This Knightfall review contains spoilers.
Knightfall Episode 5
“I do not repent.”
While Knightfall can’t seem to distance itself from the love triangle established in the series’ pilot, it nonetheless continues to build steadily on other more compelling tales of greed, lust, and honor. “Hard Blows Will Banish the Sin” picks up Isabella’s plea to her “uncle” at the end of last week’s episode and presents an elaborate scheme to end the proposed wedding to Prince Lluis and set France on a path chosen not by its king, but by William De Nogaret.
The relationship between De Nogaret and Princess Isabella has been teased throughout the first half of the season, and while it gives the impression that she sees him as the uncle to whom she can always count on to acquiesce to her desires, his view of her appears a bit more complicated. At times, it seems as if he views her somewhat lustily, while at others as the older, wiser confidant in whom she can confide. Manipulated to believe that Lluis disclosed their pre-marital encounter, Isabella’s direct involvement in the plot to cancel the wedding comes as a bit of a surprise. Of course, this brings England back into the picture which is exactly what De Nogaret wants, but the naive princess probably hasn’t thought far enough ahead to realize that she’s going to be promised to the man she fought to distance herself from in the first place.
As Philip gives his assembled army a motivational speech in anticipation of the coming war with England, De Nogaret’s intricate plot begins to unfold. Drawing the unsuspecting pope into the fray helps pull the audience into what appears to be a genuine conspiracy to kill King Philip and throw the kingdom into turmoil. When De Nogaret reacts violently to the poison he’s consumed, and then struggles to knock the queen’s cup out of her hand before she can drink, the tension begins to mount. However, even here, we wonder whether he’s poisoned himself, which is of course what turns out to be the truth. Still, this marks only the beginning of a string of events that lead ultimately to Isabella displaying a dark side that until now has remained hidden.
Advised to call off the wedding, Philip correctly believes that cancelling would show weakness, and instead moves the ceremony to the palace which is easier for the Templars to protect. The contrast of the upbeat wedding with the chaos that follows leads with precision to Isabella’s watershed moment. For her there is no going back because she has a direct hand in Lluis’ murder whether she wants to admit it or not. Yes, she feels betrayed by Lluis, but her childish overreaction and willingness to go to the extremes suggested by her “uncle” put her in an unenviable position. Obviously, she’s following De Nogaret’s orders, but his continued ambiguousness toward the princess remains one of Knightfall’s ongoing mysteries. Does he truly care for her, or merely see her as a pawn in the larger chess match? Regardless, that he obtains his desired outcome at the cost of Isabella’s hand in marriage, speaks to her naiveté. And while she may feel Lluis dealt her a blow, it will be nothing in comparison to what she faces in the near future.
The introduction of the mysterious assassin who employs the ultra destructive Greek Fire seems at first to be one intrigue too many, but when he turns out to be a she, and Altani (Lourdes Faberes) cuts the throat of the English ambassador, this sudden role reversal surprise opens up some fascinating possibilities. Though we see Adelina only briefly, her dogged pursuit of Roland continues a developing thread of female empowerment during an age when this type of behavior was by far the exception rather than the rule. Throw in Joan and Isabella, and we have a group of women determined to take control of their own destinies.
On a literal level the episode title refers to Tancrede’s refusal to repent for killing the captured Saracen, and while his insistence to stay true to his convictions is admirable, the fact that Landry doesn’t understand and accept his friend’s reasoning is a bit problematic. Understandably, they live by a strict code, but it seems unlikely that the other knights feel their brother deserves the punishment he’s receiving. So in the end, it’s no surprise that Landry feels torn that he’s doing the right thing. He’s basically a good man who makes questionable decisions.
After sharing her husband’s bed for several nights in a row, the queen’s smaller scale plan works to perfection. Philip muses that it might be time for them to have another child to which Joan responds, “We can only hope.” That he doesn’t pick up her ambiguous vibe isn’t all that surprising since she’s given him precisely what he wants. The problem with this storyline is that it can’t really go anywhere, and even Joan and Landry verbalize the dilemma they face and continue to delude themselves into thinking a happy ending awaits them right around the corner. “I’ll find a way for us to be together.” Really? You’ve broken your oath to God by sleeping with a woman who also happens to be your king’s wife. And to compound matters, you’re going to abandon your post as Master of the Temple to run away with the queen who will no doubt be pursued by her husband?
After the lovers’ confrontation, Joan goes to her husband, and Landry walks the street as his world continues to close in on him. But we’ve seen variations on this theme throughout the season, and when Philip pleads with Landry to “watch my wife,” the dialogue already feels tired. Thanking Landry for helping the queen see her way back to the king’s bed only adds to the scene’s failure, because we’ve been here before and don’t need to be continually reminded of Landry’s duplicity. “At the moment, you are the only one I can trust.” How does Landry sleep at night?
The Brotherhood of Light returns in the guise of the father of the murdered Saracen captive which makes for an interesting dilemma for Landry. Ostensibly, the father only wants his son’s body to give it a proper burial, but with everything else Landry has on his mind, he sees only what the man wants him to see. And in the end, Rashid takes Landry away with a hood over the master’s head.
In the short term, “Hard Blows Will Banish the Sin” pushes Isabella further into De Nogaret’s clutches, opening the way for her to follow in her tutor’s footsteps. But with only 10 episodes, and merely five of them remaining, the search for the Grail must remain a priority of Knightfall. Can Landry pull himself together and remember the promises he made to God when he joined the Templars? At some point he must decide which is more important to him, his vow to God or his promise to Joan.