TV: The Witcher (Season 3)

As season three of The Witcher fades rapidly from memory, I’ll acknowledge there’s still plenty to admire about the series: the performers, the world-building, the effects. But something seems to have broken. After an immersive first season that transcended and perhaps even benefited from a complex and confusing structure, season two slightly over-corrects to tell a conventional but still enthralling tale. Season three is, well, the worst of both worlds: ploddingly linear, but incoherent and befuddling nonetheless.

The word is out about Ciri (Freya Allan), whose vast power—as predicted—has made her a coveted political target of various scheming powers across the continent. Fortunately, Ciri still has the devoted guardianship of the formidable witcher Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), powerful mage Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), and raffish bard Jaskier (Joey Batey) to keep her safe. Eventually, flushed out by their enemies, the group decides to convey Ciri to the magicians’ academy Aretuza, where Anya hopes to unite the mages against the encroaching threat of war. Unfortunately, this leads to an explosive, tragic confrontation—one that may just compel Ciri take matters into her own hands and embrace her destiny.

The Witcher remains a perfectly watchable fantasy epic, but that’s rather a problem: it’s a downgrade from must-watch fantasy epic. What’s changed? Well, the look is somewhat thrifty compared to previous years, and perhaps Henry Cavill’s imminent, distracting departure fouled up the chemistry. But the primary culprit seems to be the writing, which feels as though it’s trying to streamline and simplify the source material while simultaneously leaving out the driving connective tissue that might make it coherent. The result is a plot that relies on looming threats too nebulous to latch onto or care about, especially since the factions feel interchangeable and the geography is so muzzy. The performers are still in fine form, with Chalotra a sensational stand-out, Allan stepping up to make Ciri more mature and formidable, and Batey and MyAnna Buring continuing to provide the most appealing supporting presences. And the action sequences, monster fights, and visual effects are still rather eye-catching. But overall the season, on top of being a rather clunky sendoff for Cavill, is a curiously hollow and distancing one.

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