Kings: “The New King, Part Two”
Posted by therebelprince on July 28, 2009
“All our plans…”
“We’ll make new ones.”
– Silas and Rose
After two weeks of heightening drama and tragedy, Kings ends its short run with a quieter (but not calmer) installment. It’s beautiful and well-acted, but alas it feels like a season finale and not a series one.
In a great note from creator Michael Green, he explains that the series was filmed and wrapped before airing began. As such, there was very little they could do to change the outcome once it was clear the show had been cancelled. It’s not a painful cliffhanger (that is, no one’s life is hanging by a thread) but it still feels very much like the end of an episode, not the end of a series.
When we open, shortly after last week’s coup d’etat, Jack Benjamin (Sebastian Stan) is preparing to take over as King of Gilboa. The coronation date is set, the royal portrait has been replaced, and those who oppose or question: quickly shot in the head. William Cross (Dylan Baker) barely blanches as he watches this happen, a stern advisor of the young Prince Regent. Michelle (Allison Miller) is severely shaken. Her response (“[Silas] was never as bad as this”) is indicative. She’s not shocked about the deaths; hell – Silas did that! She’s shocked at his callous methods, and his clear unreadiness for the challenges of the monarchy. Jack himself doubts his readiness: Silas had butterflies; Jack has none.
Yet Silas (Ian McShane) returns, and it doesn’t take long. In fact, the entire coup feels almost obligatory: Jack shows his brutality, David (Christopher Egan) shows his reluctant support to the true King, and then Silas arrives with tanks at the gates of the palace. And in some ways, it is obligatory. What is important about Jack’s coup is the change it brings about in character relationships, but we’re never gonna see the extent of this fallout.
Cross is the first to leave. The moment Silas returns, he is out the door, or rather through the escape tunnel, undoubtedly to plan his diabolical return in the never-to-be-seen second season. Andrew (Macaulay Culkin) chooses not to accompany him, and manages to make a convincing plea that he belongs with the King. I assume Culkin‘s character was to have greater relevance in the second season, as he really was the least-used of the characters, and doesn’t really appear to have changed at all throughout the proceedings – nor has he provided much development positive or otherwise.
David, meanwhile, does as promised: once he has helped restore Silas to the throne, he leaves. “Back home”, he says, “things were either right or wrong”. There’s a moral ambiguity in Shiloh that David cannot comprehend, and it has always been both his strength and his weakness as the prophesied “new king”. It is clear to everyone – Silas, Michelle, Jack – that he is the one destined for leadership. In a brutal and startling fight, David and Silas go ten rounds in his private chamber, ending with them both bloodied and bruised. Since they know David will not be allowed to live, Michelle sacrifices her relationship to set David free. We last see him dashing through the woods to Gath, an unwilling but inevitable figure of hope in those who fear Silas’ regime.
For her part, Michelle is also exiled. Rose (Susanna Thompson) has plans for the family – new ones that she’s making up as she goes along with her razor-shrap political acumen. Jack will remain in the palace with his wife – to kill him would be too tyrannical; too forgive is divine – where he will live out the burden of a cold, closeted relationship. He can never be who he truly is, and once he produces an heir Rose will raise it to be the true new king, since neither of her children have proven their worth. Michelle leaves, pregnant, for one year’s exile. (I’m sure the child would have played some great role in Green’s future plans)
There are some marvellous performances this week, particularly from Sebastian Stan, from Marlyne Afflack (Thomasina – exhausted from the events of the coup – gets to break the news to Jack about his future); and Susanna Thompson. Thompson is the standout here, from Rose’s cold look of pity at what her son has become, to her triumphant but uncertain greeting of her returned husband, and lastly to her cruel but necessary exile of her own daughter. She married Silas for political reasons, and came to love him, and to take on her role. Now, she will continue to play the role fate has cast her in. This is the reason that Rose appears in David’s vision of himself as the King, from “Chapter One”. Rose will adapt. Rose knows all: she is the most brilliant member of the Benjamin family.
There’s some interesting supernatural business with Reverend Samuels (Eamonn Walker), which seems to prove the existence of Saffron Burrows‘ Death in “The Sabbath Queen”. Samuels comes to regret the coup moments after it takes place, realising that he has misread the signs. Later, as Silas returns, one of Cross’ accomplices kills the reverend in his temple. Late that night, as David and Michelle flee, Samuels appears as a vision (although they don’t know it) to forebodingly tell the young lovers that they are already married, and that David is indeed the chosen one.
In the show’s final scene, Samuels appears to Silas. Silas knows better than others the veracity of visions and he speaks to this divine emissary directly. Amazingly, Samuels – or whoever he is – prophesies that the day Silas lays a hand on David, will be the day Silas dies.
Ian McShane of course gets in the necessary powerful monologues here. Silas is a broken man; he has returned from the life he would have loved to the life he was chosen to lead. Now, his beloved daughter is gone while his disgrace of a son remains behind. His monologue to the stormy skies is well-acted, but smacks of McShane‘s blowjob monologues in Deadwood, or even President Bartlet’s jeremiad to God in The West Wing episode “Two Cathedrals”, but comes close to neither of them. It is an unfortunate weak moment, which feels almost like a parody of one of Silas’ better speeches.
But this is neither here nor there. In the end, Green‘s series was a visually stunning, epic structured piece which really deserved a second season to move its pieces around the board. Do I think that a show so reliant on character and continuity, yet so lovably pompous, could have survived network television in this day and age? No, I don’t. But it would have been nice to see one more season before we had to say our inevitable goodbyes.
In the end, we’re left with a scattered canvas of characters: David, Cross and Michelle in geographical exile, Jack in a personal one; and Silas left, as always, at war with someone. Kings will be consigned to the ever-growing pile of “brilliant but cancelled” series, but hopefully will be remembered by a few of us. We all deserve a good epic, and television is the medium in which to do it. When television networks learn to promote their subtler works better, and when audiences beyond that of HBO can learn to pay attention week by week (and they can do it! Just look at the fans of Lost or Desperate Housewives, or indeed any daytime soap opera), then Kings will be in its element.