The Bastard Executioner Should Have Made Katey Bar The Door
An enduring TV star deserves better material than an overdone witch-doctor with a Dracula accent. Blah!
Peg Bundy from Married with Children. Leela from Futurama. Gemma Teller from Sons of Anarchy. Any actor would count herself blessed to have made TV history with any one of these iconic roles, but Katey Sagal has the hat trick. Her involvement in The Bastard Executioner was one of my main reasons to look forward to this series. Okay, the main reason. (Actually? The reason.) But how do you integrate an American into a cast that hails almost entirely from the British Isles or Australia? Sadly, it turns out that you kind of don't.
Instead, I was mildly alarmed to see Sagal gliding onscreen beneath a bizarre Edgar Winter wig, sucking in her cheeks like she's on a telenovela, and intensely hissing her lines in a vaguely central European accent so thick you could cut it with a broadsword. My first reaction? "Wow, that's really weird." Possible explanations abound. Perhaps Sagal couldn't convincingly pull off an English accent, and was instead asked to invent an entirely new one. But this is being uncharitable. One would do well, as a general rule, to trust that Sagal knows what she's doing.
Unfortunately, Sagal has to trust that executive producer Kurt Sutter knows what he's doing, a conclusion that is not yet supported by the evidence to date. As of the third hour, Executioner lacks convincing execution, with too many characters behaving too inexplicably and dialogue that's been run through the Medievalizer one too many times. It functions most effectively as a gore delivery system, and while it does so admirably, you can get that elsewhere without all the Ren-Fest stuff.
If The Bastard Executioner were a reality show, everyone on it would be telling the confessional camera, "I'm not here to make friends. I'm here to be more mysterious than all the rest of these motherfuckers." In that sense, Annora is certainly a frontrunner. She's got not only the demeanor but the healing knowledge of the proprietress of your local New Age bookstore, except her remedies work. She hangs out with a character known only as the "Dark Mute," who's played by the other American cast member, Kurt Sutter (unrecognizable behind veils and gnarly burn-victim prosthetics that disguise his accent as well). She somehow knows waaaay too much about Wilkin Brattle's history, future, and oddly regular religious experiences. As we learned this week, she lives in a cave that she's decorating with a growing collection of hanging serpents. She can turn on a dime from making loaves-and-fishes cracks to a Christian, to Qur'ansplaning to a Muslim. And Wilkin trusts her and her shadowy agenda implicitly, even though I won't be at all surprised if and when we learn that she and the Dark Mute were secretly behind something that went down in the pilot. Oh, and the tattoos, for crying to Jesus, the tattoos. Dear Kurt Sutter: there are too many mysteries behind Annora. Please remove three. Dozen.
As it stands, Annora has been making me wonder way too much about the etymology of the word "annoy." So there are two ways to go here. One is to take that one last step over the top and have Annora start constructing her sentences with the subjects and predicates swapped around so that her dialogue sounds even more like Yoda's. The other is to maybe invest in a hairband and dial the Slav-O-Tone back a few notches, so that we one day look back on her first-season accent the way we now hear the first-season voice of Homer Simpson. Not that this show is likely to last anywhere near long enough for that to happen, but it's worth a shot.
I can't help thinking there's some nepotism going on here. I'm not saying Kurt Sutter made a bad call by casting his wife; if I were making TV shows and had regular access to Katey Sagal, I'd cast her all the damn time. If he can make her play his onscreen lover, so much the better (but if those burn appliances leave the set with them every night, I really don't want to know about it). On the contrary, I suspect it's Sagal who agreed to do the show because her husband is the one making it. I do realize that great roles for women over sixty (yeah, you heard me) are few and far between. Alas, this is not one of them. Sagal can do and has done better, and I'm looking forward to the next time she does.