The Bastard Son & the Devil Himself review: Ruined by unlikeable characters

the bastard son and the devil himselfNetflix

The Bastard Son & the Devil Himself is an addition to the YA supernatural genre that peaked in the early 2010s. Perhaps it should have stayed in that time.

The Bastard Son & the Devil Himself is about to drop on Netflix. Unlike popular teen media of today, which veers more into regular high-schoolers dealing with mental health and relationships, this series draws back to the supernatural YA craze of the early 2010s.

Based on the book Half Bad by Sally Green, the story focuses on Nathan, who lives in a world of warring witches. His father is considered the most evil and dangerous witch out there, and 16-year-old Nathan, who hasn’t even gained his powers yet, has been tasked with killing him.

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Witches and war sounds like a great idea for a show. However, what transpires sadly matches the book title a little too literally. Now here’s your warning: spoilers for The Bastard Son & the Devil Himself ahead….

Meet the Bastard Son, Nathan

Our show’s hero is Nathan (Jay Lycurgo), who like many other YA protagonists, is put through the ringer. The show really gets you to feel sorry for this kid in the first two episodes due to the massive amount of abuse he faces, arguably too much. It’s hard to imagine how this kid hasn’t gone all Carrie on the entire town by the end of the first two episodes.

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He does eventually escape this mistreatment with the help of two other witches, Annalise (Nadia Parkes) and Gabriel (Emilien Vekemans), and they become a classic Golden Trio. However, there are a number of things that sets this group apart. For one, they are basically a romantic throuple, with our protagonist appearing bisexual, which, after the lack of good representation in 2010s YA, is genuinely great to see.

Another thing that sets them apart is how quickly they brush off the terrible – and gory -t hings that they do and see. This makes the show’s fast emotional pacing much easier to gel with, but it would have been nice had they really leaned into this absurd darkness, akin to something like The End of The F***ing World.

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But alas, it’s easy to spot the tropes in each character. Nathan is your misunderstood smart aleck chosen one. Annalise is your feisty girlboss with powers that she struggles to control. Gabriel is your initially reluctant guide who has a sassy remark for everything. All of them have parental figures they are resentful towards, and their relationships with one another are as rushed as teen drama romances often are. Then again, what makes the YA genre so endearing is its tropes, so we can’t be too harsh on them.

These villains do terrible things, which includes being in this show

Now, YA fiction has had some iconic villains, from Voldemort to President Snow. They can be dastardly, and horrifying, but viewers generally lap it up. Unfortunately, this is not one of those times, as these villains are sadly the worst part of this show, to the point that the first two episodes, in which they are a constant presence, are borderline unwatchable.

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You can tell that the show wants them to be unlikeable, but there’s a way for a villain to be unlikeable and still compelling, or fun to watch. But these antagonists are neither enjoyable nor compelling, nor interesting nor threatening. Soul (Paul Ready), the head of the Fairborns, holds no villainous presence whatsoever, so whenever he tries to be threatening it is borderline laughable.

Jessica (Isobel Jesper Jones), Nathan’s sister turned hunter, is even worse. The actor seemingly wasn’t allowed to have any expression other than a smirk that would have a mean girl in a Disney sitcom telling her to dial it back, and any sense of motivation the show tries to give her is easily undercut by her over-the-top-evil actions.

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The Fairborn hunters’ motivations in general are confusing at best. Firstly, if they find Nathan such a scary threat, why would they keep antagonising him? Secondly, if they expect him to kill his father for them, again, why would they keep antagonising him? Their suspicion and reluctance to work with him is obviously something that can be explored, but everyone dunks on this poor kid past the point of basic common sense.

The only antagonistic force that has any nuance is Celia (Karen Connell), who thankfully saves the first two episodes from being completely awful. Her arc is somewhat rushed, but she has some good emotional moments and some genuinely funny lines, all while being tough as hell.

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The Bastard Son & some good stuff

To throw the show a bone, there are some other good things that can be noted.

Nathan’s father Marcus (David Gyasi), aka the Devil Himself, is an intriguing character, and it’s a shame we only see a tiny bit of him. If there’s going to be a second season, he will likely be a highlight of it.

There are some nicely made sets, and the costuming helps you understand who these characters are. The music, while repetitive, is catchy and nice to listen to.

What really sets this show apart is the gore, which is made even more interesting by the fact that our leads cause most of it. Being witches, people get killed in very inventive ways, including being pulled apart by magic, getting their hearts eaten, and being crushed by an enchanted wooden cage. It’s gloriously dark and often like something you’d see in an Ari Aster horror film. This action also leads to a twist in the series’ final battle, which may legitimately catch you off guard in a good way.

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The Bastard Son & the Devil Himself rating: 4/10

While witches are always a fun concept, and it’s nice to have more young adult shows that aren’t set in dystopian America, The Bastard Son & the Devil Himself is sadly not a series that will shake things up.

There’s potential for an interesting show here. The interweaving teen relationships along with how bloody they are willing to get could really make this something special… in theory. But these factors end up feeling like gimmicks when paired with plot points and characters that are either basic or unbearable.

Now, we at Dexerto are not teens anymore. Perhaps this is a show that teens will like. But as a teen veteran of the early 2010’s YA craze, the closest thing that this show can be compared is the 2013 adaptation of The Mortal Instruments. And fellow veterans will know that that is certainly a half bad sign.

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The Bastard Son & the Devil Himself will launch on Netflix on October 28.