Across a ten-episode first season, The Bastard Executioner has positioned itself as many different shows. At times it has been nothing but a showcase for morbid violence, while at others a straightforward love story. There have also been episodes that tried to muse on the notion of identity and how men define themselves in this era through equal parts brutality and faith. The show has never really committed to any of these themes though, leaving so many ideas woefully underexplored.
So much of The Bastard Executioner has been a mess of ideas, plots, and character motivations. To the show’s credit, “Blood and Quiescence/Crau a Chwsg,” the first season finale, is a much more focused episode, one where motivations are much clearer and the plot follows a single thread. The entirety of the episode is focused on a mission to rescue Luca and the Priest, both kidnapped from Annora’s cave for the purposes of quashing a potential religious uprising that would see the traditional religious rulers undermined and thrown out of power. It’s a perfectly fine story, one with a clear destination that gives the show a reason to bring every character together for one last showing before the end of the season. The problem is, while the finale works fine as a standalone episode, it fails miserably as some sort of conclusion to this season because of all the sloppy storytelling in previous episodes.
The complete lack of character development in earlier episodes means that a large chunk of the finale falls flat, that moments meant to be meaningful fail to resonate on an emotional level. It also means that “Blood and Quiescence/Crau a Chwsg” has to blow through a ton of exposition to even get to those moments, hoping to make up for the lack of character development by throwing everything into this episode. There’s a reason this episode runs 93 minutes; it spends its first 40 minutes just putting everything into place for the rescue mission, dealing with the secrets and supposed motivations of each character. There’s the Baroness revealing to Milus that she knows who Wilkin is. There’s the Reeve finding out about Wilkin. There’s Toran confronting the man who killed his wife, and Jessa finding out that she’s been lied to in regards to her son. Oh, and there’s that bit of information that Annora is a descendant of Jesus and Wilkin may be of the same blood.
I mean, none of that first 40 minutes of exposition could have fit into one of the previous overlong episodes? A lot of that info could’ve added needed depth to the storylines throughout the season, but instead The Bastard Executioner delivers it all in a hurried manner and then just moves on as soon as possible. The most egregious aspect of that rushed storytelling is the utter lack of attention paid to character motivation. It’s been a problem throughout this season, but is especially frustrating in the finale. When Toran confronts the man who slaughtered his wife, he offers him a fair fight. The man eventually gets the upper hand, but tells Toran that he has honor and will not kill him on this night. Instead, their debt is clear after the brief tussle. And just like that Toran accepts the terms, his season-long quest for vengeance ending in a shrug and acceptance of the man.
It gets worse from there, because when Milus and Wilkin begin to plan their rescue mission, they reach out to anyone and everyone for help. What results is a number of strange character pairings and scenes of pure exposition that only serve to highlight just how underdeveloped the storylines have been throughout the season. Take, for instance, the lengthy scene where Berber and his scribe pal talk about their different faiths and wonder when they’ll be able to serve outside of their confined space. That whole scene is by far the most we’ve seen of these characters all season long. It’s the first time I’ve learned anything about the Scribe, and Berber has always just been one of the bandits who was “caught” along with Wilkin. Thus, the scene tries to add some depth and backstory before throwing them into the rescue mission, but it’s too little too late.
Too little too late is really the theme of the episode, as The Bastard Executioner tries to imbue the finale with meaning, but it’s an impossible feat considering how little work was put in across the first nine episodes. Despite the indulgent runtime, the finale still feels crammed with information, and most of it unnecessary, or at least better suited to a point earlier in the season. For instance, the tension of the entire finale hinges on the shady intentions of the red-cloaked Knights of Rosula, but what has the show done this season to make them three-dimensional characters? Other than wanting to catch Annora and suppress Jesus’ “true” message, we know nothing about them. They’ve always just been a presence, no more threatening than Milus or anyone else, making it hard to invest in the finale’s main storyline.
Speaking of Milus, the problem with the finale, and most of The Bastard Executioner, is represented in his actions this episode. For some reason, “Blood and Quiescence/Crau a Chwsg” spends most of its runtime presenting Milus as a sympathetic and even likable man. He jokes and flirts with the Baroness, they embrace when he returns from battle, and he even gives his cloak to his young servant before sending him off on an important errand involving transporting Jessa to safekeeping. Character arcs that involve complicating a villain are fine, and can often add depth where there was once only caricature. With Milus though, the transformation is unearned. The man has been despicable all season long, torturing and murdering innocent people in sadistic ways. One rescue mission does not change that. The fact that the show presents Milus in such a flattering light is rather appalling. Plus, there’s no sense of pacing, logical storytelling, or meaningful character development to the arc. In other words, his arc is representative of the first season of The Bastard Executioner as a whole.
- The Dark Mute sacrificing himself in a literal blaze of glory was the highlight of this otherwise frustrating finale.
- I was thinking to myself, “Isabel is the best character on this show,” and then she kind of flirted with Milus at the end and I had to rethink everything I know to be true in this world.
- So, to recap: nine episodes of Wilkin and Toran looking for vengeance, only to have them be like, “jokes guys, it’s all good.”
- What kind of show casts Ed Sheeran as a sneaky coward and then doesn’t have him get killed!?!? I would have paid good money to see Matthew Rhys put a sword through him.
- That’s it for recaps of the first season of The Bastard Executioner. To the 45 of you who are still watching and reading, I really hope I don’t see you all next year.