Review: ‘Bastard Executioner’ pushes the boundaries of cable TV
Heads will roll, that’s for sure.
Swords will impale, snakes will writhe, skin will be shown and shorn and bodies, so many bodies, will fall. Innards will be strewn about, throats will be slit and lies, so many lies, will be told.
Welcome to “The Bastard Executioner,” the latest show to push the envelope of what’s acceptable on cable television. Not surprisingly it comes from Kurt Sutter, one of the chief writers on “The Shield” and the creator of “Sons of Anarchy,” two shows which previously pushed the envelope of what was acceptable on cable television.
Understand, this is a show about a guy who beheads and tortures people for a living. He’s the hero.
It’s more complex than that, of course. In fact, Tuesday’s bloody two-hour premiere is the equivalent of a feature film that sets up our hero’s journey. Without giving too much away, Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones) is a 14th-century Welsh knight who lays down his sword to become a farmer. But when tragedy strikes, he takes up arms again, vowing vengeance while pretending to be — and in the process inevitably becoming — a punisher, a professional executioner and all-around-hurting-others kind of guy.
His chief advisor-mentor is a witch, Annora of the Alders (“Sons” stalwart Katey Sagal, Sutter’s wife), who obviously has some master plan in mind. Brattle infiltrates the royal world of Baroness Lady Love Ventris (Flora Spencer Longhurst), a noblewoman who wants peace with the common man, despite recent troubles with rebels. She has inherited a snake of an advisor in Milus Corbett (“True Blood” star Stephen Moyer) who eventually takes on the mantle of chief bad guy.
Colorful/dreadful characters abound. There’s Brattle’s supposed son, Luca Maddox (Ethan Griffins), a little boy who sharpens the blades used for cutting people. A priest, Father Ruskin (Timothy V. Murphy), who’s surprisingly handy with a dagger. A somewhat deranged hunter boy, Ash (Darren Evans), who may be overly fond of domesticated animals. And Sutter himself has a role (as he did in “Sons”), playing Annora’s hideously scarred, silent sidekick, The Dark Mute.
The Dark Mute. Yep, it’s that kind of show.
The violence quotient here is unrelenting, and far more disturbing than your basic zombie show since real, often wholly innocent people are being gutted, not zombies. The show opens with a massacre and then keeps them coming.
There’s also a touch of the mystical — Annora really can do witchy stuff and she and Brattle see angels. And, as with “Sons,” conspiracy, mistrust, betrayal, manipulation and a long-term battle for political power run through everything.
Jones, a fresh face from Australia, has a strong physical style that nevertheless allows for vulnerability. Sagal is wickedly effective, as always, and her role certainly echoes the matriarchal menace she brought to “Sons,” while Moyer seems delighted with the villainous sheen he gets to don here. The balance of the cast is filled out mostly by accomplished British stage actors, and they are uniformly good.
“The Bastard Executioner” is going to be compared to many other shows, most obviously “Game of Thrones,” but also “Sons” and “Deadwood,” even “Breaking Bad,” “The Sopranos” and, for the violence alone, “The Walking Dead.”
The thing is, those are good shows to be compared to. As harrowing, dark and bloody as the premiere episodes are, and as open as the show’s direction seems to be, the comparisons seem apt. This “Bastard” rocks.
10 p.m. Tuesday