Season 1, Episode 1–2
Air Date: September 15, 2015, 10 PM on FX
“I serve God and family, not cause or crown.” – Wilkin Brattle
Set in Wales during the 14th century, The Bastard Executioner (TBX) is the tale of Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones), a knight in King Edward’s (unseen) army. Upon his return from war, Brattle vows to lay down his sword to focus on life with his expectant wife Petra (Elen Rhys). But when violence finds him, Brattle must choose to keep his vow or seek vengeance.
The set designs and locations are breathtaking and would give a film set in a similar period a run for their money. Filmed in Wales, show creator Kurt Sutter has created a stunning world with amazing attention to detail. While much of the series is filmed on production sets, Sutter takes advantage of some the local historical sites to film scenes including Caerphilly Castle built in the year 1156 and St. Donat’s Castle built in 1250.
Simply mentioning Sutter as the mastermind behind the series, one might assume The Bastard Executioner is going to be a bloody tale, and they would be right. At times, the series premiere, “Pilot,” consisting of episodes one and two of the series, is difficult to watch. Everyone, including women and children, is fair game when it comes to the very gruesome acts that play out. Sutter seems to take it as a personal challenge to make each slice of flesh more graphic than the previous. From the very first minute of ”Pilot”, it’s clear Sutter is upping the ante in the amount of bloodshed and mayhem doled out in his previous series Sons of Anarchy (SOA).
The comparison between SOA and TBX is impossible to ignore. In many ways, TBX could easily be a 14th century episode of SOA with themes of brotherhood, loyalty, betrayal, and retribution resonating throughout the TBX two-hour premiere. I kept waiting for a group of bandits to ride up on their horses as their leader announces he is Jax, son of Teller.
The multitude of fight scenes are excellently choreographed and skillfully edited. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the slower moments. Several scenes abruptly end leaving the audience hanging. One scene in particular, as everything comes to a head, and all eyes are focusing on what Jessamy Maddox (Sarah Sweeny) will say next, as she finally steps forward to speak, the scene ends. I literally yelled at my TV, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
While much of the first hour of ”Pilot” focuses on the blood and gore, the rest lacks character and story development. Sutter seems to rely on the audience’s knowledge of a Robin Hood or medieval type story to establish what’s going on as the English barons ruthlessly rule with harsh taxes and even harsher punishments. The fight over the unfair taxes creates the need for Brattle and friends to form a band of rebels to fight back while seeking refuge in the woods. Instead of famed Robin Hood and his bow, we get Brattle and his mighty sword.
The miniscule effort placed into any character differentiation even goes as far as clothing – peasants are dressed in rags while the so-called bad guys are clothed in fine linen. There’s no explanation of what drives these people and not much time is spent on any one character’s background, perhaps because the life expectancy is so short for many during this time period. Sutter may have his reasons for this approach but that doesn’t help the audience to find a connection for why they should like or dislike any of the characters presented. Thankfully, FX has a visual aid to help viewers understand who the characters are. You can find it here.
While most of the characters appear cut and dry, either good or bad, Annora’s (Katey Sagal) intentions are shrouded in mystery. Sagal is, as always, fascinating to watch, but her character is basically Gemma from SOA. If it’s sinister, Annora probably has something to do with it. Between the silly accent and the campy dialogue, Annora comes across as ludicrous.
We live in an age of television where the antihero is celebrated. Fans embrace a teacher who becomes a meth kingpin, or a flawed family man who is also a ruthless mob boss. Even the leader of a notorious biker gang raising a family is revered. Are audiences ready to embrace a man trying to forget his troubled past by becoming an executioner?
Despite the tragic things that happen to Brattle, I never found myself caring about him throughout most of the first half of “Pilot.” The fault doesn’t lie solely with Jones’ acting as many of the scenes and dialogue give him very little to work with.
As things wind down, The Bastard Executioner appeares destined for failure. While the parallels to SOA are difficult to dismiss, it is clear TBX is no substitution for SOA. And just when all seems hopeless, something amazing happens…TBX gets good, really good. The final ten minutes suddenly come together and you begin to see where Sutter is trying to take the series. I suddenly found myself not only caring about Brattle’s plight but getting excited for what the future holds for the series.
The first 110 minutes of The Bastard Executioner is an exercise in patience because while Sutter fans will appreciate the blood and gore, there isn’t much as far as a story line until the final ten minutes of the two-hour premiere. The good news is the third episode is outstanding. It picks up where the final ten minutes of the second episode leaves off and keeps getting better. The complexity of Jones’ character starts to be explored and it’s absolutely fascinating. Jones’ performance is superb as we begin to know Brattle more.
I’ll just come right out and say it— I was bored throughout the majority of the two-part series premiere of The Bastard Executioner; however, don’t let that deter you. As I mentioned, the third episode,“Effigy/Delw,” is rich with character development. Issues of morality and justice set upon the 14th century landscape make for some very interesting story lines, and yes, there’s still plenty of blood. By the end of “Effigy/Delw,” it’s clear; The Bastard Executioner is a revenge tale with a twist worth checking out.
Tune in to the series premiere of The Bastard Executioner September 15, 2015, 10 PM ET/PT, only on FX.
For more on the show, go to The Bastard Executioner website: http://www.fxnetworks.com/shows/the-bastard-executioner.
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Photos © 2015 FX Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved
© 2015, Greg Staffa. All rights reserved.
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