Posted by Michael Flores
[For The Bastard Executioner‘s “Effigy/Ddelw” or any other recaps on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]
Effigy/Ddelw. An unlikely suspect is charged with treason; Wilkin carries out his dutes at the new executioner.
“This is such a morbid show,” says Katherine Recap to me as the second episode of The Bastard Executioner opens. She has switched her Tuesday night — ahem — recap-responsibilities to the also-bloody (but ostensibly more charming) Scream Queens (you should probably check that out).
I can’t disagree with her. That morbid opening of this episode has hero — or at least main character — Wilkin Brattle with woods witch Annora, reluctantly knifing a carcass.
“Morbid,” she echoes. “Dead animals and rain.”
Just as Wilkin cuts, the scene cuts to a pair of stonemasons producing a bust of the now-dead villainous Baron. “Too much force… a gentler hand,” is the surprising piece of dialogue.
Cut again to Love, the kindly Baroness, and Isabel, her faithful servant. Love instructs Isabel to select a more colorful dress (“something cheerful”); her time of mourning that bastard of a Baron has apparently ended.
While the Baron’s widow is refocusing on cheer, his former right hand man, Milus Corbett (you know, Vampire Bill from True Blood), is anything but. Corbett is all crying over some weird grass action figures and a little medieval-style illustration of the dead Baron.
Cut back to Annora and Wilkin… It seems that body-chopping was Annora teaching Wilkin “remedies of the body”.
We then get a magical flashback, with a little boy dressed as a nun kicking the bejeezus out of some other cats also dressed as nuns with a quarterstaff… And a not-burned Kurt Sutter is watching! This is actually a pretty telling scene as far as the enigmatic The Bastard Executioner goes. It seems that The Dark Mute wasn’t always burned (we already know from last episode that he is not actually mute), and it seems used to be a monk; probably even warrior-monk, you know, like in D&D.
Wilkin tells Annora he was left with the monks by a nun, who told them he was fatherless. Was she his mother?
Annora says Wilkin’s mom’s story ended. This viewer wonders if Annora is actually his mom. Because reasons.
Back at the castle, a wagon is prepared with the bust of the dead Baron; while in the woods, teenagers with their left cheeks painted colorfully — almost like college football fans — argue about who gets to do what. An older youth, on horseback, tells three others that “they” approach; and instructs his little sister Nia (a wee ginger cutie) to wipe the color from her face, that she is only supposed to watch. She, of course, will have none of that; because foreshadowing.
Or as Sondheim once told us:
What happened then — well, that’s the play,
And he wouldn’t want us to give it away
Wilkin meets up with some of his old buds from the village. Discussion gets a bit heated. For those of us who were a bit confused about why the heroic (or at least heroic-ish) Wilkin is posing as a castle executioner — who will be presumably called on to punish or even put to death the innocent, or at least his countrymen — that is made clear. Wilkin and wingman Toran are there to determine the identities of those who burned their village and killed their families in the Pilot.
For his part, Wilkin can barely hold in his rage, “knowing” with certainty that Leon Tell is responsible for the death of his wife Petra (wearing her sapphire cross and all). Of course we the audience know that Leon actually spared Petra. The only thing certain about this situation is that it is quite going to end tragically :/
Wilkin and Toran have determined that four other knights as well as their new reeve (Vampire Bill) were responsible… It is just a question of which knights.
The ball proper gets rolling when the wagon carrying the stone likeness of the Baron is set upon by our face-painted youths.
“Noble cowards!” They chide, taunting men away from the wagon, berating them with slingshots.
Little Nia jumps onto the stone likeness, breaking off its nose… Then is immediately captured 🙁
Meanwhile, in the Maddox home, apparently the executioner’s widow has no idea that Wilkin isn’t actually her husband, and is only posing as “punisher” Gawain Maddox. Wilkin seems to think that she is just not breaking kayfabe (even when they are alone in the apartment) but this viewer at least gets the feeling that she is actually just unhinged from having such a particularly terrible life.
Wilkin doesn’t get much chance to solidify her understanding as he is called in to deal with the captured Nia.
Remember when Katherine called this show “morbid”?
The first suggestion is to pull Nia’s fingernails out to get her to talk [about rebel movements]; then someone else says “the pear” will be quicker.
WTF is the pear?
Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Does “the pear” have something to do with what Monica on Friends used to refer to as “her flower” in the fat Monica flashback episodes?
Wilkin doesn’t know what to think, examining a LITERAL medieval torture device.
“You stick it in her slot,” says Toran, settling our wonderment.
“God in heaven,” replies Wilkin (echoing 100% of audience members).
Love will have none of this torturing a fifteen-year-old girl, suspecting that she was just part of some childish shenanigans rather than an actual rebel insurgent. Unfortunately Wilkin has already removed one of Nia’s fingernails before Love can get there. Also unfortunately, Nia ain’t talking.
… Not even her name!
“Giving me your name will bring no harm to anyone.”
Baroness Love figures out which village Nia is from via a combination of observations and general being-Welsh knowledge of the area. She wants to find the girl’s parents so that they “can make recompense” and she has an excuse to spare the girl torture and death.
Let’s all go! says Love. Assemble a caravan! Milus tries to object, but Love simply tells him to bring both their priest and their execration. I mean, who’d mess with that combination of redemption and revenge? Exactly.
Annora does something inexplicable with blood and a magic(?) snake. Shrug. Cut to commercial.
Love and her caravan of knights and nobles descend upong Nia’s fishing village. Nia’s mother sends for rebel leader the Wolf (Philip Jennings from FX sister-show and BDM darling The Americans), and tells her older son — the one who told Nia she couldn’t play at the top of the episode — that “that noble waif is the only thing keeping me from gutting you like a cod”.
Love offers Mother fair trade… Her daughter’s life for a meeting with the Wolf (little does she know Mother has already summoned him, or at least his forces). All mother has is “fish and poverty” for trade, claiming not to know the Wolf; the death of Nia would just mean one less mouth to feed.
After this non-exchange, Wilkin identifies the older brother as just having been chewed out by Mother. Maybe he can get something out of him?
Big brother gives up his name (Mabon) after simply being asked one time. “I ripped out your sister’s fingernail and she didn’t give me her name.” Wilkin and company make Mabon feel pretty pathetic, informing him that they might kill her essentially for his mistake. Mabon gives them information about a secret cache of weapons as trade for Nia’s life… Under the condition that his Mother never find out it was him who gave up the goose… err… goods.
After a short interlude about bible stories and Quran-quoting, we see Love’s caravan ambushed by Welsh rebels. Wilkin spirits her away, showing off masterful sword skills in the Baroness’s defense. The priest Father Ruskin (Osip from True Detective) is surprisingly effective as well, both with mace and a hidden dagger. Toran begrudgingly saves the life of one of the knights… Who probably burned down his fillage and killed his family and stuff :/
Back at the castle, Milus tells Love that the deal Mabon made happened before the cowardly ambush, and that her head must roll or they will look weak in the face of rebellion.
Love says she will think on it.
Both Father Ruskin and Love separately notice how good Wilkin was during the rebel ambush; he tries to pass this off as handling a blade being part of his job. Love will have none of it! Swinging an ax is brutish: He’s an artist with a refined discipline.
But enough on the niceties. Love tearfully hands him her decison on Nia 🙁
The ghost of Petra appears to either help or haunt Wilkin. Love’s note becomes a snake that encircles Wilkin’s neck… and becomes paper again.
Wilkin runs to Annora for help, showing her the note. Annora gives Wilkin what we all presume to be poison, and tells him to give it to Nia about an hour before he has to do his work.
As Wilkin gives Nia Annora’s potion, Vampire Bill returns, and tells him never to open his big fat mouth in the direction of the Baroness again.
But… “I serve the Baroness,” he points out.
“Gawain Maddox serves the lady,” Milus clarifies. “Wilkin Brattle belongs to me.”
As we the audience absorb the idea that the show’s villain knows who the bastard executioner really is, we cut to the doom of poor Nia. It turns out that Love’s decision was merely to cut off Nia’s nose — in mirror to what happened to the Baron’s bust — not to actually kill her.
I am reminded of Katherine’s comment about how morbid The Bastard Executioner was at the top of the hour. There are not many shows where seeing a lovely young girl get her nose chopped off would be considered a happy ending relative to setup and expectations.
Top 8 Observations for “Effigy/Ddelw”
- Sutter totally cheated on this one. Perhaps he’s just assuming his base audience for The Bastard Executioner are 100% transplanted Sons of Anarchy fans? A cold viewer would have had no idea that the burned The Dark Mute was the not-burned guy watching a young Welkin learn to fight in the flashback scene.
- Man! Sorry… woman! Welsh women are tough! Nia won’t give up a word — not even her name — even after some medieval torture (though it is unclear how much Nia actually knows about Welsh rebels); and her mother was like steel and stone in the face of losing her child when negotiating with Love.
- For someone who has devoted much of his adult life to a game called Magic… The magic / mystical elements of this show are driving me nuts. Blood, visions, angels, demons (which are apparently imaginary?), and snakes… The hoodoo abra cadabra is my least favorite part of the show right now.
- The setup of Welkin getting Nia’s doom was super interesting, and not just for the plot twist; Love assumed Wilkin (Gawain) could read.
- I’m all for a romp with some hot twins (Vampire Bill’s last scene being a team event with a two-girl gift package from the King), but wasn’t he secretly gay last week?
- Maybe that’s why Milus was crying over the grass action figure at the beginning of the episode? Was he secretly in love with the Baron? I thought for a moment he might be remorseful for his executed brother but the little illustration swayed my opinion on that one. Also if I were being tag teamed by the aforementioned twins, I don’t think I would have leftover concentration to be playing with the aforementioned little doll (which he was).
- The conflict in The Bastard Executioner to this point seems largely driven by the incompetence of young people spoiling the execution of otherwise sound acts of rebellion. In the Pilot Ash gets spotted and semi-identified, leading to the village burning and murders central to our protagonist’s motivations, and in “Effigy/Ddelw” had Nia “just watched” as she was instructed a lot of the violence would have been entirely avoided. The rebels gained very little and much of the cost has been dropped straight on Welkin’s shoulders.
- Googling the word “ddelw” mostly just produced other recaps of this episode and did not give me any satisfying context to make my own better :/