TV Recap: The Bastard Executioner, Series Premiere

THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER -- Pictured: Key Art

The Bastard Executioner Premiere Plot Summary:

Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones) is a knight in King Edward the Third’s army who hangs up his sword after divine intervention saves him from sure death at the hands of Scottish rebels. Years late, Brattle joins with fellow villagers to violently oppose harsh tax hikes. However, their protest comes with repercussions as the baron (Brian O’Byrne) and his chamberlain (Stephen Moyer) kill their families. Wilkin is set on revenge, but a mystic (Katey Sagal) stears him on another course.

Kurt Sutter’s The Bastard Executioner suffers from all the excesses that made his previous drama, Sons of Anarchy such groundbreaking television. The excessive and explicit violence, gratuitous nudity, and shocking sexual situations dull the edges of an intriguing medieval tales of revenge, religion, and politics.

Lee Jones in The Bastard Executioner
Photo Credit: James Minchin/FX

At times it seemed as though all these were shoehorned in so audiences could be assured that this was from ‘the creator of Sons of Anarchy.’ While all these excesses shocked audiences and drew major attention to the biker series, it was the intricately constructed storylines, the unexpected left turns, the character development, and the performances that made Sons of Anarchy an unmitigated success.

The Bastard Executioner, when allowed to breathe, is actually a very interesting drama. There’s an overwhelming amount of mystery surrounding so many characters, and the big twist in third act of the premiere, while totally expected, was executed masterfully.

Unfortunately, to get to all the good, meaty parts of the premiere you have to sit through a lot of very uncomfortable, and actually very excruciating scenes. The Bastard Executioner is unflinching in its depiction of violence – in fact the beheadings are some of the more tamer parts of the episode. The extreme violence, particularly towards Wilkin’s pregnant wife Petra (Elen Rhys) almost makes you want to change channels. There’s a point where violence, for the sake of violence is just too much, especially when perpetrated on a pregnant woman.

If you can move past this, and if the aforementioned third act is any indication, the show becomes more about deception, power struggles and mysticism than brute violence. And that’s a good thing for viewers. It’s also especially good because it allows the series’ strongest character (and actor) Stephen Moyer (True Blood) to really chew up scenery. Moyer is an absolute revelation – maybe because we’re seeing him on TV without fangs – or maybe because he just absolutely dominates every scene he’s in. Moyer is so subtle, yet his presence is gigantic. As the main villain of the series, it’s going to be a lot of fun to see him go to work and just be an evil, and oily megalomaniac.

Photo Credit: James Minchin/FX
Photo Credit: James Minchin/FX

The one area that needs to improve on the show is the main character. Lee Jones is just okay as Wilkin. You never really connect with him, and there was nothing about Jones’ performance that really stood out. Yet, this could be a side effect of non-stop sword fighting and little dialogue. The character has a lot of interesting facets to it, so hopefully we see Jones explore those in subsequent episodes.

The Bastard Executioner is a tough two hours to get through. It’s brutally violent, and yet doesn’t really get the main story going till the final 15 minutes. There’s a lot of characters that come and go, and frankly none of them justify any emotional investment. However, that final 15 minutes really hooks you, and makes you want more next week. It wasn’t pretty, but it was still pretty solid.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

The Bastard Executioner airs Tuesday nights at 10pm on FX

Bill Bodkin is the Owner, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He is beyond excited that Pop-Break will be seven years old in 2016 as this site has come a long, long way from the day he launched in it in his bachelor pad at the Jersey Shore. He currently works as a project manager in the telecom world, and is a freelance writer for NJ.com. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites