THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER -- Pictured: Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle. CR: James Minchin/FX

THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER — Pictured: Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle. CR: James Minchin/FX

I’ve been going back and forth about this review-piece regarding FX’s latest dark and gritty drama, THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER, from the minds of some of my favorite people on earth, most notably Kurt Sutter on the words and Paris Barclay on the pictures (premieres tonight at 10/9c with a 2 hour adventure).  The problem I’ve been having is trying to figure out the best way to articulate the fact that the show is so violent and dark I found myself watching with my hand over my dropped jaw, while also being poetic in a way that made me weep, without using the shocked emoji face and the wailing emoji face sitting in a puddle of blood….

The show has a darkness to it from the start.  Set in the 14th Century, it all starts with Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones, perfectly cast), a warrior who was left for dead on the Welsh battlefields under royal reign of Brían F. O’Byrne’s despicable lord Ventris. As he lay dying, Brattle was visited by an angel telling him to put down his sword.  Time goes by, and he’s done just that, having put down his sword to act as farmer in a small village. Married, with a baby on the way, he toils away in a small burg, ignoring the growing unrest of the rebel Welsh forces, fighting back against their oppressive rulers.

When it becomes too hard to ignore any longer, in one of the most awe-inducing scenes of the first three hours, Wilkin finds himself called back into duty in the worst possible way. As the first two hours roll on, a case of fortuitous mistaken identity, in large part created by Annora (a vaguely-Eastern European Katey Sagal), leads Wilkin into the situation that Buddy and Hood wondered into on other not wholly-dissimilar shows – he’s living someone else’s life and trying to keep the royals hoodwinked.

By the end of the third (and strongest) hour made available to critics, I found I had gasped in horror on numerous occasions, needed to look away more than once, and cried into my hands as time went on.  While the war rages on throughout the show, we’re able to take time to understand the rebels, understand the armies, and embrace the oppression that this time of war created: of livelihoods, of religion, of well-meaning villagers, you name it.

A lot of time is spent setting up the world of the Brattle and co, and at times, it’s a bit of a detriment to the ongoing story, as I found myself trying hard to concentrate on exactly who was who and what was going on (why are they so mad??), before the real meat of the action started later in the “pilot,” but along the way, the writing is sharp, the production is gorgeous, and the decision to go full on gray-scale at easch commercial break gives it a feling that’s unlike what we’ve seen on TV lately, and certainly not what we’ve seen on FX.  I’ve seen people say it’s nothing like SONS OF ANARCHY, the show where Kurt Sutter took what he’d started with THE SHIELD and doubled down on darkness, while I’ve seen others claim it’s an MC on horseback.  For the most part, it’s wildly different than what we saw for 7 seasons in Charming, CA (though one scene in the premiere finds 9 “brothers in arms” on horseback riding together for revenge and the greater good that brought to mind the original 9 or the SAMCRO we know and love), and I’m okay with that.  I’m ready to move forward into the darkness of the medieval times and the slow set up is more than made up for in a quicker paced third hour that piqued my interest more than a lot of what I’ve seen of other new shows this season.

Few things about the premiere worth noting:

  • Stephen Moyer is a good kind of evil.  Milus Corbett is a dark and terribly damaged man and in someone else’s hands, the role wouldn’t have stood out as my favorite.  Really deft handling of a character who enjoys being a menace but clearly has some really big personal issues to deal with.
  • Great seeing recurring character Gruffudd y Baildd, a real-Welsh-accent-toting Matthew Rhys – he makes a big impression in a small introduction.
  • Lee Jones is divine, have I mentioned that?  Perfectly cast.
  • Ash y Goedwig is the comic relief this dark, dark show needs (think: Chucky from SONS) – Darren Evans was a highlight of GALAVANT for me, and his sheep-loving character here is one of my favorites from the start.
  • I’m having trouble embracing SONS’ Gaalan O’Shay as a kind and benevolent priest (with a dark secret, I’m sure), but if there’s anyone who I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt, it’s the amazing Timothy Murphy.
  • #accentpolicealert – some of the accents, particularly of the witch-ly variety, leave a lot to be desired.

Arbitrary rating scale, 7 out of 10 with a number that increases every time I think back about parts I really enjoyed.  Check out some pretty shots of some characters who don’t stay this pretty for long!


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THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER -- Pictured: Katey Sagal as Annora of the Aldars CR: James Minchin/FX