This Knightfall review contains spoilers.
Knightfall Season 2 Episode 6
“Man plans; God laughs.”
Whether Knightfall returns for a third season doesn’t matter at this point. It’s true that other Templar outposts may weather Philip’s onslaught, but the series has always been about Landry and the king. While it does contain some emotionally contemplative scenes, “Blood Drenched Stone” finally sets into motion the war to bring down the Chartres temple and allow Philip some measure of revenge for Joan and Landry’s betrayal.
By its very nature, the eve of battle presents an opportunity for the combatants not only to prepare but to reflect as well, and though it’s brief, the stolen embrace and kiss that Tancrede and Sister Anne (Claire Cooper) enjoy reveals the depth of sacrifice made by those who enter holy orders. Cooper has been wonderful as a woman who’s devoted her life to God and fearlessly takes on the unexpected turn of events the brothers thrust upon her and the convent. She tells Tancrede that “I’ve been praying for us,” but it’s her request of Landry as he hands her baby Eve that evokes the episode’s most poignant moment. “Tell Tancrede that I love him.”
On the more pragmatic side, the Templars must decide whether to accede to Pope Clement’s request to submit themselves and answer the king’s accusations of heresy. It’s somewhat troublesome that Grand Master De Molay so easily gives in to this litany of lies perpetrated by Philip, and when Landry challenges the grand master’s decision, De Molay’s response is equally as puzzling. It’s not clear whether he surrenders out of a sense of duty to the king and Pope or that he feels this is a battle that cannot be won in the field, but either way, his decision to allow each brother to act on his own conscience speaks volumes about his lack of conviction in this moment.
Most puzzling and certainly most intriguing is Princess Isabella’s scheme to disgrace her sister-in-law Margaret. The princess has planned an intimate evening for the two women whose relationship has proven to be somewhat tenuous, and the future queen even senses there’s something more to this dinner than meets the eye. No matter how brief the sequence, Genevieve Gault’s Isabella exudes a subtle sensuality that dominates the moment, and here with Margaret, she delights in setting the stage with a series of lewd innuendos relating to the Coq au Vin on which they dine. It’s a fascinating study of a beautiful woman forced to comply with guidelines set in place by men, and now, as these same men occupy themselves with the approaching Templar conflict, Isabella sets out to scandalize Margaret. Her motivations remain unclear, but one thing that resonates profoundly is that she is a woman to be feared.
And while all of this takes place in the background, King Philip sets out to bring the Templars to their knees with an overwhelming force and two technological innovations. On the one hand, Philip’s continued rage is understandable given the circumstances that launched this campaign, but each time it seems impossible to hate him more, he commits yet another heinous act in the name of revenge. Looking old, tired, and out of his depth, De Molay reminds the king of the money he’s failed to repay the Templars, and when Philip merely scoffs, we have to wonder whether the grand master simply wants to end the conflict before it even starts.
Though the opportunity exists to visually present Philip’s army on grand scale in a protracted battle, we’re given instead a series of compact, well designed skirmishes that not only play to the Templar’s strengths against an overwhelming opponent, but to the episode’s as well. An explosive device placed at the temple gate does not generate enough power to breach the fortress, but after his initial shock at the potency of this previously unseen weapon, Landry spots the storehouse and has his best archer take it out with a well placed flaming arrow. This improbable sequence allows the brothers to take round one, but we know this is the beginning of the end.
Landry understands that if they’re to have even the slightest chance to escape with their lives, the brothers must take the fight to Philip’s army. Even though Gawain is relieved of command before the march on Chartres, it seems unlikely that he would fail to urge the king and De Nogaret to protect the siege tower from a similar fate, and the Templars’ guerilla tactics momentarily buy them some time. Though Landry really has few choices at this point, the flaw in his plan stems from Philip’s willingness to torture the prisoners his men take and the information about the sally port these young brothers eventually surrender. Vasant’s admission to Landry reinforces what he already knows about those who stayed to fight. They have proven themselves to be loyal soldiers of Christ, and despite any misgivings about events that led them to this point in time, “You do belong here.” Should they make it out of here alive, there’s no question who the next grand master should be.
Not to be ignored amidst the chaos inside the palace and on the battlefield is Prince Louis’ embattled psyche as the young man struggles with his inability to father an heir with Margaret and the knowledge that his father may, in fact, have murdered his mother, the queen. Having come up short in his quest to kill Landry, Louis faces an unforgiving father who conveniently seems to forget the warrior skill set of his son’s opponent, but the lie he tells the king discloses an interesting possibility. Does Louis lie about killing Landry’s daughter to protect his own half-sister or to protect himself from incurring his father’s ire? He tells his father that “I will see the wretch who murdered my mother pay for his awful crimes,” and the possibility now exists that son will confront father for the crown of France.
Nevertheless, we must endure one of television’s more maddening tropes as Landry dramatically leaps from the battlement and knocks Philip off his horse initiating a sword fight that by all rights should resolve itself quickly with the king’s dead body lying on the field. Stirring music follows Landry as he’s about to plunge his sword into Philip’s chest, only to be stopped by Louis who deflects the attempt allowing his father the chance to register a kill shot. His sword at Landry’s throat, the king demands surrender, and against their leader’s plea to continue the fight, Tancrede and the others throw down their swords apparently hoping the brothers will receive a fair hearing from the king and the Pope.
It can be argued that Philip decides that making a martyr of Landry runs counter to what he’s attempting to achieve, but it seems unlikely the king thinks in those terms in this situation. More to the point, would Landry’s death in battle really engender that level of reverence anyway? Philip has the chance to kill Landry and he wavers. It makes no sense, just as the king’s ability to hold his own against his tutor seems dubious as well. Still, despite these minor troublespots, there’s a lot to like in “Blood Drenched Stone.”
Knightfall continues its strong sophomore season with an episode that gives the king the upper hand against a man who ruined his marriage and an order that threatens the financial viability of his kingdom. And despite their current secondary royal roles, Louis and Isabella hold intriguing keys to the narrative as we head into tale’s final phase.