DISCLAIMER: This recap of The Witcher Season 3 Episode 5, “The Art of the Illusion,” contains spoilers. Proceed at your peril. 

Welcome back, citizens of the Continent! It’s officially the finale for Season 3, Volume 1. The puzzle pieces are slowly falling into place. Folks, the crux of “The Art of the Illusion” is the art of the illusion. It’s about sifting through the bullsh*t to get to the truth — the heart of things. Everyone attends the mages’ ball with different motivations. While so much of this episode is dialogue-driven, I enjoyed the respite from the action. I love the mystery elements, too, as Yennefer and Geralt solved the mystery regarding who’s responsible for, well, everything. 

Additionally, I love the nonlinear storytelling format as the narrative unfolds in a series of present-day scenes and flashbacks to the night before. While the pace throughout is a bit slower, we’re fully on board once Geralt and Yen figure out that Vilgefortz is their man. Unfortunately, that’s where the episode ends, and now we must wait a month to watch the conclusion. 

Ready to delve into “The Art of the Illusion”? Let’s get to it. 

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We open with Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) and Geralt (Henry Cavill), disrobing for the evening. That ball made for a night to remember, even if we haven’t seen a second of it yet. The wine they imbibed contained an aphrodisiac, so it’s time to get frisky. They kiss. Now, we flashback to the start of the ball, with Geralt and Yen entering the room like the fashionable, hot couple they are. Yen gives Geralt the lowdown regarding who’s who. Margarita (Rochelle Rose), Sabrina (Therica Wilson-Read), Keira Metz (Safiyya Ingar), Artaud Terranova (Ryan Hayes), Artorius (Terence Maynard) and Vilgefortz (Mahesh Jadu). And, of course, Geralt knows Stregobor (Lars Mikkelsen) and Tissaia (MyAnna Buring). 

Tissaia stands in a giant bank vault with her hands folded in front of her in The Witcher Season 3 Episode 5, "The Art of the Illusion."

THE WITCHER Season 3 Episode 5, “The Art of the Illusion.” Photo credit: Susie Allnutt.

Sabrina tries to pull a telepathic trick on Geralt when he first meets her. Yen orders her to play nice. Yen chats with Tissaia and Vilgefortz about the night’s proceedings. She spots Istredd (Royce Pierreson) as he walks past her. Philippa (Cassie Clare) attempts to strike up a conversation with the always garrulous Geralt. Dijkstra (Graham McTavish) urges Philippa to let the menfolk talk for a spell. Then, we return to the bedroom after the ball. Yen and Geralt just had sex. He regales her with the story of his chat with Dijkstra. He wants Geralt to side with him. But, to put it more plainly, he wants our titular witcher to hand over Ciri. This garners a resounding “no” from Geralt. 

Afterward, Geralt watches while Istredd and Yen talk. Vilgefortz reminds Geralt that Istredd was Yen’s first love. First loves are hard to forget. Next, it’s time to dance. Yennefer informs Geralt that it’s not optional. He looks like me any time I have to partake in a coordinated dance — terrified. Firstly, Geralt dances with Lydia (Aisha Fabienne Ross). He has no clue she can’t talk, so he assumes she’s being rude when she doesn’t respond to his question. Then, he moves on to a particularly handsy and inebriated mage while Yen chats with Artorius about the upcoming conclave. He’s still wary of trusting her, but he’s trying to keep an open mind. 

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Then, Geralt dances with Istredd, and Yen interacts with Keira, who’s still sour about Yen decapitating one of her patrons. Geralt reunites with Triss (Anna Shaffer), who asks about Ciri. Geralt reassures her that Ciri is safe. After the dance, Geralt and Istredd get into an altercation over Yen. It evolves into a physical fight, much to the delight of the attendees. However, Artaud’s penchant for drinking a little too much wins out when he trips. The crowd ignores the fighting men in favor of laughing at Artaud. 

Next, we’re back in the bedroom post-coitus. Geralt reveals he doesn’t want this night to end. He’s afraid of what tomorrow’s conclave will bring. Yen reassures him that she’s not going anywhere. At the ball, Tissaia and Vilgefortz toast to the evening and recognize Yennefer’s efforts in organizing the ball and conclave. We return to the start of the evening, with Geralt chatting with Philippa. Philippa informs him about the wine being spiked with an aphrodisiac and the caviar being an illusion. You can’t trust what you see…

Philippa puts sex on the table, but Geralt wordlessly rejects her. He only has eyes for his Yennefer. Philippa pulls Yen away for a chat after giving Tissaia, her former BFF, a brusque greeting. Geralt runs into Stregobor, who’s being an ass. Geralt threatens to make Stregobor pay for his crimes. Streggy insists he’s saving the Continent by ridding it of deadly monsters. He shares that in common with Geralt. Meanwhile, Istredd and Triss impress the importance of finding the Book of Monoliths to Yen. They know Stregobor has it. 

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Additionally, Triss and Istredd know where Stregobor is hiding the book. Now they can catch him in the act. During the dance, Yen reveals her plan to Geralt. He’ll distract the crowd while she searches Stregobor’s office for the book. Artaud will also provide some distraction. The signal will be “truce.” When Istredd approaches Geralt to apologize, Geralt urges him to follow his lead. That’s when they stage the fight. While in Stregobor’s office, Yen discovers his fancy vault (we saw the door when Triss and Istredd performed the locator spell in episode four). After opening it, she finds personal belongings from the missing novices and a list of said novices, including Teryn. 

Stregobor, alerted that someone was tampering with his stuff, catches Yen searching his vault. Geralt is hot on Streggy’s heels. That’s when everyone else arrives: Tissaia, Vilgefortz, Artorius, Triss and Istredd. Yen explains how Stregobor is the culprit behind the missing novices, those sadistic experiments on them to morph them into Ciri and the deadly portal attack on her. Istredd pulls the Book of Monoliths out of Streggy’s vault. It’s an ancient elven tome containing knowledge from before the Conjunction of the Spheres. It tells readers how the human and elf spheres collided. Oh, and how humans could dispose of the elves. 

Dijkstra and Philippa sit at a banquet table in Redania in The Witcher Season 3 Episode 5, "The Art of the Illusion."

THE WITCHER Season 3 Episode 5, “The Art of the Illusion.” Photo credit: Susie Allnutt.

Stregobor denies the accusations even though some things he says feel Nazi-esque. He would’ve been pro-Aryan if he were a real person. Tissaia decides to hold him until after the conclave so they can have a proper trial. Artorius escorts Stregobor out of his office. The gang celebrates on the dance floor with the toasts. Then, Geralt tells Yen he loves her for the first time. Aww. They seal it with a steamy kiss. 

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Later, we see Yen and Geralt in the bath. She reveals her conversation with Philippa was quite strange. It was almost as if she wanted Yen to side with her. We flashback to her chat with Philippa at the ball. They spot Lydia before them, prompting Philippa to express pity on the silent woman. She’s merely in love, and it’s eating away at her. Philippa explains how she and Tissaia had a falling out. She tried to persuade Tissaia not to participate in the First Northern War and not to ally with Vilgefortz. Philippa believes the mages should’ve let the Continent sort itself out. She thinks the Brotherhood has no place in the future of the Continent. 

Philippa asserts she and Yen are the same — they aren’t afraid to break the rules. They don’t fear power. Yen is done with this conversation, though, and heads over to Istredd. The following morning, we see Geralt and Yen preparing for the conclave. She tells Geralt about Lydia, revealing what he saw of her face is an illusion. She can only communicate telepathically. Geralt divulges his conversation with Vilgefortz at the ball. 

Vilgefortz shows Geralt his favorite painting: The First Landing. He insists they have more in common than Geralt realizes. Vilgefortz reveals he was an orphan that had a challenging life. He didn’t fit the labels of mage, human, druid, etc., so he chose to become a sorcerer. Vilgefortz tells Geralt he changed when he met Tissaia. He wagers that Geralt is a different man because of Yen’s love, too. 

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He reveals Yen’s presence at Aretuza can only strengthen the Brotherhood. They could use Geralt on their side. What if he trained there? It’s time for our fave monster hunter to forgo neutrality and pick a side. Geralt insists on adapting to the world around him — “responding to events.” Vilgefortz believes enemies will perpetually surround him if Geralt doesn’t pick a side. Next, Yen looks at Tissaia’s bracelet that she dropped. The gift from Vilgefortz. Geralt examines it, noting that scarlet ammonite is mined in West Redania. That’s where Geralt found Teryn and the other girls. 

Yen realizes the corrupt portal took her to the location of The First Landing, aka Vilgefortz’s favorite painting. Geralt reveals that Lydia has earrings of the same material: scarlet ammonite. Yen believes Vilgefortz gave Tissaia the bracelet and Lydia the earrings. That’s what Philippa was talking about. Lydia’s in love with Vilgefortz. 

Geralt and Yennefer walk arm-in-arm while wearing fancy clothes to attend a ball in The Witcher Season 3 Episode 5, "The Art of the Illusion."

THE WITCHER Season 3 Episode 5, “The Art of the Illusion.” Photo credit: Susie Allnutt/Netflix.

Our lovebirds conclude that Stregobor isn’t the culprit, but Vilgefortz is. Yen tries to locate Tissaia with a spell to ensure her safety; however, Geralt insists they don’t have time. Yen stays put, though, and urges Geralt to “make sure her path is clear.” Geralt exits the bedroom, sword in hand and ready for battle. He hears distant screams. Someone else says, “Secure the Great Hall!” and, “Go! Put a man there!” Sh*t is going down. Suddenly, Dijkstra appears, holding a blade to Geralt’s throat. He warned him to pick a side. 

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Everyone brings their acting A-game in “The Art of the Illusion.” I love all the political chess moves and the subtle manipulation from these characters as they pushed folks in the direction of their motivations. Season 3, Volume 1, hones in on Geralt’s neutrality, and we might see him choose a side in the remaining episodes. Well, probably the side of Ciri and Yen. Those are his ladies, after all. 

Overall, Season 3, Volume 1, takes a hot minute to pick up steam. The pacing is somewhat uneven. Occasionally, the humor falls flat (even though I love Jaskier). That said, there’s plenty to love. Anya Chalotra is an acting powerhouse. The costumes are gorgeous, and the sets are stunning. Those landscapes in episode one made me green with envy. 

Do you think Ciri is safe while Jaskier has sexy fun times with Radovid? Will Emhyr seize control of the North? Will Tissaia believe Yen when she tells her about Vilgefortz’s betrayal? Can Geralt find Rience’s boss (ahem, you danced with her, dude)? Only time (and three more episodes) will tell. Oh, also: RIP Codringher and Fenn. Your cat was taken by a mean man with fire fingers. 

The Witcher Season 3 Volume 1 is now streaming on Netflix. Volume 2, consisting of the final three episodes, premieres on Thursday, July 27, 2023. 

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