After a rocky start and a somewhat improved middle, the fourth and final episode of Netflix’s prequel fantasy limited series The Witcher: Blood Origin “Of Mages, Malice, and Monstrous Mayhem” delivers a consistently flawed ending. It misses several opportunities to explore deeper meaning in its themes, and instead merely grazes the surface. It’s only partially redeemed by several exemplary performances and magnificent costume design.
1. What is a Witcher?
Introducing the creation of the first witcher is an opportunity to explore what witchers are and what they mean metaphorically to The Witcher universe, and the answers given are at best, baffling, and at worst, offensive. In a blind rage, Fjall (Laurence O’Fuarain) tears one of his comrades in half and punches an eye out of another comrade’s head, leaving Eile (Sophia Brown) no choice but to euthanize him. There might be an interesting story to tell about becoming a monster in order to defeat a monster, but that story remains untold. It’s emphasized in the parent series The Witcher that even though a lot of people think witchers have no feelings, they are incorrect. Geralt, the titular witcher, is deeply sensitive, and so was Fjall up until this unexplained and unjustified turn. The ending makes this show feel like a prequel to a totally different story.
2. What is Magic?
Introducing chaos magic offers a similar opportunity, and it’s only a little more successful. In The Witcher universe, wielding chaos magic is all about balance and sacrifice. Balor (Lenny Henry) sacrifices his devoted apprentice Fenrick (Amy Murray) to wield powerful magic that will allow him to take over the Empire. It supports the themes embodied by the parent series, but it doesn’t expand on them. There’s nothing we learn about magic in Blood Origin that we didn’t already learn in The Witcher.
3. What is the Conjunction of the Spheres?
The Conjunction of the Spheres is the cosmic event where multiple dimensions merged, bringing humans and otherworldly monsters to The Continent for the first time. “Of Mages, Malice, and Monstrous Mayhem” explains how it technically happened, but doesn’t explore what it means metaphorically. It seems to be teasing a more interesting story about what it’s like to be thrown into another dimension and then conquer it, but it’s not telling that story.
Parts of the story are bland, some of the characters are bland, and the interior sets are all bland. Among pervasive blandness, the costumes, designed by Lucinda Wright, who also designed the costumes for season two of The Witcher, stand out as The Witcher: Blood Origin‘s greatest and most interesting asset. The costumes are beautiful, and more importantly, they have charisma. They feel like they come from a unique time and place, and belong to people with unique, specific personalities.
Following the conventions of the genre and the franchise, the finale should and does include a climactic battle with a big scary monster. Like a dragon crossed with a dragonfly, it has an interesting look, but if there is any deeper metaphorical meaning, it is not apparent, and that makes it less exciting than the giant aquatic centipede with the beautiful bioluminescent angler fish lure from episodes two and three, which represented the allure of the other worlds. The battle scene is well choreographed, and the final monster design isn’t bad, but it doesn’t live up to the high standards set by The Witcher franchise.
The Witcher: Blood Origin, originally supposed to be six episodes, clearly suffered from being cut down to four. The whole show leaves you with the feeling of a frustrating conversation; someone tried to tell you something important, but they couldn’t quite express themselves, you couldn’t quite understand them, and now you will never know. There is enough talent in the show, particularly in the performances and in the costumes, to make it watchable, but they cannot overcome the tragically truncated script.