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Self-inflicted wounds: FX's The Bastard Executioner


Ah, those medieval times. What great, bloody fun they had. FX photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 15th at 9 p.m. (central) on FX with a two-hour episode
Starring: Lee Jones, Stephen Moyer, Katey Sagal, Flora Spencer-Longhurst, Sam Spruell, Sarah Sweeney, Danny Sapani, Darren Evans, Kurt Sutter, Timothy V. Murphy, Sarah White, Ethan Griffiths Glen Rhys, Matthew Rhys
Produced by: Kurt Sutter, Brian Grazer, Francie Calf

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Violence. Depravity. Turf wars. Casting his wife, Katey Sagal, in the midst of it all. Creator/producer Kurt Sutter is a big fan, as he showed time and again during seven seasons of Son of Anarchy.

His FX followup is The Bastard Executioner, a bloody, mystical but not magical saga set in British-occupied Northern Wales, where “tension grows in the turbulent marshlands” at the dawn of the 14th century.

The names and occupied country have been changed, but this is pretty much another Braveheart minus the Scottish brogues and kilts. A peace-seeking man, in this case Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones), is both traumatized and enraged upon returning home to find his pregnant wife dead and mutilated along with assorted other women and children. The brutish British have retaliated for an earlier nighttime attack on one of their smaller forces.

Brattle, whose earlier battlefield religious vision had prompted him to lay down his sword in hopes of becoming a farmer, is now furious beyond repair.

“Damn you, holy destiny!” he rages while weeping over his dead wife. And to his remaining mates: “I have no plan but vengeance.”

Bastard Executioner toggles back and forth between lords and hinterlands while the overall story struggles to take shape. There’s an early scene of a poor shackled guy having the skin filleted off his back by Castle Pryce’s resident executioner, a k a “ The Punisher.” But torturer is also deeply tormented, taking his anger out physically on both his own body and his young son. In short, there’s soon going to be a job opening.

Stephen Moyer, who formerly played the lead vampire on HBO’s True Blood, is back in prime-time as Milus Corbett, conniving chamberlain of Ventrishire. Swinging both ways sexually, he’s intent on exerting his influence over the comparatively goodly Baroness Lady Love Ventris (Flora Spencer-Longhurst). A couple of other evil-doers wind up dead during the two-hour Sept. 15th premiere, so we’ll leave them out of this so as not to spoil their very violent demises.

Sagal is Annora of the Alders, viewed variously as a witch, a healer and a visionary who knows things that she couldn’t possibly know. Except that she does. Annora is accompanied by the extremely badly scarred Dark Mute (played by Sutter himself). She calls him “my love.”

Let’s note at this point that Bastard Executioner also is populated with other intriguingly named characters, including Berber the Moor (Danny Sapani), Gruffudd Y Blaid (Matthew Rhys) and Ash Y Goedwig (Darren Evans). But so far there’s no Siegfried the Roy or Lloyd the Barbarian Barber.

Goedwig, affixed with the series’ brownest teeth appliances, apparently is supposed to provide a semblance of comic relief from the stabbings, beheadings and mutilations. During the second hour, he scores in that arena by acknowledging he’s so forgetful that “I’d lose my baubles if they weren’t attached to my dingle.” Nice.

Meanwhile, leading man Wilkin moves with what oddly seems to be the greatest of ease between the castle -- where he ends up masquerading as the title character -- and the field to be with his rebellious buddies. He finds himself repeatedly vexed and tormented, biding his time between eventually killing all involved in the village attack and reluctantly carrying out his unpleasant castle duties. Besides torture and the like, these include tangling with Moyer’s disagreeable Milus.

“You don’t challenge me, simple man,” Milus snarls. “I will shred you, body and mind.”

To which Wilkin retorts, “I sense a growing fear putting on a face of boldness.”

I sense an eventual Saturday Night Live parody, with ripe material furnished by the at times over-ripe dialogue and Wilkin’s continued dilemmas. What will he be ordered to do next? Stick fire ants into the nasal cavities of a no good, lying peasant? Paint the fingernails of a recalcitrant lass with foul, clinging oxen dung? Sing “Danke Schoen” at the top of his lungs until a prisoner cries out for mercy and confesses? Oh, that would be unspeakably cruel.

Which is to say that I didn’t care too much for The Bastard Executioner’s two-hour opener and a subsequent episode sent for review. There’s a lot of gibberish and meandering accompanying the visceral bloodshed. The palace intrigues aren’t all that interesting, even with Milus hissing to Wilkin about the “buried truths” they share. Add the macabre machinations of Sagal’s Annora of the Alders, which likely will never make an iota of sense.

“My story is over,” Wilkin disconsolately tells her at one point.

“No. It has just begun,” she insists.

Fine. Just please leave me out of it.

GRADE: C-minus

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