The Bastard Executioner Recap: Agnus Dei

Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle. Photo: Ollie Upton/FX
The Bastard Executioner
Episode Title
Behold the Lamb/Gweled Yr Oen
Editor’s Rating

The Latin liturgical hymn “Agnus Dei” (“Lamb of God”) serves as the backdrop for communion in the Ventrishire chapel; as Lady Love prays devoutly, Father Ruskin shares communion with the Archdeacon of Windsor. The boys choir sings — in Latin — “Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.”

By the end of the episode, the word lamb has been given a new connotation, and Wilkin Brattle might be the savior that Ventrishire needs. Of course, he’s not alone. Lady Love’s leadership is still the driving force behind the future of Ventrishire, even though Chamberlain Milus and Baron Pryce are trying to negotiate her away (married to Baron Pryce, the shires would merge). Milus knows her pregnancy is not real, so he hangs that over her head in his attempts to marry her off. She rejects this: “I am not a silent child to be married off.”

Lady Love knows when she’s being messed with, and she’s having none of it. She realizes almost immediately that the “rebel” being put to death for Lady Trula’s death is not truly guilty. She questions him, she requests the scribes give her research about his family, and she abruptly confronts Milus when she finds out the truth (he’s not guilty, but he was going off to debtors’ prison, and his confession bought his wife and children financial security). Lady Love is a consistently sharp, conflicted-yet-strong character, and while the title character is Wilkin Brattle, she carries the story.

Wilkin and Lady Love have matching “burdens” in their souls — previous lives that have been hidden (his past as Longshank’s knight, hers as the Wolf’s half-sister). They both are carrying lies with them in Ventrishire, for self-preservation and revenge, protection of the shire and loyalty. In “Behold the Lamb,” Wilkin is ready to throw off his burdens: He confesses to Lady Love and wants to come forward, even if that means he will be killed. While he cannot bear to kill the innocent debtor (for a crime he himself inadvertently committed), what pushes him over the edge is Milus’s killing of one of his friends.

Wilkin, Toran, and some knights (including the Reeve) raid a nomad camp under the guise of raiding rebels. One goes into a tent and stabs a woman and plants a daffodil-and-dagger rebel insignia on her. When the nomad men come back and engage the knights in a fight, one gets away, and kills the knight who chases him. As Wilkin and Toran ride up to the scene, Wilkin knows immediately that Milus will assume they did it as revenge, and no one was there to prove otherwise. He is right. Milus brutally kills Calo in the middle of the night, as a “life for a life” trade that is his m.o.

Before he kills him, Milus tells Calo a horrifying story: His confession is not, as the others’ are, that he is living a double life. Instead, Milus tells in graphic detail the sexual abuse that he endured as an orphan. He beats Calo over the head and pins him down, telling him how the priest would teach them “piety and patience” with a hot iron. He was raped and called “Little Lamby.” Milus forces Calo to say “Little Lamby” repeatedly before beating him to death with the iron. He quietly places the iron in a drunk, passed-out man’s hands (the perfect scapegoat). This is more than Wilkin can handle; there is no just revenge in Ventrishire, only misplaced torture and death. “I had to take a life in return,” Milus smirks.

The Archdeacon also is on the hunt. Men are gathered and taken into the chapel and stripped; he is looking for markings indicative of Seraphim, but finds none. Father Ruskin attempts to intervene, but he’s kept out of his own chapel. He finally finds a man willing to speak — Berber the Moor, whose servitude is as a scribe. Berber explains that they are looking for heretics and for marks on their skin. Berber and Father Ruskin know they’re looking for Annora, too; “She’s no heretic,” Berber says. “She’s quite the opposite.” Unfortunately, another scribe was listening the whole time (and immediately reports it to the Archdeacon). Berber says that these men “may be ordained in Christ’s name,” but that they “serve another.”

Father Ruskin delivers the news to Annora (the Dark Mute is keeping watch outside the cave, fully decked-out in his Templar gear). She shows him her markings, and gives him a book to read: Libro Nazareni (the New Testament). Annora and Father Ruskin, along with Berber the Moor, are painted as the truly faithful.

In the moment that Wilkin sees Calo’s dead body — a moment when he is again “twisted with guilt” at the deaths that he has been somehow responsible for — he changes. When he goes to Lady Love with his confessions, he’s no longer furrowing his brow in conflicted duty; he knows he wants to confess and escape this prison of a double life. He tells her everything: He was a knight in Longshank’s army, Ventris was his commander and sent him into an ambush, and he assumed the punisher’s identity to save himself and his friends; however, that identity was only supposed to last a short time.

Since he has newfound confidence, he also confesses his love; he apologizes for lying and says, “My time with you — it was worth the punishment I’m about to receive,” and he kisses her before saying that he did see a vision, a male child. “I believe it was ours,” he said.

Of course, Wilkin has a surge of power here. His confessions — professional and personal — lead him into a kind of intimate moment where he’s stripping himself bare. However, there’s something about this scene that doesn’t work. It’s both too slow (episode seven before a mere kiss?) and too fast (the gushing about the time he spent with her seems a bit silly, considering they haven’t spent much time together at all). When FX kept reminding me that this episode was rated MA for L (language) and V (violence), not S (sexual situations), I felt some disappointment. If there’s a buildup to a relationship, which has seemed to be the case all season, we need to get there before the finale. There’s also the reality that Lady Love’s fake pregnancy needs to be made real, if that’s her plan of action.

You know who doesn’t need to get pregnant? Jessamy. But Wilkin, in all his hyped-up adrenaline rush, goes home and sleeps with Jessamy. The plot thickens into a soupy soap opera at these points; it feels like less than The Bastard Execuioner could be capable of.

The final scene, however, snaps us out of any kind of uncomfortable romance-coma. With some pressure from Lady Love, Wilkin agrees to keep on as torturer. “You cannot trade your life for another,” she tells him. They both say they’re doing it for the other, but they want to find the truth about themselves and one another. She nods at him gently as he prepares to draw and quarter the innocent man who is sacrificing his life for his family. They are a team now, both culpable for unjust death, both responsible for the future of Ventrishire.

Wilkin, Lady Love, and a crowd look on as an innocent man’s arms are ripped from his body and he quickly dies. Wilkin closes his eyes, and opens them again — his face, spattered with blood, takes on a look of resolve. His road to justice, to revenge, and to love is set out in front of him, and we can expect more bodies to scatter beside him — or, more accurately, them.

Nomad Goods

  • “You used his life as currency?” Wilkin and Lady Love react in disbelief to the Chamberlain that a man’s life is somehow a fair trade for forgiveness of debt. “Behold the Lamb” focuses on trade-offs, and the constant religious references — the sacrifice, the hypocrisy, the currency of life — underscore these themes.
  • “A mind that is open and a heart that is shut tight.” Lady Love recalls this was her grandfather’s requisite for leadership. “He was a very wise man,” Milus says. “He was a very sad man,” she replies. Trade-off.
  • Both Milus and Wilkin are presented as lambs in this episode. They are both victims and perpetrators, both claiming to be sacrificing for some noble goal. However, Lady Love holds the direction of the future: not vengeance or power, but justice and fairness are what she will sacrifice for.