“Rare Species” Hurts The More You Think About It: S1E6 Review

By: Sampson Berlinsk

Grade: 6.4/10

Episode six adapts Sword of Destiny’s short story “The Bounds of Reason”, after a time skip from the last episode. Where last we saw Geralt and Yennefer going at it in the blown-up mansion in Rinde, an indeterminate amount of time has passed, as evidenced by their now cold relationship, and by Jaskier’s new crows feet. We also continue the constructed Ciri plotline after leaving the sanctuary of Brokilon in search of Geralt. 

We open to Jaskier waiting with some peasants for Geralt to return from a cave where he’s hunting his basilisk quarry. When the two peasants decide Geralt is as good as dead they start to loot Roach’s saddlebags despite Jaskier’s feeble pleas. Borch Three Jackdaws and his Zerrakanian bodyguards appear and break some necks, just as Geralt emerges from the cave victorious. Borch introduces himself and enlists Geralt’s help in hunting down a legendary dragon. Geralt doesn’t ordinarily mess with dragons, but concedes to guard Borch during his hunt. In a fashion typical for the season, Geralt is again drawn into the action of the episode by being actively sought out by the adventure, in this case embodied by Borch. It makes Geralt seem like a major player on the Continent, which isn’t unreasonable with Jaskier’s help behind the scenes. Unfortunately, it happens often enough that this “call to action” feels less than natural. Considering how much the season has pushed the theme of destiny thus far, I find it quite strange that they didn’t stick with Geralt and Borch’s original chance meeting from “The Bounds of Reason,” as those sort of coincidences are more believable than the writers twisting fate themselves. 

I do have to chuckle at Geralt going along with Borch’s motivation for all this. A dragon-slaying mid-life crisis. 

Four teams are introduced to the impending dragon hunt– The band of dragon-hunting specialists, the Reavers, Yarpen Zigrin’s troupe of dwarves, Borch and Geralt’s merry band, and Sir Eyck of Denesle accompanied by Yenefer. Upon seeing the last team Jaskier tries to backtrack their involvement, but Geralt immediately agrees. We can see that at the very least, some time and some history has passed between episodes. Clearly it has not been happily ever after. 

When Yennefer confronts Geralt and Jaskier about their involvement in the hunt, she says, “How is it that I’ve walked this earth for decades without coming across a witcher, and then the first one I meet, I can’t get rid of?” I’d like to explain away that exact sentiment with the ever-present destiny, but unfortunately it also perfectly sums up the incredible number of orchestrated coincidences needed to push the plot forward. Funny, Jaskier is usually the one to break the fourth wall. 

 Let’s talk about Sir Eyck of Denesle. Eyck’s character assasination isn’t just a blow to any fans of the books, it’s a blow to the plot of the episode, to the powerful image of dragons we could have had. Earlier, Geralt refuses Borch’s offer because “No amount of gold is worth dying for.” Geralt, a superhumanly enhanced mutant, built to kill monsters, doesn’t fight dragons because of the threat. When embarking, Yarpen Zigrin makes a remark to the Witcher about selling Roach before the journey, which Geralt translates as Yarpen suggesting they won’t survive the encounter. Borch lays out this battle as the last great thing in his life, something worth dying to say he has done. Again and again dragons are depicted as absolutely monstrous, and death to fight. The very fact that such a force needed to be put together to hunt one down also lends credence to this fact. In “The Bounds of Reason” when Villentretenmerth appears defending the green dragon’s young, he brazenly challenges the mercenaries to face him in combat. Noble Sir Eyck takes him on in single combat, mounted. His horse is slaughtered. He is obliterated. The dragon calls the next fighter. 

This is all the more effective because although in the short story Sapkowski describes Eyck as an anthropocentrically-minded zealot, he is a renowned monster slayer. He earns begrudged respect even from Geralt, despite Eyck stealing witcher business by not asking for reward.  “Rare Species” has no such immense show of strength, and as a result the fight with Villentretenmerth seems watered-down. In fact, aside from a single roasted Reaver, he hardly participates. 

When Jaskier disturbs a starving hirikka, Geralt, resident monster-expert, tells the party to put away their swords. So naturally Eyck jumps in, knocking Yarpen to the ground and brutally hacking the hirikka apart. Even Yennefer looks on with disgust.

This could have been an excellent moment for  the episode, showing off Eyck’s insane zeal, his sick hatred for all creatures nonhuman, his remorselessness at the killing of a hungry animal. Watching a dragon break his back in an instant would have been a more satisfying means to the same end. In fact, this could have even been an improvement on “The Bounds of Reason,” having showed us firsthand what Eyck is capable of. Instead, we get pants down and throat slit, off-screen. Eyck’s death at the privy in “Rare Species” is low-brow humor, and while it does give the audience some sense  justice for the hirikka, it seems more likely that he was killed simply to remove an inconvenient obstacle between Geralt and Yennefer. Which is confusing since Eyck’s relationship with Yennefer is something the show made up to begin with. Eyck is a vehicle to deliver the sorceress to the dragon hunt, and to Geralt. A vehicle to deliver frivolous comedic relief. He is removed when his presence is no longer convenient. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch, and Eyck’s reduction from a racist but brutal knight to a boy with delusions of grandeur is just disappointing. 

After Eyck’s unfortunate death, Geralt confronts Yennefer about her motivations for joining the dragon hunt. This exchange is one of the more natural in the episode, and we see Yennefer struggling to face the reality of not being able to bear children. We hear Geralt’s perspective, the impossibility of raising children given who they are. He lets his Child Surprise slip. 

The Borch group teams up with the dwarves and Yennefer in the wake of the Reavers’ murder.  They take a shortcut along the cliffs to cut off the Reavers, and of course no climbing scene in fantasy media is complete without a scene where someone falls and they need to be cut loose because “the rope won’t hold!”. This is no exception. Borch falls through a rotten board, Geralt can’t hold them all, and Borch lets go to avoid dooming Geralt too. Téa and Véa plunge after him, which we at first interpret as unwilling to leave his side, even in death. 

Jaskier is shaken by the incident, and suggests to Geralt that they give up the quest in light of Borch’s death. He takes a break from philosophizing to genuinely question what is important for him, and what he wants to accomplish in the time he has alive. 

Similarly, Geralt and Yennefer reconcile, or at least begin to. Geralt admits that she is important to him, while Yennefer has finally found someone who needs her the way she always thought she wanted. The question is, is it ever enough? The next morning we see them waking up together for once, neither running out on the other. We hope something has changed for the two. 

And yet, when they discover the dwarves have left for the dragon without them, Yennefer insists that nothing has changed, she must have the dragon. Geralt is not enough, she still needs a child. Or she needs control. Yennefer freezes the dwarves on her way to the dragon’s lair and we see the green dragon lying dead. Téa and Véa guard the egg. Borch, the golden dragon Villentretenmerth, explains himself. The Reavers, having taken the long way up, arrive. Geralt and Yennefer are forced to make a split decision, and hold their ground. 

Yennefer does use magic in the battle, but only a minimal use of the same “freezing” spell we saw earlier in the episode. She takes down another reaver with her dagger alone. Her role as a physical fighter is a bit confusing, and it’s missed opportunity that we don’t see a bigger display of either Yennefer’s powers or magic in general. Somehow there is however time for a slow-motion kiss in the middle of the action. The duo then launch into a group of Reavers, outnumbered. Yennefer dual wields blades and spins like a berserker, somehow getting a leg up on a group of skilled killers. Instead of, you know, using magic. When  Geralt and Yennefer dispatch all of his men in front of him with apparent ease, Boholt still thinks he can take the two single handedly. They correct him on that point, but it’s expected and unsatisfying.

Borch sends the dwarves on their way with some green dragon’s teeth, and sits down for a chat with the Geralt troupe. We’ve see hints at Borch’s tue nature throughout the episode. From Tea and Vea calling him “the most beautiful” to his uncanny knowledge of Yennefer’s part in Nilfgaard’s rise to power. Geralt and Borch’s conversation is also worth nothing for the obvious parallels between Geralt’s experience with mutants and golden dragons. Intentional mutations like himself, and the unique aberrations like Renfri, hunted to death for being different. Now Borch again knows more than he “humanly” should, and reveals Geralt’s third wish from the djinn. Yennefer takes it to mean that she cannot escape her love for him, that it is not real but magical in nature.There is no way to know the difference now. 

The episode’s second plotline follows Ciri and Dara after leaving Brokilon with the imposter Mousesack. The two kids pester him with questions until the changeling gives up. As tedious as these scenes are, Adam Levy matches my frustration with the changeling’s own performance, and I appreciate at least that it seems like he finds the whole thing as annoying as I do. The preface for this situation is itself ridiculous, since the Dryads don’t vet Mousesack with the waters of Brokilon like they do the others, instead letting this stranger take the child of destiny from them. Dara catches on first and tries to bring it to Ciri’s attention but Mousesack buys some time by distracting her with Calanthe’s sash. Ciri eventually catches on by trapping the changeling in his lies, outsmarting him and getting him so worked up and frustrated that he reveals his identity. A changeling supposedly accruses the knowledge and abilities of its target along with their appearance– outsmarting such a creature this way is ridiculous, because for all intents and purposes the changeling becomes that person.

The next scene we are led to believe Ciri is captured, but the changeling has let itself be captured. Why he goes about confronting Cahir this way is unclear. The imposter is hinted at when Cahir offers “Ciri” water, which I like to believe she refuses because the cup is silver. The changeling transforms into a second Cahir, and they duke it out. I’m not sure if the scene is supposed to be funny, but I can’t take it seriously. The changeling knows all of Cahir’s moves, and nearly gets the better of him. The changeling reads Cahir’s mind and mocks the prophecy, which makes it a bit frustrating that he couldn’t reproduce Mousesack’s history in the same way earlier. The fake Cahir gets a nasty slash across his face, which I anticipate will become important in identifying the doppelganger at some point down the line. 

Meanwhile the real Ciri is bound to a tree, gagged with her grandmother’s sash. Dara (who for some reason the changeling left helpless on the ground and didn’t kill) finds and sets her free. Dara is as fed up with Ciri’s shenanigans as we are, and exits stage for parts unknown. 

Ciri’s plotline taken on its own is irrelevant: She ends up right where she started, alone and on the run, still looking for Geralt. Cahir is a little angrier, maybe. The dragon hunt plotline fleshes out Geralt and Yennefer’s relationship, drives a wedge between Jaskier and the Witcher, and we learn a bit more about the real motivations of all three. There is growth. The fights were a bit shallow, sure. There were several missed opportunities that could have made an okay episode a great one. All in all “Rare Species” presents an enjoyable episode that starts to fall apart the closer you look at it. 

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