New York is one crazy town, what with all the ritual sacrifices, Druids, and runes, not to mention more familiar incarnations of the supernatural, like Satan. In this den of iniquity dwells Sara Pezzini (Yancy Butler), wearer and bearer of the bracelet/gauntlet which gives its name to the TNT series Witchblade. Sara is one tough bitch. A no-nonsense, swaggering police detective, Sara is kind of a loner. She is a rock. She is an island. Sara is a member of the NYPD, but the only blue she ever wears is denim, usually under black leather.
Don’t worry, though. She’s not just another Chyna. Sara has a softer side. And deep down, she’s just a lonely, abandoned girl. Fortunately, this side doesn’t come out too often. What we mostly see during the 40-odd minutes of each Witchblade episode is a smart, strong woman who takes shit from nobody, not even Satan (played in one episode by legendary rocker Roger Daltry). Plus, watching the expressive Butler is a real treat. She conveys annoyance and anger with a stride or two, and can show a multitude of emotions by raising just one eyebrow in particular ways, a talent of which I am extremely jealous. (If I could raise my eyebrow like that, people might be scared of me, too.) Plus, she has really cool clothes that are practical yet stylish, in a tough New York broad kind of way. She’s sexy without wearing high heels and showing lots of cleavage. This is truly a supernatural show.
Yancy Butler, David Chokachi, Anthony Cistaro, Eric Etebari, Will Yun Lee, Nestor Serrano, John Hensley
Regular airtime: Tuesdays, 9 p.m. EST
Based on a series of comic books, Witchblade is episodic, formulaic, and lacks the subtlety and irony of other shows with which it begs comparison, such as Dark Angel (Fox), Xena, Warrior Princess (USA), and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (formerly of the WB, now UPN). This does not mean that Witchblade is totally boring, however, as it holds some of the same pleasures as any satisfyingly gothic comic book. Though lengthy takes of Sara’s face—especially her eyes—signify that she is complex and deep, she (like other characters in the show) often has the same unidimensional, soap-operatic quality as the plot. It’s pretty obvious who the bad guys are as soon as we see them: they are shifty-eyed and duplicitous. We also know that Sara is basically good. Good will eventually fight evil. Good will win . . . for now. Evil will probably return at a later date, and Sara will fight it.
Sara’s fight drives Witchblade. And she got into it quite by accident: while passing through a museum exhibit, she came upon a bracelet with a glowing red stone, then “became one with it.” The Witchblade, as this bracelet is called, changes her hand into an armored gauntlet at times of stress or danger. According to legend (as reported on the show’s website), “Only women of unmatched strength of mind, body and will have ever successfully worn [the Witchblade]. Its legacy has created a warrior bloodline back through time and forward into the future.” And then, “the druids came,” as was so sagely explained in classic film This Is Spinal Tap. And they really do come. There are even flashbacks of a druid priest sacrificing a virgin at Stonehenge in Witchblade.
Just why Sara is the bearer of the Witchblade is one of the mysteries being slowly revealed as the series runs its course. So far, her lot seems to have something to do with her deceased parents, her bloodline in general, reincarnation, ancient Ireland, and Joan of Arc. Sara’s mystical side is Irish (“I’m half Irish,” she explains). Witchblade repeatedly refers to Irish mysticism, an intriguing blend of Roman Catholicism and Erse gods, but this quickly grows tiresome from overuse. If this show were my only point of reference on such matters, I might think the Irish (including those wannabe Irish Americans) to be a freaky bunch of pagan mystics hellbent on ceremonial vengeance for all kinds of wrongs done to them, ranging from bloody civil strife and terrorism (not surprisingly, the viewer is encouraged to root for the IRA folks as the lesser of the evils), to a tragic Celtic legend about a warrior princess (which seems to be repeating itself in the Big Apple, starring Sara as the warrior princess). Unlike the more infamous Irish Americans who make up the Kennedy clan, the strange folk who inhabit the New York of Witchblade can’t turn to politics as a means to work out their difficult history. Instead, they resort to spells, talismans, genetic engineering, and other hocus pocus. Ultimately, all of these things—and all things not Irish as well—relate to one another in a kind of universal conspiracy too tangled to explain here, in which the Witchblade is very, very important.
This conspiracy brings together two distinct spheres of Sara’s life: the “real” world of Witchblade’s New York, and the supernatural world of gods and demons. These two worlds collide for Sara, but each has its own distinct annoyances. On a mundane level, Sara, or “Pez” as she is known in the squad room, must deal with her suspicious boss—suspicious both in attitude and intentions—Captain Bruno Dante (Nestor Serrano), and her eager new surfer-dude partner, Jake McCartey (David Chokachi). Dante’s meaningful glares at Sara let the viewer know really well that he is a man of mystery deeply involved in the yet-to-be-explained conspiracy. On the more Zen/spiritual side is Sara’s former partner, Danny Woo (Will Yun Lee), who helps Sara solve mysteries, from the land of the dead (only Sara can see him).
Danny is a stereotypical TV Asian in the Kung-Fu mold: he gives obtuse advice, speaks in terse but supposedly wise phrases, and is mysterious and a bit androgynous—though not. Lee’s boygirl looks (including feathery, blowing-in-the-wind hair) combined with great skin, a charming smile, and a fit-but-not-huge body make him one of the few Asians men on American television who seems permitted to exude some sex appeal. However, it’s important to remember that the character Danny is, in fact, dead—and as sexually unthreatening to Sara as a Backstreet Boy. It’s also worth noting that Danny had one of the best lines I’ve heard on TV: “The great thing about being dead—cool doesn’t matter.” I know this must be true because Danny’s blow-dried hair looks pretty silly.
Extending beyond Sara’s life as a cop, other characters include a nefarious multi-zillionaire (Anthony Cistaros) who seems to know all and see all, and his sidekick, Ian Nottingham (Eric Etebari), a martial arts master who dresses like a monk and seems to be everywhere Sara is. The prettiest character of all, however, is Gabriel Bowman (John Hensley), the proprietor of an occult and talisman Web business called talismania.com (I checked: there’s nothing there yet). Looking as though he stepped straight out of a Gap ad, Gabriel listens to late 1960s counterculture tunes (now those are relics) and sells things like Keith Moon’s drums and Adolph Hitler’s tchotchkes. He wants the Witchblade for his business inventory, presumably to auction off to the highest bidder, but is also interested in helping Sara. I hope he sticks around, but being around Sara is dangerous, as you are likely to suffer a brutal, painful death.
I hope the same does not happen to this show. That said, the adage, “Ten is too many and one is not enough,” applies perfectly to how many episodes of Witchblade I can take in a 24-hour period, without it seeming too goofy for my time. I watched several episodes in a row on TNT one day, and by the end, I was giggling when Sara was battling Satan—who’s an attorney for the Catholic Church—against a cheesy hell-like backdrop, all inside a church. And yet, at the same time, I’m rooting for Sara and her crew, and enjoy watching a true grrrl land on her feet and stay on top.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.
"PopMatters (est. 1999) is a respected source for smart long-form reading on a wide range of topics in culture. PopMatters serves as…READ the article