On Tuesday night (September 15), FX will debut "Sons of Anarchy" creator Kurt Sutter's second official baby, via the two-hour series premiere of "The Bastard Executioner."
"Bastard" -- in case you haven't heard -- is the gripping tale of a 14th century Welsh warrior (newcomer Lee Jones) who puts down his sword to settle down in domestic bliss, only to have that settled down existence taken away from him in the most brutal way possible. He then takes up the sword again, but with an entirely new (hidden) identity of a traveling executioner... only he isn't traveling for long, as he's quickly "hired" for a full-time position with some of the most devious nobility in Wales, just as the seeds of Welsh rebellion begin to bloom into a full-blown William Wallace type of thing. It's a lot.
MTV News was able to screen the first three episodes of "Bastard" -- the two-hour pilot, as well as the week that follows -- ahead of Tuesday's premiere. Here's what you need to know:
The two-hour pilot is essentially an origin story.
Let's get the negative out of the way. I enjoyed the final ten minutes of the two hour pilot -- and all of episode three, "Effigy / Ddelw" -- much more than Wilkin Brattle's two-hour pilot origin story, which is what you'll all be seeing on Tuesday night.
As we've all seen throughout numerous iterations of Batman and Spider-Man, sometimes great heroes are born (onscreen) out of great violence afflicted on their loved ones, and it's the same for Mr. Brattle. However, what happens next for Wilkin is what will drive this story, and it's very arguable that audiences would have fallen for this tale of destiny and rebellion in 14th Century Wales without all of the violence towards the innocents that makes up episode one. (Largely because we don't even get to know those who are slaughtered beforehand; so their deaths read a whole lot like fridging.)
Once the pilot gets past all of the slicing and dicing, and moves Brattle into his new destiny as the executioner for the vicious and sadistic Milus Corbett (Stephen Moyer) and the Baroness Lowry "Love" Aberffraw Ventris (Flora Spencer-Longhurst), we really get to see what this show is all about. And we like it!
The violence will be sure to garner some Internet outrage.
Again, on the violence -- it's almost like Sutter heard everything that made people mad about "Game of Thrones" this season and decided to one-up it, just because he can. (Though lucky for us, three episodes in, gratuitous sexual violence has not entered the equation.)
The first few episodes should make "Sons" fans happy with scenes of mass slaughter, beheading, and even torture -- of a young female, no less! But this is a tale about an executioner during the horrific Dark Ages during an era of political unrest in Wales, so let's just be grateful that the violence isn't sexualized, or even particularly glorified, compared to what we've seen on the aforementioned motorcycle opera.
... But faith, lies, and justice are the true heart of the story.
Here's where we get into what makes "Bastard" work: it's the story of a seemingly good man who has to do very, very bad things because he was born in a bad place during a bad time, and his struggle to figure out which violent acts are justified in order to achieve his end goal (peace), and which are not.
(ASIDE: Peace was also -- seemingly -- Jax Teller's goal at the beginning of "Sons of Anarchy," but I would argue that Jax's emotional ties to his outlaw gang were always just a tad bit stronger than his desire to get out for the sake of his immediate family. Wilkin, at the get-go, does not seem to have particularly strong feelings about the Welsh rebellion against his new bosses, which is both a major differentiation between Sutter's two leading men, and a boon for the series.)
"Bastard" has all of the courtyard scheming of "Thrones" with a thrilling, countryside rebellion plot, insane dark ages politics, and a dude who talks to sheep to boot. It's fun to watch the core group of characters grapple with their faith -- and for Wilkin, faith is directly tied to his quest for justice -- as political unrest grows, as well as witnessing how they're willing to lie to achieve their means.
It boasts several "Sons of Anarchy" alums.
There's no Charlie Hunnam here, folks, but an impressive group of "Sons" alums have roles both large and small in "Bastard." Most notable, of course, is Sutter's real-life wife Katey Sagal as Annora of the Alders, which is a role so, so different from Gemma Teller that it should have long-term SAMCRO fans reeling. Annora wears a long, grey wig and flowing robes, lives a life of poverty, conjures magic with snakes, and speaks in a Slavic accent. She's also pretty dang shady -- much like Gemma -- and her motivations as of now (she takes a keen interest in Wilkin's destiny, after having "visions") are entirely unclear, but she's definitely one of the series' most standout characters.
Also present is Timothy V. Murphy -- Galen on "Sons" -- as Father Ruskin, the Baroness' devout priest who has a mysterious (and almost definitely violent) past. Sutter himself (Otto on "Sons") plays Sagal's traveling companion The Dark Mute, and he also told EW that both Hunnam and Tommy Flanagan (Chibs) are interested in showing up in the future.
Matthew Rhys from "The Americans" also shows up as Gruffudd y Blaidd, one of the leaders of the Welsh rebellion, and seems to be having a blast playing dress-up in his home country, for a change.
Lee Jones is magnetic.
It's no easy feat to stand out as the introspective, pious white knight in a cast of characters that includes a sadistic chamberlain, a witch, and a scene-stealing female leader centuries ahead of her time, but Jones pulls it off. He has that same bright-eyed, square-jawed earnestness that makes Jaime from "Outlander" (Sam Heughan) so interesting to watch, as even if he isn't necessarily the most complex -- or most talkative -- guy in the room, you're still rooting for him.
(And of course, it doesn't hurt that he's good looking.)
Stephen Moyer from "True Blood" is a full-on sadist.
Speaking of "Outlander," he hasn't personally tortured anyone yet, but Moyer's cruel, opportunistic chamberlain Milus Corbett definitely shares similarities (sexual and otherwise) with Tobias Menzies' Captain Jack Randall. Moyer seems to have a blast playing a classic bad guy after seven seasons of romantic anti-hero on HBO's vampire sex drama, though it's important to note that, much like Annora's, Corbett's motivations are still pretty muddled three episodes in. Is he just a power-hungry sadist, eager to thwart this rebellion -- and draw blood along the way -- to gain favor with his English masters? Do some men just want to watch the world burn? I look forward to finding out.
There's a woman!
Well, with Sagal's Annora and a few other background players there are technically multiple women, but it's Baroness Love who is going to get people talking. It's refreshing to have a relentlessly kind and fiercely intelligent female character in a position of power in a reputable medieval drama, especially since she doesn't resort to the old trope of using her sexuality to get ahead in a room full of boys. (We love you, Margaery Tyrell, but you know it's true.) Instead, she relies on faith and instinct to keep afloat, though surely her burgeoning friendship with Wilkin will soon lead to trouble from the chamberlain...