This Knightfall review contains spoilers.
Knightfall Episode 2
Coming on the heels of its strong debut, Knightfall ratchets up the stakes with the introduction of several weighty subplots opening up an already tangled web that brings church and state into direct conflict with each other. “Find Us The Grail” gathers the Christian world’s heavy hitters in France amidst the search for the church’s most holy relic and the duplicitous maneuverings taking place within the palace.
While Tom Cullen’s portrayal of Master of the Temple Landry maintains its dominance in the tale thus far, King Philip’s adviser William De Nogaret (Julian Ovenden) has quickly taken over as the most compelling character in the palace. His unabashed Machiavellian attitude and refusal to bow down to anyone, including the pope, is deliciously devious. It seems that everyone within his sphere of reference understands the kind of man he is and power he holds, so when Pope Boniface (Jim Carter) spurns his advances regarding Princess Isabella’s potential suitors, it’s clear even the Holy Father isn’t fooled.
Nonetheless, at this point in the narrative, the competition between Catalonia and England to win the princess’s hand constitutes a more powerful story than even the search for the Grail. Watching De Nogaret and Boniface’s attempts at subtle intimidation underscores how different the pope’s role was at the time, but they each clearly stand to gain power, wealth, or both depending on who Isabella marries. Further illuminating De Nogaret’s insidious behavior is the personal relationship he enjoys with the princess who comes to him asking for his help in the selection process. What makes this thread so captivating is that the king and queen are at odds over making their daughter happy while the pope and the lawyer tangle with more far-reaching effects of the ultimate decision.
How depraved is De Nogaret? Even his top henchman balks at his boss’s order to kill Boniface, but this is no ordinary pope, and we get a handle on the visual language to be employed in Knightfall when the winning Catalonian ambassador sends the disappointed De Nogaret a gift meant to facilitate their working together in the future. Opening the chest, he finds the head of his assassin. Boniface, Isabella, and the queen have now gotten what they want, albeit for different reasons, but Philip’s right hand is not a man to take this lying down, and his final words to the pope resonate forcefully, putting Boniface on notice. “Wicked men always see the wicked in others.”
While the intrigue surrounding Isabella’s impending marriage to Catalonia’s Louis makes for a reasonably captivating plotline, the queen’s relationship with Landry borders on lunacy. So while Philip may be oblivious to their illicit affair, it’s seems incomprehensible that De Nogaret is in the dark. They’re a great looking couple and they seem to truly be in love which makes it easy to root for them. It’s just that pesky believability detail that gets in the way. Yes, she wears a hooded cloak enabling her to move about in public, but she’s not invisible.
And to add insult to injury, Philip unknowingly plays the innocent cuckold who counters his wife’s sexual refusal by asking a question to which we already know the answer. “Tell me there’s hope for us.” Certainly, he knows something’s amiss, so how long can his friend and wife successfully hide the truth from him? Of course, there’s also the matter of the money Philip owes to the Templars which further complicates the situation. The obvious danger here is that Knightfall falls prey to turning itself into a nighttime soap opera with swords, knights, and armor, but for the time being this love triangle holds the potential to unlock other more engaging storylines.
Aside from the literal meaning of the episode’s title, watching Landry attempt to juggle his responsibilities in addition to what turns out to be his most sacred duty, should make for some fascinating and painful viewing. That he’s fundamentally flawed doesn’t detract from that fact that he is essentially a good man living and working in an environment in which all possess foibles. “Find Us The Grail” also brings to light that Landry faces opposition from within, in the guise of his Templar brother Gawain whose leg injury now impedes his success in battle. Gawain complicates Landry’s decision to bench him when he reveals, “I hurt my leg saving you,” and admits that he should have let Landry die on the docks of Acre.
Now that we know of Gawain’s resentment over Landry’s decision, it comes as no surprise that the man who seems to be everywhere swoops in to manipulate the disgruntled knight. While the De Nogaret arcs hold the potential to drive the overall narrative in several directions, it’s his bold attitude that’s as easy to love as it is to hate. He tells Gawain in no uncertain terms that theirs will be a quid pro quo relationship, and the knight’s ultimate reaction holds the key to De Nogaret’s political successes.
Landry’s ability to cope with the burden of leadership runs across multiple threads, but his greatest challenge yet may be the annoying young farm boy Parsifal. Okay, I said it; I don’t like Parsifal. Let’s say for the sake of argument that I’m okay with the fact that this naive, untrained young man was able to successfully fight off the highwaymen when he came to Godfrey’s aid. Pushing it, but I’ll concede the point. Tonight, however, his refusal to adhere to any order or instruction given by Landry pushes him into an arena from which it’s going to be difficult to return. It was fairly obvious from the start that Godfrey would end up taking him on as a novitiate, but this looks to be a long and arduous journey for the master who has much more important things on his docket. There are enough potential potholes along the road without Parsifal complicating things further. Yes, I know he’s going to grow up, but still.
And perhaps most importantly, there’s the story of the missing Grail which now appears to be somewhere in France. Hopefully, Knightfall doesn’t become a Medieval National Treasure with Landry following one obscure clue after another, only to be foiled each time by his arch enemy who at this point looks to be the omnipresent De Nogaret. Understandably, the pope wants to keep this news a secret, and he too is intrigued with the message that Godfrey is trying send even in death.
There do seem to be a few troubling details beginning with the theft of Godfrey’s body from his original burial. We know Landry and the others eventually cut open the knight’s body and discover a key, but why would the thieves consider his body as the receptacle of a clue in the first place, and who else knows that the Grail is in France? Why doesn’t Godfrey simply tell someone what he knows about the Grail? On the other hand, how the Grail made it from the bottom of the harbor at Acre to France should make for some fascinating storytelling.
Still finding its footing, Knightfall makes progress with “Find Us The Grail” and establishes enough subplots to go along with the Grail mystery to keep viewers returning for more. There’s a lot of promise here, and as long as the focus remains on De Nogaret and Landry, all should be good.