Netflix’s December 2019 release of “The Witcher” came as a genuine and welcome surprise to fans of TV fantasy made cynical by a decade of “Game of Thrones” and mostly failed “Game of Thrones” hopefuls. “. This series was fun, he did not take himself too seriously, and he managed to avoid all the traps into which other would-be successors to the Iron Throne had fallen. He didn’t overload himself with sex or violence, reveling in earworm-sounding melodies like “Toss a coin to your witch.”
Unnecessarily violent, it seems to have forgotten what made the original such an effective escapist treatment.
Unfortunately, “The Witcher: Blood Origin”, the new Netflix spin-off, is a disappointment. Unnecessarily violent, it seems to have forgotten what made the original such an effective escapist treatment. It’s a bad sign for the franchise, which is already suffering the upcoming loss of star Henry Cavill.
Not that the original “Warlock” relied entirely on Cavill as the main lead. The series wisely morphed into an ensemble creation, decentering the legendary warlock Geralt of Rivia, a classic heroic white man. By elevating Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra) and Princess Ciri (Freya Allan) into leads in their own right, the series seemed to be building a solid foundation. But Cavill’s enthusiasm remained a key part of the series’ charm, as much as his Superman-esque physique. (The man it really filled a bathtub.)
Netflix has already tried a spin-off, “The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf,” an animated feature that came and went with hardly a headline. “Blood Origin” is the first live-action spin-off, a deep-dive prequel that chronicles how warlocks came to be.
For the four-part series, the showrunners assembled a talented cast, with Michelle Yeoh headlining as part of her ongoing career renaissance (Yeohnaissance?) alongside up-and-coming Brits Sophia Brown, Laurence O’Fuarain and Mirren Mack. The series also features big names like Sir Lenny Henry and Minnie Driver, along with original fan favorite Joey Batey, best known as the bard behind “Toss a Coin.”
Part of the problem stems from the show’s chosen narrative: a group of disparate warriors come together to fight a growing evil. The show even acknowledges how many fantasy movies are based on this “Avengers-like” story. But “The Witcher” also relies on old-school tropes. The first season featured Geralt having adventures based on classic Eastern European fairy tales, the same ones that Disney has been telling and retelling for decades (albeit in neutralized form). Season two was a hero’s journey straight out of the Joseph Campbell playbook. There’s no reason these stories can’t be retold (again).
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Unfortunately, “Blood Origin” doesn’t do much with its excellent set pieces. The four-part format feels too short (one of the few times I’ll say that about a show), like a movie divided into quadrants. The relationship between Brown’s character Éile and Yoeh’s swordsman Scian is a perfect example of the problem. Éile is Scian’s protégé, but instead of exploring the relationship between these two warrior women, the series leans too heavily on the classic “teacher and student” relationship. Worse yet, she seems to believe that women should earn the respect of fans through violence, as if shedding extra blood is a balancing equation for the gender. It is incredibly daunting.
And, of course, there’s the problem of the prequel. With “Blood Origin” only making four episodes, there isn’t enough time to try to build a world that existed 1,200 years ago. As a result, time and place seem much thinner than the show from which it is derived. On the other hand, too much time is spent trying to tie the events of the prequel to the main series, as if every action should have an equal and opposite reaction in the first two seasons of “The Witcher.”
“Blood Origin” is just the latest in a series of high-priced fantasy prequels; both “House of the Dragon” (a prequel to “Game of Thrones”) and “Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” debuted earlier this year. Both stories, perhaps because they come years after their main shows ended, are at least treated as worth watching for their own good. “Blood Origin” feels like a side quest, something only worthwhile for superfans. Perhaps that’s all Netflix thinks it needs to keep the franchise going. But few viewers will think that this installment is worth throwing coins at.