actually broke through and had a chance to find their identity. Perhaps we should thank our lucky stars that the show’s already running out of steam—and that’s before Liam Hemsworth takes over the role of Cavill in Season Four.
But in the meantime, there’s still plenty of that high-camp energy to get by—Cavill’s arched eyebrow and taciturn grunts, his chemistry with the scene-stealing Chalotra, Batey’s frazzled comic relief, and the big-budget creature brawls that remain the reason you keep hitting “Next Episode.”
All five episodes of Season Three Volume One were screened for review. Volume Two drops on Netflix on July 27.