Pilot Perception: The Bastard Executioner

Welcome to Pilot Perception, our feature in which we break down the first episode of each new show in order to help you decide whether it’s worth your time.

The Show: The Bastard Executioner, on FX in the U.S. and Canada, Tuesdays at 10/9c

FX also has a very fancy site for the show. (There’s a map. I love when things come with maps.)

The Pedigree: The show was created and written by Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy), who executive produces along with Brian Grazer (24, Arrested Development, … Curious George? Lots of things), Francie Calfo (Gang Related), and Paris Barclay (Sons of Anarchy). Barclay directed the premiere.

The Cast & How You Know Them: Lee Jones (Magical Tales) stars along with Stephen Moyer (True Blood), Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy), and Flora Spencer-Longhurst (Leonardo).

The Premise: Set in 14th century Wales, The Bastard Executioner is the story of a warrior turned executioner in a time of political unrest. After both personal and societal tragedy, Wilkin Brattle decides to put down his sword, but a divine messenger tells him to step into the life of a journeyman executioner. He ends up trying to find his way among various mystical and political maneuverings.

A Taste:


What Works: This is a very good-looking show — it’s more stylized and brighter than I’d expected from the rather dismal marketing, and I’m a sucker for lush historical stuff. I’m not a historian, but I’m into history enough to object when costumes, technology, etc. seem totally off, and this show did much better than most in that regard. As I get into below, this episode spent a frustratingly long time setting things up, but at the end of it I realized I was actually fairly intrigued by both Brattle’s personal situation and the larger political situation — enough to give it another episode or two in spite of some big issues, anyway. Speaking of …

What Doesn’t: For a show with so much action, this was very slow. I wasn’t against the idea of a two-hour premiere per se — I’m all for giving shows enough time to establish things at the beginning — but here it seemed mostly to let the episode drag. The show is very violent, though the portrayal is often stylized enough that it didn’t particularly bother me personally; still, I know many viewers found it to be too much and so I wanted to mention that. The dialogue is pretty unnatural, though some of the over-explaining can be put down to the fact that the first episode had a lot to cover. And while, as I mentioned, much of the setting seemed reasonably historically plausible, some of the characters’ worldviews did not — there was a discussion of a character’s level of privilege that was so modern it made me laugh out loud, which I don’t think was the intended effect. I don’t feel I have a good enough sense of where the show is going to evaluate its treatment of women, but there were several moments in this episode that made me concerned about that: witches, saintly martyred wives — at this point the female characters mostly felt like tired archetypes, though I suppose we can hope Sutter will do something interesting with them. (Two examples: Someone is NAMED “Baroness Lady Love.” And about another, my notes say “Manic pixie ghost of Christmas past??”, which sort of sums up my reaction to a lot of this.)

Our Favorite Line: “I have no plan but vengeance.” “The only plan left.”

You Might Like This if you like Game of Thrones, which is clearly the audience they’re going for here. It’s absolutely not as good as Game of Thrones, but it might help tide you over? On Twitter, Spencer Ackerman called the show Braveheart but for Wales, and that analogy works pretty well too. The visuals also reminded me of Outlander at times.

If You’re Interested: FX is rerunning the premiere several times, so check your local listings, or catch it on demand. Then set your DVR for Tuesday at 10/9c.

(Photo courtesy of FX.)

One thought on “Pilot Perception: The Bastard Executioner

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *