This is a review of The Witcher Episode Two entitled “Four Marks”. It was written by Jenny Klein and was released on Netflix on 20th December 2019.
In the last episode we were introduced to the characters of Geralt, the titular monster hunter and Cirilla (Ciri), The Princess of Cintra. This episode introduces the third main character of the saga, the very popular character of Yennefer. Her story is gone into in more detail in Episode 3 (Detailed review is the third episode – Betrayer Moon is here)
Also appearing is Jaskier this is a Polish name (jaśniejszy) meaning buttercup – in the computer games, Jaskier was called Dandelion, presumably because the English name translation to buttercup was silly!
A Quick ‘Previously’
In the previous episode review of The Witcher, we saw that Geralt of Rivia had reluctantly killed his friend and alleged lover (or one-night-stand) Renfri. It was all very sad. Worse still, Geralt had to defend himself against Renfri’s men and had killed them all. He was chased out of Blaviken and forever dubbed, the “Butcher of Blaviken” a name that he is unhappy with. Although Geralt is a capable killer, he tries, to avoid needless bloodshed and will stand by what he considers honorable principals, even if it upsets the people around him.
Also in the last episode, Ciri had managed to escape the capital city in Cintra with a lot of magical screaming, a special skill she had mysteriously acquired but didn’t didn’t quite understand. Her grandmother, Queen Calanthe and her beloved country had fallen in the invasion by Nilfgaard Empire.
A Quick – ‘You Need to Know This Before the Review Starts…’
Ok, so, forget all the ‘previously’ stuff for a moment and consider the opening scene from this episode. It is set at least 100 years earlier than the last episode! Also, when you see Ciri again, the story will have jumped forward to her timeline. Equally, the Geralt timeline seems to be somewhere in between. It all sounds very complicated but the story is well written and if you appreciate that there is a disjointed timeline, your enjoyment of the show shouldn’t be spoiled.
The Witcher Episode Two Review – Four Marks
The opening scene transports us to an idyllic medieval-like village in the region of Vengerberg where a young couple are fooling around. Well, the dude would like to think they were but the girl is playing hard-to-get.
The Portal of Destiny
The young flirting couple inadvertently stumble into a barn and continue their conversation while being watched by a girl, a hunchback with deformed jaw-line.
When they finally notice her, they push her to the ground and berate her with insults about her deformity and ugliness. It is clear that the words hurt the hunchback more than the violence. She grimaces in her distress, closes her eyes briefly and when she opens them, she is in a large hall……. somewhere else.
There, she sees a man reading a book. He is called Istredd and the place is called ‘The Tower of Gulls’ in Aretuza, a magical academy on Thanedd Island. Yennefer is obviously taken aback by all this and although surprised, she is also curious. Istredd tells her that although her magic is impressive (in that she was able to portal to another place), her magic will be ‘noticed’ and she will now have a target on her back. A woman will be ‘coming for her’. It all sounded very ominous and Yennefer was already frightened.
A Pig Costs Ten Marks
Later (maybe a few days later), a very handsome but equally stern looking woman approaches her family pig farm where Yennefer is tending the pigs. Her stepfather see’s the attractive, well dressed woman (called Tissaia de Vries) approach. She calls out to him, “How much for a pig”.
He responds with the price, “10 Marks”.
Then she looks at Yennefer and asks, “And how much for this beast?”
“6 Marks”, He replies.
“4”, she counters. and the deal is struck.
Yennefer refuses to go with Tissaia but in the very next scene we see that she has been locked in her room (in Aretuza). She observes her surroundings and feels wretched and upset. On the wall is a mirror. She walks over to it to observe her ugliness and considers that she will never be loved or appreciated. She cries, punches the mirror and picks up some of the glass shards. We believe her intent is to slit her wrists.
That was a marvellously cool opening to the show. Quite hard hitting and tremendously well acted by all the cast particularly Yennefer played by Anya Chalotra. I think we all quickly realised that the marvelous first episode of The Witcher TV series wasn’t a fluke – it was simply the shape of things to come.
Ciri and the Elven Encounter
Meanwhile, back to the future, Ciri is wandering the forest after escaping the clutches of the Nilfgaardian Captain the previous evening. She is alone and frightened. She hears soldiers call her and quickly hides.
After they pass, she sees some berries on a bush and just as she attempts to pick and eat them, a stone hits her hand. It was thrown by an elf who then gestured that the berries were poisonous.
The Elf, The Rat and The Princess
He beckons her over and she cautiously follows. He has just killed a rat and offers her some to eat. Ciri politely refuses, she is clearly not desperate enough to each rodents yet. He leaves and she follows.
The rat is roasted on a little spit and the elf begins to eat it. Ciri tries to talk to him but he remains silent. She hasn’t spoken to anyone for three days and explains to the elf that she is running way from someone while, at the same time, trying to find someone else.
The two of them continue through the forest until the see a Cintran flag. Ciri runs towards it, the elf doesn’t.
Geralt Meets the Bard
In a bar far away, we see a bard singing a song….. badly. He is in a tavern and his song is not well received. The guests throw food rather than money at him. As he picks up the meagre bounty, he notices Geralt sat at the other side of the room.
We walks over tentatively and remarks, “I love the way you just sit in the corner brooding.”
“I came here to drink alone.” Geralt responds. And that was the start of a beautiful friendship…. sort of. It was a bit one sided to be honest.
They exchange banter and after Jaskier notices that the brooding white haired stranger has two very ominous looking swords, he realises that this is Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher. Geralt rises and walks towards the exit. One of the guests however has overheard the conversations and offers Geralt some money for killing a demon that is stealing grain from his farm. Geralt accepts the job for 150 ducs.
Jaskier decides to tag along in the hope that observing the Witcher may inspire new songs. Their banter is marvelous, well written and funny. For instance, as Jaskier tries to explain that he would like to accompany Geralt on his travels, he tries to complement Geralt with the words, “…. is that onion? It doesn’t matter, whatever it is, you smell like death and destiny, heroic and heartbreaking.”
That was some complement! Geralt of course replied, “It’s onion.” The whole scene had some great dialogue – all delivered in front of a very picturesque background.
Yennefer Absence of Control
We then learn that Yennefer had indeed, tried to commit suicide but was saved by Tissaia de Vries. Yennefer is upset, she reasons that she should have been allowed to die, it’s the only thing that she had control of.
Tissaia De Vries, is the Rectoress of Aretuza and the woman that had travelled to sa to find her. She explained to Yennefer that she wasn’t in control, she lost it.
Yennefer is instructed to attend class a few minutes later.
In class, Tissaia explains to Yennefer and three other students why they are there. Apparently, it is because the academy believes that the are able to use magic. Tissaia goes on to explain that chaos is the most dangerous thing in the universe and the assembled girls were, at some point, able to channel it. Such power was brought to her attention and now they are here.
Organised Chaos – The Rock and the Flower
She then begins to show them the principal of channeling chaos and that managing it requires balance and control. There is a give and a take. They are instructed to chant a few words and by using their minds only, to lift a stone while using the energy of a small bunch of flowers as the balance.
The girls attempt the magic and all succeed except Yennefer. She desperately wants to but as Tessaia acknowledges, “You’ve lost a lot of blood piglet.”
Yennefer storms off annoyed at her failure.
She wonders into the hall that she had previously transported to. Istredd is there and she introduces herself to him. They become friends.
Ciri wonders around the refugee camp. There are many displaced people and these are clearly desperate times. She meets a noble family and is taken in. Their tent is quite luxurious and the nobles are not fans of the Queen and her actions. Ciri doesn’t let them know that she is the Princess.
They are however, very generous to her. In a particularly poignant scene, one of their dwarf servants are instructed to remove his boots and give them to Ciri to replace her damaged and flimsy shoes. There was no generosity involved of course and Ciri is mildly concerned that the dwarf is now without boots. “Don’t worry,” says the lady of the house, “he is one of the clean ones.”
Yennefer’s Great Fear
Back at the academy, Yennefer is trying to learn how to read the minds of her classmates. They are all instructed to look into the each others eyes and understand their partners greatest fear.
Yennefer is struggling with her magic, it just doesn’t seem to be powerful and what little she has is difficult to control. She desperately wants to be good at her studies but regularly seems to fail. Hours later, she announces to Tissaia that Aneka’s worse fear is snakes. Tessaia is unimpressed and knows that Yennefer is lying. She points out that she is underperforming as a student and that she should consider her own fear – that even if she was a beauty, nobody would love her.
The Moon Jellyfish
Yennefer goes to visit her friend Istredd. He tries to encourage her by telling her that she will get better. He lets her attempt to read his mind. After only a few minutes, she begins to see something. She asks what it is, he tells her, “Moon Jellyfish.”
Then she hears insects in Summer. She gratefully embraces Istredd and he tells her that he thought of the things that he thought she might love to see or hear.
The Lightening Bolt
Later that evening, Yennefer is awoken by Tissaia and told to follow her to an upper room in the Tower of Gulls. There, she and her classmates are told to attempt to catch lightning from the storm outside. It’s obviously difficult and only a few are able to manage the feat. Aneka for instance was able to catch the lightening in the bottle, but it exploded in her face.
When it’s Yennefer’s turn however, we see that she is struck by the lightening and thrown aside. However, she is not injured and it looks as though she has managed to store the energy from the bolt in her body somehow.
When one of her other classmates successfully bottles her lightening, Tissaia explains pointedly to Yennefer that the strong are able to do this but not the weak. Yennefer erupts in anger and frustration and the lightening bolt stored in her body, is fired at Tissaia. The Rectoress is easily able to take the lighting strike and channel it back out into the night sky.
Only two of the girls (Sabrina and Fringilla) actually managed to capture the lightening in their bottles. Yennefer didn’t fail, she just didn’t do as she was told. She was able to catch the lightning and store it – just not in the bottle. Ironically, this was one of the few tests that Yennefer managed to do (badly) on the first attempt. The other three girls failed.
Emotional Like Us
When all but Yennefer and Tissaia are left, Tissaia confronts Yennefer about the incident. She tells the hunchback that there are sorceresses who can control their emotions and others, like ‘us’ who are consumed by them. Tissaia then points out the dangers of the emotional command of power.
The job of the sorceress is to be provided as an advisor to a monarch in one of the many regions throughout the continent. If a sorceress succumbs to their emotions and causes the death of the monarch, the people of that region or country will turn on the sorcerers academy and they will all die. It is the role of the Rectroress to ensure this doesn’t happen. Yennefer accepts her words and apologetically tells Tissaia that she understands.
The Pointy Eared Demon
Geralt and Jaskier are captured while looking for the demon when they eventually find a Sylvan (a sort of creature with a goat’s head). It is relatively harmless and turns out to be working for an elf called Filavandrel, aka The Elf King. In reality however, he is simply the leader of a rag-tag bunch of elves that are fleeing the butchery of a human-led genocide known euphemistically throughout The Continent as “The Great Cleansing.”
Geralt tells him that he is not human and that the Bard is not worthy of killing. Geralt advises the elves that they need to adapt to their situation and that perpetuating the conflict will bring no solution.
The Elf King decides to let them go He doesn’t believe that Geralt or Jaskier is a threat and the Witcher generously leaves with them, the money that that he was supposed to earn for their deaths. The elves also replace Jaskiers Lute that was broken when they were captured.
Witcher Episode Review – The Skulls of Elves
In a far off land (island actually) and in another time, Yennefer is talking to Istredd. She tells him that they their friendship has been found out (i.e. that Tissaia knows about them) and that she will likely be sent home. She is distraught and Istredd tries to calm her.
Istredd is an academic studying ancient texts and in particular ancient magics. He takes her to another part of the hall where there are many bones organised in an elaborate configuration. They are the remains of mages and sorcerers. He tells Yennefer that the bones were that of elves. Before humans came to The Continent, elves were the original sorcerers.
This is Why She Can’t Have Nice Things
As he tells her the story, they become closer and embrace. He gives her a feainnewedd flower and asks her to put it in her mouth. She bites off a petal and chants the words for a portal;. This is an ancient ritual that really only he can perform as he has trained so hard to be able to learn it. Yennefer repeats the chant jokingly and a portal appears.
Istredd is more than a little impressed. When he asks her how she was able to do this difficult spell of the first try, she tells him her secret, that her real father was an elf. Indeed, her deformity is caused by this fact. It is also the reason, as she believes it, why nobody will ever love her.
Istredd is unperturbed, he kisses her tenderly. Yennefer smiles.
The Real Reason She Cant Have Nice Things
Later, in Tissaia’s office, Yennefer hands her the feainnewedd flower that Istredd gave her. She is pleased. Getting the flower for Tissaia was proof that Yennefer could control her emotions after all. Tissaia complements the young sorceress and calls her Yennefer (not piglet or beast etc.)
Yennefer asks if this means that she can ‘ascend’. I don’t think she actually knows what it means. It’s possible that she simply means she is ready to graduate. Tissaia replies, “Listen for the knock.” Yennefer leaves.
In the next scene, we see our old buddy Stregobor and Istredd talking. The senior Sorcerer asks what he has found out since he has been working on “her” for months. Istredd reluctantly tells Stregobor that she is part elf. The regret seems genuine.
Nilfgaard Invade the Refugee Camp
During the night, Ciri is woken by shoulting and sounds of panic. The Nilfgaardian soldiers have found the refugees and are attacking. The noblewoman is killed by her dwarf servant who, resentful of his treatment, was punished for dropping some of her belongings. Let this be a lesson to us all, ‘don’t slap your dwarf manservant if he drops the silverware!’
The elf returns to save Ciri and they run off into the woods together. The Nilfgaardian Captain (called Cahir) seems to sense that she is near but can’t find her. He continues his search frantically. It seems as though the camp was only attacked because of the search of Ciri.
Yennefer is sitting alone at night on her bed. She hears three girls get ‘the knock’ on the door and definitely not hers. She follows at a distance to watch the ascendance ceremony.
Down in the bowels of the Tower, there is a central platform of rock surrounded by water. Yennefer learns that the ascendance ceremony is where the ascended are turned into eels! She is justifiably horrified.
Yennefer joins Tissaia once the three girls have ascended. “You’ve turned my friends into slugs.” She says.
What actually happened, was that the three lesser apprentice sorceresses (these were the three that failed the test to catch the lightning) were turned into eels. This is a procedure that helps to capture their power for the academy but not their control. Failure to become a sorceress was death and the collection (for the benefit of all) of the hapless students mana (mage/warlock/sorcerer power).
Tissaia tells Yennefer, “Sometimes the best a flower can do for us is die.”
Toss a Coin to Your Witcher.
The last part of the episode is marvelous! Geralt and Jaskier (played by Joey Batey) are discussing their future. Geralt is trying to get rid of the bard by stating ominously, that their paths should part. Jaskier however disagrees and wants to report Geralt’s deeds of good by immortalising them in a song.
As if to try and persuade Geralt, he launches into song, “When a humble bard, Graced a ride along, With Geralt of Rivia, Along came this song…..” The full lyrics of the song can be found in the Geralt biography here. If you’re like me and many, many, MANY others, you weren’t able to get the damn song out of your head for days after hearing it.
As the song is playing we see Ciri learning that her friend is an elf (he’d been wearing a hat to cover his pointy ears). She thanks him for helping her numerous time. He tells her that his name is Dara and she tells him that she is Ciri. They continue into the forest.
We also see Yennefer push the eels (her friends) into the water as instructed and the water begins to glow. The base of the Tower of Gulls lights up as though it’s batteries have been re-charged.
And there the show ended – Terrific!
Witcher Episode Review – Conclusion
Many critics thought this was one of the weaker of the episodes in the first season – far from it. It was really good! After watching the show a second time I believe it’s one of the strongest episodes of the season. The performances by Anya Chalotra (Yennefer) and Joey Batey (Jaskier) were marvelous and complemented the excellent Henry Cavill (Geralt) and Freya Allen (Ciri) really well. Casting for this show has been a triumph and it makes the characterisation of the saga so much more entertaining!
The story arc can be confusing if you aren’t familiar with the books or game but it isn’t too distracting – these reviews will help you with the trickiest bits. It shouldn’t stop you enjoying the show.
I’d mark this a slightly better 9.3 out of 10
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The Witcher is a Czech-American fantasy drama web television series created by Lauren Schmidt Hissrich for Netflix.
This Witcher TV Show Episode Two Review is copyright Tony Fawl and not for reproduction without permission.