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Kings – First Night
This episode was about court politics, the role of the royal family, and the relationship between Silas and his god. It was less story and more set-up/character building, which is fine both because the series is still young and because it’s nice to get a sense of real time with the political decisions of the king. If every episode were action-packed, it would feel unnatural, like we were never shown the behind-the-scenes analyzing and negotiating and agonizing that happen before each petition granted and each international peace proposal accepted. So this week was about giving us a glimpse into the daily workings of the kingdom of Shiloh.
Today is Queen Rose’s day. It is the day of her exclusive charity ballet both to promote the appreciation of arts in Shiloh and to raise money for a worthy cause. Seats, we are told, were $10,000 apiece just to be among the 300 guests of the king. David Shepherd is uninvited at the last minute after Queen Rose is told someone wanted to pay $100,000 to have his seat moved next to David’s in order to “see what he does next.” All of a sudden David’s star is 10 times more valuable than that of Silas, and this state of affairs is unacceptable to the queen because (we discover a bit later) it threatens everything she has worked to build in the new kingdom.
David is disappointed not to be able to go, because he was hoping to see Princess Michelle–despite the fact that she snubbed him the last time they met. Prince Jack, presumably at his mother’s behest, offers to take David out with him to party like royalty and even flies in two of David’s soldier friends from the front lines. They go to several wild clubs. Prince Jack is confronted by his male lover, whom he has not called for some time now (at his father’s orders, though he cannot admit that to the boy) and scorns him for not taking the hint when he didn’t call. David is caught on camera kissing one of Prince Jack’s favorite lady friends, possibly also at his mother’s instruction. David ultimately declines the offer to go home with her and leaves with his virtue mostly intact…but not his image. Prince Jack is left alone and embittered at having had to break the heart of his heart’s real choice–but that was the price he agreed to pay for the power he wants to eventually inherit.
At the ballet after-party, Princess Michelle wonders why David did not come, and her mother plays innocent–that he chose not to come and to instead go out with Jack. Queen Rose encourages her to speak with a long-time suitor, which she does…on the subject of whether his bank might be willing to co-finance her health care plan with the government. Her disappointment at David’s absence is obvious, until the other man mentions that her mother had told him earlier in the day to expect a tête-à-tête with Michelle. She confronts her mother about why David had been told not to come, and Rose explains that David’s star could not be allowed to outshine that of the royal family. That everything about their lives had been designed to give the people of Shiloh hope and awe and larger-than-life royalty to look up to and adore. She didn’t even like ballet, she tells her daughter, but she pretended to love it because it made such a good show for the people. Michelle, perhaps naively, is shocked to discover her mother is so calculating and artificial and, in her own way, ruthless.
Meanwhile, King Silas is interrupted on this, the one night of the year he has promised to devote to his wife and her activities, with the urgent news that his illegitimate son’s chronic condition has taken a turn for the worse. The boy has been hospitalized and is begging for his father. Silas sneaks away to see him, covering his tracks with the queen by an emergency military protocol that was instituted by a general who “didn’t know” he was off-limits for the night. When the doctor tells Silas there is nothing left for the boy but the dangerous last-resort treatment, Silas gives the go-ahead and sets off to confront Reverend Samuel about why God is taking this one special thing away from him, the one thing that he cannot lose. The reverend does not have an answer to give him; God, he explains, has been silent on the subject of Silas lately. His only advice is that if God is looking for atonement, then Silas must find another sacrificial lamb if he wants to save the one God has chosen. In the end, Silas makes the choice to give up his second family in exchange for the boy’s safety. He tells his mistress as he walks away that it is “the cost” of the boy’s seemingly miraculous recovery. He asks his assistant what code word she uses for his time in the countryside: serenity. “Then serenity must end,” he announces poetically.
The episode wraps up with Michelle’s reaction to the photographic proof that David Shepherd is, as her mother claims, “not so virtuous, after all”: shocked, angry hurt. Personally, while I can understand her being upset over the picture of him kissing someone else, it’s a little unfair since she did tell him to leave her alone. Perhaps she had changed her mind and had planned to tell him so at the ballet. For now, they are embroiled in situational irony of the most dramatic Much Ado About Nothing–or Othello--ish type.
One of the things about this episode that I really liked was the notion of sacrifice, that the pursuit of power demands a sacrifice. Jack must give up his lover. Silas must give up his beloved second family. Rose must give up her personal inclinations. David and Michelle are still innocent of any lust for power; they seem like babes in the woods who are only now beginning to see the machinations of everyone around them.
Another was the subtly included divine right of kings aspect. The reverend had said in the last episode that God had abandoned Silas, that Silas was thus no longer a real king. God’s seeming anger with Silas in this episode (if you want to attribute the illness of his son to that, as Silas does) indicates a vested divine interest in the proceedings. The idea of the divine right of kings is both a historical tradition and one that has shown up frequently in literature–certainly in Shakespeare, and also in plenty of medieval-analog fantasy worlds. I think the belief is appropriate to bring into play in this show as a modern Shakespearean drama/tragedy (remains to be seen which, or perhaps it will prove to be both) and as a piece of speculative fiction. I also like it simply as one more texturizer for this story being about a true monarch and not just a dictator by a different name…or is he?
Hm, good question. Remains to be seen. Guess I’ll just have to keep watching….