For three weeks and four episodes now I’ve been trying to come up with unique and insightful ways to explain why The Bastard Executioner just isn’t clicking. There are certainly plenty of reasons to choose from. There’s the contrived and severely overwritten dialogue, with its philosophical and religious platitudes. There’s the lead performance from Lee Jones, who seems unable to capture the inner turmoil of Wilkin Brattle and, through four episodes, has shown a rather startling lack of charisma. Then there’s the plot, which is as thin and empty as the characters. Despite framing all of these critiques as reasons why The Bastard Executioner has faltered in its first season, they all contribute to a larger, less analytical critique: the show is intensely boring. Through the show’s first four episodes, very little has actually happened. There’s been a lot of exposition and a lot of talk about allegiances and secret identities, but there’s been very little on-screen action; in this case, action meaning a propulsive, compelling story arc, not just, you know, sword battles and sex.
“Piss Profit / Proffidwyr Troeth” still boasts many of the issues outlined above, but at least it starts to curb some of the show’s more boring tendencies by introducing actual conflict and outlining, however vaguely, a narrative path for the rest of the season. One of the biggest issues with the show so far has been the relative lack of narrative momentum. There’s been no hint of any larger (or even smaller) arc in terms of plot or character. Sure, Wilkin is out for revenge, but even that meaty bit of character motivation is hardly touched on each week. We know that Wilkin wants to avenge his family, but there’s very little in each episode to show us just how urgent and meaningful his quest is.
Tonight’s episode briefly fixes that problem by having Wilkin work towards getting his rebel friends released from their cells. In order to do so he must do a “dirty deed” for Milus. That deed is attacking and burning a cart supposedly carrying an ancient text to the King. Milus doesn’t want any bribes or gifts reaching the King so as to influence his choices in regards to Ventrishire, and blackmailing Wilkin into doing his dirty work is the easiest way to prevent that from happening. Milus’ isn’t totally honest though because he’s Milus. As Wilkin kills a handful of soldiers and sets the cart on fire, he hears screams from inside. Rather than having a bible burnt, Milus tricks Wilkin into attacking Lady Pryce, the wife of the Baron, who he wants dead in order to secure his allegiance with the Baron by marrying him to Baroness Love.
Such twisty schemes and repugnant motivations are more than welcome on The Bastard Executioner, which until now has presented a stagnant narrative with little to no conflict. More specifically, Wilkin and Milus have largely lived in peace together despite each knowing certain secrets about the other. While those secrets don’t surface in tonight’s episode, a clash in ideals is finally moving to the forefront of the narrative. This is a show that needs a lot more plotting and scheming, and “Piss Profit / Proffidwyr Troeth” certainly has a fair amount of that. It doesn’t justify the total lack of focus on Wilkin’s revenge plot, but at least it’s something to latch on to.
The need for plotting and scheming extends beyond just the plot containing some sort of mystery. By having the characters engage in keeping secrets and deceiving one another, The Bastard Executioner adds depth to its characters and layers to the plot. Up until now Baroness Love has certainly been one of the more intriguing characters on the show, but tonight sees her true nature start to be revealed. She’s not just a noble woman who’s attempting to protect her people, but also a savvy one who knows when her back’s against the wall. When Piers Gaveston pays a visit to Castle Ventrishire to have a doctor confirm that she is indeed pregnant with an heir, she seeks out the help of Annora, who gives her a concoction that tricks the doctor. It’s a great character moment not only because she gets on over on the slimy Gaveston, but because it deepens our understanding of her character. The same can be said of her blossoming friendship/romance with Wilkin. Their partnership makes a lot of sense. They’re both, in a way, outsiders in Ventrishire, and they’re both deeply influenced by and at odds with their faith. They’ve lost family and been shackled in roles that seemingly remove them of their power, but they’re not about to give up. When the two embrace at the end of the episode it’s, quite refreshingly, not a moment of sexual attraction but rather of companionship, understanding, and intimacy.
“Piss Profit / Proffidwyr Troeth” certainly doesn’t fix every problem on the show. The stilted, on-the-nose dialogue still kills any and all storytelling momentum–”do you ever feel like you’re living the life of someone else?” the Baroness asks Wilkin, who’s literally living the life of someone else. There’s still the issue of Wilkin’s revenge lurking in the background of the story, a baffling decision considering that it’s the driving motivation for just about every one of Wilkin’s actions. Still, tonight’s episode does begin to forge a tentative path forward for the show. It’s clear that Wilkin’s loyalty and allegiance will be tested as he grows closer to the Baroness, and the threat of both Milus and Piers loom large, even if their larger plans haven’t yet taken shape. The main reason why The Bastard Executioner was so boring through its first four episodes was because it lacked any sense of conflict. “Piss Profit / Proffidwyr Troeth” works to fix that by introducing a number of intriguing conflicts, and it’s the best the show has been.
- Yeah, those terrible opening credits weren’t just the result of a fever dream last week. Oh well.
- I have a feeling Mrs. Maddox is about to stir things up in Ventrishire.
- I really don’t get the role of the twins. It seemed like they were working with Piers (he mentions being their half brother or something like that? But he may have been joking about it? I don’t know.) but it’s all pretty unclear right now.
- I like the rapport between Piers Gaveston and Milus Corbett. They just both try to out slime each other and it’s wonderful.
- As if the visions of Petra weren’t enough for Wilkin, now he’s seeing a charred Lady Pryce as well.
- I didn’t expect this show to get romance right, but I’ll admit that I’m already shipping Wilkin and the Baroness.