Sunday, March 29, 2009

Kings, "First Night": The binding of Isaac

Spoilers for the third episode of "Kings" coming up just as soon as I readjust a painting...
"This country only works if people look up to us -- not some boy." -Queen Rose
"First Night" is the last episode of "Kings" I've seen in advance, and probably my favorite of the three. It gives the great Ian McShane his strongest showcase so far in this role, and it gives us a much stronger idea of the role of both God and the monarchy in this alternate universe.

God's presence as an active participant in the Biblical tale of Samuel, Saul and David would have seemed to be the hardest element to translate into modern times, but Michael Green has done a surprisingly adept job at it. God appears to have chosen David as Silas' successor (the butterfly crown in the pilot), and in this episode He appears to punish Silas for his hubris by making him sacrifice his relationship with his illegitimate son Seth (but not, mercifully, Seth himself). It's all left just ambiguous enough that if you prefer not to mix your divinity with your contemporary political drama (even one liberally adapted from the Old Testament), you can just write it off as coincidence, but McShane and Eamonn Walker are sure playing it like men who believe.

Susanna Thompson's Queen Rose, meanwhile, believes quite devoutly in the idea of a royal family helping to elevate the commoners by giving them elites role models to aspire to. That's often been the argument in England about the enduring popularity of the royals, even long past the point where they had any real power: people living hard lives like knowing there's some grandeur in their world and believing that, under the right (albeit unlikely) set of circumstances, they might get to experience it firsthand some day. Of course, Rose only wants it to be a belief, and not a reality, and so she and Jack -- his mother's son just as much as Michelle is her father's daughter -- are doing everything they can to keep a commoner like David from making a major jump up in class.

"Kings" is this weird hybrid of the Bible, Shakespeare and soap opera, and the scenes with Jack taking David and his friends on a tour of Shiloh's hottest nightspots tilted more towards the latter. It wasn't quite "Gossip Girl," but those scenes definitely felt less vital than any of the material involving McShane or Thompson.

Based on the lousy ratings for the first two weeks, I have little illusion about the show continuing past this first season. But the one plus of NBC being in such lousy shape across the board is that it's not easy to pull even the low performers like this, which means chances are decent that we'll at least get to see the full season. And with any luck, Green will by then have advanced the narrative to a good stopping point, if not the natural end point for what's designed as an epic, years-long saga.

What did everybody else think?

16 comments:

Chris said...

This is a pretty good show to spend some time with on Sunday nights. The whole night club subplot was predictable and lame but what I do find interesting and something I don't think I've seen before is that the Prince (I'm not really sure of anybody's name yet) seems to be developing a crush on David. That really complicates the whole competitiveness between them.

DonBoy said...

"I see Silas commands his thousands, while David brings his hundred-thousands."

--The Queen, supposedly speaking about donations.

I'm disappointed at how little pseudo-Shakespeare is in the script at this point. It was especially good when a sentence would begin in normal English and then veer off into Pseudo. I didn't notice any of that this time, although I admit I may have missed some in the more explicitly-biblical sequence with Reverend Samuels.

Anonymous said...

I actually thought this was the weakest of the three episodes. Maybe that's because it didn't seem like the plot advanced enough, or everything seemed pretty predictable. Even Mcshane's scene by the road with the Reverend wasn't enough to make up for the rest of the show's shortcomings.

Anonymouse! Here I Come to Save The Day! said...

When I first saw the pilot, I was so interested in this show that I actually read up on the story of David from the bible. I figured that having some background info would let me more fully appreciate the adaptation. (Question: does what happen in the bible count as a spoiler for the show?) So I have an idea of where the story could go and I'm excited.

But after this ep, I wish Kings was a miniseries or a limited-run series. As it is, the tone of the show seems to be way too subtle. It has already got that heel-dragging feeling. I don't understand how NBC ever thought this could appeal to the general masses.

Alan, do you happen to know how many eps have been made already?

I think this show, more than most, would benefit from a firm end date a la Lost and BSG. There are so many epic things in the story of David that I'd love to see, but I get the sense that none of those things would ever happen without an end date in place.

R.A. Porter said...

I'm a little surprised and confused that Thomasina can serve two masters the way she does. I imagine there's a reason Michael Green has put her in that position, but I can't imagine how Silas would trust her.

Other that that quibble, I thought this was a solid episode. I wish DirecTV would pair Ian McShane with Kyle Chandler and get us a couple more seasons for this to really find its footing.

fgmerchant said...

I'm a little surprised and confused that Thomasina can serve two masters the way she does.

Whats this about her serving two masters? I don't seem to recall that ever being mentioned. Refresh my memory please!

R.A. Porter said...

@fgmerchant, Thomasina acts as Queen Rose's assistant/amanuensis/aide de camp, yet serves Silas as well. How he could possibly trust her to know about his other family when he clearly doesn't want the queen to know about them (though in all likelihood she does) is beyond me.

xyz said...

This was the worst episode so far. It felt like I was watching 'Days of our lives'. Just terrible

Anonymous said...

"I'm disappointed at how little pseudo-Shakespeare is in the script at this point."
The going into the club scene came across as an attempt at updating the before guest scene of Romeo & Juliet - complete with a Mercutio stand in.

The show is almost working. But the writers seem to not know what things can remain unsaid and still be understood and what things actually need exposition.

Oaktown Girl said...

I enjoyed seeing the Queen get more screen time tonight and showing us just how large a role she plays and played in creating and maintaining the monarchy with Silas as King.

Would have enjoyed some more of the Reverend, but maybe he's being set up for larger role next week. I also liked those palace guards who dealt with the birds last week, and would like to see more of them for the entertainment value they provide. Anyway, as long as McShane, Thompson, and Walker are major players, I'm on board for as long as it airs. Hopefully we'll get to see at least the full season.

Julie said...

@DonBoy

"I see Silas commands his thousands, while David brings his hundred-thousands."

--The Queen, supposedly speaking about donations.


Actually, this is a slight spin on a verse from the Bible, which I think was used in the pilot in the proper context (referring to the parade after the first peace).

Sister T said...

I'm looking forward to the development of Jack and David's relationship. As a kid, one of my favorite Bible stories was the friendship between Jonathan and David. I hope the series, if restricted to a limited run, has enough time to develop their relationship into a close friendship.

Anonymous said...

The most interesting thing about the biblical David and Jonathan relationship was that Jonathan put his love for his friend before any ambition for power: "You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Therefore send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die." Jonathan chose love. The writers chose an anachronistic gayness as the most interesting thing about Jonathan and represented him by a hateful character jealous of his position. That's not a twist on the biblical story, but a perversion of it. Given that the pretentiousness of what is there probably a good thing the show strays so far from the biblical to make the its premise a pointless conceit.

Anonymous said...

"The most interesting thing about the biblical David and Jonathan relationship was that Jonathan put his love for his friend before any ambition for power"

I think the show is heading towards this friendship. They probably wanted to build it over time. It wouldn't really be interesting if they were best friends from the start.

Jenny said...

It wouldn't really be interesting if they were best friends from the start.

Anon, this is a really good point. In the Bible, it's a friendship-at-first-sight situation and while it's not like that doesn't happen in real life, it might not make for the best drama.

This is my first comment on a Kings post because I've just caught up, and I wouldn't have known anything about this show if I weren't a regular reader of Alan's. Which sucks, because I really, really like this show. I was raised religious and even attended Bible school, so the biblical aspects are very intriguing to me. I don't see anything wrong with using the biblical story as a jumping-off point the way Shakespeare has been used over the years. I don't mind that the story doesn't seem to be following the biblical one beat-for-beat, because that wouldn't really make for good television.

Being a sci-fi fan, I also love the alternate-universe aspect of the thing, and I'm able to suspend disbelief to the extent that I don't worry about whether the Gilboans are Jews in the sense that we know them.

In a previous entry, people were talking about Chris Egan looking like Ryan Philippe, but all I can see when I look at him is a blond Wentworth Miller! It's actually kind of distracting. Not that I mind.

Anyway, I'm really sorry this show is going to get canned so quickly because I'm hooked.

cgeye said...

The show is almost working. But the writers seem to not know what things can remain unsaid and still be understood and what things actually need exposition.

Precisely. They don't trust the power of their own lyricism, yet, and by the time they do, it will be too late.

Also, their move with the Evil!Gay!Jonathan and his frigidaire mom set back the gay male on TV 30 years, and hooboy, that's an accomplishment.

With the excision of Silas' "oooh, I hate them queers who are in my direct line of succession" speech, the writers could have used the neat ambiguity of Jonathan being a decadent bisexual (which in TV still grow up like weeds, and the next stereotype that deserves a quick death) who started becoming a faithful man, through his crush on David and his standing up for his true love, That Boy Over There Whose Name I Barely Heard, If It Was Even Said.

They circumscribed Jonathan as the bitchy hypocritical homo who even leads his faithful girl-whore on, when he could have been more. That lack of faith, overall, makes me think this series won't last a year. Their imagination failed much too soon.

Lastly, I'm pissed about the cosmology. Sure, we got badly-designed tabloid webpages on computers, cellphones, a transnational commerce system -- and a land only one generation removed from "warring gangs"? What the?

Present civilizations carry past civilizations in their traces, so what tidy disconnect allowed gangs and what we know as progress to exist? What Queen Rose implied as the anarchy that was Gilboa precludes an unbroken chain of technology that matches ours. That worldbuilding sloppiness puts KINGS more in a Syfy vein than a workable alternate history.