“Four Marks” introduces Yennefer, as Ciri remains on the run, and Geralt and Jaskier get involved in local politics — another strong episode of Netflix’s The Witcher.
This recap of The Witcher Season 1, Episode 2, “Four Marks”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Young love, while almost always ending in tears, can nonetheless be a lovely thing. But not in The Witcher Episode 2, where the simple act of gifting a daisy results in the beatdown of the local deformed girl who picks it up. Typical. But you can’t judge a book by its cover, especially when the hunchback in question opens herself a magical portal — it takes her to the Tower of the Gull, at least according to Istredd (Royce Pierreson), the young man whom she encounters when she gets there. The deformed girl’s name is Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), though we don’t learn that until later. Istredd tells her that, if she opened the portal on her own, “she’ll” be coming for her. And lo and behold, back on the farm, a well-to-do woman approaches Yennefer’s parents looking to purchase “the beast”. Yennefer’s father is perfectly willing to part with her for the paltry sum of only four marks, which later drives Yennefer to suicide, holding a shard of broken glass over her wrist.
Ciri (Freya Allen), meanwhile, is still on the run in “Four Marks”. She cleverly dyes her silver hair with mud in the forest, though when she’s about to eat some of the local flora, she’s warned off by a mysterious young man who signs to her that they’re poisonous. These two bond over a cooked rat and Ciri explains that she’s running from someone with a big bird on his head. Recognizing her new, thus far mute companion is cold, she gives him her gloves. Nearby, they spot a Cintran flag.
The Witcher Episode 2 also introduces us to Jaskier (Joey Batey), interestingly referred to as such rather than his English moniker of Dandelion, which Western fans will be much more familiar with thanks to the games. (Jaskier translates to “buttercup”, which was deemed too feminine in the translations.) Jaskier is a bard in search of real adventures to make better songs and stories; naturally, than, he’s attracted by Geralt (Henry Cavill), who is approached by a local to investigate the curious case of a devil stealing all their grain. Geralt reluctantly allows Jaskier to accompany him, but when the bard refers to him as “The Butcher of Blaviken”, the unfortunate nickname he earned during the previous episode, Geralt socks him in the gut.
“Four Marks” returns to Yennefer and the woman who purchased her for such a pitiful sum, whose name, we learn, is Tissaia (MyAnna Buring). Tissaia saved Yennefer from her attempted suicide, and she now resides in Aretuza, a magical academy for young ladies halfway between a finishing school and Hogwarts, situated on Thanedd Island. Tissaia is tutoring other young women in the art of magic and sets a trial to determine if they’re worthy of the ascension. Before each girl is a rock and a daisy. The task is to lift the rock without touching it. One of the girls attempts this, and her hand instantly withers. There is no conjuring something from nothing, so the point is to lift the rock by sacrificing the daisy, which wilts as the rock rises. Yennefer can’t do it. She later finds Istredd, from the top of The Witcher Episode 2, and introduces herself properly, which is the first time we hear her name. (I imagine many fans of the games will be quite shocked to hear it, given what they’re used to from this character.)
Ciri, meanwhile, arrives at a stricken settlement without her new friend, and it’s here we first hear mention of the elves — in this universe a persecuted underclass — and meet a dwarf, who’re also, in this universe, a persecuted underclass. To make the point clear Ciri needs new shoes, so the nearby dwarf servant is made to give her his. “Don’t worry, he’s one of the clean ones,” Ciri is told as justification.
Jaskier, while delivering exposition and making a point of saying that’s exactly what he’s doing, calls Geralt “the White Wolf”, another of his popular nicknames, and our first time hearing it in this series. As regards the matter at hand, Geralt says that devils don’t exist. While investigating the claims of one, though, both he and Jaskier are pelted by rocks, as if from a slingshot. Torque (Amit Shah) the Sylvan — an intelligent humanoid with goat’s horns and hooves — springs from the bushes and leaps on Geralt, who is knocked out.
It’s time, then, for another lesson with Tissaia, which doesn’t go well. Yennefer begins to believe she’s incapable of magic, and Istredd performs a kind of mind-meld with her. They’re getting closer. She is later taken to the Tower of the Gull for another trial, which is to control the ultimate expression of chaos — this is another name, like the Force, for magic in this universe — by catching lightning in a bottle. Yen is struck by it. Only Sabrina (Therica Wilson-Read), the aptly-named teacher’s pet, is successful in the endeavor. In a rage, Yen fires lightning from her hand, which Tissaia deflects. Afterward, they talk, and Tessaia explains that there are mages like Sabrina, who are able to control their emotions, and those like herself and Yennefer, who are consumed by them. Does Yen have what it takes?
Meanwhile in The Witcher Episode 2, Geralt and Jaskier are captives of the rebel elves, who have been displaced from their native Dol Blathanna by humans, forced to live and forage in the mountains instead. Their appointed king is Filavandrel (Tom Canton), furious at the “mass cleansing” perpetrated against his race. Geralt’s advice for him is to go elsewhere and rebuild, to show the humans they’re not what they are feared to be, but it’s a tough sell. Filavandrel moves to execute Geralt, who is ready to die, but insists that he isn’t a human — he, like the elves, is different, marginalized. If he has to die so be it, but he won’t die as a human.
More matters of the elves are discussed by Yennefer and Istredd, who gives her a flower and a history lesson. Elves were the original sorcerers, having taught humans magic until the humans did the typical thing and subsequently slaughtered them. Yennefer says her real father, who died in the great cleansing, was half-elf, and the reason why she has twisted spine and is worth only four marks — and why nobody could ever love her. Istredd, on cue, kisses her. Shortly afterward, we learn this was a betrayal by both parties. Yen was instructed by Tissaia to prove she could control her emotions by retrieving the flower from Istredd, while Istredd reports what he has learned of Yen’s heritage to a man who tells him to “Make Ban Ard proud.” (Note: Ban Ard is a city in Kaedwen which houses a magical academy for boys which is said to produce lower results than Aretuza.)
Further tragedy befalls Ciri in The Witcher Season 1, Episode 2, as despite the vague though not entirely fabricated story she gives of her life as an orphan raised by her grandmother, she isn’t able to learn anything of Geralt, and the settlement is attacked. In a cathartic moment, the persecuted dwarf uses the opportunity to stab his “owner” to death, as Ciri escapes in the chaos.
Yen, alone in her room, touches the flower given to her by Istredd, which transports her elsewhere. There, Tissaia is turning the other mages into eels, to become conduits for Aretuza: “Sometimes, the best thing a flower can do for us is die,” she says again, revealing that what had seemed like a callous insult directed at Yennefer earlier in the episode had been prophetic. Tissaia gives Yen a broom and she sweeps the eels into the pool, powering the fortress, as Geralt and Jaskier are set free, and Ciri reunites with the mute boy she met previously — his name is Dara (Wilson Radjou-Pujalte), and he’s an elf. Jaskier’s song “Toss A Coin to Your Witcher” closes the episode, much to Geralt’s annoyance.
You can check out our thoughts on the next episode by clicking these words.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.