Sunday, March 22, 2009

Kings, "Prosperity": A seat at the table

Spoilers for episode two of "Kings" coming up just as soon as I blow up some pigeons...
"This one, you protect from what wants to happen. He has a destiny in him. People with destinies, things don't go well for them. They die old and unhappy, or young and unfinished." -Mrs. Shepherd
"Prosperity" was probably the weakest of the three "Kings" episodes I've seen, since it hangs more on David than the other two, and since David is, by nature of this early place in the familiar story, an underdeveloped character. I can't decide yet whether Chris Egan simply isn't up to the task of making him more interesting than he seems so far, or if he's playing the character as written. And based on the dismal ratings for last week's premiere, I doubt the show will be on long enough for his abilities to become clear.

But for however long it's on, I'm going to stick with it, because even if David isn't yet the man worthy of the destiny his mom sees in him, the world he moves in is still so interesting.

The peace negotiations with Gath give us our first look at the other side, and we see that the enemy isn't quite so refined -- a poorer country with no great city and some kind of military-led dictatorship as opposed to Silas' more glamorous monarchy. It's still not clear if this is a completely alternate reality or if it's supposed to be our Earth with some key historic differences (David does play a very familiar-sounding classical piece on his piano at one point), so it's hard to know what the rest of the world's governments are like, but in these two, Gath is definitely the jealous younger sibling.

We also learn more about the history of Silas' rise to power when, after his brother-in-law William makes good on his threat to bankrupt the treasury, Silas has to go to Abaddon(*), the once-mighty, now-mad ruler he defeated to help create this kingdom. Given how many of the commenters seem to be watching primarily because they loved Ian McShane in "Deadwood," I imagine you were pleased to see Brian Cox, however briefly, as Abaddon, in an episode packed with great character actors like Dylan Baker, Miguel Ferrer and Mark Margolis.

(*) Other than the setting, this is the first really significant break from the Bible story, where Saul was appointed by Samuel, who had previously been leading the Israelites, after the people demanded that they have a king to lead them. The name Abaddon pops up elsewhere in the Bible -- and was also the name of Lance Reddick's character on "Lost" -- but not in the Book of Samuel.

And after not having much to do in the two-hour pilot, Susanna Thompson's Queen Rose starts moving to the forefront here, trying to manipulate her daughter away from David and demonstrating that she has an army of her own for formal events like the treaty-signing.

I continue to love the way the show manages to feel simultaneously cinematic -- that area of the Upper West Side where David cuts off the convoy has never looked prettier -- and theatrical, with characters like the security guards functioning as the Greek chorus, or Shakespeare's fools, or deus ex machina, or whatever role is needed for the story.

What did everybody else think?

30 comments:

floretbroccoli said...

I hadn't noticed Brian Cox's name in the credits, so was surprised and thrilled to see him.

I did keep expecting him to address McShane as "young man."

Anonymous said...

So far I'm still finding the show pretty slow. And right now I think the only characters I'm finding at all interesting are Queen Rose and Prince Jack. And most of that isn't based on this episode so much as the pilot, which hinted there's a lot more going on with them than we're seeing (Jack being gay, Rose possibly having an affair.)

Anonymous said...

I can't quite figure out why, exactly, but I really like this show. It may be the combination of the theatrical and cinematic that you mentioned, Alan, or maybe the mix of the mythic (ok, biblical) and the modern. Or maybe it turns out that I've just always liked period pieces, but just couldn't stand the costumes.

Ted Kerwin said...

it will probably finish the 13 week run right?

Michael Cowgill said...

I'm still liking it, and seeing McShane and Cox together was a treat, as well a Baker and Ferrer (who I sometimes like and sometimes don't). At least two possibly related mysteries got dropped into this episode -- who was in the pictures Silas gave Abaddon and the vow Michelle made. I also just realized David's mom is Becky Ann Baker, the mom from Freaks and Geeks, which made me happy.

(David does play a very familiar-sounding classical piece on his piano at one point)

Last week when he played, he mentioned the composer and piece by name. I don't remember who, but it was a real composer.

floretbroccoli said...

Lizst. He said the piece and the piano were from the same year

Anonymous said...

I actually liked this episode more than the pilot, but maybe that was just because of the McShane/Cox scene and the hope of more Brian Cox in future episodes. David still bugs me, but the rest of the cast seems pretty able, so there's hope. Also, was anyone else upset seeing David just throw that crappy TV on top of his piano like that? I get that the show was to reveal David as living in a cramped apartment, but that was a very expensive piano, that he made quite a fuss about in the premiere. Seems like he wouldn't risk damaging it.

Anonymous said...

It feels like modern dress Shakespeare to me. I like it for that, for the level of intrigue and McShane. I think Egan's quasi-blankness suits David so I'm leaning to an 'as written' portrayal.

J.R. LeMar said...

I'm just loving this show, so far. Which means that it won't last. @ least I can look forward to getting the 13-episode DVD eventually.

Anonymous said...

The cutoff for this post on Twitter hit at a most unfortunate place.

rosseau said...

Unless they're biblical and have to be there (It's been a while since I read the Old Testament and not all the way through), can we have a different bird/insect each week to move the plot or make the visuals look way cooler? I vote for bats next week. I still find it hard to believe that Baker is attempting to control McShane. He is no Gerald McRaney. But overall a good episode if they can reign in the beautiful but ponderous opera singing. And I wasn't thinking of Deadwood when Brian Cox showed; I was thinking of Manhunter. I am guessing the person in the picture is Abbadon's daughter who is Silas' mistress and the other half is their son.

Anonymous said...

Last week's piano piece was (explicitly) Liszt, this week's was Beethoven. So there's supposed to be some commonality between Gilboa's world and ours.

Egan is a little bland, sure, but I think he has sufficient personality to hold his own at this stage of the game. As a naive in the court I don't expect him to immediately go toe to toe with McShane. I assume we'll spend more time with the younger cast soon and we can see how Egan and Shan play off of each other.

In fact, all of the younger cast looked a bit flat next to McShane, Cox, Margolis, Ferrer, Baker (Dylan and especially Becky Ann), and Thompson (whom I ordinarily find flat). Letting them play amongst themselves might not be a bad idea for a while.

I still can't tell if it Kings will end up being more than an interesting exercise. But even in that case I'd still like to see it get its 13 episode run, which looks increasingly unlikely. A shame.

rosseau said...

For my own pride, let me say flying bird/insect/mammal. I'll shut up now.

Zack Smith said...

Was anyone else confused as to why David had to Grand Theft Auto that taxi? Couldn't he have just told the cabdriver to go to the treaty?

Also, shouldn't he be more upset that Silas basically gave his home town to Gath? Five gets you ten his family's thrown off their farm.

Also also, shouldn't David's mom have been more upset that he stayed?

Despite the plotholes in the name of melodrama, I'm still digging Ian McShane big time, and Chris Egan didn't bug as much as he did with his "peace" speech last week. Combine that with good supporting work from Cox and Co. and a good visual style, and I'm at least watching this while it's still on the air. I see this building an audience, but the high production values probably can't accomodate the ratings.

Anonymous said...

LMAO at Alan's twitter post about this episode

Oaktown Girl said...

OK, well I guess I'm going to have to sign up for twitter (even tho I don't have a portable device) just so I can go and read Alan's funny twitter post.

I enjoyed this episode well enough, despite some of the plot holes that have already been mentioned above. Egan may be bland, but at least I'm not finding him persistently irritating, so he doesn't detract from everything else I do like. I'm very much digging the uniqueness Kings, visual and otherwise, and wish it were on cable so that it had a better chance to succeed. Count me among the bummed if it dies an early death.

rosseau - I really hope you are wrong with your prediction because that would be a hell of a spoiler and major downer for me.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The auto-Tweet has been replaced by a less ribald manual Tweet. Thanks for pointing it out.

Toby O'B said...

The world of 'The West Wing' shared a common history with the real world up to a point as well - I think to at least Nixon - before it went off on its own. This world seems to have the same history - or at least the same historical figures - as the real world up to 1848, the year David mentioned last week as to when Liszt wrote that piece.

I'd still like to know more about the geography of this world - where exactly Gilboa and Gath should be, for example. If Gilboa is similar in location to the USA, is Port Prosperity on the West Coast?

And wasn't Gilboa under the control of Gath until Silas wrested it away to become independent? That's how it seemed in the pilot. So now how does Abaddon fit into all of this? And why is Gath seemingly so poor in comparison to Gilboa?

I'm also hoping we get to see more detail as to the many ways this world should differ from our own - what kind of TV shows do they watch? (No 'New York Undercover' for them, or 'LA Law'!) What books do they read? What does their money look like; that sort of thing.

I hope they get the time to bring some more color to that world....

JustJoan said...

Ah, Alan! It's good to know you may write for New Jersey eyes, but your peepers can still recognize my own neighborhood landmarks. David gazes out through the Apthorp apartment's lovely cobble stoned archway, oblivious to the sharpshooters aiming at him across Broadway. Just another day on the UWS.

Andrew Levine said...

One of the things I like most about the show is how they seem to be making God into an unseen character, whose motivations, like Silas', are broadly transparent but with details which are being gradually revealed in subtle ways (e.g. we can tell that He is setting up David to succeed Silas, but we can also tell that David's reign is shaping up to be a tumultuous time). Most of the characters - Silas, David, Michelle and Samuels in particular - are aware of God's presence but even less certain than we are on what His master plan is.

Contrast with the God of Battlestar Galactica, whose existence was not even made unambiguous until the finale, and who then was used mainly as a way of retroactively explaining plot points whose causes the show's creators hadn't decided on at the time they were written.

Incidentally, I know that some viewers are interested in seeing the point developed further, but I think that Kings' writers neither will, nor should waste viewers' time explaining exactly how and why the show's world is different from ours, or if there was ever a point in their history that matched up with ours. Rather, it seems that they are doing a good job slowly defining Gilboa's world on its own terms. We've gotten offhand references to Liszt and Beethoven and apparently that they use the same calendar as us, but so-far no real-world geography, political history, popular culture, brands, or even religion (they're monotheistic but not explicitly Judeo-Christian). I think I'm comfortable with just saying that it's an Earth that's almost completely different from ours and leaving it at that.

chaz said...

Stealing the taxi was melodramatic, though on the other hand he did intend to run a road barrier and risk being shot and/or crushed, so he probably didn't want to have passengers with him.

I do think David should have been more conflicted about Port Prosperity. This may be a limitation of Egan's. I don't expect it to go down smooth with the populace, but Silas acknowledged that. I would hope the trade would be used to tarnish David a bit, as the man who sold out his hometown.

floretbroccoli said...

Does the use of the Beethoven and Lizst pieces HAVE to prove that this is our Earth? I cite the "All Along the Watchtower" precedent.

DonBoy said...

And, Liszt aside, the choice of a piece composed in 1848, as we were told, can't be a coincidence. That was a famous year in European history, because of a series of revolutions in various countries.

Anonymous said...

Andrew Levine, you are mistaken about no mention of brands. The car of choice for the royal family seems to be a Rolls-Royce Phantom.

Anonymous said...

I really hope this show continues. It's fantastic but Sunday - it WAS Sunday, right? That's what I last recall as I always inevitably end up watching it on Hulu (which I love) - doesn't seem the best time to air this. Certainly, it deserves a Tuesday or Thursday night air-date, at least.

Oaktown Girl said...

DonBoy - very interesting. Thanks for sharing that.

Paul said...

for background on Gilboa see

http://unnreports.com/travel/index.shtml

floretbroccoli said...

So, should I expect to see Mark Margolis turn up on The #1 Ladies Detective Agency soon? Or on The Amazing Race? He's on everything Sunday nights, it seems.

Maybe he can be a judge on Iron Chef America. He can judge fake-Mexican food. Or probably another other fake ethnicity.

neglectarino said...

I really look forward to this show every week, which means that it will soon be canceled or not picked up for another season.

I'm reminded of that old trivia game about quote sources "Bible or Shakespeare?" with every new episode. Shakespeare for episodes 2 and 3.

Getting lots of Lady Macbeth vibes off of Rose, who clearly manipulated the "loss" of her cell phone. It showed a deft touch, & I had the impression her cell phone hadn't been lost at all since there was 'much ado about nothing' regarding it in the first episode & here its "discovery" serves two ends for Rose who clearly wants the press to know about her son's way with the ladies ("we have no secrets") & gets to fire the assistant she had already voiced some vague displeasure with in the first episode in one graceful royal wave of the hand. Not much gets by that Rose. I found the recent references (episode 3) to her building the monarchy and her gamesmanship with regard to her daughter as particularly Lady Macbeth-like.

I find David boring, but many of us already know his story, & clearly Silas and his relationship with power, God, and the man who will replace him are more interesting to the writers. For which I am grateful.

I will miss this show. It filled the vacuum left by the very different, but also well-acted & engaging Pushing Daisies.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know the name of the Liszt piece played in "The Sabbath Queen"?