“That scent. The moment I dread most every time you leave…is when it fades.”
Of all The Witcher episodes thus far, “Rare Species” is the most fantasy trope-driven — Geralt finds himself assisting the mysterious Borch Three Jackdaws (Ron Cook, Mr Selfridge) on a race to hunt and kill a green dragon — while also throwing in some heavy romantic overtones as Geralt and Yennefer (who has her own designs for being on the hunt) open up to one another more than either have done in their entire lives.
After Borch and his two companions, Teá (Adele Oni, Prototype) and Veá (Collete Tchantcho, Doctors), approach Geralt during a job, the witcher is disinclined to join in on the hunt. It’s not until Yennefer, thanks to another spin of destiny’s wheel, enters as a hunt participant with her escort Sir Eyck (Jordan Renzo, Class, The Spanish Princess), that the Witcher agrees. Based on subtle clues (Yennefer’s cutting remark about Jaskier’s crow’s feet) and a montage of trysts between the Witcher and sorceress taken over the years, we get another hint at the passage of time since they first brought the house down in Rinde.
Much of the journey on the road of “Rare Species” is Geralt trying to hold back his jealousy of Yen’s comely knight while making idle chat with Borch and getting to know the foul-mouthed but thoroughly entertaining dwarf, Yarpen Zigrin (Jeremy Crawford, Titans, Man Seeking Woman). As mentioned, there’s a healthy dose of the fantasy journey this time around, with a band of warriors sharing the road on a similar quest while one particularly distasteful troop — Boholt (Steve Wall, Vikings, Rebellion) and his biker-like gang of Reavers — enemy to all. In a story like this, it’s not the action, however fun it may be (though the climatic fight between Geralt, Yen, Borch and his two companions against the Reavers was a step down from the imaginative and cutthroat choreography of previous action sequences) that stands out. Rather it’s the character moments, those beats where the episode gives the narrative a chance to explore who these people are and, in the case of Geralt and Yennefer, what they mean to one another, is what’s worth remembering.
Even if it’s only been two episodes for us, the time Geralt and Yennefer have spent together between that seems to be years. They’ve had, while not a committed relationship, one of more convenience for the fact that neither can muster up the courage to make it more. Despite his usual laconic ways, Geralt finds that she draws words from him and he “always regret(s) it”. This particular line comes after he somewhat callously laughs at Yennefer’s determination to heal her scarred womb and again have the choice to become a mother. Geralt tries to lighten his cold response by pointing out the truth: people in their line of work, that see the horrors life brings, cannot truly make for good parents, particularly if the continue along the paths set out for them.
For Yen, there could be a chance at correction but for Geralt, he has been and will always be, a Witcher. He’s a character that has very few regrets, though the ones he does — such as his inability to save Renfri — haunt him even decades later. But as harsh as Geralt is, he also shows a softer side that reaches past Yen’s emotional shield wall and salves the pain of never feeling important to someone. Sadly, it lasts only so long before that karmic bitch of destiny rears its head.
Not long after the fight that leaves the Reavers dead and reveals that Borch is himself a gold dragon, his casual mention of Geralt’s desperation not to lose Yen (a reference to the last wish) opens the inevitable door of disappointment, one that understandably makes Yen doubt whether their connection is an emotional choice or a magical tether. Always looking to lash out, Yennefer declares that Geralt has lost her (which seemingly coincides with Borch’s earlier prediction that he would), though some of that anger is not on the Witcher, rather Borch’s other prediction that she will never regain her womb.
For two people who had crossed that gap of uncertainty to open themselves up to love, it’s a crushing revelation. Geralt makes it worse still, venting his anger on Jaskier, a man who’s been by the Witcher’s side for years. In one fell swoop, Geralt loses the two people closest to him, relegating himself to the most common life for a Witcher; that of one traversing the world alone.
It’s incredible to see how such a basic story can transform the season’s entire narrative. As short as Geralt and Yen’s two-episode arc came across like a legitimately epic love story, it’s already come to an end. More to the point, for all his growth as a character, Geralt has reverted to his loner ways. With only two episodes left on the docket, Geralt still has a long road to hoe in order to find his way back to his child surprise and, as for Yen, it’s up in the air if she’ll remain on the road herself or return to the only true home she’s had; Tissaia and halls of Aretuza.
On Being a Witcher
• Though I’m appreciating Freya Allan’s Ciri more by the episode, her story has been the weakest part of The Witcher narrative thus far. It’s fair considering she’s not been given enough to do and, as a young girl just trying to survive on the run, there hasn’t been a chance to truly examine her character. With that said, Allan really has fallen into the character, masterfully expressing Ciri’s heartache and fear when Dara cuts ties with her, leaving the young girl alone in a harsh and brutal world where the only person she can count on (Geralt of Rivia) is nowhere to be found.
• Cahir’s arc is another thing that just hasn’t worked for me. I know that he and Fringilla are driven by their fanatical devotion to the White Flame but, as antagonists, they’ve lacked the substance to make them more than simple story roadblocks. The introduction of the Doppler didn’t help any, taking up the time that could have been used to develop Cahir or Fringilla for the sanctity of the narrative (which was the right choice). Perhaps that will change by season’s end, but that may be too much to ask with everything else that needs to be wrapped up.
• What The Witcher giveth, it also taketh away. Geralt’s verbal cruelty towards Jaskier was the perfect example of a person throwing their anger at the most convenient target. Though I understand what Geralt believes he has lost (and is frustrated and angry more with himself than anything) there’s no excuse in taking it out on his companion like this. Jaskier’s feelings aside, the thought that we won’t see the bard anymore this season may be the most criminal turn of events.
The Witcher – “Rare Species”
8.5 out of 10