(Beware, spoilers below!)
The minds behind the show The Bastard Executioner made a conscious choice to feature a slew of torture devices in the show’s title sequence. However, don’t expect the pilot to feature a whole lot of torturing just yet. The first episode spends a lot of time setting up the premise of the show, and though the first forty minutes might be a little slow I did find myself whooping at the end. The historical context? Wales, at the dawn of the 14th Century, as the Welsh are fighting for Independence. The King England II is on the throne as the March becomes more and more turbulent.
We kick off as our main character Wilkin hallucinates dying on a battlefield whilst first being visited by a saint, then seeing a demon-like dragon that matches the brand on his chest. We soon learn that battle was in another life, before he stopped being a knight and decided to settle down. He is now expecting a son, happily married, and is a bog standard farmer. Musch is made of their idealistic life in the the country, in stark difference to the Baron shagging his wife in the following scene. He then insists that she doesn’t ‘let the seed go to waste’. The showwriters are making an early point here, folks.
Whilst most of the men in the show are grim and serious talkers, there is some brevity in Wilkin’s loyal wannabe squire as played by the delightful Darren Evans (who was a lot of fun in Galavant as well). Since the show is set in a bloody time period, things are obviously not idyllic for long, and Wilkin runs off with some of the others to seek some justice under the bloody Baron’s rule. We soon learn that the Baron despises Wilkin somewhat, and the machinations of the Baron with his Chamberlain Milus ends up with the Baron eventually decimating Wilkin’s village to great effect.
The show is as cruel as Game of Thrones when it comes to the treatment of women – and if you think I’m joking, as a Game of Thrones watcher I’m telling you that you won’t be prepared for some of what you see. There’s a scene in particular that will stay with me for a long time, I can tell you that. The brutal truth is that this isn’t the fluffier world of something like Reign, and helps depict some of the realities of life in the Welsh March, where there was little security by way of law and justice.
The show finally kicks into gear with Wilkin’s determination for vengeance against his family, and the resulting battle manages a decent balance between the gratuitous gore of the Spartacus series and a bloodless show like Merlin. What I say the balance is struck… only just. The result of the skirmish sets up the dynamics for the rest of the show: rebels looking for more liberties, Wilkin taking his place at the death of the travelling punisher (apparently yes, that was a thing), the Chamberlain negotiating the hell out of everyone.
There are several twists before the end that make up for the slow beginning, the show manages to keep the viewers’ interest before the end and onwards. It isn’t consistent television, yet this is the kind of TV that makes pilot season exciting. Get past the first thirty or so minutes of world building, and you’re good to go. I’ll be tuning in next week with much anticipation to hopefully get some answers to the ‘good god you’re joking’ moments that popped up. Game of Thrones might not be on, but if The Bastard Executioner can pull out all the stops, we’ll have good entertainment until the Khaleesi returns.
4/5 = ‘Possibly promising, enough to make me look forward to an upcoming season’