This Knightfall review contains spoilers.
Knightfall Episode 9
With apologies to Britney Spears, oops, they lost it again. Don’t get me wrong; I like Knightfall a lot, but playing hot potato with the Holy Grail every few weeks just rubs me the wrong way. That said, the penultimate “Fiat!” presents another side of King Philip that quite frankly has been a long time coming and features the welcome return of Brother Tancrede to the Templar fold after his earlier expulsion from the order. Much more than a set up episode, “Fiat!” lays the groundwork for a shakeup in the palace and a reckoning in the Papacy with confrontations that will have far reaching effects.
For a time, Knightfall tried to be all things to all viewers, but once it devoted less time to Landry and Joan’s illicit affair and more to the intrigue and subterfuge associated with the Grail, the narrative found its focus. Of course now that De Nogaret revealed to Philip the truth about the queen’s pregnancy, a new side of the king emerges, and it may be that the seeds of the Friday the 13th purge have been planted. It’s been difficult to watch Philip defer to Landry on a number of occasions, and now that he knows his friend has betrayed him, there’s a certain amount of satisfaction that goes along with his character’s change. Barely containing his contempt for Joan, Philip congratulates her on her success in Navarre and expresses his joy about their child, all the while seething about his wife’s duplicity. It’s both wonderful and cringe-inducing.
Though we’re meant to feel sorry for the queen as her world begins to fall in on her, Philip’s continued charade and Isabella’s spying on her mother as she composes a note for Landry make clear that innocents have been left in the wake of this relationship, and the tables are now beginning to turn. Philip’s insistence that Joan wear the dress she wore the night Landry convinced her to once again share Philip’s bed is brilliantly conceived, and there can be no denying she knows she’s been caught and has no option other than to allow the scene to play itself out.
However, this is a new Philip. And as difficult as it is to watch him parade around the severely beaten Sophie (Amelia Clarkson), and then brutally kick and punch her further, this transformation must be seen in all its graphic savagery. What did Joan expect would happen when her husband eventually learns the truth about her affair with Landry? “Did you think I would just let you leave?” he taunts her as she and Isabella carry the barely conscious young woman from the hall. On the one hand, it’s difficult to feel sorry for Joan, and since Sophie did play a role in the queen’s attempt to end her pregnancy, she bears some responsibility for how the situation progresses. Still, Philip’s rage is understandable, but it’s that final scene in which Isabella leaves her mother’s side and goes to hug her father, that clearly establishes on whose side she’s chosen to align herself. It’s difficult to say she’s wrong.
Should the king actually cast out the queen, Landry’s problems only intensify, as do those of the Templars. Philip has already welcomed back De Nogaret and at least partially funded a mercenary army that will undoubtedly lock horns with the Templars. But what of the star crossed couple? The dilemma Landry now faces certainly can’t be resolved in one episode, but it does create a situation in which he’ll be forced to choose between being with Joan and his child or following through with his mission to recover and protect the Holy Grail. It does not appear he can have both.
However, as gratifying as it is to see Philip finally learn the truth about Landry and Joan, the power of “Fiat!” lies in the added layers of intrigue surrounding the Grail. Tancrede returns with the first hint that the Grail “means more than you think,” and tells Landry that it predates Christ’s use of it at The Last Supper. As we see later, this revelation not only appears to be somewhat of a game changer, but also sets a path for season 2, should Knightfall gain a renewal. Badly needing a win and someone at his side that he can trust, it’s satisfying to see Landry welcome Tancrede back into the Templar circle even though the knight’s return does come with a caveat. The Saracens and Brotherhood of Light want Tancrede to take Godfrey’s place, a request to which Landry readily agrees setting up the ceremony in which Tancrede’s robes are returned to him.
Part of what makes Knightfall so compelling is watching the deeply flawed Landry make one well-intentioned decision after another, only for them to blow up in his face. So when he decides to expose what he views as the pope’s duplicitous role in the Grail mystery to Grandmaster De Molay, Landry must first face the other Templar knights. And while some choose to stay behind, the vast majority ride in support. “Their loyalty is a testament to your leadership,” Tancrede tells his friend who so badly needs to hear something positive.
The entire time we watch Landry plead his case about the pope and the Grail to De Molay, the hope is that the Grandmaster will take Landry at his word and pursue the matter. Then reality sets in and a feeling of dread washes over the scene as De Molay suggests letting Boniface have Europe while Landry returns to the Holy Land. Though it doesn’t bode well for Landry, it’s a nice touch to have the pope emerge from behind a door after the knight refuses to withdraw his accusations about Boniface. Watching Landry taken in chains for a trial we know will result in a sentence of death is moving yet obviously not unexpected.
Landry’s trial thus dramatically unfolds and raises questions that, although they may be addressed in the season finale, likely won’t be resolved until much later. The lines of questioning in this scene are handled deftly as the pope not only answers each of Landry’s accusations truthfully yet still manages to tighten the noose around the knight’s neck. Yes, the pope had Godfrey killed, in part because he brought about the fall of Acre, and yes, Landry has conspired to acquire the Grail even plotting with the Saracens to accomplish that goal. Interestingly though they have still not figured out the identity of the married woman carrying Landry’s child. The trial also reinforces the rift between Gawain and Landry, and after Landry is found guilty and excommunicated, the crippled knight appears to have won this round.
But in an episode whose lightning pace continues to increase as Tancrede systematically kills De Molay’s guards, the final twist materializes when Landry’s mother approaches the pope. An enigmatic figure ever since she entered the story, Landry’s mother pleads for his life, but there’s a catch. She has information about the Grail’s history and power that should the pope listen, he’ll want to spare her son’s life. And that’s exactly what occurs. What she tells Boniface remains a mystery, but it certainly sets up arguably the most intriguing storyline of the series. Unfortunately, Altani (Lourdes Faberes) swoops in while Tancrede’s busy killing guards, grabs the Grail and flees through an upper level window leaving the relic’s recovery still in play.
I’m not sure how I feel about the final blow Gawain deals Landry, but I have to wonder whether Landry will reevaluate his stance regarding the Grail as a means to heal injuries. Nonetheless, it’s a cowardly act, and though Landry has renewed support from those around him, it is a significant blow.
There’s no doubt Knightfall has endured some rocky moments during its freshman season, but like its protagonist Landry, the historical drama continues to make progress. Heading into next week’s season finale, “Fiat!” comes across as an episode of a show that knows it will return next winter to resume telling its story, and though season 1 will undoubtedly leave some threads hanging, it’s been an encouraging start.