And for one episode, the cast of The Bastard Executioner set aside their petty squabbles, personal vendettas and unresolved beefs to unite for a greater purpose: hunting a rogue Frenchman. Corbett might be a murdering son of a bitch, and Wilkin might feel the utmost loathing for him, but when the newly-exiled Piers Gaveston goes on the run, both villain and hero determine to find the snide courtier and bring him to justice. If the search for Piers provided “Broken Things/Pethau Toredig” with the totality of its backbone, it might have worked out for the better. But Piers’ treachery, and his choice to go underground and hide from the law, must await resolution until next week. There are other lambs to slaughter here.
Proverbial lambs, mind, though “Broken Things/Pethau Toredig” does contain its fair share of literal slaughter. The Bastard Executioner has never tried to disguise its kinship to Game of Thrones in terms of its unflinching grittiness; they’re both intrinsically violent shows that, when occasion calls, revel in their displays of gratuitous bloodshed. But after The Bastard Executioner’s pilot, where a pregnant woman and her unborn baby were left cut to pieces for all the world to observe, the bulk of its violence, punitive or otherwise, has been visited on its male characters, with few exceptions. So if you shuddered at the sight of that poor girl losing her nose in “Effigy/Delw,” then fair warning: “Broken Things/Pethau Toredig” will probably make you blanch. That Spanish donkey ain’t no joke.
We don’t really know anything about the maidens, other than the fact that they’re twins and they don’t have any sexual boundaries. But we do know that the moment Corbett deduces they’ve been aiding Piers, they’re in for the worst reprisal imaginable; worse than that, Wilkin isn’t around the castle to punish them, so Leon and Locke step in to render his services for them. We only see the aftermath of their efforts, but the aftermath is horrible enough on its own merits, and provides a pointed reminder of exactly what kind of world The Bastard Executioner takes place in. Yet it’s the show’s restraint, such as it is, that demands attention here: Where Game of Thrones would probably show us the sisters’ suffering, “Broken Things/Pethau Toredig” has mercy enough to inflict it off-screen.
Their anguish isn’t the only instance of viscera that occurs outside our field of vision. The Dark Mute, still dark, but now decidedly more talkative, gets a moment to strut his stuff, but the camera slips inside a cave opening and keeps us from witnessing his badassery. All we see, again, is the aftermath, with the Mute Tebowing in a circle of severed limbs and butchered corpses. It’s an awesome moment for us, as well as Wilkin and Toran, who stare in dumbfounded awe at the Mute’s handiwork. But coolness aside, we’re left wondering what statement this makes about Kurt Sutter’s perspective on violence and what violence really means to The Bastard Executioner as a story. Those maidens might be traitors, but goddamn, who deserves to shuffle off their mortal coil straddling a sawhorse? Are we meant to feel bad for them? Are we supposed to relish the anticipation of pain as Corbett does?
The key to answering those questions lies in the resolution of “Behold the Lamb/Gweled yr Oen” from two weeks ago. You’d think that Love and Wilkin (because now we’re on a real name basis with the Baroness) would still be wrestling with the consequences of their collusion, which led to the death of an innocent man. Grant that the man in question met his end willingly and for the sake of his family. Grant also that he died as horribly as anyone possibly could in the dark ages, and that neither Love nor Wilkin have anything to say about it at any point during “Broken Things/Pethau Toredig.” They have moved on. So has the show, then, which speaks volumes about its politics. Sutter seems happiest staging images that read as “cool,” and, to his credit, that shot of the Mute in repose post-massacre is incredibly striking. (It’s worth bringing up the fact that Sutter plays the Mute himself, so you may feel free to accuse him of some level of vanity here.)
Why all the talk of propriety and violence? Because “Broken Things/Pethau Toredig” gives us little else to talk about. Sure, Love and Wilkin can’t keep their hands off each other, and yes, Jessamy walks right in on them playing tonsil hockey; we learn more, too, about Annora as she brings Father Ruskin (who, by the way, has quickly become the series’ most interesting supporting character, with the sage Berber nipping at his heels) into the fold, but until the episode’s final minute, none of this ever really matters. It’s an hour of wheel-spinning where naught happens but lots of boring chess; pieces get moved around, but we have to wait until next time to see how they’re employed.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has contributed to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Birth.Movies.Death. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.