The Bastard Executioner
“Jesus, son of Joseph. One testament, one author.” When Annora says this to Father Ruskin, he says, “If these are truly his words, the very foundation of all I believe …” and she interrupts him to say, “Is shattered.” Ruskin has read the Nazarene Gospel three times (three times, of course), and is left with more questions than answers. Annora tells him, “We are the Seraphim, the ones chosen to protect that Nazarene.” Judging from Ruskin’s reaction, Jesus’ own words run counter to the church’s teachings.
She goes on to tell Ruskin that the Knights of the Rosebud/Rosula (Archdeacon Robinus and his men) are the direct descendants of the soldiers who crucified Jesus, and believe that when Jesus rose from the dead and walked out of the tomb, he immediately pardoned the guilty soldiers and appointed them to be in charge of his sacred words. They believe they have the power to destroy “anything or anyone that might prove a threat to that story.”
The truth of the Nazarene Gospel, she says, is why Robinus is after them. Ruskin is hesitant and doesn’t fully understand his role. “We need a warrior,” Annora tells him, and his mysterious past, strong grip, and scarred face remind us that he’s probably up for the job. Annora and the Dark Mute are not — as many believed — acting out of Pagan belief or ritual. They are instead protecting the Word from the Archdeacon’s Knights of the Rosula, who seek to destroy any version of Jesus that does not fit with their own.
When the Archdeacon’s knights swarm their cave, they are met with venomous snakes (“Templar traps!”) and a booby trap, complete with a stabbing sword and an overhead organ full of flammable material that drops into and ignites the bubbling cauldron of oil. The surviving men run out of the cave in flames (serpents, caves, fire — so Pagan, but so Christian). Robinus says, “Devils” — referring to Annora and the Dark Mute, of course, but the audience knows better.
The Dark Mute is speaking more. He and Annora flee to a new hiding spot near the sea. He tells her that the Rosula knew the priest came to them, so now they’ll go after the priest. She knows. And they do. Robinus sets his watchman to look for Ruskin and a young boy in his care. Perhaps they have some knowledge that their true enemy is a “bastard” child in the care of a former warrior. Perhaps they’re a few years too late, and that child is Wilkin Brattle and the father is the Dark Mute (another flashback hints at this). However, for now, poor Luca has been taken under Ruskin’s wing, and by the end of the episode, he’s being sacked by one of Robinus’s henchmen.
The Dark Mute — in all his Templar glory — shows his prowess in battle. We see him kneel in front of a swarm of nomads who have approached on horseback, ready to kill. Cut to Annora having flashbacks of battle, and cut back to the beach, a circle of slain men surrounding the Dark Mute, again kneeling. He sheaths his sword, lets out a sigh, and gets back to life as usual. The first-generation knights — the Dark Mute and Father Ruskin — are set to make an enormous impact in the last two episodes. The story line suggests that what they fight for is much deeper than land grabs or vengeance.
Lady Love and Chamberlain Milus Corbett appear to be working toward similar goals (although he’s still certainly more fond of torture and bloodshed than she is). Edward II’s reckless ways have led to a group of Ordainers taking charge and working behind his back to regain order and tie up his purse strings. If Ventrishire steps up to combine efforts (provide military power and access to the sea), they will have both a seat at the table and assurance that Ventrishire will not be broken up. They all are attempting to avoid civil war.
Another pressing order of business is yet another decree banishing the wayward Piers Gaveston. Third time’s a charm. If Ventrishire helps capture Gaveston, Lady Love is promised a healthy compensation. She asks for more: If her men deliver Gaveston, she wants to be able to handle the rebellion (at the hands of her brother, the Wolf) as she sees fit. “Blood for blood serves neither God nor country,” she says. Lady Love for president.
Milus has a personal beef with Gaveston — seeing as he shamed him in a naked and vulnerable moment — so he immediately springs into action. He calls the twins to his chamber (a consolation gift from Edward, or half-sister spies delivered by Gaveston). He lies to them and says that Gaveston’s been found, and barons are on their way to kill him. The twins quickly pack up to leave, and just as fast, they’re locked in the torture chamber. Since Wilkin and Toran are busy at the seashore — meeting with Annora and fending off vengeful nomads — the Reeve is charged with the role of torturer. Milus chooses the victim based on gynecological assault (and language so foul the Bard would grin), and sentences one to the “cradle” (referencing a Judas cradle, but the device — and its date of use — more closely resembles a wooden horse).
The Reeve, shaken and disgusted, gets the information shortly before she dies from the torture. Gaveston sought refuge with the Earl of Pembroke at a monastery. By the end of the episode, Ventrishire’s knights — and “Gawain the Punisher” — are setting off to find him. If Gaveston is captured and Ventrishire holds up its side of the bargain with the Ordainers, Lady Love, Milus, Ventrishire, and the Rebels are set to live happily ever after without the need for Lady Love’s woolen stomach bump to be transformed into something real. Of course, nothing’s that simple.
And, of course, that is if Jessamy doesn’t burn down Ventrishire first. Lady Love decides to ignore the words of warning she gets from Isabel and Milus against spending so much time with Wilkin; she invites him to see her in her family’s tomb (her “lineage,” suggesting the two of them might create a new generation). She tells him her pregnancy is a lie, and they finally kiss. Jessamy — poor Jessamy — comes in screaming. Her dress rips, we see her terrible scars from years of abuse. She thought some stroke of fortune brought her a husband that she deserved after so many years of suffering, but no. Father Ruskin tends to her (with an “Irish tonic” that puts her to sleep), and Isabel holds the baby as Lady Love gently covers her — a room of women doing what they need to do to survive. For a moment, they look like allies. It’s unlikely to stay that way.
• The Bastard Executioner really becomes quite good when one watches it through the lens of classic drama. The dialogue at first seems overwrought to our modern minimalistic sensibilities. However, the acting and the writing fit perfectly into the genre where they belong — the medieval Shakespearean drama — and it’s feeling more and more like a show that could succeed beyond a first season if it gets the chance.
• Annora explains the Dark Mute’s burns as being the result of “a fire set by the very men he took a sworn oath to protect and honor,” further pointing toward him being one of the Templar Knights who was burned as punishment in the early 1300s.
• Secrecy is a continued theme in The Bastard Executioner: Wilkin tells Annora that he and Lady Love have divulged their secrets, and she says that their love will come to light when there are no more secrets. She jokes that she and the Dark Mute are so old, their secrets are simply things they’ve forgotten.
• Berber the Moor’s fellow scribe, Aiden, is Jewish, and Berber accidentally steps in on him mid-prayer (at this point in history, Jews were strictly forbidden from even being in England, much less practicing their religion). Berber assures him that his devotion is between him and his God (as we know, Berber, a Muslim, also must practice in secret). “This secret doesn’t hold us,” Aiden says. “Secrets never do,” Berber replies, reminding us that all of the secrets in the world cannot bind two people — a realistic contrast to Annora’s romantic notion of secrets and love.
• The repetitive boys’ choir version of “Kyrie-eleison” (“Lord Have Mercy”) takes on a different tone than last episode’s “Agnus Dei” (“Lamb of God”). Less innocent, less hopeful, “Lord Have Mercy” suggests an increased desire for mercy in the space between those who want to protect the Word and those who want to destroy the Word.