Good writing is the foundation to crafting a memorable and endearing TV show. There’s a reason why old episodes of Star Trek or Babylon 5 are so revered. There’s a reason why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is so damn good, even all these years later. And there’s a reason why Rings of Power is one of the worst written shows this year, written by two showrunners who have zero writing credentials to their name.
It’s worth pointing this out because Joe Barton is one of those names that knows how to write a good story. With a filmography that includes Girl/Haji, The Lazarus Project and some of the episodes of android drama Humans, this latest project is another great effort to add to that list.
At first glance, The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself doesn’t look like anything special. In an era where we’ve seen a litany of cookie cutter fantasy shows come and go, this one somehow manages to feel both fresh and very familiar.
The story is not without its clichés and centers on Nathan, a 16 year old bastard who’s thrust in the middle of a war within the European witch community, torn between two sides – the Bloods and the Fairborns. Now, Fairborn witches suspect that Nathan is a dangerous Blood witch, given his biological father Marcus’ lineage. The reason for this fear stems from an old incident known as the Peace Massacre, where Marcus showed up and slaughtered all the fairborns in attendance.
When the fairborn leader Soul shows up in town, during our present timeline, his daughter Annalise just so happens to be attending the same school as Nathan, and as one may expect, the two befriend one another.
There are some wildcard entries in here when it comes to characters, and that stems from Gabriel and Ceelia, who both guide Nathan in their own ways. To balance things out, we have Jessica and Mercury, two antagonist figures who have their own motivations for wanting to stop Nathan. Tensions between the two sides escalate across the season before eventually culminating in a blood-soaked and crazy finale.
The Bastard Son does well with its worldbuilding, keeping things suitably grounded in our world but also throwing in an abundance of magic for good measure. Some of the witches have powers ranging from ice and fire attacks through to crackles of electricity. There’s mind reading, hypnotism and even yellow powder that makes one forget everything. And that’s before even mentioning the Decimation!
The pace never really lets up and keeps things interesting with some well-worked twists along the way. At the same time though, the lack of deep exposition or history between the sides means the feud for the Bloods and Fairborns never really dives deeper into a rich and illustrious history beyond the aforementioned atrocities.
Still, that’s a minor point in what’s otherwise a really solid fantasy series. Sure, it’s not without its tropes and you might see some of the twists coming, but this is a solid surprise and definitely worth a watch.