The summer season of TV is usually characterised by repeats and re-runs, with little to stimulate interest beyond speculation over the fall schedule. This year, however, a dark horse emerged, from the surprising source of TNT, with their adaptation of Top Cow’s Witchblade series, with Yancy Butler in the title role. Over thirteen hours of episodes, including the two-hour pilot, it chronicled the adventures of Sara Pezzini, a New York detective who acquires a bracelet with remarkable powers, not the least of which is its ability to transform into an industrial-strength sword. This brings her into conflict with people like mysterious power-broker Kenneth Irons, and her own captain. She loses partners, lovers and friends on the way to what is unfortunately one of the worst twists in any TV series, since Bobby stepped out of the shower in Dallas. Serious spoiler alert for the following, folks, though this may be a good thing, since it’ll let you get your disappointment out of the way early.
Put simply, having killed of most of the cast (a refreshing change from more cowardly shows, which refuse to let any characters die), our heroine decides she doesn’t like what’s happened, and rewinds time back to just before her partner was killed, way back in the pilot episode. The rest of the season is deemed stricken from the record, and not even Pezzini has any recollection of it. It’s a little like Run Lola Run, except that film actually delivered a beautiful elegy on the role of chance in our affairs, something I suspect Witchblade will not come within a million miles of doing.
The main question is where can the show go from here? I can see how they can move the series in another direction now, with her (now-surviving) partner taking on a larger role, but while none of the characters may know anything, the audience’s memory is still intact. We know, for example, that Jake McCarty is an FBI agent, and are aware of the roles of most of the characters and their relationships. Watching the cast rediscover all this again – as they surely must – is going to be like watching a rerun.
However, maybe they can pull it off, since up until that final ten minutes, the writing on the show was actually very impressive. I confess to no familiarity with the comic-book at all – save for a vague awareness of covers featuring improbably-proportioned heroines – and so can’t comment on how accurately it follows them, but on its own merits, it works well. Several overlapping story arcs were contained in the series, but even if you missed some episodes, there was little trouble picking up on them – another mark of good writing. After the pilot, we kinda forgot about the show for two months (it was on TNT, after all!), and only caught up with the ones we’d missed when the channel aired an all-day marathon. There were plenty of potential angles for future exploration – we were particularly intrigued by the Vatican angle exposed by demonic priest Roger Daltrey, where the Catholic church had the Witchblade for centuries before giving it to Hitler.
About the only angle that didn’t work for us was the love story between Pezzini and Concobar, her Irish bard. Pardon me if we yawn: Irish people are far too often either Guinness-swilling songsters who’ve kissed the Blarney Stone or terrorists, and the series gave us both. Beyond filling in some interesting sidelight on the history of the Witchblade – a concept worthy of a series in itself – there wasn’t much to this beyond Pezzini getting a shag, though even this didn’t seem to improve her humour. Yancy Butler, despite not having much of a pedigree (she’s perhaps best known for playing opposite Jean-Claude Van Damme in John Woo’s American debut, Hard Target), provides a strong central perfomance as Pezzini, striking the right balance between confusion, strength and sarcasm. Could perhaps do with slightly-less use of the sardonic eyebrow though – if she’s not careful, it’ll demand its own spin-off series. She seems to have come on in action terms as the series progressed; early on, the stunt-doubling was painfully obvious, but in later episodes, she appeared to be taking on more of the work herself, which can only be encouraging for the next series.
Most of the subsidiary characters come across as well-rounded, even the likes of Ian Nottingham, Irons’ enforcer, who gradually falls in love with Pezzini and reveals a softer side. This is in sharp contrast to his replacement – Nottingham v2.0, or Nottingham ME, as we call him – who was simply Very Scary. Her first partner, Will, although dead from the pilot on, continued to appear in a nicely-handled fashion, with mostly only Pezzini able to see him. Oddly though, he makes his presence known to McCarty when it proves suitably dramatic, without any explanation of why he can suddenly do so. Maybe it’s normally too straining on his ectoplasm or something. If it wasn’t for the climax, the show would certainly have deserved our Seal of Approval. As it is, any such award is placed on hold pending future episodes, and we see how they resolve the problems posed by the ending of this year’s batch.
Star: Yancy Butler, Anthony Cistaro, David Chokachi, Eric Etebari