You know that freelance life: If work comes your way, you should probably take it, because you never know how long it’ll be until the next opportunity arrives. So it’s no surprise that “Rare Species” begins with Geralt finishing one monster hunt and then jumping almost immediately into another. A mysterious old man named Borch Three Jackdaws, flanked by two fearsome warriors named Téa and Véa, enlists the witcher’s help to track down the Witcher equivalent of the most dangerous game: a green dragon.
Even more than most Witcher stories, this adventure smacks of a classic fairytale. The dragon hunt comes at the behest of a king, with four different teams — including an earthy gang of dwarves and an archetypal white knight who happens to be traveling with Yennefer — who are all vying for the prize. The winner will get to keep the treasure the dragon has been hoarding, and lordship over a vassal state. I’m surprised the king didn’t throw in the princess’ hand in marriage as well. (Of course, Geralt’s real motive is spending time alongside Yennefer again.)
Part of the fun of The Witcher is watching the series poke at those old fairytale tropes, so it’s entertaining to watch the “chivalrous” Sir Eyck of Denesle kill a monster for no reason, chastely and patronizingly refuse to share a tent with Yennefer, and end up with explosive diarrhea before a rival sneaks up and slits his throat. But the danger of riffing on fairytales is that your actual story can turn out fairly simple. As soon as Geralt scoffs when Borch mentions golden dragons, it is very obvious that Borch will turn out to be a golden dragon. I’m not sure The Witcher actually cares if we’re surprised by this twist — but it does take some of the punch out of scenes like Borch’s “death,” because when a person who is actually a dragon falls off a cliff, it’s probably safe to assume they’ll just use their wings to get out of it. Which is, of course, exactly what happens.
But if the adventure is a little more perfunctory than usual this time around, it’s because this episode is ultimately more interested in exploring the bond between Geralt and Yennefer. Geralt is clearly jealous when Sir Eyck shows up with Yennefer in tow. Later, when they hook up in Yennefer’s tent, it’s the most intimate and emotionally honest we’ve seen either of them act with anybody. Even their argument about Yennefer’s obsession with killing the dragon and stealing its heart — a snake-oil cure for her infertility — feels like the kind of painful, truthful conversation both characters are otherwise lacking.
All of this is good on paper. The problem is that I’m still not convinced The Witcher has earned it yet. I like Geralt and Yennefer individually, but I’m not sure a single passionate sex scene, which happened just one episode ago, is enough to convince me I should care about whether or not they’re together. And when Yennefer figures out that Geralt’s final djinn wish was to bind his own life with Yennefer’s, I had more or less the same reaction she did: Quit being such a creepy stalker, Geralt.
Meanwhile, in another time and place, Ciri and Dara are still being led astray by the Doppler, who is still disguised as Mousesack. Dara is sharp enough to realize something is wrong, and after a brief scuffle with the Doppler, Ciri runs off into the woods. Along the way, she loses the support of Dara, who abandons her — which, like Geralt and Yennefer, might have hit me a little harder if The Witcher had found time to make Dara into a three-dimensional character, or to build his relationship with Ciri into an actual bond. And then — so it seems — the Black Knight manages to grab her and drag her off to a nearby town for … well, for whatever presumably nefarious purpose he’s been hunting her so desperately.
Back at the monster hunt, Geralt and Yennefer discover the green dragon they were looking for, which is dead but cradling an egg. At that moment, Borch reemerges as the gold dragon, revealing that his real motive in hiring Geralt was protecting the egg. Geralt and Yennefer team up to fight off the other dragon-hunters, and Borch manages to survive the scuffle with the egg intact.
There’s a lot of talk in “Rare Species” about parents and children, so it’s not exactly necessary for Borch to spell out the episode’s theme by asserting the importance of offspring. Geralt and Yennefer may be infertile, but there’s more than one way to have a child, and it’s becoming very obvious that this will end with Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri forming their own surrogate family. (Of course, he’ll need to win Yennefer back first.)
So as the episode ends, that’s where things stand with our heroes — but if The Witcher is going to really dig into this world, it probably needs to start establishing what’s interesting about Geralt’s enemies. And that’s why the coda to the episode is, at least theoretically, pretty interesting. So far, we’ve only seen the Black Knight from Ciri’s perspective: a remote, frightening figure with a stoic expression and a weird helmet. But when the Black Knight thinks he’s in a room with Ciri, something interesting happens: He takes off the helmet and becomes human. He offers her food and drink and, most importantly of all, support: “All I’ve ever wanted is to help you fulfill your destiny.” He even, finally, gets a real name: Cahir.
Unfortunately for Cahir, he didn’t get Ciri after all; he got the Doppler, who is furious that Cahir didn’t disclose Ciri’s true power. He steals Cahir’s form, and after a brief fight, runs off into the night. Cahir is comforted by the sorceress Fringilla, Yennefer’s former classmate, who reassures him that something called the White Flame still burns in him, and that his righteous mission will eventually succeed.
Is any of that enough to make Cahir the good guy? No. But he seems to think he’s the good guy, and that’s interesting enough.
• The dwarves are full of gossip about the Nilfgaardian zealots waging war across the Continent, and even speculate that the army will eventually head toward Cintra to square off against Queen Calanthe, so this particular story must take place … I don’t know, a few years before the fall of Cintra? A decade? It’s very hard to piece this timeline together when your protagonist is aging so slowly.
• As a real bummer of a parting gift, Borch gives Geralt and Yennefer a brief prophecy: Yennefer will never get her womb back, and Geralt will lose her someday. (“He already has,” says Yennefer bitterly in reply.)
• This is kind of a minor nitpick, but: If a Doppler also copies the contents of someone’s brain when it copies their body, how does it screw up all the questions about Mousesack’s past in Skellige? Wouldn’t it just dig into his memory and use whatever it finds there?
• This djinn thing is a clever way to account for why two characters would keep bumping into each other.
• I guess when you’re a dragon with a hoard of treasure, you can afford to buy a witcher one of everything on the menu, and as many overflowing cups of ale as he can drink.
• Dragon colors as ranked by rarity, per Geralt: green, red, black, gold.
• That bug-eyed monster pointlessly killed by Sir Eyck of Denesle is a hirikka, which I’m sorry to say are even rarer than dragons. They look totally different in Andrzej Sapkowski’s original stories.
• Honestly, most dark-fantasy shows could benefit from at least one lengthy, wacky fart scene.
• I can’t find it streaming anywhere yet, but “Rare Species” features another Jaskier ballad — this time, a tribute to Yennefer — which plays over the opening credits. It’s catchy, but it doesn’t have the wonderful, maddening “God this has been stuck in my head for two weeks?” quality of “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher.”