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The basic plot of Kurt Sutter’s new historical drama on FX is nothing new: A warrior who swore off violence has to pick up his sword once more. The Bastard Executioner is set in Wales during the early 14th Century. At this point in history, Wales is firmly under the control of England, and the Welsh common people are pushing to gain their independence. The show’s cast includes Sutter’s wife, the brilliant Katey Sagal (playing Annora, a mystic healer with an out-of-place accent), while relative newcomer Lee Jones plays the title character, the bastard executioner himself.
The pilot episode is an unnecessary two hours in length. And throughout that long two hours, the opening scene is, unfortunately, the most interesting scene of episode. It’s a flashback slash hazy dream that the main character, Wilkin Brattle, is having of his past as a knight. On the battlefield, during a bloody sword fight, Wilkin is stabbed and is close to death. Lying down among his fallen allies and enemies, he is visited by an angelic hallucination telling him to lay down his sword. He swears his promise to this angelic being and miraculously survives. Then he tries to help one of his fallen comrades, only to watch as the man’s scars transform into a dragon-like apparition. Wilkin startles himself awake. It’s revealed that he kept his promise, and lives a quiet and simple life as a farmer with his pregnant wife Petra, played by Elen Rhys.
But the pilot episode barely introduces the audience to many of its characters before they are brutally murdered, and due to their untimely deaths, the audience has very little time to get to know them. Wilkin’s pregnant wife Petra is stabbed by an initially unknown assailant. Near the end of the pilot, Petra’s murderer is revealed to be Annora’s companion, the Dark Mute, played by none other than the showrunner himself, Kurt Sutter.
This was the only interesting plot twist in the entire two hours. The rest of the pilot episode is a self-indulgent gore fest with little imagination, originality, or intrigue. It serves up shock value after shock value, with men being tortured, an English nobleman defecating during a political meeting, and corpses piled on a funeral mound with their entrails exposed. The dialogue in between these bloody scenes is boring and stale. If Sutter was going for a realistic representation of the brutality of medieval times, he achieved it, but whether or not that makes for compelling television is yet to be seen.