When I talked The Bastard Executioner with its Milus Corbett, Stephen Moyer, in August — episode 1 under my belt and little idea of all that lay ahead — Moyer was practically vibrating with excitement over the scripts Kurt Sutter was putting in his hands. For good reason. Tonight’s episode, “A Hunger/Newyn,” fully displayed the spectacular depth of deviousness with which the Chamberlin has been bestowed.
“People are going to want this shire,” Moyer explained to me then. “Lady Love’s trying to hold onto it. There’s certain things that she’s going to have to do in order to hold onto it because she’s not going to be able to keep it as is, and the person who had the shire before it was split is going to want it back. There’s certain characters within Windsor and the castle who are going to want it. My character, coming from low birth, knows that he’s not going to be able to keep it by himself — there’s no reason that he would. He has to invent a reason to be part of that world.”
And tonight, it all went down.
We open with a little catch-up on the residents of Ventrishire. In a rare moment of peace, Wilkin (Lee Jones) reads by the fireplace, his newly acquired baby in a basket beside him and his newly acquired wife sleeping fitfully above. Meanwhile, Lady Love (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) and her faithful companion Isabel (Sarah White) are having a fireside chat, as well, theirs out in the woods as they venture to Windsor. And Milus? Milus is plotting … something.
Cut to a nighttime scene at a port on the River Thames in Windsor, where an old man clutching a scroll and his servant are trying to elude some other guys, one of them sporting a cross and all of them carrying weapons. As the pursuers close in on their targets, Annora (Katey Sagal) sits up in her bed and cries, “Run!” Solid advice, except there’s nowhere for them to do that. Realizing what is about to happen and with his servant dead, the old man tries to set the scroll aflame, but the bearded guy who appears to be the leader of the pursuers tamps out the fire and looks down at its bearer, who warns him that something or other holds no God. “And the Seraphim hold too many,” he responds. Bearded guy orders his comrade to turn the man over and strip him, revealing an elaborate tattoo on the man’s back. Annora has a similar one, which we see prominently displayed as she stands naked before what appears to be the disembodied — and also tattooed — hide of another poor soul. Or maybe an animal. It’s a pretty big skin.
“Please,” Annora says. “Protect him.”
Back in Ventrishire, Wilkin is lying in bed next to a spectral Petra (the brightest part of poor Wilkin’s life is in a dream state). Why does she still love him when he could not protect her, he asks. “A love that is true knows no condition,” she tells him. “It changes shape, filling the cracks in our hearts to stop it from breaking. Our love will exist always. Through any trial of time. Or circumstance.”
Wilkin smiles, caresses her hand and tells her he worries he will never find a love that again.
“You already have,” says Petra, leaning in for a kiss — a kiss Wilkin turns out to be sharing with Jessamy Maddox (Sarah Sweeney), who cannot figure out why her husband doesn’t want to take the matter further. He says he will learn to be intimate with her and is saved from the awkward situation when little Luca returns with water and wakes his baby sibling.
Meanwhile, Baron Pryce’s (Richard Brake) caravan heads for Ventrishire, passing by another corpse with its severed arms and legs swapping places and an incision in his chest. This guy’s outlined with a triangle, too.
Outside the castle, Milus and Tell approach Wilkin and Toran, who are readying their horses. Why must they ride to the far caverns every single day, Milus wonders, causing Wilkin to accuse him of employing spies. Nah, says Milus. Just curious observers. Like, say, Jessamy, who is peering around the corner.
The inquisition is interrupted by Baron Pryce’s arrival, which proves fortuitous in any number of ways for Wilkin. When he asks Toran who the visitor is, his puzzled wife reminds him that that’s the gent who runs the shire that wouldn’t pay him a fair wage, which led to them coming to this one. Doesn’t he remember? Well, no. But since she asked. Anybody in Pryce’s entourage who might remember him? Only Pryce’s Chamberlin, Dyer (Shane Attwooll), she says.
But Pryce and his man have bigger fish to fry. Learning that Lady Love is on her way to Windsor instead of waiting to greet them, the pair gives Milus a good dressing down for making Pryce leave his ailing wife for a fruitless journey. Could have sent a messenger. Lady Love just left yesterday (lies!), says Milus — when Pryce was already on his way. Seemed wisest to let them complete the journey and get some rest here. “If you were most wise, Sir Corbett” sneers Pryce, “your Baron would be here in flesh, not but a stone effigy at your bridge.” Ouch. Sleep with an eye open, Pryce. Milus can get testy. Good advice for Tell, as well, who realizes that there’s so much method to Milus’s fibbing.
Wilkin and Toran prepare to make a break for it, before the visiting Chamberlin can “find another face on Maddox.” Unfortunately, their own Chamberlin has other plans — always other plans — which entail a tournament in which both men will take part.
Arriving at Windsor castle, the baroness is met by a studly shmoozer named Piers Gaveston (Tom Forbes, Wolf Hall), who looks like he’d like to eat her with sprinkles and whipped cram, then belatedly introduces himself as the king’s trusted adviser. Love takes his flattery with a grain of salt. Perhaps a few too many grains. When she reminds the Frenchman that she is there to talk about more serious matters than beauty, he chafes and tells her the king will see her when she is more …presentable. Love doesn’t flinch at his insults. She and Isabel will show him what for.
In the far caverns, Annora approaches Calo, Berber the Moor and Ash and tells them to leave post-haste if they know what is good for them. Trouble looms — she just doesn’t know what kind. The Dark Mute is gone, Wilkin isn’t coming and she is afraid. For others, more so than herself. Berber says they will protect her in the other men’s absence.
During her beautification process, Love confesses to Isabel that she suspects she should’ve brought more minds to this meeting. Reminiscing about the time a youthful Love bashed a bully over the head with a shovel, Isabel reminds her that she has been calm, fearless and wise since childhood. This meeting will be no exception.
Back at Castle Ventris, Tell has a bit of bad news for Milus. Foot soldiers found the mangled corpse. Murder. Devilry, if you will. Wilkin arrives as Tell departs and informs Milus that Dyer will know him if he fights in the tournament, so what is its purpose exactly? In slightly more colorful language, Milus says Dyer is too far up the baron’s ass to recognize anything he wouldn’t find there. And if he does … well nothing to worry about then, either. Wilkin looks dubious, and for good reason.
Then — finally — we get another look at the man with the scroll, whose name, it turns out, is Tobias. And it’s not a good look. He’s chained, stripped naked and in the process of being tortured. That can stop though, says a guy who looks like he may be a cardinal or the like. Just tell them where the other Seraphim are so they can translate the “sacred text you all wear.”
“There is nothing more you can take from me,” protests poor Tobias, who finds out how wrong he is when Ed Sheeran enters the room.
Well, not technically Ed Sheeran, the guy who sings the series’ gorgeous theme song. Ed Sheeran in our very first look at him as the ruthless Sir Cormac who is about four hundred million miles away from the loving little feller twirling his girl around in the “Thinking Out Loud” video. Cormac orders the Windsor punisher to fish out Tobias’ eyeball, as the guy who turns out to be Robinus, the Archdeacon of Torture Wales (Trevor Sellers) makes his way through some passageways and comes out robe-and-cross-clad and in the company of he whom I shall christen Piers the Leerer.
In short order, they also come upon Lady Love, now all decked out and polished up. Piers tells her to wait in the King’s day chamber, where he is sure Edward will find her most agreeable. “Find me a shovel,” she murmurs to isabel. Heh.
Back in Ventrishire, Milus is playing Let’s Make a Deal with Pryce, a map spread before them. Together, they could clear the beach and build a port that would make Ventrishire the center of all trading in the region, bringing with it riches from the resulting tariffs. That is a decision for the King, Pryce protests. Then we learn a thing or two about him — and Milus’ cunning, too.
Turns out Ventrishire and Pryceshire were, indeed, once one and at that time, Pryce was hoping to create that self-same port Milus has in mind. But the King split it in two, gave the better half to Ventris, his favorite constable … and royally ticked off Pryce, who suffered Ventris’s cruel taxation until the guy became a noseless effigy at the bridge. Why would he loan Ventrishire a thing?
A loan isn’t quite what Milus had in mind. See, Lady Love is a widow. Baroness Pryce is nearly consumed by consumption. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. And everybody wins (except poor Mrs. Pryce). Good on her husband, though. He tells Milus that only God is in charge and He might return the missus to good health. And besides, Chamberlin Dyer has more pull with the King than Milus does. So whatever his plan is, he might want to think it through a bit more.
Meanwhile, Lady Love and Isabel — a vast banquet before them and their stomachs rumbling — have been waiting on the king for hours. Isabel begs for a morsel. “Sit down,” says Love. “I don’t like the French,” pouts Isabel. “The French will get by without your support,” says Love. Best girlfriends! Nothing like ’em!
Speaking of girls, I totally am one and though I love me a Kurt Sutter fight scene (and only cover my eyes a little for the torture ones) and think Lee Jones is exceptional in them, the scenes in which he is tender — like the one that follows — are where I think the towering actor really shines.
As Jessamy looks on without their knowledge, Wilkin bonds with little Luca, promising that his and his mother’s lives will be different now and Wilkin will even teach the boy to read if he helps his de facto dad manage Jessamy’s fragile grasp on reality. They shake on it, not realizing that they have possibly increased her worry tenfold.
On the far caverns, Calo wants to take Annora’s warning and flee, but Berber warns him of acting like a boy and not a man. This may not end well.
Meanwhile, Tobias has now lost both of his eyes (and is somehow not in shock for the trauma). As he cries out in pain, the Archdeacon returns to the torture chamber where we learn that there were other Seraphim who met their fate here before Tobias — and also that Cormac is semi-skilled at reading their scrolls, all of which differ in their coded language to keep the messages secret. Cormac is dispatched to the map room to figure out where Tobias was headed, while Tobias is dispatched by the punisher’s sword, one limb at a time. Oh. This is where we got the puzzle-piece men? When do they acquire the snakes in their insides?
Meanwhile, back in the king’s chambers, the ladies have quite enough of waiting. They fill a basket with food and head back to their own quarters to feast on their own.
In Ventrishire, the tournament is underway, Pryce enjoying the company of the twins, much to Dyer’s ire. Toran handily dispatches his opponent and Wilkin his first, but trouble is brewing everywhere. Corbett’s men have come for Ash, Calo and Berber. And Milus himself is making sure that Dyer is onto Wilkin’s ruse. Wilkin, meanwhile, is undone by the sight of Petra’s cross at Tell’s neck and the two engage in a quick, fierce bout with the puzzled Dyer looking on as Wilkin knocks the Reeve to the ground.
Lady Love and Isabel are fast asleep when Piers the Leerer bursts in and informs them that the king will see them now, out in the hunting garden. And what a king he is — a giggly, ginger-haired frat boy of a bugger who has precious little interest in talking the fate of Ventrishire, thank you very much. He will leave that up to Piers and his Chancellor. Lady Love momentarily looks like this may turn into a very special medieval episode of Law & Order: SVU, then informs Gaveston that her family ruled her shire for 50 years with kindness and grace and when Longshanks split it in two, she married Ventris with the understanding that her family would be allowed to escape to Scotland and that castle and shire would be given to her child. Wrong guy to look to for reason. Stroking her face, he tells her the only agreements that matter are the ones she makes now. She turns on her heel and leaves. Did the king even know she was coming? Methinks this is Milus: 1. Lady Love: 0. And another facet of his elaborate plan is about to play out.
Back in Ventrishire, Milus delivers to Dyer to a surprised Wilkin in the torture chamber. The neighboring Chancellor proclaims him a false Maddox and says Pryce will be notified. Milus knocks him out cold and orders Wilkin to finish the job. Like finish, finish. Wilkin refuses and turns to leave — opening the door to find Ash, Calo and the Moor in the soldiers’ clutches, accused of the latest puzzleman’s death.
Well, then. Let’s revisit the offer.
“Everyone you love or care about is either dead or within my grasp,” Milus sneers, gesturing to the KO’d Dyer. “He is a pompous annoyance. Give the execution “a natural twist,” Milus advises and he will make sure Dyer’s death is pronounced an accident. He leaves and as Wilkin stares at the Bible, wondering what to do, Dyer comes to and calls him out on his hypocrisy. Wilkin snaps and chokes him dead with a drumstick.
And his was not the only hand forced. Coming upon Lady Love packing to leave, Gaveston informs her that, thanks to her impertinence, Ventrishire will be divided into thirds, two parcels given to neighboring shires and the third — the one with the castle and the port-worthy beach — will become his. Except he’s messing with the wrong little golden beetle. Resting her hand on her stomach and smiling beatifically, Lady Love informs him that the real reason for her visit was merely to inform the king of her pregnancy — the promised heir to the Ventrishire castle. …
…at which Pryce, now agreeably wise to Milus’ plan, and his host are observing the corpse of poor Dyer be flung over his horse…
… as the Archdeacon observes the tattooed hides of skinned Seraphim as Cormac presents him with the list of Tobias’ possible destinations. Ventrishire included.
…as Annora marks the hide in her cavern and offers a silent prayer.
… as Wilkin returns home to find Jessamy, one eye self-blackened, scarring Luca with a scalding knife. “Why do you do this?” he asks her, incredulously. “I don’t, Maddie. “ she says serenely. “You do. As you’ve always done when we need correction.”
Wilkin offers the sobbing Luca the wooden horse he carved him and gathers the boy in his arms. “It’s alright, son,” he says to the child, handing him a wooden horse. “I’m here. I’m here.”
With all kinds of trouble on both sides of the door.
What were your thoughts on tonight’s episode of The Bastard Executioner, fellow TBXers? Was Milus behind Lady Love’s trip to the king’s castle, as he was Pryce’s trip to hers, (rendering Milus possibly the worst travel agent ever)? Was that who you were expecting to find ruling there? Is Jessamy out of her mind or somehow forcing Wilkin’s hand? Are Cormac and his men arranging the dead Seraphim in such a curious fashion — or is it Annora’s work? Can Wilkin save his imprisoned pals? Sound off in the comments section below.
New episodes of The Bastard Executioner premiere Tuesday nights at 10/9CT on FX.