ALERT: This article contains spoilers from the KNIGHTFALL pilot. It does not spoil anything beyond episode one.
History channel has a new drama called KNIGHTFALL. Following the Knights Templar in the 14th century, we see the titular group trying to recover the Holy Grail, which they lose when fleeing their stronghold. The action quickly picks up fifteen years after that event in Paris, in the final days of the Knights’ existence. What will they accomplish before they disappear from history, and will they recover their most holy of artifacts?
KNIGHTFALL reminds me a lot of Vikings, a sister series on the network. It focuses a lot of violence and brutality. There are slow-motion fight scenes with plenty of blood punctuated throughout the first hour, and presumably, each hour after. The political drama is secondary, though there is also focus on sex and personal relationships. Characters don’t age as much as they should. In those aspects, KNIGHTFALL tries to build upon Vikings’ success.
Another thing KNIGHTFALL has in common with Vikings is that it is set during an era and concerning a people whom very little is known about. There are rumors and myths mixed with fact, and a lot of gaps exist in the history books. This allows the show to take much creative license without worry of offending anyone or being challenged too much by those who study the era. Though, in my opinion, it does tarnish the authenticity of the network’s name.
KNIGHTFALL does not have a very recognizable cast, a rarity in a television show today, though not necessarily a bad thing. Tom Cullen (Downton Abbey) is the lead, Landry, and perhaps the most well-known face in the pilot. Landry has just been put in charge of the Knights as KNIGHTFALL gets under way, a strange decision since the previous leader didn’t exactly agree with much of what Landry urged him to do. But he is a typical Hero, so there’s no doubt he can guide the group through whatever is coming their way.
Of course, given that KNIGHTFALL is airing in this particular age, the Hero must be flawed, too. We soon find out that Landry has a lover, a big no-no for members of the group. Worse, his sex partner is none other than Queen Joan (Olivia Ross, War & Peace), whose husband, King Philip (Ed Stoppard, Upstairs Downstairs), trusts Landry. (This isn’t, by far, the only glaring mistake Philip makes. He is not a wise monarch.) So we have the added, forced drama implicit in such a triangle.
It’s decisions like these that keep KNIGHTFALL down. It chooses to follow worn-out plots and open easy doors to drama, rather than trying to build something special. It may well satisfy the audience History is going for, but it tends to take some of the weaker parts of Vikings and ignore the better ones, at least in the pilot (the only episode I’ve seen). This is not the recipe for a ground-breaking show, but it’s fine if you just want popcorn entertainment.
I will say, KNIGHTFALL looks pretty good. I don’t know how accurate it is, and it certainly doesn’t rise to the level of a Game of Thrones in sweeping vistas. But it’s pretty enough, foreign and dated, and the costumes are pretty cool. This will lend it some legitimacy to the casual viewer, and also means if the writers do find their groove later on, some of the ingredients are already in place for a superior recipe.
KNIGHTFALL isn’t terrible, it just isn’t great, and in this day and age, that’s a dangerous thing to be if it wants any critical attention or to compete for viewers outside of a narrow demographic. Which doesn’t mean it won’t do well if it finds the right audience.
KNIGHTFALL airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on History.