In the penultimate episode of the first season of The Bastard Executioner, there is much that hangs in the balance, and it’s hard to imagine that one more episode will sufficiently tie up the story (and a second season has not been confirmed). In "The Bernadette Maneuver/Cynllwyn Bernadette," characters evolve and are revealed; alliances are forged and lives are at risk.
The episode opens as a group from Ventrishire is on its way to hunt down the exiled Piers Gaveston, who is hiding out in Deddington Monastery. (The Bastard Executioner continues to be a work of fiction with just enough history to whet the appetite for more research.) The opening scene involves Ash heavily flirting with a horse and cozying up to the prisoner twin (the one who hadn’t been tortured to death). He agrees to loosen her bindings if she promises not to run away, which, obviously, she immediately does.
At the end of the episode, the crew is heading back to Ventrishire, and her naked body — dismembered and put back together, just like the bodies earlier in the season — is lying in tall grass; Ash spots her and smiles. It appears as if Ash is the one who has dismembered the bodies. This is a somewhat stunning revelation since Ash is treated as a humorous relief. His bestial desires are played for a laugh, his looks are certainly made up to be mocked, and his dialogue in this episode is largely cringeworthy (he does mention that he will have wings someday). The title of this episode — “The Bernadette Maneuver” — refers to Ash’s clever use of a deer (the “lovely” Bernadette) to lure knights out of the monastery so they could swarm and capture Piers.
They are successful in their venture. Milus’s “cock-centric threats and actions” disturbingly serve him well, getting confessions from and revenge on those in his way. To get Aymer de Valence, the Earl of Pembroke (who was charged by Edward II with protecting Gaveston) to agree to sign that he was forced to give up Gaveston, Milus charges Wilkin and Toran with torturing his girlfriend in front of him. He promises that if they succeed in torturing her so that the Earl of Pembroke will turn over Gaveston, that they can have their revenge on Sir Locke and the Reeve. “Only you, Corbett,” Wilkin says, “would use death to buy pain.”
Certainly the title of the show suggests that we will be subjected to a certain amount of torture; our protagonist is a “punisher,” after all. However, perhaps we could go without quite so much gynecological torture (real or simulated). Just a thought. Here, Wilkin quietly promises his victim that he will simply pretend he’s torturing her, and she should scream and act as if he’s actually hurting her. The crowd comes in to witness; Wilkin reaches up her skirt in what looks like a bad medieval pap-smear appointment. “It’s not as precise as the pear,” he says. “But it will serve the same end.” Shakespeare would have loved that line. She screams, the Earl signs.
The Ordainers and Milus — serving as Lady Love’s proxy — hold “court” for a captured Gaveston, and Wilkin takes up the sword. Gaveston stays salty until the end, and spits out at Wilkin: “I do not regret loving someone above my status, even if this is the fate.” (Cut to: Jessamy asking Lady Love if it’s worth it to love Wilkin, a freeman so below her station. “Wilkin and I must decide if that challenge is worth the risk,” Lady Love answers.) Wilkin pauses, Toran stabs Gaveston in the back, and Wilkin slices off his head (kind of — it’s a rough cut).
Lady Love and Jessamy share some intimate moments in this episode, and it appears as if Jessamy has calmed greatly. “You are restrained because of your misguided rage,” Lady Love tells her, and gives her a proposal: If Jessamy acknowledges that Wilkin did not betray her since they are not married, then Lady Love will see to it that Jessamy and her children are always cared for and will be safe in Ventrishire. Jessamy agrees, but we’re not sure that she will hold to that agreement, especially if she finds out that Luca is missing.
Father Ruskin took Luca under his wing, but they were immediately sought out by Archdeacon Robinus (due to Annora’s errant lead) and captured. Luca is chained to a rock in the cave, and Ruskin has been beaten. The “warrior priest” explains that his choice to become a soldier was a “choice of an angry boy.” When “anger was replaced by remorse,” he chose to become a priest.
Robinus confronts Ruskin and asks to tell his side’s interpretation of history, since Ruskin had met with Annora and heard the Seraphim’s arguments for protecting the Nazarene gospels. Robinus says that the gospels must be destroyed; they would cause chaos if they become known. Ruskin challenges him, pointing out that the gospels aren’t heresy and the only chaos would be in the Pope’s chambers. Robinus seems to convince Ruskin, who agrees to take him to “the Healer and the scarred knight,” as long as the boy is left unharmed.
However, Ruskin has other plans. He’s left alone with a guard: “Did your master tell you what I did in the service of the king’s army?” he asks him. “He should have.” Ruskin comes up from behind and brutally slices his neck open, telling him, “I was an assassin.” Father Ruskin is one badass priest. He chops down everyone in his way, breaks the chains off Luca, and the two run out of the cave, only to be faced with dozens of knights, Robinus, and Sir Cormac. Ruskin can’t take them alone, but Lady Love knows Luca is missing, and sets Milus and his men out looking for them. This will promise to be at least one of the battles in the finale.
Lady Love and Wilkin have a brief scene together (complete with the requisite giggle n’ kiss). She tells him that Luca and the priest are missing, and he makes the connection that Ruskin was with Annora. He goes looking for her, and Annora admits that the priest and the boy are missing because of her. He’s filled with rage and mocks her “all-knowing” status if she’s the cause of Luca’s disappearance, and the “unforgiveable sins” that weigh Wilkin down.
“You are the devil, Annora of the Alders,” he yells at her as he walks away. “My son,” she cries, and he turns around and stares at her as the end credits begin to roll. As we suspected, Annora is his mother. Just imagine what Wilkin will do when he finds out it wasn’t the Reeve that killed Petra, but the Dark Mute (his father?). The finale has much to uncover and unpack. The end game of all the misplaced revenge and misguided rage will certainly come with a high body count.
Cherubim and Seraphim
• Robinus defends his position that the gospels are heresy and would cause chaos in the church: “Look in the eyes of your followers,” he says to Ruskin. “People are lost, driven by fear and fantasy; our church gives these simple believers a divinity they can understand. Money and influence are needed to provide that foundation.”
• When Milus delivers the cash reward to Lady Love after offing Gaveston, she says, “I’m in your debt.” He responds, “It’s my duty and my honor to serve you, Lady Love.” And we kind of believe him.
• Toran tells Wilkin that he feels more himself now that his life has turned “toward blood” instead of simply farming. At the end of the episode, when he sees Sir Locke smiling happily with his children, Toran looks full of pain. The revenge he’s been aching for will perhaps not be as sweet as he thought.
• Lady Love tells Jessamy that she has made the “choice of a good mother” when she agrees to release her claim to Wilkin. Annora wakes up to a breeze, realizing that the boy — an “innocent” — was taken by the Rosula (Luca, certainly, but perhaps she’s referring to Wilkin’s early years). Lady Love still pads her abdomen with wool to cover an empty womb. Their domains are largely inside — the feminine sphere of home, castle, cave — yet their influence and potential for influence has shaped the series thus far.