This week's episode of Kings
opens in the cornfield at David Shepherd's family farm. I've learned to cringe when this happens, because it means that we're going to see David's family, and while it's always a kick to see Becky Ann Baker, family scenes tend to bring out the hokum in David's character. Now is the time that we need to be seeing that he's not quite as pure of heart as he's painted, but the walk through the cornrows with brother Ethan shows him at his most earnest. Back at the farmhouse, King Silas appears on the TV to announce that, as part of the peace settlement with Gath, he will be handing over to them control of not only the city of Port Prosperity, but the entire strip of land upon which it sits -- and that includes the cornfields and the farm house of mom and brother Ethan.
The theme of loyalty and trust will get played up a lot this week, as will competing notions of God; David will have to decide where his loyalty and trust lie, as will the king. And, in a show that has been especially effective at showing us God as a force for power and a rationalization for using that power, we'll get several interesting glimpses of the fact that not everyone percieves God in the same way -- and not everyone is in agreement about what He wants.
King Silas is in high dudgeon these days (which means, of course, that we get some choice acting out of Ian McShane). He decides that there's no one better to sell his peace plan to the people of the northern rim -- which we see for the first time, I think, on a map of Gilboa -- than their local hero, David, so he calls in the golden boy and tells him to head up there and make his loyalty to the king clear. Just after telling David to trust his judgment (and, implicitly, God's judgment), his military chief, General Abner, twists the knife a bit further: they want him not only to sell the plan, but to take note of any potential subversives who make open resistance to it -- a group that's sure to contain, as we will learn, David's own brothers.
We get to see King Silas in some comically domestic trappings this episode -- cooking breakfast for his family, and fly-fishing while Port Prosperity burns -- but he's anything but relaxed. Reverend Samuels is continuing to stir up trouble about the trade-off -- "He calls for peace," sneers the King, "but denies me the cost" -- and his son Jack is continuing to scheme along with his brother-in-law, corporate boss William Cross, to make him look bad. And it's working: he's increasingly snippish with the press, his staff, and even the household servants, ordering a valet to be hung (er, hanged) for spilling coffee on his shirt. Queen Rose chides him that if he keeps carrying on in this fashion, his staff might dust off the guillotine -- a reminder that no monarch's power is absolute, and perhaps a hint of what happened to previous rulers of Gilboa in darker times. She suggests that he head out to the countryside, because he's always so happy when he returns from there. Of course, we know that 'visiting the countryside' is Silas' code for paying a call on his mistress and their son; does this scene suggest that the Queen knows as well?
In Port Prosperity, David's well-meaning speech has little effect on the rowdy crowd, and soon enough -- fueled by his brother Ethan's insistence that, King Silas' divine right notwithstanding, God wants them to keep the land they paid for with blood -- a riot breaks out. Police shoot a few protestors, and the rest of them lock themselves into a dockside warehouse armed with smuggled-in weapons. The King is alerted, and Cross and Jack decide to send out the media -- which, for the moment, is controlled by CrossGen -- out to manipulate the situation to make the king look bad. Fortuitously, however, the King -- in the middle of what can only be described as angry fishing -- is visited by rich dllettante Katrina Ghent, the billionaire widow of a "syphillitic walrus" well-connected at court. She's plied her way into a meeting with the King by making promises to the chief royal aide, Thomasina, who we learn for the first time has a sick sister in some kind of institution. Katrina wants a ministry of her own -- not for power, but for show. King Silas, always the schemer supreme, sees his opening.
As the anti-Silas schemers take a meeting, the King makes his move: he arranges for Katrina to buy the major media conglomerate right out from under William Cross in a hostile takeover. Cross himself (who gets some choice scenes this episode, letting the fine Dylan Baker show off what he can do) gets a text message telling him to beat a hasty retreat, which he does -- just before the King's guards show up and arrest or kill the rest of the schemers. The King's daughter Michelle pays a visit to the scene of the siege, and the rebels plan to use her as leverage against the King, only to learn that the media has bugged out (at Katrina's orders) and left them with no audience for their demands. Silas lines up the remaining plotters under his sniper's scopes, but David -- who's used to being in front of those scopes by now -- calls for a return of his trust. The King allows him to visit the scene of the standoff, where he goads his brother into a fight, just in time to spare him being shot dead by the snipers' rifles. Ethan makes his decision at the last minute, killing a rebel who planned to take out Michelle, and by doing so, makes it crystal-clear what the meaning of the decision David has made really is.
In the fallout from the insurrection, Cross learns who his savior at the meeting was -- not Rev. Samuels, as he'd suspected, but rather General Abner, who says that King Silas is not the man to whom he originally swore loyalty. David, the musician, is played like a harp by the King, who tells him that he's been following his brother Ethan all along and knew he was planning something like this -- but he'll spare him if David is the one who'll hand him over for trial. It's another Machiavellian masterstroke for the King, cutting David off entirely from his family and ensuring that every decision he makes will be informed by his now seemingly unshakable devotion to the king. Silas goes on to clean house even further: he lets the treacherous Jack know in no uncertain terms that he's aware of the deal that he was trying to swing with Cross, and that a gift from his brother-in-law is no gift at all. He gives Jack in truth what Cross gave him only as a promise: control over the media, as the real power behind Katrina's figurehead. And, as a capper, he gives Thomasina -- who feared she might be the next to dangle for frankly telling King Silas that he's turned cold an unreasonable since cutting his mistress and their son out of his life -- a promotion.
This week, I thought, was a definite improvement over last's; it seemed less flat and slow, and while the rebellion at Port Prosperity was handled in a pretty clumsy way (in particular, the way the riot broke out was straight-up predictable every step of the way), it ended up making some interesting points about how the people see the source of the King's power, and helped solidify Silas' hold over David. We got some grade-A palace intrigue, leading up to the big reveal at the end about General Abner, and in general, the plot seemed to be moving forward a lot more than it did in "First Night". Setting up the various court alliances and getting all the right pieces in place seems more important than ever, knowing that the clock on this show is probably ticking down pretty fast.
- The music in this episode was positively Deadwoody in its tension and timing.
- More little peeks at Gilboan society: we learn that the most popular sport in the country is soccer, and that the King is irritated at no longer being able to root for his favorite team. Nice.
- I swear to hell, I cannot get enough of our Shakesperian clowns, the court security guards, Boyden and Klotz. Tonight's appearance was absolutely fantastic -- it started out funny as hell and then quickly turned sort of sweet (but still funny as hell). Maybe when Kings gets cancelled they'll give these two a cheap spin-off.
- Macaulay Culkin next week! I can't wait, for some reason!