This Knightfall review contains spoilers.
Knightfall Episode 6
Now this is more like it. Knightfall has been slowly finding its footing during its freshman season, but tonight’s episode takes the show to a new level of excellence that will hopefully continue through to the finale. Focusing on Landry’s developing relationship with the Saracens and Isabella’s exposure of William De Nogaret, “The Pilgrimage of Chains” ramps up the political intrigue and brings the quest for the Holy Grail back to the narrative forefront.
Putting aside Queen Joan’s pregnancy for a moment allows the writers to focus on De Nogaret’s plot to control France’s fate, but just as we think we have a handle of what it is he’s attempting to do, the princess steps forward and turns this aspect of the story on its head. The public hanging scene ends up neatly bookending De Nogaret’s trip to the gallows in the episode’s final sequence and sets Isabella on her path of discovery that ultimately leads to her “uncle’s” unmasking. Watching her sickened at the sight of men hanging for something she did and then nearly admitting her involvement to her mother creates a tension that carries through until a rope is eventually placed around De Nogaret’s neck. Knightfall generally moves at a fairly brisk pace, and Isabella’s dramatic change in attitude that begins with Lluis’ murder reinforces De Nogaret’s assessment of her ability to rule both France and England someday. He just didn’t expect to see this side of her so soon.
The range of emotion displayed by Isabella (Sabrina Bartlett) stands out amidst a sea of compelling performances. Sickened at the hangings, she later tells De Nogary she’s not sure she can continue the ruse of mourning Lluis’ death, and he’s forced to buoy the spirits of the wavering princess. But it’s the ceremony in which De Nogary is knighted by Philip that provides the impetus for a series of events that change forever the landscape in the kingdom. Flirtatiously, she tells him to visit her later, that “I have something for you,” perhaps verifying the suspected attraction that has hovered over their relationship. We’ve noticed it, as has Malraux, even though De Nogaret takes offense at the suggestion.
What makes this thread so compelling centers around the fact that William De Nogaret is a man who manipulates kings and queens, who threatens the pope, and in the end, is brought crashing to earth by a teenage girl. While in his chambers, she discovers a false wall that leads to a hallway with access to the private bedrooms and meeting rooms in the palace. We could argue that once she finds the peepholes, specifically the one on her bedroom wall, that the leap connecting De Nogaret to the rumor that she’d slept with Lluis might be too great a one to make that quickly. And while that may be true, as a plot device that keeps the pace moving at a rapid level, it’s not only acceptable but warranted. Nevertheless, her return to the hall and instantaneous accusation reveal an angry and confident young woman who catches the master manipulator completely off guard.
Even though King Philip stands as France’s ruler, Knightfall has at times portrayed him as a man who allows others to unduly influence him to the point that it’s not unreasonable to view him as a weak ruler. When Isabella tells her father, “He tricked me into helping,” the king momentarily loses control and confronts the man that drew his daughter into a murder scheme. Though it’s fair to acknowledge that Philip literally has a free punch at De Nogaret, it’s still meaningful to watch him carry out the defense of his daughter’s honor. And when he barks, “Get this man out of my sight,” the narrative within the castle has been irrevocably altered.
After watching Philip remove De Nogaret from his sphere of influence, the princess’ indignation at his invasive behavior culminates in a jailhouse conversation. It’s not clear whether she seeks an apology or simply wants to humiliate him, but her child predator accusations drive home the reality that even if he avoids the hangman’s noose, his days among the Paris powerbrokers may have ended. And she will not let him off the hook. “Did you pleasure yourself while you were watching?” There’s a lot going on in Knightfall, but Princess Isabella certainly bears watching.
I don’t think anyone expected such an important character as De Nogaret to die with so much story yet to be told, but the look on his face does not reveal the fact that his uncle hangs close by ready to rescue him. It’s also worth considering that Philip might relent, spare his life, and exile him, but the king’s resolve remains solid. As much as we dislike this man, the getaway is brilliantly executed both by director Metin Hüseyin, and Malraux and his men.
On the surface Philip’s issues with De Nogaret seem fairly straightforward, however, Landry and the Saracens bring a complex chapter to the tale. Upon his return, he’s informed that they have captured Godfrey’s killer, a fact that momentarily sets him off. “Who sent you; where is the Grail?” he screams at the man while beating him to the point that the other knights must restrain him. Then when he goes to the still imprisoned Tancrede and tells him that “the time for repentance is past,” the hope is that his friend will be forgiven. Such is not the case, but even still, as the master expels him from the temple, we hold out hope that Landry has some greater plan that he’s keeping to himself.
But what of the Saracens? Landry’s encounter with them here is both fascinating and maddening as the truth of the situation unfolds. Though Rashid tells of a third group that seeks the Grail, it’s the revelation that Godfrey betrayed the temple at Acre that gives pause to the entire trail of events up to this point. The convoluted situation begins to make sense when Rashid tells Landry to deliver Tancrede, his son’s killer, in exchange for information to find the Grail. Suspecting that there must be something we’re not seeing here makes this encounter extremely engrossing. Landry’s emotional conflictions weigh heavily on him, and it must feel as if he’s being attacked from all sides. Is this why he sent Tancrede away?
In an episode with so many pivotal scenes, it’s difficult to hone in on just one as being the most significant, but when Landry refuses to produce “the murderer for the message,” the stakes continue to rise. Tancrede makes the situation easier for his friend, but there’s still some puzzling dialogue with which to contend. After emerging from the shadows, Tancrede tells Landry and Rashid that God may not want the Grail to be found because of the awesome power it holds. The revelation of this plot point implies a power heretofore unacknowledged. That the Grail holds healing powers has been documented earlier, but this is something else entirely and intensifies Landry’s quest because, now, in the wrong hands, the holy relic may be seen as a weapon rather than Christianity’s most important symbol.
Finally, the two knights seem to put the past behind them when Tancrede repents leading Rashid to keep his end of the bargain. “Go back to the place you first met Godfrey. It is there you will find what you seek.” Now it becomes a question of whether Landry will accept help from his brother knight. That Rashid pledges to serve the Templars once the Grail is found, while somewhat unexpected, doesn’t really do anything for Landry in the present.
It might be convenient to look at “The Pilgrimage of Chains” as a tale in which characters have been freed from prior restraints that inhibited them from reaching their true potentials, and while that might be true, it does so much more for the series as a whole. It’s not a reach to say that this marks the high point for the historical drama, and as Knightfall heads into its backstretch, the only problem lies in trying to do too much with too many loose plot threads. So far, the writers have done well balancing the different stories, and tonight’s episode is about as good as it gets.