This Knightfall review contains spoilers.
Knightfall Season 2 Episode 8
“I want them found, and I want them dead.”
Knightfall concludes its stellar sophomore season like a show that plans to return for another run at telling the complicated tale of the Templars’ final days. Yes, the writers reshape the historical record to fit the narrative, but in the end, “While I Breathe, I Trust the Cross” gives us exactly what we’ve wanted all along – Landry plunging a sword into King Philip’s chest. After last week’s grim reminder that man controls the darkness of his own heart, tonight’s season finale plot twist offers a glimmer of hope for both the order and the crown.
Heading into the final episode it certainly appears the Templars have been brought to their knees, and King Philip will finally obtain the vengeance he so desperately seeks after learning his best friend betrayed him with his wife. But Ann turns out to be much more resourceful than expected, and when Talus and the brothers from the Lazarus temple ride into the square as Landry and the others burn at the stake, it appears God has been listening after all and answers their prayers. The stunned facial expressions of the royal family, De Nogaret, and the Pope reveal multiple motivations reminding us that each has his or her personal agenda moving forward.
As the grizzled initiate master, Mark Hamill takes one last opportunity to leave an indelible mark on a show that held its own during the first season but clearly needed a narrative boost in its sophomore offering. Hamill and the re-energized storyline that focuses more on Philip’s animus toward Landry and the Templars provide a more introspective examination of the events that lead to the downfall of De Molay’s temple. However, that’s not to say Talus can’t hold his own with a sword in his hand, and when he leads an escape that includes carrying a wounded Rhone, the chance for one final heroic stand presents itself. Now, am I going to quibble with the fact that an old man, no matter how well trained and experienced he is, can dispatch of an entire squad from Philip’s army? Nope. Watching him walk away from the dead bodies he leaves littering the street is as good as it gets.
The finale also provides an opportunity for characters to find some measure of redemption, and none more so than Gawain who rejoins his brothers in this last stand against the king. The first of several annoying little snitches alerts the king to the presence of the Templars inside city walls, and though Philip orders an immediate lockdown of the city, it’s unlikely he believes that Landry and Tancrede will have stayed around. When they learn Philip has walled up their intended escape route from inside the temple, Gawain provides an alternative way out. Along the way they encounter Lydia, still chained by Louis, and free her. It’s never really made clear why Louis takes this step and keeps her restrained, so we can only surmise that her presences reminds him of the man he’s become – a man he’s come to detest.
Heroic acts abound in “While I Breathe, I Trust the Cross.” Gawain and Landry block the road so others can escape, Talus make his aforementioned last stand, and Sister Ann sees to it that the Lazarus temple rescues the brothers of Chartres. More puzzling though are the decisions that Prince Louis makes during the manhunt for the escaped Templars. After overriding his father’s orders by telling his men to leave him, it appears the prince sees Landry hiding in the shadows yet does nothing. At this stage, there’s no more conflicted character than Louis. Intellectually, he accepts the truth that his father murdered his mother and then went on to blame Landry, but to take a leap and truly confront Philip is a step he’s not yet willing to take. Does he allow Landry to escape knowing full well what the knight’s intentions are towards the king?
There’s no doubt that Louis has a long road towards absolution for his many heinous acts, not the least of which is murdering innocent men, women, and babies in an attempt to eliminate Joan’s child with Landry, but his steadfast belief in his wife’s honor at least moves him in the right direction. Knowing better than to challenge the prince at this point, Margaret’s guards allow him to chop his way into her cell where he finds her barely clinging to life after cutting her own wrists in a final act of desperation. We could argue he gets what he deserves, but at what cost, and it’s little comfort that Margaret dies knowing her husband believed in her loyalty to him.
Of all the innocents in this clash between the king and the church, Margaret arguably suffers the most. Isabella makes clear she loathes her future husband, the king of England, and attempts to delay her departure by offering her father help quelling the unrest in the city. It’s safe to say that many, in Isabella’s shoes, would have taken offense to Margaret’s somewhat condescending assurance that the princess would always have a place in the kingdom, but the punishment far exceeds what’s warranted. Perhaps she’ll change somewhere along the way, but Isabella’s borderline sociopathic response to her sister-in-law calls into question her royal fitness.
With chaos reigning throughout the city and its citizens on high alert, the king and Pope must now confront the events that just occurred. Clements is decidedly angry knowing full well he supported the wrong man in the king’s war with the Templars, but at this stage his only hope is to retain his position and do what he can mend the relationship between the church and the crown. Nevertheless, he minces no words with the monarch. “May God have mercy on your soul, Philip.” He’s through allowing the king to dictate the actions of the church, but it remains to be seen whether he can hold onto his position without the king’s support. Hopefully, for the Holy Father, King Louis will be more amenable to working with the church than against it.
Like the Pope, Philip berates himself for listening to De Nogaret’s plan to bring down the Templar order through legal means rather than simply annihilating them with his army. However, once he repeatedly punches his advisor in the face and then viciously kicks him in the ribs as he cowers on the floor, the king unknowingly seals his own fate by making the mistake so many others before him have made. He underestimates De Nogaret. But he’s lost all reason at this point even asking the Divine if his loss is retribution for actions against Him. “How have I offended Thee? How can I atone?” Really, dude?
Nevertheless, the plot only thickens for Philip as the Templars escape through secret tunnels under a house Landry and Joan used to meet during their affair. They plan to steal the royal ship and sail away to safety circumventing the king’s lockdown of the city, however, their escape doesn’t come without cost, nor does it unfold as we believe it will. Watching Ann take that first arrow to the chest as she’s about to board the ship is gut wrenching, and when Tancrede lifts her wounded body and carries it away to safety, there still seems to be a chance for these two to begin a new life together. As the arrows fly even more furiously towards these two, another painful decision arises and Landry sails away without his most loyal friend. It appears that Ann has died, but it’s not entirely clear whether or not Tancrede may survive this onslaught.
Landry has no choice but to sail away, and when Philip arrives too late at the docks, it appears the getaway is successful. De Nogaret’s suggestion that Philip employ mercenaries to hunt down Landry and the Templars only enrages the king more, but the table is merely being set for a showdown it appeared would have to wait or maybe even never take place. Having departed the ship, Landry appears to confront Philip once and for all, and the future of France hangs in the balance.
History has not announced whether Knightfall will return for a third season, but if this final sequence ends up closing the narrative, it’s difficult to feel unsatisfied. Landry now faces Philip, Louis, and De Nogaret and once the king recognizes that help will not arrive, he’s ready to face the man who was once his best friend. It seems reasonable to believe that he expects his son and advisor to step in if necessary, but that is not how things play out. “You should have been kinder to the women I loved,” Louis tells his father, firmly indicating on whose side he’s chosen to align himself. Was it the knowledge that his father murdered his mother or the awareness that the king ordered dozens of infants killed so that Louis’ half-sister would not survive, that pushes the prince over the edge?
Regardless, it’s entirely fitting that De Nogaret utters a phrase that at first appears to be an attempt to return himself to Philip’s favor, but of course, that’s not how things turn out. Certainly, it can be argued that De Nogaret merely attaches his sail to whichever direction the political winds appear to be blowing, but even he must understand that Philip has lost his moral compass. “Long live the king,” he tells those present and then leaves with Louis, the man he hopes to now offer diplomatic advice.
King and knight now face off amidst stolen Templar treasures and gold, and this time the fight unfolds as it logically should. “God has forsaken you,” Landry tells Philip just before he drives his steel into the king’s chest music swelling in the background. We’d like to think that Philip will allow Landry to leave to be with his daughter and will have learned the lessons his father’s mistakes have taught him. Will he insist Isabella follow through on her marriage to the king of England thereby strengthening his political position?
If “While I Breathe, I Trust the Cross” concludes our run with the Knights Templar and the king of France, then Knightfall has succeeded in its mission. We have been duly entertained with outstanding acting and compelling storylines, and if the series returns, that pesky Grail thread is still out there somewhere just begging to be revisited.