I’ll bet those of you who managed to get through the entire 2-hour (2-episode) premiere of Kurt Sutter’s and FX’s new historical drama, The Bastard Executioner, last week were pretty darned proud of yourselves. For surviving its nonsensical story-line and its excruciating, egregious violence, which included the brutally graphic beheading of the Shire Reeve, who is the brother of the ambitious Chamberlain (Stephen Moyer) by the faux Executioner, as its final scene.
Last week, the show was pretty well set up to be a re-make or a rather broad adaptation, maybe, of The Return of Martin Guerre, or of its American counterpart, Sommersby, which features a protagonist who has been missing for many years and who slightly resembles the man whose place he is taking and who returns to his “wife” and village where everyone knows him but becomes suspicious because the once cruel and hateful man has had a complete personality change and is now a really nice guy.
There were a few problems with the initial set-up of the Martin Guerre part of the tale, the most important ones being that
(1) no one at the Baron’s castle seemed to have ever seen the Official Executioner before, like, ever
(2) Wilkin, a rebel who’s posing as the Official Executioner, hasn’t been missing for years, and
(3) the idiot Wilkin keeps telling his new faux wife to stop pretending that he’s her husband.
Last night’s episode, which I learned is episode 3, despite this being only the second week it’s aired, was called “Effigy/Ddelw.” For those of you who don’t know Welsh — which includes the majority of us, Ddlew is Welsh for “visual likeness.”
I guess that was the theme of the show.
There are some problems with that.
Wilkin, the faux Executioner, doesn’t look anything like the dead Official Executioner.
Furthermore, he keeps telling his “wife” that she needs to abandon her “devotion to this farce” (of his being her “real” husband, to which she responds, “What farce, my love?”
Note to Rebel Dude Playing the Official Executioner but Who is Really the Faux Executioner: You are a fake, Bro, and your “wife’s” loyalty and pretense is what’s keeping you alive. If the Chamberlain, who already suspects your identity and wants you outta there; and the Baroness, who likes you but is going beyond the bounds of female propriety in this time period, even for aristocratic women, won’t be able to protect you if she discovers you’re really a rebel, you will be dead fershure. So, Dude, take my advice: keep your mouth shut.
Here’s another problem with the plot: during the day, the faux Executioner is hanging out in the woods with all the other surviving rebels from his village. Like, no one from the castle is going to notice that he’s not in his official dungeons torturing people, or even just hanging around with his “wife” and “family.”
Who knows why?
When she’s not making cryptic comments about each person’s own individual faith, to Berber the Moor (Danny Sapani), for example, who should really be paid extra for having such a ridiculous name, she’s dismembering men in the field, cutting things into their bodies, and pulling big, long, black snakes out of their dead mouths, then stabbing the snakes.It seems she collects them and hangs them in the cave she shares with her mute, who’s not really mute, but is scarred.
Meanwhile, back at the castle, whenever he’s not in the Official Executioner’s torture dungeon ensuring that the faux Executioner is doing his job, the Chamberlain is weeping over a corn-husk doll. Is this supposed to show his soft side? Letting itty-bitty tears spoil his act as a clown… I mean, as a Chamberlain?
Or are we supposed to believe that Stephen Moyer is really a better actor than he ever was as Vampire Bill in TrueBlood or than he’s shown himself so far in The Bastard Executioner?
The corn-husk-doll-induced tears didn’t work. I laughed aloud, right before I groaned. But that was before he was shown leering at two twin female servants — wait, didn’t his own brother catch him sodomizing a male servant in the basement or cellar or tunnel of the castle last week? Then, at the end of the show, he was shown, ostensibly nude, while the two nude girls pretended to have sex with him, while the Chamberlain himself was playing with the corn-husk doll.
I could not make this up. It’s just too ridiculous.
And this wasn’t even the main “conflict” of the episode. No, that was about some young Welsh girl who broke the nose off a statue of the Baron while it was being delivered to the castle, the penalty for which is death.
For breaking the nose off a statue, even if you did do it intentionally?
The faux Executioner has to pretend to torture her, with everyone and his brother giving him advice on how to extract information from her… Wait: isn’t this his job? Shouldn’t he already be well-versed and experienced in all the tricks and tools of his trade? Even though we know that he’s a faux, no one else does. Though some people do suspect.
So he tears out the girl’s index fingernail.
Now, that’s some bad torture.
Does it make her confess?
Does it upset the Baroness?
This causes Baroness, whom we learn is “daughter of a Welsh Lord” (I didn’t even know the English recognized things like that) who was married to the English Baron in an arranged, political alliance, figures out which village the girl comes from.
Didn’t she do that last week?
Then everybody heads out for village. Including the Baroness, ’cause, you know, that’s what these aristocratic women did back then when they had all these knights and fathers and brothers and other men to protect them.Baroness meets defiance from girl’s mother. Girl’s brother caves immediately. Faux Executioner promises to say the information came from some other village (you know, because everyone in Wales knows these guys are scouring the entire Welsh countryside, rather than just visiting a couple of villages that the Baroness has been helping them locate, first for the rebels in the premiere, then for the girl-who-broke-the-nose-off-the-statue in “Effigy/Ddewl”).
Gratuitous sword-fight in woods in which priest shows great skill, causing faux Executioner to comment on his fighting abilities, which is foreshadowing, I guess, though that’s pretty literary for this show, for when the Baroness confronts the faux Executionerabout his skills as a swordsman. Despite his protests that it’s just his “job,” she tells him, “What I witnessed was refined swordsmanship.”Uh, oh… Now, he’s in trouble. Not only is he telling his faux wife to stop pretending that he’s her faux husband when they’re alone (they’re never alone: they got kids), and everyone in Wales is telling him how to do his torturing job, and the Chamberlain — when he’s not having sex with people of both genders or playing with corn-husk dolls — is already suspicious of his identity, now the Baroness is suspicious because an Official Executioner can actually handle a sword.
Faux Executioner: Do you show yourself to help me or haunt me?
Dead Wife’s Ghost: We are given that choice with every encounter, my love. You must decide.
Faux Executioner: I’m so sorry.
Dead Wife’s Ghost: I was brought to my end at the right time for the right reason.
Faux Executioner: How do I do this?
Dead Wife’s Ghost: When you stop looking for all that is wrong, Wilkin, you will see that what is right was just in your grasp.
Wilkin followed the Baroness’ orders and sliced off the girl’s nose.
A nose for a nose, as one critic wrote.
Or, a nose by any other name would smell as sweet…