At some point Wilkin Brattle’s secret was going to have to come out. At some point his fake identity was going to be revealed for the sham it is, his real identity finally exposed to those beyond his closest friends and, of course, the villainous Milus Corbett. It’s perhaps the lone dramatic twist with the potential to liven up this otherwise dull, plodding season of self-serious historical drama. So when Wilkin finally reveals his true self to the Baroness in this week’s episode, tears streaming down his face as he realizes he’s betrayed her trust, why does The Bastard Executioner skate right past any consequences or dramatic tension and just say that, hey, everything is totally okay? Why doesn’t the moment feel more consequential, or at least as moving and significant as it seems to be to Wilkin?
To the show’s credit, Wilkin’s eventual reveal of his true identity to the Baroness does build upon the very slight character work in previous episodes. While Wilkin’s motivations and inner-thoughts have always been glossed over in favor of trite dialogue and brutal acts of violence, there’s at least been a hint of guilt and self-pity at his core. He’s out for revenge, looking to kill the men who burned his village and murdered his family, but he doesn’t necessarily have a killer instinct. Sure, he’s skilled with a sword, but he’s hardly leaving a trail of corpses while on his quest for revenge. Instead, it feels as if Wilkin is seeking revenge because that is what is expected of him, and his reluctance to really kill anyone, especially as he gets closer and closer to the perpetrators, doesn’t help him conceal his identity by taking on the role of an executioner.
Thus, when Chamberlain Corbett brings a man to Castle Ventrishire and charges him with the crime of murdering Baron Pryce’s sickly wife, a crime unknowingly committed by Wilkin, he’s conflicted about sentencing a presumably innocent man to death for a crime he technically committed. The Bastard Executioner has spent a lot of time telling us that Wilkin is morally conflicted, but very little time actually showing how that conflict manifests itself in his behavior. “Behold the Lamb/Gweled yr Oen” is really the first time that Wilkin’s emotions and inner turmoil is at least somewhat evident and understandable, the storytelling clear enough to convey how a man who’s been running from himself will eventually have to confront his misdeeds and responsibilities again. There’s no true escape, and the innocent life placed in the hands of Wilkin is a cruel and immediate reminder of how his ruse is affecting the lives of others.
In some ways, he’s having a positive affect. He’s taken the Maddox family as his own, here once again encouraging Luca and turning him into a reliable, smart, courageous young man, and also managing a few sweet words for Jessamy, the abused wife of the man who’s identity Wilkin took. Outside of that though there are bodies dropping, and while Wilkin may not be directly responsible, he certainly shares some of the blame. Keeping secrets often begets violence, and that’s what happens in “ Behold the Lamb/Gweled yr Oen.” Whether it’s the raid on the “rebel” camp that sees many innocents die, or Calo dying at the hands of Corbett, Wilkin’s ill-conceived and fitful plan for revenge has led many lives to be lost, and it’s beginning to weigh on him.
Thus, he decides to sacrifice himself, giving a written confession to the Baroness and revealing his identity as a former soldier of Longshanks’ and one of the men responsible for killing Baron Erik Ventris. The scene is delivered as if it’s a huge moment, and it should be one filled with emotional and narrative implications. Unfortunately, the show chooses to just move right past any complications and get straight to the brutality. The Baroness refuses to accept Wilkin’s confession because she believes they’re destined to be with one another, and therefore sends an innocent man to death in order to save Wilkin’s life.
While such a choice could potentially add complexity and depth to the character of the Baroness, The Bastard Executioner has done little to suggest that it’s interested in exploring the moral, political, and spiritual consequences of the tough choices these characters make. When, at the episode’s end, Wilkin straps the convicted but innocent man’s arms to a pair of horses and, with the Baroness’ approval, orders them to ride and tear his limbs off and execute him, it’s brutal and difficult to watch but there’s no sense that it’s going to have an effect on anyone. It’s another body on the conscience of Wilkin, but considering the show’s reluctance to dig into the psyche of its characters, I wouldn’t be surprised if his and the Baroness’ difficult decision fails to yield any sort of character insight.
As “Behold the Lamb/Gweled yr Oen” shows, The Bastard Executioner is filled with brutal acts of violence, and yet has no interest in exploring just what that violence means to the show’s characters or even the historical time period. The only motivation for violence comes in the form of Corbett’s story about being sexually abused as a young boy, and it’s the most reductive and offensive characterization of violence and sexuality there is. That kind of exploitation, where violence is titillation and deeper concerns or insights are shrugged off, dominates so much of The Bastard Executioner, and so much of “Behold the Lamb/Gweled yr Oen.”
- Note: This episode aired last week, on October 20. I was away on my honeymoon and definitely didn’t want to spend my time watching this show, so here we are.
- Isabel has no time for Wilkin’s nonsense: “I’ll be in the yard dancing with pigs.”
- WHY DOES THIS SHOW KEEP RUNNING OVER!?!?!
- “Our baron was barren.” Ugh, you knew that line was coming at some point.
- I’ll admit to being intrigued by all the weird religious/witchcraft stuff, but it’s so purposely obtuse at this point that it’s hard to get too excited about it.