When we left Welsh soldier turned barley farmer turned reluctant Bastard Executioner Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones), he had just used his battle savvy to sever the head of Chamberlin Milus Corbett’s (Stephen Moyer) hapless half-brother. On said Chamberlin’s orders.
This week, we open on Brattle’s spiritual adviser Annora of the Alders (Katey Sagal) employing a massive dead hog to teach Wilkin the ways of the punisher, so he can maintain the ruse she insists is his destiny. “A man’s flesh will give to the blade,” she tells him, as his knife glides through the poor beast.
Cut to a sculptor teaching a young protégée who is sculpting the slain Baron Ventris’ effigy. “Too much force,” he murmurs to the boy. “A gentler hand.” It’s advice that poor dead Ventris might have heeded, as well.
At Castle Ventris, Lady Love (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) is visited by her faithful handmaiden Isabel (Sarah White), who has come to dress her for the day. “I think I’d like something with a bit more color,” the baroness says. “My mourning time is finished.”
Not Chamberlin Corbett’s. A tearful Milus sits before a trunk filled with mementos, clutching a small straw figure with a carved wooden head to his chest.
Wrapping up his training for the day, Annora wants to know why Wilkin isn’t more curious about her medical knowledge. He says truth brings burden. He’s more interested in what she knows about his past life. Annora holds out her hand and takes it, which leads to a flashback to a flaxen-haired youth ably fighting off men three times his age, much to his own delight and the approval of a guy who looks an awful lot like Kurt Sutter with two different colored eyes. Could it be that Wilkin and the Dark Mute have met before?
Wilkin shares what he knows of his past, which is this: A young woman surrendered the infant Wilkin at a monastery, proclaiming him fatherless. “Is that my mother,” he asks Annora. Yes, she tells him, adding that his mother is deceased but watches over him with the angels.
Turns out the Dark Mute — come closer Dark Mute, so I can see the color of your eyes in that torched face — is not at all mute. Sharpening a knife as his wife returns, he asks how Wilkin is. “Lost,” Annora says. “Full of doubt.”
“Yah,” says the not-mute Mute, smiling and tweaking his wife’s chin gently. “As were we.” “As were we,” she echoes.
The Ventrishire guards prepare to bring the completed effigy of their leader back to the castle, while, not far away, a young Sword-Daff (anybody know what they’re really called?) rebel taunts his sister for wanting to join the cause. As the boys ride off, she sneers and says she holds for no one. You go, girl … but you may want to rethink the wisdom of it.
Heading back to Ventrishire, Wilkin and Toran come upon their men who say that Ash (Darren Evans) is missing. Never returned from the hunt says farmer Calo (played by Kyle Rees, and whom I can’t help but call Samwell Ventry because of that sweet, pudgy face). Annora offers her two cents on Ash’s whereabouts, but Berber (Danny Sapani) says they should focus their efforts on the matter at hand — avenging their slain loved ones.
The men discuss the matter of Leon Tell (Alec Newman), the new Reeve, what with little brother Corbett meeting such an unsavory end last week — and the pesky bugger who is wearing dead Petra’s sapphire cross around his neck. The men tell Wilkin that he must put that aside until they can gain Tell’s trust and find out who his murderous accomplices were to avenge all of the villagers. Wilkin protests. Annora tells them to save their anger for the guilty…
… who are presently dealing with the young Sword-Daff upstarts on their way back to the shire. The boys make a break for it; plucky Nia is not so lucky.
Wilkin returns home where his wife (Sarah Sweeney) continues to treat him as if he were indeed the returned Gawain Maddox, sweetly but insistently resisting his pleas that she drop the ruse in private. Good thing, because the Reeve is at the door, asking for his services.
Lady Love visits Father Ruskin, who notes her blush pink dress. She tells him that the frock is a measure of passing time, not lacking grief. Plus, she’s headed off to see the King of England soon at his own behest, so she needs to get back into the swing of things. Ruskin tells her God has a plan for her and she must “stay inside her truth.” She says it’s an uncomfortable place.
Milus interrupts to tell the widow of the fate of her husband’s effigy — and hand her its displaced nose as proof. They have a captive too, he says — a girl of 15 with a daffodil painted on her face. Lady Love blames the foolishness of youth. No, says Milus. Treason. Punishable by death. Before the baroness can protest, Milus reminds her that all eyes on are on Ventrishire to see how their rule will continue in the Baron’s absence.
Love asks where the girl is from and the men tell her that she has said nothing, so the punisher has been summoned to convince her to talk. Lady Love demands to speak with the child first.
Searching for Ash on horseback, Calo, Annora and Berber come upon a valley strewn with mangled animal bodies and entrails … and one poor dead guy whose handless arms and footless legs have switched places. Looks an awful lot like Annora’s makeshift morgue for Wilkin’s training, but she seems puzzled, too.
In the Castle Ventris dungeon, Wilkin and Reeve are negotiating how to deal with the youthful nose buster. Pull out her fingernails? One of the other soldiers has a better idea — the world’s most unfortunate take on the already horrifying speculum. It’s an instrument with which — horrifying to the extreme — little Luca Maddox (Ethan Griffiths) is familiar. He cheerfully fetches it for his “dad.” “God in heaven,” breathes Wilkin when all but Toran have left. He goes to reason with the girl. She spits on him. He grabs her face and reminds her what he’s been brought there to do. “You don’t know truth,” she tells him. “Mine. Or anyone’s.” Ain’t it the … well, anyway.
A shriek comes from the dungeon before Lady Love can talk to the girl, despite her insistence that no harm come to her before they speak. “Oh well,” chirps Milus to Tell. “Guess we’ll blame it on the new Reeve.”
As the men talk, a pair of comely young women pass by. Twins. “A condolence gift from the King,” Tell informs Milus. Along with six horses and a baker. “Twins” Milus purrs. “That will be fun. This one, however,” he adds, noting the advancing — and perturbed — Lady Love. “Not so much.”
Tell covers for Milus, telling Lady Love that they’d begun the interrogation before the Chamberlin delivered word of her wishes. Milus escorts the baroness to the girl who is cradling a bloodid, nail-free finger. Love asks if the troubles were youthful prank or rebel attack and we finally learn what to call the Sword-Daffs — the Byth Encil. And they will take back their country. Just ask Nia (who I just noticed how looks an awful lot like Sansa Stark.)
“What is it you want for Wales?” says Lady Love to the girl.
“I want it to be quiet,” says Nia.
Love nods. “As do I,” she whispers.
Milus wants to know if the captive confessed her identity. Lady Love doesn’t need confessions. She assesses the girl’s complexion, the fabric of her dress. Fishing village. Northern one. A place called Penfras Mawr. Let’s go check it out and make a deal for the girl. Milus says bring the family here. No deal. The baroness insists everyone take a road trip to said northern fishing village.
Meanwhile, Annora is spending some quality time with Mixed-Up Limb guy, whose body does indeed bear evidence of medical investigation. She pours a concoction that includes her own blood on his Y-shaped chest incision, crosses herself, then reaches into his maw and pulls out a live black snake. She chants a bit then plunges a knife into the reptile as rain begins to fall. Annora, you are one strange dame.
Meanwhile, Nia’s fairer brother has spotted the noble caravan moving in, causing her swarthier brother to freak a little. “Piss-witted fool,” proclaims his mother. “I wanted to prove myself,” he begs. She instructs the smarter brother to ride for help and summon The Wolf.
Arriving with her entourage, Lady Love wants to play a bit of “let’s make a deal.” Ever the peacenik, she wants to meet said Wolf, figure out what exactly he wants and what motivates him. Maybe drink a few lattes. Hug it out. I made that last part up myself.
The village woman says she doesn’t know of any Wolf. “You’re willing to sacrifice the life of your child?” Love croons. “That’s one less mouth to feed,” sneers the worst mother ever.
Love tries again. Nia’s mother calls the baroness by her what must be her given name and reminds her of her own compromised values. Love does her best to explain her lovey-dovey motives, but it falls on disinterested ears.
Meanwhile, Wilkin’s been paying attention to his surroundings. The kid over yonder seems to know something, he tells the baroness, getting the OK to go and investigate. The tormented brother sings like a birdie. He’s more afraid of his mother than the punisher.
Turns out Wilkin and Toran already know the Wolf — first-name basis, they. Wilkin tells Toran to go to him and explain the predicament, hoping he’ll have more compassion for Nia than her own mom.
Annora comes upon Berber praying before the Koran. A discussion of faith and its merits ensues. Annora knows that good book word-for-word, too.
Because everyone here appears to be slow learners about the perils of this particular road, Lady Love’s caravan encounters rebel troubles on the way home from the fishing village. Wilkin hides the baroness away and goes to work vanquishing the troublemakers. Turns out the priest is quite a fighter, too. The entourage barely makes it back to the castle by nightfall, but loses no members.
Come morning, Milus informs the baroness that they’ve found the rebel’s cache about which Nia’s brother told Wilkin. She says now they can spare the girl’s life. A deal made before the attack, he counters — the girl’s head as punishment for the baroness’s endangerment. They must send a strong message. She says she’ll think on it. Oh … and about her need to meet with the Wolf, says Milus. Could be a little too Welsh-y and off-putting to the king. Just sayin’. Her husband always took his advice. “As you know,” she tells him pointedly, “I am not my husband. Thank you for your counsel.”
In the chapel, Wilkin hints to Father Ruskin that, courtesy of his battle skills, he suspects the priest hasn’t always been a man of the cloth. We all have pasts Ruskin reminds him.
Exit the priest; enter the baroness. She suspects some secrets herself. The punisher displays refined swordsmanship, not the brutal ways of an axeman.
“You are mystery to me,” she says to Wilkin.
“As I am to myself,” he answers.
She hands him her decision about Nia, noting it’s “a judgment forced by obligation.” He reads the decree and looks confounded. And here’s the ghost of Petra (Elen Rhys) again. “Do you show yourself to help me or haunt me”” Wilkin asks. “We are given that choice with every encounter my love,” the specter says. “You must decide.”
“I’m so sorry,” Wilkin breathes.
“I was brought to my end at the right time for the right reason,” Petra says.
“How do I do this?” he implores her.
“When you stop looking for all that is wrong, Wilkin, you will see that what is right was just in your grasp,” she says serenely.
He looks away and she’s gone. We’ll go with 50 percent helping, 50 percent haunting.
And now he’s got another spectral problem. The piece of paper on which Nia’s fate has been written has turned into the same sort of snake that Annora pulled from the dissected man’s mouth and it’s winding it’s way around Wilkin’s throat. And just like that, it’s a paper again.
Wilkin goes to tell Annora of his visions. “I know you see my angels,” he says, “but do you see my demons as well?” “We make our own demons,” she tells him, because of course she does. Chicks. We can’t make anything easy, can we?
He hands her the baroness’s decree. “You have learned this,” she tells him.
The village men approach with news. Ash’s things have been found and they’re covered in blood. But what’s this in the distance? Baaaaaa! Baaaaaa! Can’t be Ash’s blood, because here he is with his sheep pal in tow. Plus, he gets the line of episode.
Retrieving the bloody backpack from Berber, he chirps, “Yeah, I know. I’d lose my baubles if they weren’t attached to my dingle.”
Words to live by.
Annora has one more thing for her charge — a small packet, the contents of which she tells Wilkin to mix with water and give to Nia an hour before she meets her fate to ease the pain. Pain? If she’s being beheaded, what different does it make?
In any case, Wilkin heeds her wishes. Nia drinks the potion as instructed. Milus hands Wilkin his arse for speaking directly to the baroness on the day’s adventures. Everything goes through Milus, you dig? Wilkin does not dig.
“I serve the baroness,” he tells the Chamberlin.
“Gawain Maddox serves the baroness,” Milus counters. “Wilkin Brattle belongs to me.”
Oh. Oops. Guess Rand lost his head for deserting after all.
The men square off in a battle of nerve and bravado, witnessed in part by Toran and Luca.
Finally, Nia is brought to the courtyard, her hands chained away from her body. Luca hands his defacto father a scythe-like blade. Toran steps up to the kneeling girl, now half-conscious from Annora’s potion, and pulls back her hair, whispering something in her ear. Wilkin leans down and neatly slices the nose from Nia’s face. A nose for a nose.
In their cave, the Dark Mute hands Annora a snake with hook stuck through it. She adds it to hundreds dangling nearby and murmurs a prayer. Seriously, these two. A little bit Jesus, a little bit straight from hell.
Meanwhile, the shire’s own serpent, Milus, is having a lusty threesome with the gifted twins, staring at his little straw totem as the girls do their thing.
In Lady Love’s chambers, Isabel takes away her untouched food as Love opens a book containing the effigy’s nose.
And Wilkin and Toran dine companionably with Tell and his men. The Reeve quizzes them about the source of their honed battle skills and Wilkin says the pair prefer to stay focused on the future. But they’ve heard mighty stories of the guard’s own skills. What of this barley village outside of the shire, then? “We burnt the burg!” crows a soldier before the Reeve wisely entreats them to shush.
Afterward, Toran heralds the confirmation of a second guilty man, but Wilkin says the revelations are too slow in coming. “I have your oath,” Toran warns him. “The Reeve will live,” says Wilkin. And as his friend leaves, he adds, “This devil will die.”
New episodes of The Bastard Executioner air Tuesday nights at 10/9CT on FX.