When TV shows hook you: The Bastard Executioner Case

Bastard didn't have the most thrilling pilot, but is that a reason to stop watching? 

Updated 17.10.2015 (after rewatching the pilot)




We have been told to “not judge a book by its cover”, yet no-one ever tells you to not judge a show by its pilot. As a matter of fact, that’s what everyone expects you to do. I think audiences have unfair expectations of pilots. Yes… a pilot should indicate the tone and promise of a series, but there is only so much you can do in an hour [or two]. We are talking of years of potential storytelling and… we are only watching the very first few minutes. The tip of the iceberg. If everything a show is about was included in the pilot, well… it would be a movie.

Over the years, I have watched hundreds of TV shows in their entirety. For some of them, I was a casual viewer. For others, a diehard fan. Among all the shows that really grabbed my attention and earned a place in my TV pantheon, probably one or two [if any] “hooked” me with the pilot. The only example I can think of is Breaking Bad and I am not even sure I was properly “hooked” until I watched a few more episodes.

Then there are shows like Game of Thrones, Banshee, Lost, Fringe and Sons of Anarchy which I watched “casually” until a point where something just clicked and I became a FAN. It only took Banshee four episodes, seven in the case of Game of Thrones; but Fringe didn’t grab me until the end of season 1 and I wasn’t a true Lost fan until its third season. There is even "scientific" proof for this: Netflix recently released a study that pinpoints the episode where viewers get “hooked” and… it isdefinitely not the pilot.


All of this to say that… it can really pay off to stick with a show even if you feel underwhelmed by the pilot. My latest experience with this type of situation has been The Bastard Executioner. As a huge Sons of Anarchy fan I was anticipating this show more than any other. And… I was a bit disappointed after I watched the pilot. My initial review was not all bad. I tried to keep it positive and mentioned that – even though I didn’t like the pilot – I had high hopes for the rest of the season.

But to be completely honest, my post-pilot feelings were much more negative than that. I found the pilot quite tedious and hard to watch (*). There were just too many characters [played mostly by actors I had never seen before], too many accents and too many plot-lines to follow. I spent most of the first hour unable to tell one rebel agenda from the other. I was ready to proclaim my disappointment, but by the end of the pilot two events woke me up and made me pay attention.

SPOILERS AHEAD

One was the murder of Baron Ventris, who I thought would be the villain of the show. So seeing him die in the pilot was quite a [welcome] shock. The other defining moment was the mystery assassination of the leading man's wife, Petra. This was not completely unexpected, but felt very necessary.

These two events reminded me of the high stakes storytelling Sutter does best. So I coloured myself a “believer”. However, I was still not jumping up and down and neither were the critics. The Bastard Executioner got mostly bad reviews from all the major trade publications… and I couldn’t entirely disagree. They were pointing out all the issues that were bothering me, but didn’t share my optimism for what was to come. Nevertheless, I kept watching. Episodes 2 and 3 were easier to digest because, by then, I had figured out who the main characters were [and I could stop calling Milus “vampire Bill”]. But still… it seemed like a lot of talk about destiny and Welsh politics that was going nowhere [and the mystical visions were not helping]. However, at some point in the middle of Lady Love’s game of chicken with the French and that medieval pregnancy test [which I thought was equal parts ridiculous and AWESOME] I got hooked.

Throughout episodes 4 and 5, the show finally took a definitive shape and plots started to come together. All the individual agendas – political and/or mystical – converged and I had what you might call an “aha” moment. The main source of conflict will be the need to find an heir for Ventrishire. The Baroness cannot stay as a ruler unless she marries an appointed noble or produces an heir. Corbett – always so proactive – takes it upon himself to find a suitable husband for Lady Love. And by that I mean finding a corrupt married man and killing his wife [via Wilkin Brattle]. Meanwhile, Lady Love chooses the alternative and tells the French that she is carrying the Baron’s child [which she is not].

And it all circles back to Annora. The popular theory at this point is that Annora killed Petra in order to force Wilkin to go to Ventrishire and maybe produce the heir himself? That would definitely fall under the “destiny to fulfil” category. This might or might not be what is happening, but they certainly have us talking and speculating.

You may still think that this is not your cup of tea, but it is definitely mine. Throw in some political intrigue, a hint of illicit love and medieval costumes and I am IN.

Since I have been counting down the days until the new episode comes out [and browsing the internet to watch every single cast interview I could find], we can safely conclude that I am “hooked”. That is episode 5… if I recall correctly Kurt Sutter’s flagship show Sons of Anarchy didn’t hook me until episode 7.

So… I do believe that it is a bit unfair - at this point - to keep complaining about TBX not being as good as SOA. Yes… Sons was an incredibly complex and layered show… but that happened over seven years. I think that The Bastard Executioner has the potential to develop into something similar (in terms of depth).

Unfortunately, what happens in these cases is that most critics either stop watching or they don’t write about the show ever again [guess they don’t like to contradict their initial reviews] and it is up to the fans to spread the word... So, here I am, telling everyone that I am in for the long haul [and hoping FX gives this a chance to grow].

(*) I am certain that if I re-watched the pilot – which I plan to do soon – I would be able to appreciate all the nuances and I would actually enjoy it in the second viewing.

Update: I rewatched the 2hr. pilot last night, and... I have to say, it is a VERY well written pilot. Everything that happens is a set up for something that comes later in the season. I was amazed by the amount of information I just didn't get the first time. Like Petra telling Wilking that Annora is convinced his "first son will be an heir". In summary, it is not a bad episode at all... but it requires all the attention of the viewer, which I don't think I gave it when I first watched it. 

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TVEmpress

The TV Empress is a Media Management graduate, screenwriter in the making (and financial engineer in the meantime). She has serious plans to take over global television. You can follow the TVEmpress on twitter @TVRepublik

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