The Bastard Executioner Recap: Is FX's New Drama a Bloody Good Time?

Nobody — and I mean absolutely nobody — is safe from a brutal impaling on The Bastard Executioner, the new 14th-Century drama from Sons of Anarchy‘s Kurt Sutter.

The show’s two-hour pilot tonight underscored that fact in a deep shade of crimson, delivered on the tips of daggers, the edges of swords, and even on the ends of crudely sharpened sticks.

The Big Bad you’re hoping will get his comeuppance by the end of the 10-episode first season? Cut from the back of the head right through to his hateful tongue early in Hour 2.

The sweet, strong-willed pregnant lady whose life is spared while every other woman, child and senior citizen in her quiet farming village is turned into buzzard chow? Stabbed right in the gut by an unseen traitor — and then unceremoniously piled atop her lifeless comrades.

Hell, even our tormented, titular hero (played by mesmerizing newcomer Lee Jones) winds up with his internal organs on the wrong end of a rapier — right in the show’s opening scene. Luckily (or not?) for him, a glowing child — an angel? a hallucination? that “Slavic witch” in disguise? — pulls him back into the land of the living and a career trajectory that might’ve made hell seem like an all-inclusive resort in Bora-Bora.

(The closest thing we get to a beachside resort in the Executioner premiere is a depressed Welsh baroness letting herself sink below the freezing waves of the Atlantic, then declaring, “the chill refreshes my spirit.”)

TBX_101_DAY_7_1084_hires1Yep, Sutter’s vision here is mostly bleak — with a light patina of mysticism, plus a couple enticing charges of sexual electricity — and if you can’t deal with the sight of characters who don’t immediately wipe away blood from their limbs and faces, then you should probably return directly to The CW without passing “Go” and without collecting $200. For the rest of you, let’s try to recap the action in six pithy paragraphs.

* We open with Welsh soldier (and devoted Catholic) Wilkin Brattle (Jones) getting felled in battle, before a mystical figure visits him and tells him he has a “destiny to claim” — one that involves putting down his sword and serving his “savior.” He also has a crazy vision of a dragon-Jabberwocky-hybrid thingy emerging from the chest of his comrade, an image that’s he’s still having nightmares about when we next see him, reinvented as a humble farmer with a radiant pregnant wife. (Show of hands: Who knew poor Petra was marked for death the moment she was introduced?) Would that Wilkin was singularly focused on his crops, though. Turns out he and his merry band of hooded rebels also spend their leisure time hunting the Baron Ventris’s tax collectors — men whose demand for tithes threatens the very existence of the struggling people under their rule. When Ventris’ right-hand Corbett (Stephen Moyer) does some sleuthing and tracks the bandits to their shire, they take their vengeance out on the women and children who’ve been left temporarily unprotected. Petra manages to plead for her life with one merciful soldier, but later, in the woods, we see her register shock when a familiar (but unseen) face approaches — then guts her and scrawls a cross on her forehead using her own blood. When Wilkin and his men return to the sickening scene of their loved ones’ corpses stacked high, he digs up his old knight’s sword and vows that vengeance is the “only plan left.”

* Here’s where things get a wee bit complicated. Petra’s sorceress-healer pal Annora (Katey Sagal) conveniently winds up in Wilkin’s path toward destruction — and helps him hatch a better plan than “ride to the castle with an army of seven and meet certain death.” Instead, they team up with other hamlets under Ventris’ thumb (including Matthew Rhys’ “Wolf”) and ambush the dude with townsfolk-gone-wild delight. He winds up dead — a fact that, interestingly, doesn’t lead to a single tear shed by his wife Baroness Lady Love Ventris (a luminous Flora Spencer-Longhurst) — a richly earned reaction given that the Baron previously dismissed her as a “barren hole” after a bout of unsettlingly utilitarian intercourse. Corbett doesn’t seem too crushed by the death of his pal, either — instead looking for opportunities to consolidate his power and increase his riches. (He even puts his mutinous little brother to death — and seems to rather enjoy it.)

TBX_101_DAY_17_3041d_hires1* In the aftermath of Ventris’ slaying, the badly injured Wilkin looks like he’ll spend the rest of his days eluding the authorities — but that eerily calm Annora (who shares Wilkin’s visions/hallucinations) seems to have other plans. She carves a cross into the unconscious Wilkin’s face — so he can disguise himself as the “punisher for hire” who died in service to Ventris. The only catch is that when Wilkin and his best pal Toran arrive at the castle gates, who’s there but the wife and son of the freelance executioner he’s impersonating! Lucky for him, the fiendish torturer used to take out the stresses of his work on his family, and they gamble that Wilkin can only be an upgrade from the dude who we first saw carving the skin and muscle off a victim as casually as you or I might peel a mango. But it’s not as though Wilkin’s a trained actor — which is why neither Love or Corbett seem to fully buy his story. The Baroness visits him in the chapel, and when she touches his recent war wound, they share a vision of a baby being born — their baby — and it’s followed by that awkward moment when their eyes reveal that they’re both worldly enough to know that kind of special delivery won’t begin with a stork (wink wink, nudge nudge).

* Corbett, meanwhile, is more overt about his ulterior motives — issuing a decree that Wilkin (now known as Maddox) and Toran (going by the name of Marshall) must stay on at Castle Ventris, the better to help him hunt down and punish those who break the king’s laws (and fail to pay his heavy taxes). Is it just me or is there maybe a glimmer in Corbett’s eye — did I mention he’s gay, BTW? — when he puts his hand on Wilkin’s chest and reminds him “you’ll find nothing passes through this shire without me touching it.” (Insert your own “keep that sword in its sheath” joke here. Unless, of course, Wilkin’s more like a three on the Kinsey Scale. Then by all means, carry on, fellas!)

* The premiere ends with Wilkin getting a vision of Petra and his baby — in the company of the Bright Child — before lopping off the head of Corbett’s sniveling brother. Yep, he’s probably going to be better at his job that he wishes he were. And did I mention Annora (whose entire body, it turns out, is covered in tattoos of some mystical scroll-type language) and her mute husband (who appears to have been disfigured in some kind of fire) are living in a cave, doing the wah-chicka-wah, and in possession of the dagger that ended Petra’s life? No, Cher’s “Dark Lady” doesn’t play over the closing credits — but it could have!

* A few more observations/questions: Are Wilkin’s visions truly heavenly, could they be darkness in disguise or is it possible Annora (or some outside force) is causing them? And with the whole “crazy electric Baroness baby vision,” what will Wilkin’s life goals become? On an unrelated note, I really hope we get a little more focus on the original executioner’s bride, ’cause girlfriend really sold it when she convinced the court that Wilkin was her lifelong love. That’s the kind of manipulative mouse who could really surprise us as the series progresses, yes? I’m also optimistic that the Baroness — while she may be cautious — will never let herself trust that power-hungry Corbett as a true adviser. And as for Annora, I’m not yet willing to believe that just because she has the dagger meant that she (or her hubby( used the dagger. That could make me the most naive recapper in The Bastard Executioner‘s brief history but it’s a gamble I’m willing to take over the next eight weeks!

On that note, what did you think of The Bastard Executioner premiere? Take our poll below then sound off in the comments!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. James says:

    *issuing a deCree

  2. Kris says:

    It was like King Arthur meets Game of Thrones!! Better than expected..

  3. angelwings1 says:

    I loved SOA so I was sure I would love a The Bastard Executioner as well. Boy was I wrong. TBX is a hot mess in every conceivable way. Even my husband, who loves historical dramas, disliked it.

  4. iamtrue2bill says:

    Having been forewarned about the bloody body count, I could keep my eyes open and enjoy this premiere. The cast is excellent. I was even a little sad to see Lord Ventris go. It’s exciting to see Mr. Moyer again. His scheming, cold-hearted Milus Corbett is nobly handsome, and quietly menacing. Lovely location, meticulous attention to detail in costuming and sets, as well as a real historical foundation put this oh my “must see” list. My dvr is set.

  5. Shaun says:

    Could have been better acting wise,seemed a bit flaky.

  6. Kait says:

    I honestly almost checked out after the first 20 minutes but stuck with it. After the first 45 minutes it started getting okay. The last part was good. I only stuck with it because it was a Kurt Sutter show and the guy playing the lead (whose name I didn’t know until Twitter told me) is good. Some of the acting is awful and I’m hoping the dreadlocked, or whatever it was, person is never to be seen again. A few of the characters looked so alike I asked the person I was watching if it was a flashback without an indicator since I thought he was already dead. I’ll probably give it another go On Demand.

  7. Ian says:

    I just thought it was super weird. And not in a good way.

  8. RJ says:

    I agree the first 20 kinda slow but that is how Kurt gets you involved . He wants you to stay alert just when you think its getting boring BAM he turns it up .He is a genious writer and I will make sure to let everyone know who turned it off early to watch it again . I PROMISE. they will not be disappointed. Only thing I do not like is waiting till next Tues

  9. Terri says:

    While it was extremely brutal, that was the way it was in the 14th century. I got into the story line after the destruction of the village. I do have say, that the acting was not the same caliper as SOA but hopefully it will get better.

  10. rusty says:

    Spoilers included. I was looking forward to this show. But it was getting a little hard to watch. The director was purposely trying to shock the viewer before getting along with the story. Besides the scenes mentioned above. The scene of the Barron sitting on the pot having a useless conversation with his henchman then berating his slave on him wiping his bum too hard. Then we also get the local crazy with dred-locks I guess, having a conversation with his sheep and apologizing to it for having sex with another sheep stating “in the dark, the fur feels the same”. WOW! ! This bestiality is brought up again later with this nut when he is teased that he might have his way with a hog during a get together with the merry band. No condemnation of it. They treated it as a funny joke. He was incensed that they would think he would take up with a hog and stated that he only liked sheep.
    The up close scene of the heroes pregnant wife gutted like a deer. Mmmm boy we have some great directing going on. NOT!. All of the shocking scenes were gratuitous. Had no part in telling the story. His wife’s brutal death and the deaths of all the other wives and children giave him and his followers a reason to take up the sword and seek vengeance.
    What a sure fire way to get viewers interested in your story. All of this was in the first hour. Med-evil times were brutal and fighting with swords and axes are going to be gory. But there is a way of shooting a scene without glorifying the gore.
    Having watched all 4 seasons of Spartacus, gore from fighting is no big deal to me. I for one do not need a blood bath in order to tell a good story I am hoping that the director has gotten his need to try and shock the viewer out of his system and that future episodes will concentrate on a story line. Ok, I am off my soapbox.

  11. LaLa says:

    Man. I tried. I really tried. I spent the first 40 minutes totally confused, and then I ended up asleep. Needless to say, I won’t be adding this to my watch list.

  12. tahina says:

    Some parts too gory and hard to watch for me but all and all it was pretty good..will continue watching it even if means being on the edge most of he time. Gave it an A.

  13. Ellinas1978 says:

    Was that Katey Sagal or a body-double at the end?

  14. James D says:

    I enjoyed it. weird in parts. certainly graphic, but still a decent drama. I think Lee and Stephen will be whats worth watching here all the rest is just noise.

  15. rachelle says:

    I admit I was confused at first, then I realized what was happening. I stuck with the pilot for the whole two hours and I don’t regret it. It got significantly better as time went on. I’m interested enough to watch at least this whole first season, both for the fact that this is a Kurt Sutter creation and I think it will keep getting better. If I remember correctly, Sons of Anarchy took a few episodes to really start hitting its stride.

    And I love Katey Sagal (I do!), but does she honestly have to be in every show Kurt makes? I’m not sure how much I loved her as the witch. Maybe Kurt could’ve gotten someone else with a real accent. I can’t place the accent Katey’s doing, but it sounds awkward to me.

  16. linds says:

    I really liked it. Historically, I expect a show like this to show most of the true warts of the time period, and the arse wiping and sheep diddling were depicted pretty accurately, disgusting as it seems. Unfortunately, gratuitous violence isn’t just historically accurate, but continues today, and I think its important not to sugarcoat it on a Sutter-level show. I have to admit, that for purely and selfishly shallow reasons, I’m quite happy to ignore some glaring historical inaccuracies – specifically dental health & hygiene, lol. My one complaint was that I sometimes found the accents difficult to follow, and the writing a bit too ‘artistic’ to read quickly.

    As for the casting, I like the lead very much, I think Katey Segal was wonderous as always, and I absolutely loved-to-hate Moyer as the villian with I’m quite certain a complex history. I’m with Michael in wanting to see more of the executioner’s new family, and hope his relationship with the Baroness doesn’t move too quickly unless its in the service of getting her pregnant quickly enough to be passed off as the Baron’s heir.

    I love the touch of the mystical… again historically accurate as far as what people believed. Btw, was that Kurt Sutter playing the disfigured mystic? Anyone else think Segal is his mother, and the Baron was his father? Or that the maimed mystic is his father, and the true Baron?

    One last little thing: Edward II was known for his collection and obsession of beautiful young men. It ultimately led to him being deposed, and his death was suspicious and murky at best, horrific at worst. It makes Moyer’s character even more compelling, since I can’t imagine Sutter not weaving this into his plot. Edward II lavished honors, titles, riches and power on his favorites…. and created a cesspool of seething resentment among the rest of the ruling class.

    Okay, sorry for the essay, lol. I just think Sutter picked a fascinating time period, and the pilot set it up beautifully. Now I need to go brush up on Wales history.

  17. Velocisexual says:

    Yet another typical Kurt Sutter show. Trying way too hard to be as grim and dark as possible. I just can’t get into it really. Characters have only negative personality traits, there’s no levity at all, and Katey Sagal’s witch character is just super annoying from the start.
    And for those who think this show is realistic, it’s not. It’s not as silly as that CW show Slezak alludes to, but as a european with an interest in history let me assure you this show isn’t an accurate portrayal either.

  18. Will says:

    Almost checked out after 20 minutes. I even stopped it and started watching something else, but I had to force myself to watch it. It significantly got better in the second hour. I give it about a solid “B”. I’ll stick it out for a few more episodes.

  19. JM says:

    I enjoyed it and gave it a ‘B’. Would have gotten an ‘A’ except for the shock value scenes of the king’s arse wiping and the boy’s sheep fetish, etc. However, I remember that ‘Hannibal’ also started out with gratuitous violence before it delved more into the main characters and became utterly fascinating. So I will give this one a few more shows. Lee is a fantastic actor. The way he approached his supposed ‘wife’ with such emotional anguish and whispering, ‘I’m sorry’. Heck yes, I would have embraced him! And I agree with Michael that I hope we see more of his ‘family’.
    I just hope that Ed Sheeran isn’t the witch’s mute husband. I heard he was going to be on the show, but I didn’t see him.

  20. Ally Knowles says:

    Katey Sagal’s accent – actually her character – is flat-out lame.

  21. jd prague says:

    hoping somebody would finally make a show with a steady camera and no homosexuals. This show failed on both counts, plus it generally sucked. Deleted it as soon as the cornhole scene

  22. Aaron says:

    Katey Segal can do no wrong. Her voice is iconic and sadly covered up by an accent

    • MrMank says:

      Yeah, that accent is not doing her any favors. I absolutely love her, but so far she’s my least favorite character in the series.

      • RJ says:

        I agree they should have used someone else instead of Katy . I’m a huge sons fan and every time I see he I think of gema but other than that I think it was a fantastic pilot its only going to get better Kurt will not let us down

  23. Aaron says:

    Katey Segal can do no wrong. Her voice is iconic and sadly covered up by an accent. Great show though. Cannot wait for more

  24. H says:

    Was extremely looking forward to this seeing as my son is in it and have spent some time on set. The beginning wasn’t what I was expecting but the second half got so much better. Will definitely keep watching and hope it continues to improve.

  25. john marco says:

    What is it with Kurt Sutter and homosexuality. Based on his two TV series, he seems fascinated with it, and there is no need for it in the plot lines. I for one am tired of seeing it on TV everywhere.

  26. Mitch says:

    that recap was legitness

  27. says:

    I’m w yah on it not being annora or the mute that killed petra. Too easy! Sutter doesn’t do easy ..

  28. Come join us and discuss tbx in the fbk group Hail To The Executioner! We wouldlove to see yah there!

  29. Crystal Butts says:

    I cannot believe all the excellent shows getting canceled. The other junk of bad acting. You keep. This show was great. Bring it back for a 2nd season.