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STUDIO: Warner Home Video
RATED: Not rated
RUNNING TIME: 1122 minutes
Witchblade: Gabriel’s Philosophical Insights on Selected Episodes
Wielding the Blade
Bringing the Blade to Life
Original Cast Audition Sessions
The show about the detective who really knows how to accessorize.
Yancy Butler, Anthony Cistaro, David Chokachi, Will Yun Lee, Eric Etebari, John Hensley.
Sara Pezzini is a troubled New York homicide detective who is obsessed with her job, particularly in apprehending Gallo, a crime figure whom she believes is responsible for murdering a friend. When pursuing a hitman associated with Gallo into a museum, Pezzini comes across an ancient gauntlet that was rumored to belong to Joan of Arc. In the midst of a gunfight, the gauntlet comes to life and affixes itself on Pezzini’s right arm, saving her life from a hail of the hitman’s bullets. Pezzini soon learns that the gauntlet, which morphs into a bracelet when not being used, is the legendary Witchblade, a sentient weapon of incredible power that can only be wielded by women of a specific warrior bloodline. As Pezzini learns more about it, she isn’t sure if it’s her wielding the Witchblade or vice versa. Not only does Pezzini have to be concerned with mastering the Witchblade, but also with a shadowy billionaire, Kenneth Irons, and his lethal and brooding protege, Ian Nottingham, both of whom have their own designs on her and the weapon she possesses.
“What do you mean we’re out of Smirnoff??!!!”
I knew nothing of the Top Cow comic from which this show was adapted, but I checked out Witchblade back when it premiered in 2000 as a TV film / backdoor pilot. My thought then – and now – was that it was a pretty good – not a great – but a pretty good show that was a cop drama with genre twist. I’ve followed Yancy Butler since back in her Mann and Machine days, where she played a robot detective opposite David Andrews. Since then I’ve also caught her in Hard Target and Drop Zone, but it’s Witchblade that has been her signature role to date.
Butler found out the hard way just how determined those Betty Ford guys were…”
As Pezzini, Butler brought a certain tough vulnerability to the role and I generally bought her as a cop who could kick your ass even without the blade and look hot while doing it. It’s a shame that she’s had issues with alcoholism which, directly or indirectly, reportedly led to the cancellation of this show. Whether or not that’s indeed the case, it wasn’t merely Butler who may have deep-sixed Witchblade. The fairly solid first season is where the show probably should have ended. Because in the second season, nearly everything that was likeable about the show – primarily the writing and tight mythological arc the show built – was tossed out the window for a “villain of the week” motif that completely derailed the show. Of course, that’s to say nothing of the complete horsehockey plot device at the end of the first season that allowed said trainwreck.
“Funny, I remember going to sleep next to the toilet…”
Essentially, Pezzini is a tough NYC cop who comes across the Witchblade, which is a mystical weapon that generally manifests itself as anything from a gauntlet, to a sword, to even a full set of armor during battle. It also bestows Pezzini the gift of clairvoyance, including the ability to converse with the dead, primarily her recently murdered partner, Danny Woo (Lee). Woo would show up from time to time throughout the first season and act as Pezzini’s conscience and guide as she struggled to make heads or tails of her destiny as it pertained to the Witchblade.
“Nope, definitely wouldn’t be doing this if I were sober…”
Season 1 was, with a few exceptions, a solid experience that had a couple of things working for it. Butler threw herself into the role, looking fit and muscular, with a penchant for showing navel which didn’t entirely suck. The main theme of the show was that, now that Pezzini had the Witchblade, everything in her life, no matter how small, was invariably connected. She was exploring the supernatural elements of both the weapon and the world around her, while still working cases, particularly the murder of both Danny and her father at the hands of Gallo, and later in the season, the White Bulls, a cabal of dirty cops who were also involved with her father’s murder.
Of course, the main antagonists were Irons and Nottingham, the former who had a direct connection to the Witchblade and the latter who was a lurking guardian angel for Pezzini, who would appear at both the most opportune and inopportune moments. Every week Pezzini would peel back another layer of a her backstory and that of the Witchblade and discover each time that both it and she aren’t what she thought they were. Her interactions with Irons were the basis of the show and one of the strongest elements of it.
Cistaro, as Irons, was suitably mysterious and creepy, pulling all the strings in Pezzini’s journey of discovery with the Witchblade and manipulating her at every turn for his own ends. Also good were Hensley as Gabriel, a dealer in rare antiquities dealer and Pezzini’s main source of info on all of the weird shit she was encountering, particularly the Witchblade. Chokachi was also alright as McCartey, Pezzini’s rookie partner. Nestor Serrano, a character actor I’ve liked in other roles, played the role of Pezzini’s shady captain.
Some highlights of Season 1 include “Conundrum”, where Pezzini comes across a former wielder of the Witchblade, who’s also involved in the murder of a young model. “Sacrifice” found Pezzini meeting Conchobar (Kim De Lury), an Irish singer for whom Pezzini falls and who may be the reincarnation of the former lover of a past wielder of the Witchblade. “Maelstrom” later has Pezzini racing to save Conchobar’s life when he’s kidnapped by an Irish anti-terrorist group, and one of the kidnappers, a woman, ends up with the Witchblade as part of his ransom. “Periculum” is a key episode where Pezzini has to undergo a test of life or death by the Witchblade to gauge her worthiness to wield it.
“Mr. Irons, are you thinking up your next scheme for controlling Sara Pezzini and thus the Witchblade?”
“No, Nottingham, I’m planning some payback for those Mastercard bastards who did this to me…”
The final episodes, “Apprehension,” “Convergence” and “Transcendence” have Pezzini dealing with both the White Bulls and Irons, as they either seek to kill her for investigating them, or bringing his manipulations to a head in order to control the Witchblade once and for all. Of course, it’s in “Transcendence” where you get the handjob of a twist ending to the entire season which pretty much negates everything that Pezzini went through. Think Pam finding Bobby in the shower on Dallas and you’ll get the gist. On another note, probably the worst episode of the season was “Legion,” where Roger Daltrey plays an evil incarnate priest. I loved Daltrey on Highlander: The Series, but here his character, and his confrontation with Pezzini are beyond ridiculous. Ludicrous even.
From there, Season 2 is when it all starts to unravel. Since essentially nothing in Season 1 happened, Pezzini is free to explore different enemies and story avenues, and she has a fateful encounter with Irons in the episodes “Emergence” and “Destiny.” Irons foregos all of the machinations of the first season and is determined to simply kill Pezzini and regain the Witchblade, which leads to a confrontation with her and eventually Irons’ death. Everything that worked for the first season is simply tossed aside then. Most noticeably, the showrunners simply didn’t know how to utilize Nottingham as the brand new heavy. His character, which was very consistent in Season 1, now shifts from brooding lurker to Irons wannabe. He assumes Irons’ mantle and seems to know everything that Irons would have known via his connection to the Witchblade, without any good explanation as to how.
“Okay, I swear I’ll never mix radish juice and carrot juice again…”
Furthermore, since Season 2 was a de facto redo of Season 1, key story elements from Season 1, like the entire White Bulls plotline, and McCartey’s true role in the police department (spoiler: he’s really a Fed investigating the White Bulls) are simply tossed aside or forgotten. Of course, even without those glaring plot holes, Season 2 on the whole wasn’t anywhere up to the the level of Season 1. Also, again reportedly, Butler’s alcoholism was affecting the show bigtime. Nevertheless, Season 2 had its own inequities storywise, including, and I’m not kidding, Pezzini’s evil twin, Aras (whoa, that’s Sara backwards) who is also a potential wielder of the Witchblade. Bad enough as that plot device is, their showdown is a joke, amounting to essentially a shot in the leg by Pezzini rather than the hoped for climactic cat fight (preferably in jello or mud). There was, however, an episode, “Lagrimas,” where Pezzini falls in love with a guy who turns out to be Cartaphilus (Jeffrey Donovan of Burn Notice), that wasn’t bad.
Overall, Season 2 of Witchblade, which apparently wasn’t even supposed to happen, is one of the most egregious cases of phoning in a show storywise you’ll probably ever encounter. It completely negated all of the good things that it built up in Season 1 and the entire show floundered, in virtually every way possible. Which is a shame really, because it had all of the ingredients to have a good run.
The show looks good as the widescreen transfer is solid. The show had a pretty distinctive look, at times gritty and washed out. Sound is also fine in Dolby Digital, although at times the dialogue would get overwhelmed by the music and sound effects. It’s presented in English only with English subtitles. There are four special features: Firstly, there’s Witchblade: Gabriel’s Philosophical Insights on Selected Episodes, which are sort of video diaries by John Hensley as Gabriel that feature his thoughts on the whole Witchblade phenomenon. Wielding the Blade is a standard behind-the-scenes featuring talking head pieces by the cast and crew on the show that runs about seven minutes. Bringing the Blade to Life is more of the same about adapting the comic book that clocks in about 11 minutes. Finally, original cast audition sessions of Butler, Cistaro, Lee, Chokachi and Etebari round out the offerings.