The Bastard Executioner recap: Blood and Quiescence / Crau a Chwsg
A finale full of unorthodox forgiveness leaves us knowing little more about the titular character than when it all began.
Leading up to the 10th and final episode of season one, viewers were treated to a series of inconvenient truths from across the cast of characters. Father Ruskin was unmasked as a former assassin. Gaveston was outed as King Edward’s lover. Ash was revealed as a deranged serial killer (albeit one with The Worst Teeth in All of Wales™). And Annora quietly called Brattle “son,” throwing her moral calculus — as the ultimate agent of his wife and unborn child’s murders — even further into the shadows.
The season finale Tuesday, therefore, had a tall order to fill. With the certainty of Welsh gloom settling across the marshland, Brattle, Corbett et al would head off on a search-and-rescue mission for Ruskin and Lucca. And their rag-tag band of Ventrishire badasses would face off against Arch Deacon Robinus, Sir Cormac, and several legions of the Knights of Rosula along the way.
But this was also supposed to be the Bastard installment where we got to understand Brattle’s creation myth. Sure, we knew him as a fake barley farmer, an existentially conflicted punisher, a playing-it-cool/not-really-interested in Lady Love family man, and substitute dad-come-crappy-husband to Jessamy. But outside Brattle’s knightly past and tendency to have luminous visions of angels and babies, we hardly know the guy or what psychological baggage compelled his meandering attempt at revenge.
First, the Annora’s son thing. Given how she was shown in flagrante delicto with the Dark Mute as far back as the pilot, I was half expecting Kurt Sutter’s onscreen alter ego to be revealed as Brattle’s baby daddy. Instead, viewers received a subjective reading of the Book of Nazarenes as an ancient document that casts doubt on the Catholic Church’s most sacred teachings. Annora explains to Brattle how Jesus was a man through whom God spoke — not God’s son — and the Church was only built out of greed. Further, Annora carries the lineage of the Nazarenes in her bloodline. And by extension, we should presume her next of kin does too. But we get no more details about the Brattle-Annora mommy and me dynamic.
The Knights of Rosula have been thinning the ranks of the Seraphim for some time and a climactic battle with them is inevitable. But Ruskin refuses Sir Cormac’s “priest to priest” entreaty to tell them where Annora is hiding. In the end, Lucca spills the beans on her spider hole in the coastal briars but also that his “father” — Brattle/Maddox — is in cahoots with the witch.
Corbett, for his part, is none too enthused about committing the necessary manpower and risking his life to save a tween and a grizzled man of the cloth. But Lady Love butters him up by calling Milus a “valuable chamberlain” and promises to consider a marriage of convenience to Baron Pryce if Corbett green-lights the search and rescue. “In spite of your aggressive, illicit, often secretive tactics, I’m quite fond of you,” the Baroness tells him.
In the meantime, some surprising amends are being made. With Corbett having basically okayed the revenge killings of Leon and Locke, Pritchard makes a move on the latter while the knight is watering the pigs. At sword point, Pritchard identifies himself, explains his beef and asks if Locke wants to plead for mercy. “Make haste with your vengeance, I’ve earned no mercy,” Locke replies.
This “whatevs” response confounds the rebel’s sense of honor so he allows the doomed man a fighting chance. There’s an axe-versus-sword fight. And in the end, Locke emerges on top with sword point to Pritchard’s Adam’s Apple and asks him, in return, if he wants to plead for mercy. “This is most fitting that you be the one to deliver me to my loving wife and boy,” Pritchard replies.
And at a moment where the show would usually, reflexively showcase torrents of arterial blood, the two characters instead acknowledge each other’s humanity. Not only does Locke not kill Pritchard, he promises to keep his secret identity to himself — along with Brattle’s for good measure! “You and the punisher have earned your place here,” the knight says in a gesture as close to bromance as Bastard Executioner has so far come.
On the heels of heavy sedation, crazy Jessamy gets loose from her shackles, goes looking for Lucca, freaks out at the sight of the Mute and accidentally barges in on a meeting where Lady Love and Brattle happen to occupy the same room. Naturally, Jessamy picks up a hammer and lunges at the Baroness only to be cold-cocked unconscious by Corbett.
NEXT: The mother of all beachside sword fights
But even semi-psychotic freakouts have consequences in 14th century Wales and Jessamy is sentenced to death for stepping to her ladyship intent on grievous bodily harm. Strung up in the dungeon, however, Mrs. Maddox lets spill that the punisher is not who he claims to be. And when Leon calls Brattle on his subterfuge, he explains the whole schmear: his past employ as a knight for Erik Ventris, his accusation that the Reeve killed his unborn child and wife, and that Leon wearing Petra’s cross necklace stands as an affront to everything Brattle holds dear.
Over the course of an energetic sword fight, however, Leon explains he was ordered to kill her but didn’t. And the necklace shouldn’t be taken at face value. “I wear this not as plunder but as reminder: God before crown,” Leon says.
On the heels of yet another vision – Jessamy transforms momentarily into an angel inside her dungeon cage — Brattle spares the man he swore to kill. It’s a second instance of unorthodox forgiveness in a series for which the pursuit of revenge has functioned as primary directive.
In the spirit of reconciliation and honesty, Lady Love calls Wilkin “Sir Brattle” now and is coming pretty close to acknowledging their thing for each other in public. He promises he’ll come back to her after rescuing Ruskin and Lucca — almost exactly like he promised Petra he’d come back and we remember how that worked out. But just before the heroes set off, Leon and Locke volunteer for the mission too. Brattle gives them the thumbs up. And in a symbolic gesture of goodwill, Leon hands over Petra’s necklace.
I couldn’t help doubting Corbett’s purity of motive in this scene. The potential of saving Ventrishire from financial ruin didn’t seem to have enough upside for his personal investment. It seemed a little off-brand for the character but he was doing it anyway.
Outnumbered by more than a legion of Rosula knights, the rescuers head for a date with destiny that seems more like a suicide mission. But along the way, they meet up with the Wolf who pledges the help of — you guessed it — nearly a legion of his rebel bushwhackers. “His loyalty may be to country but his honor is no different than ours,” Pritchard notes, which just about surmises this lions-laying-down-with-lambs era of Bastard Executioner.
The 90-minute episode’s last half hour begins with the mother of all beachside sword fights. The Mute, dressed in his Knight Templar gear, instructs the heroes to dismount from their horses, proceeds to douse himself in oil, then sets himself alight. He certainly looks pretty cool killing everybody in sight with three-quarters of his body engulfed in flames but ends up flopping down face first on the beach like a peace of charcoal (somewhere across Ventrishire, Annora stops playing the harpsichord to acknowledge the Mute passing from this realm…).
The feral orphan Ash is shown manically stabbing people with a nifty little dagger. Brattle swings the broad sword with characteristic swag. Sir Cormac attempts to decapitate Lucca but — momentarily distracted by Brattle’s arrival — allows the kid to slice his hamstring instead. Perhaps signaling Ed Sheeran’s outro from the series, Cormac runs off while Ruskin sends Arch Deacon Robius to an early grave despite the holy man’s warning murder is a sin that will send him to hell.
In the denouement of the heroes’ return, Lady Love actually hugs Corbett — an event that would have been inconceivable in early show installments — headstrong hand maiden Isabel gets Jessamy drunk and smuggles her out of Ventrishire in a peddler cart (next stop: the insane asylum!). And Brattle and Lady Love finally get to consummate their romance in a sex scene that, it should be noted, features far more pelvic thrusting than smooching.
At season’s end, we know little more about the titular character than when it all began. And as it things wind down, Brattle has seemingly forgiven his enemies, surrendered all memories of his murdered wife and baby, suppressed his grief at being without king or country, and moved on with his life.
After all, he has a new “mom,” an adopted son and, if the prophetic vision Brattle and the Baroness shared holds true, will soon have another child on the way. With the finale, we are to understand: Wilkin Brattle is neither a bastard nor an executioner any longer. How Nazarene he eventually gets will have to wait until next season — if the show comes back.