REVIEW: Knightfall, S1E9 – Fiat!

Knightfall sets the stage for an epic battle in next week’s finale, but first “Fiat!” must move a lot of pieces around to get there. The episode splits its time between Landry (Tom Cullen) and Tancrede’s (Simon Merrells) botched plans to turn on Pope Boniface (Jim Carter) and Joan’s (Olivia Ross) botched plan to escape Philip (Ed Stoppard). The only thing is that as the walls come crashing down around them, it’s hard not to feel like they did this to themselves.

“She Hates Me” by Puddle of Mudd

Now that Philip knows about his queen and best friend’s betrayal from De Nogaret (Julian Ovenden), he has fortified himself against them both and prepares to strike when the time is right. He doesn’t yet use his army against the Templars – though I’m sure that’s coming – but he does lure Joan into a trap with her eyes wide open. For her part, Joan shows an admirable loyalty to her handmaid Sophie (who has been played with sweetness and charm all season long by Amelia Clarkson) and even winds up incriminating herself further for the sake of her friend. The dynamic between the two women has done wonders to endear Joan to me, and it also helps paint her infidelity as a specific problem between herself and Philip. Clearly she is not a traitor by nature.

But adultery in the royal family is treason of a kind, so I’m not sure how Joan ever planned to get out of her situation scot-free, and that does diminish some of the pathos throughout “Fiat!” There is some sick satisfaction to be had from the cat and mouse game Philip plays, but it’s all over once Isabella is shown to be listening in on Joan’s private conversation. That girl would – and does – sell out her own mother if it meant pleasing the shady male figures in her life; it’s something she learned from her “uncle.” By the time the King and Queen reach the ball, where Philip beats Sophie for all to see and forces Joan to confess to an attempted abortion for all to hear, all the fun has been sucked out of the plot. What does the King hope to accomplish with this deranged display? Is he planning to have Joan killed, or does he plan to keep her and labor under the delusion that the child is his? The final moments of Joan screaming out for her daughter are poignant, but I’m wary of Knightfall using any harm against her as fodder for Landry and hope they hope choose a path that benefits Joan herself as a character.

One of the most moving moments in “Fiat!” actually comes from the setup for Landry’s quest for justice, and it is when Tancrede is being reinstated as a Templar. The emotion is evident in Cullen and Merrells’ performances, and the choice to let Tancrede back in despite his promise of loyalty to the Brotherhood of Light also points to how much more inclusive this section of the order has grown. And it’s a good thing, because Landry is long past the point where he can set hard and fast rules for others to follow. With that out of the way, Landry sets off to warn the Grandmaster about Pope Boniface’s greed with the Templars who are willing to join him and turn away from the Church. Much like with Joan’s dilemma, this is another harebrained scheme that Knightfall wants me to believe could work, and it’s hard to suspend disbelief for long enough to watch it fail. Nevertheless, it does fail as soon as the Grandmaster reveals that the Pope has been lying in wait all this time and Landry must stand trial for all his crimes against the Order.

Mama to the rescue.

And again, Landry is guilty of most of the crimes for which he stands accused even if there are technical reasons for each of them. Because of this, it’s hard to invest in the outcome of the trial – even when Gawain (Pádraic Delaney) is brought in to make matters worse with his incriminating testimony. Gawain does have the best line of the night, though, echoing my own thoughts when he responses to Landry calling him Judas. “Does that make you Jesus?” he wonders, and Landry just might think he is. Aside from that moment, it’s a waiting game to get to the guilty verdict and see what deus ex machina will save Landry from excommunication and death. Sure enough, just as the crowd is chanting “Fiat!” and preparing to end Landry’s life, his mother appears with some very special words for the Pope. We do not hear the secret of the Grail – though we do hear her confirm that Joan is pregnant with Landry’s child – but it is powerful enough to make the Pope forgive and release Landry.

His life is spared, but he still does not have the Grail and neither does the Pope. Tancrede was meant to steal it while everyone was distracted with Landry’s trial, but instead the assassin Altani (Lourdes Faberes) stole it out from under his and the Pope’s noses. So now Landry is nearly in the same position as he was a few weeks ago, except that Philip is moving an army against him and the Templars. And worse yet, Gawain decides to enact some vengeance by striking Landry’s legs. Will he end up like Gawain, or will he wriggle free of this one too? Given the big battle coming up in the finale, I have to imagine he won’t be too much worse for the wear.

Knightfall airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on the History Channel.