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Kings: First Night

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Kings

First Night

Season 1, Episode 3
Well, after complaining last week about how good Kings was getting in converse proportions to its dreadful ratings, I was sort of hoping that when I took a look at how well it fared in the Nielsens, a few people might have caught on to its increasingly high critical reputation.  Instead, it appears that, compared to last week, when nobody watched it, a negative number of people actually watched it.  Dead people were polled, and even they were watching something else.  People who watched it last week went back in time this week to convince themselves not to watch it.  Unborn fetuses, fictional characters, and deceased residents of Chicago who voted for JFK in 1960 were all counted as real people just so they could say they didn't watch Kings.  I could keep going in this high-larious vein for quite some time, but the gist of it is, the ratings for this show started out bad and are getting worse, which means it's almost certain to be cancelled.  So let's enjoy this time together while we can, TV Club readers, before they pull the plug on this cerebral, clever, adventurous show, and the AVC bigwigs move me over to doing Cutlery Corner with Tom O'Dell.
 
The big question for this week is, will the inverse relationship betwen Kings' quality and its ratings continue?  The pilot got terrible ratings, but was quite good; the second episode was even better, but it got ratings so bad that the cast and crew of My Own Worst Enemy are laughing behind its back.  If the trend continues, tonight's episode, "First Night", will be as good as the entire series run of The Wire combined, but the only person who will watch it is me, and possibly Wes Studi.   
 
This episode opens up with Queen Rose, looking quite Hillaryesque, preparing for the Royal Ballet & Gala, also known as "First Night" -- a return-to-normalcy affair meant to signal the return of art and culture to the kingdom of Gilboa after years of war.  It's discovered that big political contributors are offering more money for a seat next to our hero, David Shepherd, than they are for a seat next to the king:  "Silas commands his thousands, while David brings his hundred-thousands", says Queen Rose, referring to cold hard cash but briging the Bible-geek audience their sweetest bit of fanservices for the night.  She arranges for the royal aide, Thomasina, to cut David out of the proceedings, in a Machiavellian bit of scheming that will become clearer as the episode continues.
 
King Silas, meanwhile, meets with his advisers:  Rev. Samuels is organizing protests that verge on open rebellion around the turnover of Port Prosperity to the kingdom of Gath, and his daughter Michelle is still pushing the health care agenda, this time with some heavy numbers at her disposal.  (This whole episode has a bit of a Hillary Clinton theme.)  His son Jack shows up to ask a disappointed David, who was hoping to get some face-time with Michelle at First Night, out on the town.  One of you speculated last week that I was reading more into David's character than we were actually being shown, and that still may be true -- he wasn't in the episode in much of a meaningful way, and I think it suffered a bit because of that, but I also was somewhat pleased to see a little more of Jack's persona shine through, in his violently manipulative way with his friends, and his obvious bitterness against his family.  The Queen's scheming reaches a zenith later in the episode, when, after charming the crowd with her childhood fascination for ballet, she explains to Michelle that she doesn't give a toss about it:  what she's in the business of selling is faith in the royal family, belief that Gilboa is something greater than "a collection of Stone Age tribes pounding each other with sticks".
 
As First Night begins, we jump back and forth between the royal occassion and Jack (the "Crown Pimp") guiding David through the decadent club world of Shiloh.  This is a prime chance to make it clear that David is no saint, but the show doesn't really take it.  On the one hand, David seems overwhelmed by the hard partying, drugs, and easy women, but not too overwhelmed; but then again, he almost has to be thrown into the arms of a girl so Jack's flunky can take compromising photos.  The Queen, meanwhile, executes her end of what is revealed to be an elaborate plan to keep Michelle away from the new media darling:  she hooks her daughter up with Paul, a childhood friend who may be able to finance her health care studies.  These scenes are appropriately Machiavellian and beautifully filmed -- I was reminded of Gus Van Sant's work in My Own Private Idaho with the blend of low life and high drama -- but the whole thing played out rather flat for me, reminiscent of the dreary tarted-up soap opera that Kings looked like in the previews.  Jack's speech about the endless opportunities of royalties goes on way too long.
 
The third major plot this week is that Seth -- the illegitimate son of King Silas -- takes ill, and seems hopeless.  This leads the King to take a meeting with the now-ostracized Rev. Samuels (who, earlier, had a terrifically filmed scene, called back just as beautifully by the Queen, where he crooks a royal portrait out of a combination of righteousness and pettiness); the good Reverend reminds him that he's on the outs with God, and the only way to get back in is to offer up an innocent for sacrifice.  Silas says that if the sacrifice is Seth, God asks too much -- "Not even God would be so cruel," he says, acting like someone entirely unfamiliar with the Old Testament God.  It works out in the end, sort of:  in a chilling scene, Silas breaks the neck of a wounded deer as a replacement sacrifice, but, knowing that won't be enough, seems to abandon his second family, calling it "the cost" of staying in God's graces.
 
While it had its moments, overall, "First Night" was the first episode of Kings I didn’t think was great.  It looked fine (Francis Lawrence's direction is still top-notch), and had some decent dialogue, though nothing spectacular as in the previous two.  It seemed more like the show Kings looked like it it would be instead of the one it is becoming.  For all its prettiness, it was sort of hollow, and its biggest sin wasn't the lack of glorious KJV-inspired dialogue or effective guest appearances (though those certainly hurt), but that it didn’t really move the plot forward all that much – Jack’s decadent scheming didn’t seem to really accomplish anything plotwise other than to keep David and Michelle apart, which had aready been accomplished last episode by Michelle's mysterious vow.  The subplot with Seth was routine medical soap opera without much of a twist.  And the mysteries introduced last episode were barely referred to.  The few things I really wanted to see here -- Rev. Samuels’ rebellion, and how the media treated David’s growing popularity -- were barely referred to.  It wasn't a bad episode by TV standards (it looked way too good for that), but if I'm right, the show doesn't have long to last, and it can't afford to waste time on nonstarters.
 
Rating:  B-
 
Stray observations: 
 
- What do y'all think of Susanna Thompson as Queen Rose?  She's got a terrific look, but she alone amongst the major cast members seems to have a lot of trouble handling the high-toned dialogue.  (We finally got to see a decent amount of Allison Miller as Michelle, and she's a bit better than I'd first thought.)
 
- I continue to be intrigued by the appearance of little bits and pieces of Gilboan culture; they have the internet, we now know, but they also apparently have ration stickers (a holdover from the war?), and their military vehicles (as one of our commenters spotted last episode) are a curious mix of modern technology and Cold War-era Soviet hardware.  I wonder if this is an intentional choice, or a matter of budget.
 
- Our two Shakesperian clowns, Boyden and Klotz, are back (love those names!), but we don't get to see much of them:  "I think I saw a ballerina."
 
- "Miss, you've been learning to speak fancy." 
 
"I have a fair teacher."