Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Review of The Bastard Executioner (Contains Spoilers)

For a pilot that is clearly trying very hard to shock its audience, I found the plot of Kurt Sutter's latest project, The Bastard Executioner, to be disappointingly predictable, riddled with cliches, and lacking all sense of subtlety. Taking place in Wales in the 14th Century, The Bastard Executioner tells the story of Wilkin Brattle, a Byronic hero, cursed with an unfortunate destiny and forged in the crucible of tragedy.

Brattle's cardboard life has an unauthentic feel from the start.
Unfortunately, Brattle's angst-ridden story is the very same rehashed tale that we've already seen played out again and again . . . and again in stories like Spartacus, Braveheart, Gladiator, and Hell on Wheels. It's the typical narrative wherein a reluctant hero rides off to battle, only for everything he loves to be destroyed while he's away, often as a retaliatory measure for his own moral righteousness in the field against a corrupt authority. His family and village have the feel of backdrop pieces to be swept aside from the onset, deadening any emotional shock when they're taken.

And sadly, the cliches don't stop there. From the obligatory Wilhelm-scream during battle scenes, to characters playing the pronoun game to add a false air of mystery to the narrative, the show seems to hit every landmark you'd expect from a story completely unable to convey an authentic sense of drama. And while we're on the subject of Sutter's particularly egregious exploitation of the pronoun game, I found to Katey Sagal's ham-handed imitation of Bella Lugosi to be much more disturbing than the so-called "reveal" that her character was the killer.

The Sacred and the Profane
While The Bastard Executioner has the potential for some very powerful imagery, it dampens the evocative nature of its visual elements through the same lack of subtlety that was a weakness in the latter seasons of Sutter's biker drama, Sons of Anarchy. Like the sacramental imagery forced into the lukewarm SOA finale, Pappa's Goods, the scenes of holy iconography so often intermingled with implements of torture shows a lack of intellectual faith in the audience. A crucifix jutting out from a mountain of corpses is a powerful image, but the effect is dampened due to the overuse of the sacred-profane dichotomy. When the pilot alone overuses imagery to the point of exploitation, it doesn't bode well for the rest of the season.

All in all The Bastard Executioner has a premise with great potential, but is brought down by a number of small issues that compound to undermine the project as a whole, such as the fades to gray which come off as jarring, rather than artistic. After Sons of Anarchy coasted by in its final years on the popularity of the infinitely superior Breaking Bad, The Bastard Executioner feels too much like a cheap attempt at riding the coattails of HBO's Game of Thrones. While Sons of Anarchy started strong and went down hill after a number of positive seasons, The Bastard Executioner comes off as mediocre from the get go. In the end, I blame Kurt Sutter's lack of patience and attention to detail that made Shawn Ryan the true writing talent on FX's The Shield.

I give the bastard executioner two out of five blood-dripping crucifixes.

My thoughts exactly.

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