The Bastard Executioner
It’s time for the Baroness to get busy.
In the fourth episode of The Bastard Executioner (“A Hunger/Newyn,” newyn being Welsh for “famine/hunger”), Lady Love makes the long journey to Windsor Castle to meet with Edward II. She’s confident she is there to be counseled in her leadership of her shire, and while she is nervous, she has clear plans and goals for Ventrishire. Her father and grandfather built the shire; she married Erik Ventris — the late Baron — with the agreement that her family would have safe passage to Scotland and her castle would be given to an heir.
Piers Gaveston (Earl of Cornwall and probable lover of Edward II) greets Lady Love, and in a smarmy, bad French accent, insults her clothing and makes her wait hours for a king who is distracted with the 14th-century version of playing Halo in his late father’s mansion. “A Hunger/Newyn” flirts more with historical accuracy, as King Edward II is portrayed as an irresponsible man-child and Gaveston pulls all of the strings. “The only agreements that matter,” he says to Lady Love, “are the ones you make now.”
His agreement about what is to come of Ventrishire is no agreement, though. It’s an order. He tells her that Ventrishire will be divided into thirds: two shires will be divided and given to neighboring shires, and the third — the coastal area with her family castle — will be under his authority. He sneers, revealing his yellowed teeth.
Back in Ventrishire, Chamberlain Milus is plotting for the future on his own, using Lady Love’s absence to his advantage. He invited Baron Pryce of Pryceshire and Chamberlain Dyer to Ventrishire under the guise that the Baroness invited them (she, of course, has been traveling to Windsor for the past week). Milus presents Pryce with his plans for the future of Ventrishire, a place with great debt and few resources. They will get rid of the beach and build a seaport, and the shire would earn tariffs. When Pryce questions why on earth he would lend Ventrishire anything after the “abusive taxation from your now-deceased Baron,” Milus says, “This shire would be yours.”
Milus’s plan is that Baroness Pryce will soon die of consumption (we met her in the first episode, and her future does seem grim), and Baron Pryce will marry Lady Love. Milus assures Pryce that Lady Love will do “anything” to keep her land, and that Pryce’s “good looks and charm would be enough to sway any woman” (cut to Pryce’s brown, fuzzy teeth and greasy hair).
It is the early 1300s, and the strongest leader from the Welsh seashore to Windsor Castle is a young woman who is now faced with two choices to keep her land and any semblance of power: produce an heir, or marry an appointed noble. Milus’s plan is to marry her off; Gaveston’s plan is to break apart her shire and control her family’s castle. In The Bastard Executioner, evil men are made obvious by their disgusting teeth.
When Gaveston tells Lady Love of his plans, he tells her to take the gold dress that he gave her as a gift (the king “loves gold things,” so she was made to dress up for him). She quickly responds that the dress will be of no use. “I am with heir,” she says, “a blessed gift from my departed husband.” She caresses her empty abdomen and says that she came to announce it to the king. She spits out, “Au revoir,” and walks away.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and if the previews for next week are any indication, Lady Love will be looking for some sexual healing from the town punisher with the hope of an heir to follow. All things considered, this sounds like — hopefully — a pleasurable way to gain control.
Milus has more than a consumption-addled Baroness Pryce between him and his grand plan. In a brief moment of lucidity, Jessamy tells Wilkin that their family had recently stayed in Pryceshire; they left after Gawain wasn’t being paid fairly. She tells him that Pryce’s Chamberlain had employed him. Milus assures Wilkin that he will not let his real identity be revealed. “Do not forget, you have as much to lose in this as I do,” Wilkin reminds him.
Using this revelation to his advantage, Milus points out to Dyer that Wilkin is a traveling executioner who recently had worked in Pryceshire. Dyer confronts Wilkin in his torture chamber, Milus tells Wilkin he must kill him (making it look accidental) since he is the one who knows his secret. A drumstick down the throat later, Dyer is disposed of and Wilkin feels his identity is safe. And how convenient: Milus will have no competition to be Baron Pryce’s new Chamberlain.
Milus has the Reeve (who comes dangerously close to the edge of Wilkin’s blade — the necklace catches Wilkin’s eye and makes him lose all control, even though we know it’s Petra’s, but the Reeve spared her life) round up Berber the Moor, Ash y Goedwig, and Calo Cain to be imprisoned. Wilkin is coming dangerously close to having absolutely nothing to lose; however, his connection to his “son” Luca is getting closer and more endearing.
Wilkin’s friends are imprisoned after being accused of murder: The dead body of a man had been found — a ritualistic murder we recognize from the last episode. Arms and legs chopped off and traded, three lines carved in his chest, a triangular moat of blood surrounding the body. Milus certainly doesn’t want the impression that “Satan dances at our gates,” and imprisoning Wilkin’s friends is another opportunity to position himself with power over Wilkin.
But back to Satan. While the politics of this episode are setting us up for an entertaining journey — with enough historical references woven in to keep things interesting — the religious mysticism is again the highlight of the show. The episode opens with an altercation at the River Thames in Windsor. A caped man fleeing capture tries to set fire to a scroll. “The Rosula holds no god,” he cries, and the captor replies, “And the Seraphim hold too many.” His exposed back tattoo — intricate angel wings — fades to Annora’s tattooed back. She looks at the tree and stars on a large hide (the image mirroring what was on the Seraphim’s scroll), and makes the sign of the cross and says, “Please, protect him.”
The religious mysteries of this world are slowly being solved. The Knights of the Rosula Catacombs are beneath Windsor Castle; the Archdeacon of Windsor appears above ground as a humble, pious servant of God. He’s a crusader, though, against the Seraphim, ordering torture to get information about the religious sect so he can translate the sacred texts. The scrolls and tattoos he’s confiscated, however, are written in unique languages of Aramaic origin. He orders torture via his henchmen — including Ed Sheeran as Sir Cormac. The captured Seraphim, Tobias, hangs from his arms, his eyes removed and blood flowing down his body. He refuses to speak, though, so the Archdeacon orders his lead henchmen to give Tobias the same “fate as the others.” His arms are chopped off, left hanging, and his incomplete, blood-soaked body is dragged across the floor.
This dismemberment would suggest that the bodies left in fields to resemble a Satanic ritual are actually placed by the Knights of the Rosula. As the Archdeacon sits at his desk, gazing at the tattooed hides of humans — Seraphims, like Tobias and Annora — we know the story is just beginning. Sir Cormac does some research, and finds where Tobias might have been headed; Ventrishire is on the list. Annora — gazing at her own hide (animal, not human) — crosses off one of the stars, and again makes the sign of the cross; another Seraphim is killed.
Sutter’s works feel heavily influenced by Shakespeare. Since The Bastard Executioner is reaching its halfway point — climbing to the climax of the third act — we find ourselves more invested in the characters, the politics, the mysticism, and the treachery. While The Bastard Executioner started out a bit heavy on exposition (and still suffers from bad accents), Sutter’s literary artistry is beginning to take hold again.
Holy, Holy, Holy
- In Medieval Christianity, Seraphs were seen as “fiery” angels — bright, clear, and close to God.
- Rosula is Latin for” rose/rosette.” According to Freemasonry and the Ancient Gods, “On St. John the Baptist’s Day, 1314, Bruce routed Edward II, and, according to the Royal Order of Scotland, conferred the rank of Knights of the Rosy Cross on those ‘Masons’ who had so valiantly helped him … the Masons were really Templars.”
- Lee Jones is increasingly convincing and sympathetic in his role as Wilkin. His concern and compassion for Jessamy, who is delusional and abusive (caught in a cycle of abuse that Gaiwan perpetuated), and his love and care for Luca are pushing him into a role that feels much richer than it did in the pilot.
- The theme song, “King of the Kings,” by Ed Sheeran. The opening credits pan over bloody torture devices and religious iconography — a Bible, a rosary, a cross of thrones, and Virgin Mary statues are juxtaposed with a Judas Chair, coffin torture device, head-crusher, rack, and guillotine. Accompanied by Sheeran’s liltingvocals — the lyrics ask the “King of king” if he feels “any pain” — the opening credits give clear context to a show that is concerned with internal, political, and religious conflict.