The Bastard Executioner is a new television show on FX, and I had a chance to watch the two-hour pilot last night. While it isn’t billed as fantasy, but rather historical fiction, there are certainly some mystical elements at play.
The Bastard Executioner — Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle.
Cr: Ollie Upton/FX
FX provides this description:
The Bastard Executioner is a blood-soaked, medieval epic that tells the story of Wilkin Brattle, a 14th century warrior, whose life is forever changed when a divine messenger beseeches him to lay down his sword and lead the life of another man: a journeyman executioner. Set in northern Wales during a time rife with rebellion and political upheaval, Wilkin must walk a tight rope between protecting his true identity while also serving a mysterious destiny.
Guided by Annora, a mystical healer whose seeming omniscience keeps Wilkin under her sway; manipulated by Milus Corbett, a devious Chamberlain with grand political aspirations; and driven by a deepening connection with the Baroness Lady Love, Wilkin struggles to navigate political, emotional and supernal pitfalls in his quest to understand his greater purpose.
The Bastard Executioner starts with a series of dreams that give the viewer a vague idea that the main character, Wilkin, was once a soldier who was badly injured in battle. Now retired from whatever cause or lord he fought for, he is dwelling in an idyllic village in Wales. His days are spent teasing his pregnant wife, teasing another peasant about his sheep, carrying water, and riding his horse around the countryside with the other men of the village.
** SPOILERS TO FOLLOW **
The Bastard Executioner – “Pilot” Episode 101/102 Pictured: (front) Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle. CR: Ollie Upton/FX
All of this is very nice (and the CGI shots of the village were some of the nicer ones), but the story drags until a conflict arrives in the form of a greedy baron who needs to collect more taxes.
Clearly, Wilkin’s happy pastoral life could not continue, so the first hour of The Bastard Executioner culminated in a predictable gory village burning and peasant stabbing reminiscent of Braveheart.
Now that Wilkin and his friends found motivation to do something more exciting, the show became more fun. The greedy Baron is pitched against the rebellious peasants. Swords clash in battle in some fight choreography that I didn’t completely hate. Like most battle scenes nowadays, there were plenty close-up shots (this is the part that I hate) where you can only see a blurry arm fly by or a bloody spurt. I get it – it’s easier to choreograph and easier to film – but I want to watch the larger view of the swordplay. The Bastard Executioner did pan out for a few nicer glimpses of this.
Although The Bastard Executioner brings some interesting ideas and the richness of a historical setting to it’s production, it tries too hard to emulate both Game of Thrones and Braveheart by throwing in random nudity and sex, a white-blond girl followed closely by a vision of a demon (looks a bit like a dragon), a witch who makes mysterious prophecies, a baroness (who I predict will fall suddenly in love with our bastard executioner in upcoming episodes), and a unique dagger (let’s guess where the blame where by placed).
I’m not sure that I like Lee Jones’ (Wilkin) emotional portrayal in the second half of the pilot. For a lot of it, his facial expression doesn’t change and he simply appears confused. Many of the characters were a little over-the-top and no one really surprised me in terms of breaking expectations. I hope that the Baroness redeems herself in this respect now that she’s a widow, and I’m interested to discover what will happen politically and whether she will be able to maintain power.
The plot had some holes as the show progressed, but they didn’t completely take away from my enjoyment of the second half. I’ll keep watching for at least a few more episodes.
Did you watch The Bastard Executioner? What did you think?