REVIEW: Knightfall, S1E5 – Hard Blows Will Banish the Sin

England declared war on last week’s Knightfall and Isabella (Sabrina Bartlett) begged her so-called uncle De Nogaret (Julian Ovenden) to relieve her of the burden of marrying Luis by whatever means necessary. ‘Hard Blows Will Banish the Sin’ focuses on the preparations for both these situations, which join together in one tangled web of lies and deceit. And yet the episode is titled after Tancrede’s (Simon Merrells) punishment, which serves as a thematic center for the disparate plots throughout the hour.

King Philip (Ed Stoppard) is not so thirsty for war that he can’t stop to plan his daughter’s wedding or boast about his renewed relations with Queen Joan (Olivia Ross), but his effusions are quickly cut short by a sudden and shocking poisoning in the court. De Nogaret falls unconscious after alerting the royal family to poison in their midst, and for a large part of ‘Hard Blows Will Banish the Sin’ it appears that he may really be in mortal danger. Of course, the man has been such a snake all of Knightfall thus far that my first thought was that this was part of some elaborate plan to either prevent the war or prevent Isabella’s marriage. Little did I know it was part of an elaborate plan to do both things at once.

Holy flaming sword, Templar!

Though the King’s advisor was out of commission for most of the episode, the intricate trap had several moving parts. The Earl of Oxford had to be missing so that Gawain (Pádraic Delaney) could uncover traces of Greek fire in his room and have the Palace on high alert, for one. The King had to insist on still holding the wedding at the palace despite Landry’s (Tom Cullen) sage advice, for another. And the assassin he employs turns out to be a a lady named Altani, which is a pretty cool twist in and of itself. But the biggest surprise of ‘Hard Blows Will Banish the Sin’ is Isabella, who plays a much larger hand in the dissolution of her wedding day than anyone might have dreamed. For the past month, she has seemed a sweet and naive princess, who couldn’t possibly know what she was bargaining for when she hinted that De Nogaret should get rid of Luis. But this episode reveals her darker side when she lures her betrothed into rescuing her from the assassin only to leave him to his own fiery death. The punishment doesn’t quite fit the crime, but it’s more disconcerting that she was so cold-blooded about it. She’s much more like her uncle than either of her parents, it seems.

Speaking of De Nogaret, he gets what he wanted out of the deal as well. By framing the Earl of Oxford for both the horse’s death and the attempted assassination of the royal family, he succeeds in hitting the pause button on any war with England and instead sets the stage for the impending marriage of Isabella and Edward of Caernarfon. Time will tell how trading in a love match (and her beloved’s life) over a misunderstanding will work out for Isabella, but for now we’re left with De Nogerat’s self-satisfied grin and Pope Boniface’s (Jim Carter) ever-growing suspicion.

No one said “if you love something, let it go” means kill them.

The drama surrounding the palace doesn’t end there, though, as Landry and Joan still have a lot of unfinished business.  Poor Joan has to keep mustering up interest in her husband to ensure the legitimacy of her child, so it’s good that she has her handmaid on her side (for now). I certainly hope that their relationship is a genuine one, because it’s so refreshing to see a female friendship without backstabbing and jealousy – though the power dynamics at play here are glossed over. What lady of the court could Joan even have as an equal in friendship, though? Regardless, the pregnancy is used less to explore Joan’s dynamic with her ladies in waiting and more to explore Landry’s jealousy. It is both humorous and frustrating to see him squirm at the thought of her resuming relations with her husband, especially once he’s been tasked with protecting her. Joan is rightfully angry that he presumes to have any command over her and gets one of the best lines of the night when she calls him out, saying, “Neither of you spares a thought for what I want.”

Once she explains that she is pregnant, there seems to be a chance for reconciliation between them because Landry is more than willing to abandon his convictions now that there’s a child in the mix. However, this time it is Joan who holds fast to vows – reminding him that it is his sacred duty to find the Grail and hers to rule by the King’s side. ‘Hard Blows Will Banish the Sin’ is as much about some characters of Knightfall remaining steadfast in convictions we didn’t know they had as it is about others falling prey to their whims.

As previously mentioned, the most poignant part of the episode was in fact Tancrede’s punishment. He walks through a sea of his fellow Templars, carrying a cross in the style of Jesus himself and waiting to be flogged by his brethren. Watching this sequence play out is difficult to say the least, and Knightfall does not spare us the discomfort throughout. The pain is reflected in Landry’s reaction as well, as it is clear he wishes the punishment to be over but cannot end it until Tancrede repents. He does not repent his sins, though, because he did it to protect the Temple. Knightfall also managed to tie this sad turn of events to the murder plot of the episode by having Tancrede be the one man who could shed light on the Greek fire and the assassin who wields it.

Once again, we see that Tancrede is holding onto his convictions and refusing to give in despite Landry’s heartfelt pleas. Though it is a minor story, Parsifal (Bobby Schofield) echoes this theme in reverse by finally letting go of Marie and his past to take on the Templar way of life. And once again we see how often Landry’s view on the Templar moral code wavers, for he proceeds to punish his friend regardless of how it pains him but can’t seem to stay away from Joan regardless of his vow of celibacy. His clouded judgment resurfaces when it comes to the Saracens, as the father of the murdered man requests his son’s body to bury. Landry is too distracted to do anything but accede the request, and thus he ends ‘Hard Blows Will Banish the Sin’ with a bag over his head as the Saracen named Rashid drags him away for a supposed talk.

Knightfall continues to deliver dramatic character dynamics and intriguing political twists, but it seems that the quest for the Holy Grail has gotten away from them in the past few weeks. Perhaps that will be rectified now that Landry is facing off with the Brotherhood of the Light.