The Bastard Executioner's series premiere was practically a feature film in length and accordingly, there is a ridiculously huge amount to talk about here.
Kurt Sutter returned to FX with his Game of Thrones-sized medieval tale of a PTSD-ridden former knight that found God, only to return to the rule of the sword following the tragic slaughter of his wife and child (and basically all of his neighbors).
The Bastard Executioner Season 1 Episode 1 was large in scale and a little unwieldy at times, though I feel confident that buried beneath much of the superfluous set-up there lies the bones of a potentially awesome show.
Kurt Sutter knows how to do violence. Sons of Anarchy certainly proved as much, and the battle scenes in this premiere were some of his best. Very well-filmed, and they definitely did not look cheap. There were one or two weird fight choreography moments (particularly when Lee Jones needed to rush at someone with a sword – which had a tendency to get goofy-looking), but those aspects of the show were largely admirable.
That said, some of the violence seemed a bit gratuitous. We know that medieval Europe was a scary, bloody, gory place. There was a redundancy of bloodshed in this first installment, and said redundancy really stuck out given that the pilot felt far too long.
What do I mean by too long? I'll give specific examples.
Here is what we know about Wilkin Brattle, our protagonist. 1) He used to be a knight, until he nearly died in battle/simultaneously found salvation. 2) He vowed to give up violence (maybe just sword violence? Wooden stick violence seems to be allowable).
Brattle: I am devoted. Your servant.
Angel: You have a destiny to claim.
Brattle: Tell me, heavenly one. Tell me what you'll have me do.
Angel: It is time to lay down the sword, Wilkin Brattle. Your savior needs you to live the life of a different man.
In essence: we don't know a lot about our man. But those two characteristics were driven home so many times in this whopping two-hour pilot. There were too many flashbacks. There was too much of Brattle looking forlornly into the distance or requesting forgiveness and/or help from a dead person. We get it; he's troubled, secretive, and all he wanted was to live a peaceful, violence-free life with his wife. And that all got blown to pieces. But we really don't need to keep reiterating the same points.
Another aspect of the enormity of this premiere had to do with the sheer number of characters we were introduced to. Many of them received names, too, so they seem to actually be noteworthy characters that we'll need to remember. It was a bit difficult to keep track of everyone coming and going (particularly going – I watched the final battle scene twice and still had trouble tallying who exactly had died).
Among the plethora of new faces, a few stood out and stole the show.
Stephen Moyer, hands down, was the MVP. He was so delightfully creepy and evil! I watched True Blood (far too much of it; I admittedly should have abandoned ship earlier in that series' run) and Moyer's Bill Compton was at his best when he was a little evil.
Moyer's character here, the manipulative Milus Corbett, is a lot evil. I mean, the man had his own brother executed! (Half-brother, but still. RIP, Randolph.)
Milus' handling of Baron Ventris' shocker of a death was very mysterious and had me dying to know more about his machinations. He could hardly be bothered with Ventris' death. Milus has been described in various press releases as the Baron's manipulative advisor with political aspirations. Now that Ventris has swiftly been dispatched of, my best guess is that Milus' rise to power will be a partial focus of this season.
I also loved Corbett's clash with the Baroness, Lady Love.
First of all, Lady Love? What a great name! Second, I love her. She was another of the figures that stood out and stole the show. The character was immediately engaging and intriguing, from the second she nonchalantly took a dip in the icy ocean to the moment that she confronted Milus over his terrible plan for handling the Welsh rebels.
Lady Love: No commoner wants rebellion. It only comes after hope and reason are burned to the ground.
Milus: Tell me Baroness. How is it that someone of your privilege may come to know the plight of the common man?
Lady Love: Well, unlike some within these walls, I live with open eyes and open heart. You will break them, Milus, and we both know there is nothing more dangerous than a Welshman who has nothing to lose.
She's just a super cool lady. I already see rumblings of romance between her and Brattle, which will be interesting to see unfold, given that Brattle is inadvertently posing as a married man and is privately mourning the loss of his real wife.
Finally, the man himself, Wilkin Brattle.
Brattle is an interesting figure, given his undefined background and his tendency to keep everyone at arm's length. He and his wife Petra seemed to have a very close, loving relationship prior to her death, so it was very telling to find out that he hadn't even divulged the secrets of his past to his cute blonde wife.
The circumstances setting up the premise of the show (Brattle posing as the executioner Maddox) seemed totally in line. I thought everything progressed naturally (if a bit slowly) and the events didn't feel forced. Peasant farmers attack tax men, Baron retaliates, farmers gather a crew of rebels and retaliate against the Baron's retaliation.
It was definitely aggravating that something as simple as Ash not wearing a hood essentially kicked off the entire series of events. Had he just worn a cover, the fleeing tax man wouldn't have been able to ID him.
I find it slightly irksome when a character repeatedly insists, beyond the point of believability, that they have no stake in the grander scheme of things within their universe. Brattle started to do that, when he told Ventris that he had no rebellion.
Baron Ventris: London will hunt down the hooded bandits and crush your toy rebellion.
Brattle: I have no rebellion. Just a need to see you die.
While that was a cool line, I don't believe for a second that this is going to remain all about Brattle's personal quest for vengeance. You don't set-up that much history and political turmoil as a back-drop for your show unless you're going to do something with it.
Did anyone else pick up on that sexual tension between Brattle and Milus in one of the last scenes? We saw that Milus is not straight in that glimpse of him having sex with the French servant boy. The hand on Brattle's chest and the whole "I need a man" bit was the kind of innuendo-y dialogue that would make Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) mighty proud.
Brattle: Why are you doing this?
Milus: Our buried truths bind us... and your skills will serve me. I need a man with the heart of a dragon.
I think we can all agree that Annora is up to something weird. She and her Dark Mute (fun fact: he's played by showrunner Kurt Sutter himself) are very strange and I'm not so sure they're on Brattle's side here. I am firmly convinced that Annora was the one who actually stabbed Petra, in order to set Wilkin off on his supposed destiny; I was convinced of that before I even saw that blade (the same blade that we clearly saw slicing into Petra) in Annora's abode, but now I'm doubly certain.
- For a character who was a relative blip on the radar, I thought that the figure of the real Gawain Maddox was interesting. He was clearly not a good man, but was also presented as deeply troubled. He abused his family, but clearly had a lot of internal anguish. I wonder if we will ever know what was up with him.
- I thought it was actually hilarious that Maddox's wife and son jumped so quickly into backing up Brattle's claim that he was Maddox. At the execution, too, the big smile that Maddox's son gave Brattle when he told him he'd sharpened the blades just seemed to scream "I really like you, New Dad." Yeesh. Poor kid. Maddox was awful to him; so awful that he would immediately be taken with a new guy pretending to be his father.
- On that note: Jessamy, Maddox's abused, put-upon wife, seems like a genuinely lovely person, so I hope something good comes out of all this for her.
- Annora's accent is ridiculous. They need to cut that down a whole lot. One of the best things about Katey Segal (aside from the fact that she is pure awesomeness) is her lovely voice. I hate to see her trying to perform through that caricature of a Slavic accent.
- Bad-ass moment of the week has to go to Toran for that amazing knife-through-the-head move, taking out Ventris.
- This is a very minor point, but the opening credits theme song seemed too soft and whiny for the type of show this is. I liked all of the rest of the episode's scoring; the theme song just didn't seem to fit for me.
What did you all think of this premiere? Did you think it was too long? Too short? Just right? Which character do you most want to know more about? Remember that you can watch The Bastard Executioner online right here at TV Fanatic, to catch up (or re-watch) the premiere.
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.