Sometimes, the second episode of a show is the weaker one after the pilot. Netflix's The Witcher is guilty-as-charged with their next outing, "Four Marks".
Enter Yennefer. The third main character in the show, the writers decided to dramatize her entire origin story, which was only hinted at in the books. Four marks is how much her father is willing to take to sell her to the sorceress Tissaia De Vries (MyAnna Buring). Anya Charlotra makes her debut here with a feat of acting as she sells Yennefer's fear and physical deformity. The threads of the show's multiple timelines also start to show: Stregobor, the wizard from the first episode, appears and turns out to be more prominent in the world than previously thought.
Ciri (Freya Allen) is still on the run. She finds temporary respite in a Cintran refugee camp before Niilfgardian soldiers attack and slaughter everyone.
Enter Jaskier (Joey Batey), the artist formerly known as Dandelion in the books and the games. He's the bard who becomes Geralt's (Henry Cavill) best friend and pain in his arse. They meet here for the first time as Jaskier latches onto Geralt, who barely tolerates him. Of course they're going to end up best friends. Geralt agrees to get rid of a goat man who's been stealing crops and comes face-to-face with some angry elves. Their leader, Filavandrel, is the last king of the elves, now reduced to hiding and struggling to survive.
This second episode doesn't move the story forward much but fills in some of the world-building. The kingdoms in Geralt's world are rife with class exploitation and bigotry against non-human people. Yennefer's story also establishes the place of mages and sorceresses in the world.
"The Witcher": More Themes Than Plot This Time
The tragic decline and legacy of the elves runs through all three storylines. The Witcher's world is one where Elves, once proud and majestic, were driven to near-extinction by humans. They now live hidden and brutalized, starving and diminished, plotting guerilla warfare against the human world. Yennefer's father was half-elf. Aretuza, the sorceress school, is literally built on the bones of elves. Humans learned to use magic from elves. Ciri meets a boy who kills elves to avenge his dead brother and collects their ears as trophies. The boy who rescues her turns out to be an elf.
Geralt's story, which had the least amount of screen time in this episode, feels least substantial of the three storylines. It seems to serve as an epilogue to the underlying theme of the plight of the elves.
The second episode of The Witcher doesn't have enough of the witcher in it. Maybe this is part of the Netflix binge model – there might be more Geralt in Episode 3. It feels like the show is still in the process of defining itself and settle on a rhythm.