The second episode of Netflix’s prequel limited series The Witcher: Blood Origin, “Of Dreams, Defiance, and Desperate Deeds” is a substantial improvement upon the first. With no more framing devices or backstories to the backstories weighing it down, it leaps into a detailed, original, complicated story that leaves the audience wanting more.
1. Effective Flashbacks
Traveling with their bitter new comrade Brother Death (Huw Novelli) to save Scian (Michelle Yeoh) Eile (Sophia Brown) and Fjall (Laurence O’Fuarain) walk through a mist that gives them hallucinatory visions. We see Eile being forced by her mother to burn prisoners alive, implying this was what made her leave her warrior life behind to pursue music. It reminds us that Eile has a strong distaste for violence, and probably an especial distaste for fire, which makes an earlier fire attack and all the fighting she’s done so far a lot more sad and profound. It raises the stakes on what it means that Eile is returning to a life of violence.
2. Too Much Family
It may be evidence of its truncated production process that too many characters are still slowing the show down. If Eile’s sister Niamh had been in her flashback instead of her mother, it would’ve complicated and deepened the stakes of Niamh’s death in the first episode. Or better yet, if Scian had taken that role, we’d be watching a much more nuanced relationship unfold between her and Eile, a dramatic feat that both actors are more than capable of electrifying.
3. Specificity and Originality
Specificity and originality make “The Witcher: Blood Origin”’s second episode stronger than its first. In addition to Eile’s specifically horrific memories, we see Merwyn (Mirren Mack) engage in ambitious political machinations against Balor (Lenny Henry) complicating a perception of her as merely an ambitious figurehead. Balor, in turn, sacrifices a couple of anonymous children only to discover that wasn’t a good enough sacrifice to be granted the powers he wanted. It is the lesson of the show itself, that generic storytelling, like anonymous sacrifice, lacks impact.
4. Special Effects
The special effects, especially when it comes to the monsters, are not as polished as what we’ve seen in The Witcher or more recent high budget fantasy series like HBO’s House of the Dragon or Amazon Prime’s The Rings of Power. However, the monster design more than lives up to the current fantasy zeitgeist. A giant amphibious caterpillar with a (literally) captivating bioluminescent lure leaves a lasting impression of glamour and violence. Balance of contradictions is a part of the unique personality that defines the whole Witcher franchise.
5. An Ensemble Cast For the Ages
Blood Origin‘s crowning achievement is the formidable ensemble cast, who each ground their fantastical circumstances in earnestness (another Witcher franchise hallmark). It goes without saying that Michelle Yeoh is impossible to look away from, and every member of the main cast brings something special to the ensemble. No one is having more fun than Francesca Mills as the talkative and vengeful Meldof. There are a number of actors who deliver would-be scene-stealing performances if everyone weren’t working together like a great ensemble should, including Amy Murray as the unflinchingly loyal Fenrik, and Samuel Blenkin as the nervously inexperienced Avallac’h.
Blood Origin‘s “Of Dreams, Defiance, and Desperate Deeds” sings when it lets the cast play in nuanced contradictions, and when the stunning natural beauty of Iceland remains stunning. A lot of the interior sets look like interior sets, but one simply cannot make the rolling green hills of Iceland look anything but magical, even if one tried.