It would be easier to accept that there is but one more episode of The Bastard Executioner Season 1 if a Season 2 was confirmed and there weren’t so much ground left to cover.
Yes, I know … plenty of folks have railed against the show’s proudly bold blending of history and fiction, Annora’s weird accent and nature, and the brutality of the violence, particularly toward women. But not one of these issues is remotely unique to this series, and I’ve grown attached to trying to decipher the twisty tale and particularly to the show’s core cast and the complex people they play. And in last night’s penultimate outing, we saw gentler souls reveal their toughness, hard hearts prove vulnerable and matters of the heart and familial bonds prove tantamount to the political and religious wrangling. It leaves a whole lot to think about with just an hour left to go.
We start at the Ventrishire contingent’s camp on the road to Deddington Monastery, where Piers Gaveston is sheltered. Milus imagines that their successful mission will be met with songs of heroism, but Wilkin doesn’t believe it.
Meanwhile, the currency in this transaction — the surviving twin — sees a chance to escape in the gentle Ash. She flatters and flirts and gets him to cut her binds if she promises to make a run for it. Of course she runs. He watches her go, then follows, but doesn’t seem terribly alarmed. Later, he reveals to their other men that the girl escaped, but doesn’t quite mention how — smiling when he appears to get away with the goof. If it really is a goof. Ash is an odd soul, but this seems especially odd even for the nature-loving little angel who hopes to have his wings some day. Shows you what I know.
In Isabel’s chambers, Jessamy awakens in bindings, too, Love watching over her. A battle for Wilkin ensues. Love says that she understands why Jessamy would want to create a “kinder, gentler” family with this stranger, but if she doesn’t accept the reality of the situation — and keeps Wilkin’s and Love’s secret — she will face the charge of assault on a baroness and the certain death that comes with it.
I don’t think we’ve seen Love this rattled … and loud. Is she threatening the foundering mother of two children to protect her own heart and her lover, or does she realize that the shire doesn’t need the distraction of this scandal when important dealings are afoot. One that will save all of their fates and fortunes? She is right about Wilkin, after all. And he does love her. And Jessamy and her children are in much better stead than they had been.
Dozing by the sea, Annora awkens to the realization that Ruskin and Luca have been taken captive, while, in what looks like her former hideout, Luca is being fed and Ruskin tortured. Robinus interrupts Absolon and tells that his efforts only strengthen someone fortified by faith. Treat the priest’s wounds and feed him and then Robinus will take over the cause.
Meanwhile, Milus and his men have reached Deddington and are assessing its forces when Ash strolls up with a deer on a lead — she’s Bernadette and not much of a talker, he declares. A plan is hatched. By him? By whom?
In any case, Ash leads the doe to the Deddington soldiers and says he’s a humble trapper simply offering them fresh meat. One guard reveals there are not enough other guys to eat the whole animal, and just like that, Milus and his men have the intel they need. They decide that Pembroke doesn’t want to attract the attention that a full legion would warrant — so much the better for them.
The soldiers decide to take the deer after all, but Ash reneges on the offer. Bernadette is too good for the smelly company of their horses till she becomes the men’s dinner, and she informed him so.
Meanwhile, Jessamy and Love’s negotiations continue. Jessamy asks after her kids. Love spoon-feeds her gruel. Until Jessamy takes the deal, her hands will remain shackled. And if she does take the deal, she can rest easy knowing that she and her children will always be safe and well cared for in Ventrishire. Er. Oops. One kid, anyway. And even then, it’s a pretty bold promise.
Back at Deddington, Bernadette is called into service again. This time Wilkin and Ash approach the soldiers under cover of nightfall and Wilkin apologizes for the bad behavior of his “little brother.” Here, take the deer — surely there’s enough men to make good use of the meat, is he right? Before the soldier can answer, the Ventrishire contingent springs from the darkness, gaining access to the building and dispatching the men they find inside and out. Milus catches a sole survivor and makes him a deeply unsavory deal. Either he confesses where Gaveston is hiding or Milus will cut his throat and fills the space with the other guys’ manhoods.
I doubt the guy actually got away with his life even if he did give up the goods, but in either case, the men find Gaveston feasting without a care in the world. He’s got one now. Milus decks him, then says he is actually there to rescue him.
In the cave, Robinus tells Ruskin he is impressed with the priest’s fortitude and mentions his past military experience. Ah. So he knows. Ruskin says battle skills are not what give what gives him strength. Not now. Why do I think this goes back to the boy warriors — except these men are the same age?
Anyway, Robinus tells Ruskin that the scriptures that the Seraphim protect are dangerous and would inspire chaos and strife if the commoners were exposed to them. Ruskin counters that they are anything but, and the only chaos that would ensue would be within the Pope’s chambers if his teachings (and his power) were challenged by another possibility.
Robinus says people can’t be trusted with their own free will (some truth to that). The church gives them sound moral structure. Money and influence are needed to protect and provide that structure. Heh.
“Even if it offends the very being at the center of their faith?” counters the priest.
The archbishop says he and his have a divine purpose, and God is just dandy with that. The Seraphim are the troublemakers. And now Ruskin will tell him where to find Annora and the Templar because “countless souls are resting in your hands, good priest.”
Ash lets Bernadette go free, as inside the monastery, Milus considers his three captives — Gaveston, Lord Pembroke and the surviving twin. Pembroke says Gaveston’s protection really protects all of them. If they harm King Edward’s beloved Frenchman, his wrath will be tenfold.
Milus tells him to blame the attack on bandits who took his goods and his prisoner and vanished. Nothing of noble or official order at all. Pembroke says Edward will never believe it, and he is loyal to the king, so there.
Milus tells Wilkin that they will torture the twin [ed. note: kind readers have pointed out that I have been fooled into thinking this is a twin, but the twin was already handless when this happened. I stand humbly corrected] in front of Pembroke until he concedes to their terms. Wilkin and Toran protest that punishers only punish the guilty and Milus points out that she is guilty of adultery.
Tell interrupts to say that he has dispatched a horseman to update Warwick on their progress and Milus shoos him from the room. Because, Milus tells Wilkin and Toran, he will trade Tell’s and Locke’s life for the successful torment of the maiden.
“Only you, Corbett, will use death to buy pain,” Wilkin sneers. It’s an astute (but I don’t think entirely correct) observation. Not one that hurts Milus’ feelings one bit. But astute.
“I will leave the widowers of West River Riding to make a decision,” he says. Ouchie.
The negotiations are proceeding a bit more gently in Isabel’s chambers. Jessamy wants to know if the baroness loves her man. “Knowing my feeling will not serve you in this decision,” Love tells her. Jessamy wants to know how those feeling are possibly serving Love, since love between a commoner and a noble is a scandal at best.
Love says she and Wilkin will decide if their bond is worth the risk. In either case, if she takes the deal, she will have her “husband” and her better fortunes. For now.
Jessamy asks to see her children. “Of course,” says her none-the-wiser captor.
At Deddington, Ash reaches into the wagon and hands a tormented-looking Toran a hook, barely revealing a bloodied pair of hands wrapped in cloth. Returning to the room where the woman is being held, Toran tells Locke to step back a bit because “the blood and piss could fly” as she is tortured. There’s another reason he requested the wide berth. When they send Locke to fetch Pembroke, Wilkin whispers his plan to the whimpering girl. He will pretend to torture her, slipping the weapons where they’re supposed to go, but not actually putting them to use. When he pinches her beneath her robes, she must scream convincingly.
Milus presents Pembroke with a writ declaring he willingly handed Gaveston over to them. If he does, he and his girl can leave. Pembroke refuses. Let the playacting begin. She upholds her end of the bargain and eventually Pembroke signs his name to spare her. They lead him away before he can see that she is unharmed. Even Milus looks impressed by the ruse.
Later, Toran asks Wilkin if he remembers their gentler life, when the biggest worry was a failed crop. We’re no longer farmers, Wilkin reminds him. “I must confess I am more myself inside this turn toward blood,” admits a clearly unsettled Toran. That will likely serve him well.
Back in the cave, Ruskin says he became a solider as an angry boy and a priest as a remorseful man. Robinus assures him that Luca will be freed once Ruskin leads him to Annora. Annora knows it’s coming. She tells the Dark Mute that they must leave immediately and a darker journey lies ahead.
In the monastery, Milus orders Gaveston unbound and that the pair be left alone. He pours them each a glass of wine and a battle of the wits ensues. But this time, the tables are turned. Milus taunts Gaveston with his own cruel words from some episodes back and the Frenchma dutifully gets on his knees and takes Milus in his mouth. Milus chokes him with his, er, rod of low breeding, then decks him and chides him about how powerless he is now. A very literal “suck it,” if you will.
Love’s messenger returns with no Luca and the news that he and Ruskin are gone. Love insists that they wait till the end of the day to send help. Plenty of reasons the pair could be gone. Then she goes to Jessamy, who is rocking her baby girl and lies that Ruskin has taken her boy to fish. How men of God love to fish. Jessamy says she thought Jesus and his crew were carpenters. Whatever. Her kid will be back soon.
Now. About that deal. Jessamy says she will take it — if she has proof of Love’s promise that she and her children will be safe. Love says that obviously nothing can be put on paper, so her word will have to do. She turns to leave. Jessamy thanks her and says she is sorry. I don’t hear a decision — or an agreement made — in that statement, but Love tells Mrs. Maddox that she has made the right choice and the choice of a good mother.
Warwick arrives in a field outside of Deddington. Milus hands him the writ from Pembroke and says his men share the honor of securing the captive. Warwick’s man hands the Chamberlin payment for the captive and a makeshift court ensues.
Warwick states the charges, he and Milus aye up Gaveston’s guilt and order the removal of the Frenchman’s head.
“I will be remembered as a martyr who stood against your charade — a single voice of truth above a choir of ignorance,” Gaston says, taunting Warwick and Milus as they tussle over who will take his head. We know these men can kill without flinching. Kill in a manner that will make King Edward mad? Yeeeeah … you can do it. No, you.
Wilkin says he will do it — it’s his job after all. What can the king say about that?
Gaveston looks shaken, but declares “I do not regret loving someone above my status — even if this is the fate.” The words clearly rattle Wilkin. When he swings his blade, instead of his trademark precision, he lops Gaston’s skull awkwardly in half. In the top half, one eye blinks one last time. So much for a pretty head to put on a post in victory. He is now the medieval version of South Park’s Sir Terrance Henry Stoot.
Before they depart for Annora’s new digs, Ruskin asks Absolon how much Robinus told him about the priest’s former life in service to the king. Turns out not much. Bad news for Absolon. Ruskin breaks his bonds and dispatches the guard. “I was an assassin,” he tells the stunned man just before he dies. Ruskin easily kills the rest of Robinus’ men in the cave, frees Luca and the pair make a run for it. They don’t get far. At the top of the long pathway from the mouth of the cave, they are surrounded by Robinus and an army of men. Father Ruskin, meet Cormac the punisher (Oh, hey, Ed Sheeran.)
On the way home to Ventrishire, Milus and his men pass by the desecrated body of the no-longer-surviving twin, her hands and feet removed and her limbs rearranged. Ash smiles at the sight. Wait, what?! These bodies have been Ash’s handiwork all along? When did he find the time — especially this last one? The wrapped hands we saw earlier were her hands? Punishment for being a doe who talks too much — or something far more sinister? Ash. And here I thought you were just comic relief.
Milus returns home and gives Lady Love the payout for their success, and she confesses to him that Luca and the priest are missing. Milus says he’ll gather a search party, and in the meantime, she should tell Wilkin. After all, she does calm him so.
In the hallway, he shows tenderness to the French manservant, who, turns out, survived his earlier beating. Huh. Apparently the French are much more palatable when Gaveston is not among their ranks.
Wilkin takes the news about his boy surprising well, guessing that Annora has spirited the pair away to safety. “Fear not, my love (love? Love?),” he tells her. “We will find them.”
Meanwhile, Toran watches Locke frolicking with his family. Hmmm. Did they earn Milus’ promised payment, even though girl wasn’t actually harmed? I mean, by them?
Stopping home for supplies, Wilkin finds Annora sitting in the darkness. She tells him it’s her fault that Ruskin and Luca were taken and now she must tell him something dire. He doesn’t want to hear it. He rages at her about carrying the weight of the “unforgivable sins” that are the result of this mission she assigned him. She begs him to stop shouting.
“You are the devil, Annora of the Alders,” he seethes, then heads for the door. She gets the last word — words — and they’re doozies. “Please Wilkin, no! My son!”
I knew it. I knew Annora was the nun who saved Baby Wilkin from an unholy drowning! I called it! I’m probably wrong!
So what say you, TBX fans? Does Jessamy threaten Love’s shire or her love life the most? What is behind Ash’s killing spree? Did you peg him as the killer — and if you did, pray tell how?! How about Wilkin’s sudden lousy aim? Are Ruskin and Luca doomed? What else are you wondering about as we head into next week’s season finale? Talk it over, float your theories, set me straight about mine and share your hopes for Season 2 in the comments section below.
The Bastard Executioner Season 1 finale premieres Tuesday, Nov. 16 at 10/9CT.