This The Bastard Executioner review contains spoilers.
The Bastard Executioner: Season 1 Episode 4
It may be hard to tell with act breaks but “A Hunger/Newyn” is over 55 minutes long. A “normal” hour-long episode of basic cable TV is around 42-46 minutes. Why is “A Hunger/Newyn”, not a season premiere or finale, 55 minutes long? Is it so that we don’t miss any of the crucial, exhaustive details of Milus Corbett’s plan to turn Ventrisshire into a successful port town? Or maybe so that Ed Sheeran (yes, Ed-freaking-Sheeran) can really establish his character of “pious guy who gouges out eyes?”
The answer is that “A Hunger/Newyn” absolutely should not have the extra 10-15 minutes it does. The Bastard Executioner is slowly improving from its slow start in some ways but the thing that’s holding it back so far is that everyone involved seems to have no idea just how boring it really is. If “A Hunger/Newyn” were the “proper” length of the average TV drama episode, it might be a halfway decent transitional episode into the midway of a decent story. As it stands, however, it’s overstuffed and boring.
The most you can say for The Bastard Executioner is that at least some of the characters are establishing a baseline personality. That may seem like faint praise but turning 12-point font words on a Final Draft page into something resembling human beings is a pretty difficult feat.
Of course, our main character, Wilkin Brattle/Gawain Maddox, remains rather two-dimensional. His constant hallucinations/visions of his wife robs the series of a sense of loss and purpose. And his streak of “Doing the Right Thing” is admirable but boring. By the time Milus presents Wil with an opportunity to kill a corrupt man who is capable of exposing Wil as a fraud and Wil hesitates before it means saving his own friend’s lvies, Wil is pretty much lost as a dynamic, interesting character. And you know what? That’s fair enough. The lead moral compass shouldn’t be the most interesting character in a fantasy series.
Thankfully, Lady Love is established as a decent enough character to hang our hopes on. We found out last week that Lady Love is Welsh, adding an interesting context to the series’ proceedings. This series already have plenty of interesting context and subtext, however, what it was really missing was some, you know, text. And “A Hunger/Newyn” provides that, at least for Lady Love.
Love is sent off to meet with His Majesty the King to discuss the fate of her little Shire now that her husband, the Baron, is dead. This is a ploy from Milus to get the Baronness out of town so he can discuss zoning regulations with Baron Pryce.* Still, Love treats her mission with the utmost seriousness.
Unfortunately, the King does not treat her arrival with the same importance. Love and her handmaiden are kept in various rooms, cruelly left around delicious food that manners dictate they don’t eat while the King is perpetually busy. Finally, once the King is able to meet with her it’s in the dead of night while he drunkenly fires a flaming arrow at a pyre with his dumb frat bros. The reveal that the king is a teenage (yuck) French (double yuck) dummy is an interesting one. And it inspires confidence that all the various schemers’ schemes actually stand a chance under an ineffectual monarch. It also allows for Lady Love to really shine.
When the King’s equally French lackey comes to Lady Love with the King’s verdict that her lands be split among neighboring shires, Love springs into action. She lies that she is pregnant with the Baron’s heir. And lands with a royal heir presumably can’t be split up and traded to its neighbors like Pokemon cards. It’s a rare moment of competence and ingenuity and it’s downright cool.
The witch Annora is still lacking in her characterization but “A Hunger/Newyn” at least gives her plot a leg to stand on. The particulars are still cloudy but Annora seems involved with some kind of doomsday religious order. I did just make fun of the notion that Ed Sheeran is onscreen and plucks some schmuck’s eyes out –- still, that aforementioned schmuck is part of Annora’s crew, establishing that there’s a bigger world at foot.
The Bastard Executioner seems like it has some interesting scripts. Something is just getting lost in the translation from page to screen. And that something for now is excitement. The characters are slowly inching to something more interesting now the show, itself, needs to invest in being actually worth watching.
*Omg, Bastard Executioner, even the trade tariffs in The Phantom Menace think you’re boring.