TV Review: The Bastard Executioner


Airs: Tuesdays at 10pm EDT on FX

Review: Pilot episode (Warning: Heavy spoilers)

The Bastard Executioner is set in 14th century Wales.  Edward II (son of Edward Longshanks – a very familiar name) is on the English throne.  It is a time of brutal oppression of the Welsh.  Wilkin Brattle is an English knight, who is wounded in a battle against the Scots.  He is saved only by divine intervention; an angel tells him he is to live a different life and to “lay down the sword.”  Laying down the sword to Wilkin meant live as a farmer in Ventrishire Wales with a pregnant wife.  Oh yeah, Wilkin is also a highway bandit robbing the local baron’s tax collector.  Funny definition of “lay down the sword”.  The baron figures out who is robbing him and kills all the women and children of Wilkin’s village, burning it to the ground.  (Does this sound familiar?  Edward on the throne, feudal lords oppressing the peasants, high tariffs, murder of a soldier’s wife.)

Seeking vengeance, Wilkin lays a trap for the baron, and five minutes later the baron is dead (well that was anti-climatic).  Then a series of events occur that defy explanation.  First, Wilkin returns the baron to his Castle pretending to be an executioner – the real one was conscripted by the baron and was killed in the ambush.  Why?  “Hiding in plain sight?”  Were they really going to hunt him down?  They didn’t really know what he looked like.  They call his bluff and say the executioner’s wife is there – she identifies Wilkin as her husband, the executioner.  Why?  The executioner was indeed a bastard, but it is kind of in the job description.  Does she just want a father for her son?  She had no reason to lie.  (Maybe they explain it in episode two).  The baron’s advisor hires him on as the land’s executioner and voila – The Bastard Executioner.  Wilkin tries to say no, but is refused.  Would it draw too much suspicion to just leave?

The original baron appeared to be brutal for brutality’s sake.  He raised taxes on a fiefdom to piss off a minor lord despite the fact that the fiefdom has more soldiers – claiming that the lord is smart, not a warrior.  Wait, what?  He is smart and has more soldiers?  That sounds like a winning battle.  At least the baroness has a head on her shoulders, recognizing that oppressing the peasants too much will lead to revolt.

The Bastard Executioner is extremely violent and gory.  Its premise is nearly identical to Braveheart (though there are a few twists in there).  I loved Braveheart, but I’ve already seen it.  Multiple times.  Where it differs from the epic film, I didn’t like it.

WWYT Rating: 5.0

Nielsen Ratings: 0.8 – Solid ratings for cable, though I haven’t seen many good reviews, usually an ominous sign for future ratings.  50% of renewal.


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