We meet the dead man about a third of the way through The Bastard Executioner’s second episode, “Effigy / Delw”: a bloated corpse festering amid scores of wolf carcasses in the Southern Chasms of Middle Ventrishire. With severed arms where his legs should be and legs for arms, he is not the person for whom the search party has been trawling the dark forest. That would be Ash, a.k.a. the feral orphan with The Worst Teeth in All of Wales™, whose unexplained absence has left the rebel revenge-seekers Calo, Pritchard, and Berber the Moor thoroughly spooked.
But given a quiet five minutes with the body, Annora begins working her freaky magic. The healer-witch pours ointment over a chest wound and soon is yanking a thin black snake with a pair of telltale red stripes out of the dead guy’s mouth.
That image — something bilious and deadly issuing forth through an open mouth — supplies a trenchant enough metaphor for the episode. In “Effigy / Delw,” lies beget misunderstandings leading to larger corruptions that result in no small amount of death and dismemberment including at least two severed noses.
In the time since Brattle’s Talented Mr. Ripley-style adoption of Gawain Maddox’s identity, he has faced a pile-on of existential crises. For starters, the punisher’s wife (Sarah Sweeney) seems barely in touch with who he really is. Reminded she doesn’t have to keep up the “farce” of his secret in private, Jessamy demurs. “I’ve known you since I was 9, husband,” she tells him. “You are my husband and I love you deeply. Is that not the truth?” Um, what?!
But more conflicting, Brattle’s ruse in pursuit of revenge on The Guilty — the “noble savages” who torched his village, but who, unbeknownst to him, did NOT disembowel Petra and kill his unborn son — has compelled the character to take up arms against fellow rebels. Early in the episode, a band of youths with painted faces attacks a convoy bearing a funereal effigy of Baron Ventris. Nia, a 15-year-old firebrand is captured after accidentally smashing the statue. And Brattle is brought in to perform what’s known among Guantanamo Bay circles as “enhanced interrogation techniques” to get her to divulge her identity and betray the rebellion.
Here is the punisher’s problem: to maintain his lie, he must place himself at odds with people very much like himself, earnest shire folk lashing out against Baronial oppression.
For her part, the Baroness is dead-set against Brattle/Maddox’s fingernail pulling. Revealed as the “daughter of a beloved Welsh lord,” a woman of the people whose headstrong behavior belies her “to the manor born” pedigree, Lady Love blanches at the use of torture and seems clearly befuddled by the rebellion fomenting against her.
Viewed within Bastard Executioner’s refracting funhouse mirrors of self-delusion, subterfuge, and hidden identity upon hidden identity, you have to wonder, though: Is Lady Love capable of being honest with herself? After years of living in a grand house and dressing in silken finery as a kept woman, she has inherited a powerful station thanks to her husband’s death. Can the character really be so willfully naive as to believe a baroness could retain her spot on the totem pole without a heavy hand governing her fiefdoms?
In an effort to meet the leader of the Welsh rebellion, a mysterious individual known as The Wolf, Lady Love tells Nia’s recalcitrant fisher-woman mum: “I want to understand his need for revolution. What inspires him. Perhaps find a peaceful solution.” You can practically hear all of Ventrishire doing a spit take.
NEXT: More character secrets revealed