To say there’s been plenty written and discussed about the Knights Templar would be an understatement. But there’s still centuries of mystery surrounding the organization regarding their power, politics, purpose and wealth. The History Channel is offering their take on the Templar Order and it’s worth checking out. One episode down and I’ve bought in completely.
Episode 101, “You’d Know What To Do,” took us to the Holy Land of 1291, specifically Acre which was under siege by the Saracens and likely to fall soon. The Templars had one job to do at that point, save the Holy Grail from infidel hands. And it was that job that introduced us to the tip of the spear for the story moving forward, a Templar named Landry. The initial episode’s early focus was on Landry and his brother nights as they attempted to flee Acre with the Holy Grail, only to see that plan washed away — literally. Talk about circumstances turning apparent success into abject failure. It was a bit of startling introduction, to be honest.
Fifteen years after the Grail sank to the bottom of the sea, we pick up the tale. Now ensconced in Paris, the Templars are on to other things. There’s a sadness about the Templar Order as we see them go about their daily rituals, particularly Landry, who not only was front-and-center to the disaster that befell the Grail, but is itching to get the Templars back into their rightful places as warriors for Christ in the Holy Land.
It’s almost painful to watch Landry throughout the episode as he attempts to find purpose in the Templar life while alternately blaming himself for his failure a decade-and-a-half earlier. Of course, having an affair with the king’s wife is probably not the best ribbon to put on top of his previous misfortune, but we all have our own coping mechanisms — and his is clandestine meetings with his royal mistress. Landry is already an interesting character, one that’s been bloodied in battle while cradled in the arms of honor and chivalry, yet the loss of the Grail dogs him, even in the first episode. You can see the weight of it all these years later. Tom Cullen does a splendid job, from the outset, of mixing a dark intensity with the weight of sadness that permeates Landry almost from the start.
If you’re a fan of “The Vikings” by History Channel, then “Knightfall” will be right up your alley. In “Vikings,” the History Channel demonstrated a deft hand at infusing historical accuracy with creative license to deliver a product that is entertaining as well as informative. “Knightfall” appears cut from the same creative clothe, offering us another helping of that same successful formula. I couldn’t be more delighted. While Landry is the early lynchpin, it’s clear that this will be about more than simply disgruntled knights struggling with what to do with themselves when there are no battles to fight.
During a meeting of the Templars, Landry speaks for many, but primarily for his own heart when he declares, “We are Templars, we are warriors. We’re supposed to fight for the Holy Land.” Later, with his friend Godfrey, he is even more direct, “I love you, Godfrey, but God has forgotten us. He abandoned us in Acre.” It’s a moment that spills the hurt through words. It gives us all a clear understanding of the conflict within Landry — and likely to whole Templar structure. At this point, who are they really?
Episode 1 does a nice job of introducing us to some of the major players, including King Phillip of France, Parsifal the farm boy who gets caught up in tragedy, and my favorite person to dislike, almost from the moment he slunk into the camera, William De Nogaret, the king’s advisor. One episode in and I think we all owe actor Julian Ovenden a debt of gratitude for delivering unto us this scheming, manipulating, calculating weasel of a man who is absolutely up to the task of turning most situations in his favor – though not all. He dispenses counsel, veiled threats and mayhem with equal relish and there’s always something a little disturbing about a character like this that’s nestled so close to power. Ovenden delivers him with understated panache’.
While De Nogaret works to maneuver the king in one direction, there are other forces hoping to negotiate the king’s favor as well. Early on, it’s clear that “Knightfall” won’t simply be about swords being thrust and paried all over the yard, but will also explore the machinations of court life that the Templars now have to negotiate as well. There’s a story being told here with a skeleton of historical fact covered in a skin of calculated storytelling that works from the outset. De Nogaret may be a scheming wretch, but he’s intelligent and intuitive, which makes him a little less predictable as a villain than you’d think.
“Knightfall” also looks at everyday life for the citizenry of the time and it’s here we are hit with a disturbing image that will foreshadow events nearly 700 years in the future. The Jewish population of Paris are under persecution and while we still have the images of Jewish treatment by the Nazi’s somewhat fresh in the memory banks, the similar treatment of them seven centuries before is shocking. They are the focal point of hostilities that made no more sense in the late 13th century than they did in the 1930s, but “Knightfall” smacks us right in the face with them almost immediately.
“They will take your babies, they take good Christian babies and they crucify them to mock Jesus,” screams a man from his makeshift pulpit in the square. The Jewish community is easy to spot, too, being forced to wear a yellow circle on their clothing. Talk about foreshadowing. It’s almost chilling, really.
Oh, and De Nogaret’s suggestion to the king about just “taking” the Jews money and property once again echoes down the hallways of what’s to come. I have to admit I was stunned by the whole Jewish storyline, however realize that these practices and attitudes were prevalent long before the Nazi’s came to power. “Knightfall” wasted little time in dumping us square into the middle of religious persecution on home soil. While the Christian-Saracen flames still smoldered, there were other faiths that felt the bite of Christian extremism.
Sure De Nogaret set up a murder of a Christian by a (Fake) Jew in the town square to further his plans, which included a forced evacuation of the Jewish population from Paris, followed by a slaughter on the road (with a nice bit of robbery involved). It was nice to see that Queen Joan (played wonderfully by Olivia Ross) is not only level-headed (despite the affair), but grasps the value of human life — Jew or Christian.
It’s with her help that we get to see Landry in his natural element — battle. Torn between helping the Jews once he’s made aware of the plot against them, he wrestles with advice from his brothers that interfering is not part of their mandate. Fortunately, he’s having none if it. Landry has no intention of not offering his protection to the Jews on the road — mandate or no. You can see it in his eyes as he discusses it. The cry of steel, blood and battle is in his heart and he will heed it. There’s blood spilled and bone broken in the second battle of episode 1. Don’t get me wrong, I love good storytelling, but I’m a huge fan of swords and battle, too. “Knightfall” delivers for me on both counts in the opener.
While we spend the first half of the episode kind of setting the board, the eventual death of Godfrey sets the wheels in motion for what “Knightfall” will focus on moving forward. We meet Parsifal and bear witness to the price he pays for his help, but we know where he will end up — in the Templar stronghold. What kind of knight, if any, he becomes will be interesting to watch moving forward.
For my money, the twist with Godfrey’s sword hilt, and intelligent deduction of the initiate tasked with cleaning it, was a clever bit of subtle storytelling. No words, just a curious man doing a mundane task that doesn’t feel right — then doesn’t sound right. The sword holds a secret, which holds a piece of glass, which shows a carving of the Holy Grail and indicates that it is in France.
The pain of 15 years could be erased and the final scene with Landry and his brothers is intensely hopeful. It’s here we feel once again the pain that the previous failure continues to engender in our heroes. The Grail in France? Something tells me that information won’t be the Templars alone for very long — and the race to find it will begin in earnest. My guess is it won’t be painless, either. And Landry knows what to do…right? Right?
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