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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Kings: "Judgment Day"

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Illustration for article titled Kings: "Judgment Day"

Greetings to the loyal subjects of doomed and worthy causes, and welcome to the first Saturday night showing of Kings. Mr. Pierce, your usual host, is off attending galas elsewhere, and I, his most unworthy humble substitute, shall attempt to entertain with you my own thoughts, meager and ill-advised though they may be. Leonard will return next week, just as the rising of the tide; for now, I'll do my best to muddle through, if you will be so kind as to bear me patience.

I do have to apologize in advance, as I don't know a whole lot about Biblical myth—I have what I can glean from Wikipedia, and there may have been a few wasted hours in Sunday School. No more. But I do have an appreciation for Ian McShane, good dialogue, and just the appropriate dosage of portent, and this series has so far excelled at delivering all in ample measure. As well, given the few things I do know about David's story, I savor the knowledge that as bad as things may get for our leads now, they're probably going to get worse soon. That's always a nice thing to feel.

"Judgment Day" introduces a new element to the slowly unfolding mythos of Shiloh (and I'm of the mind that this must have some kind of Biblical resonance, so help would be appreciated); one day of every year, King Silas will select ten cases that he himself will sit in judgment upon. (At least I think that's what the "day" part of the title is referring to; the actual judgment sitting seems to take place over two days.) The selection process is hotly contested, and Jack, given his new power as puppet master over Minister Katrina Ghent, finds a way to get his fingers in, first by pushing for Michelle's health care proposal to see the light, and then by pitting her against David and his desperate attempts to get the king to intercede in his brother, Ethan's, trial for treason. And if that wasn't excitement enough to quicken one's pulse, we also have the return of William's exiled son, Andrew (the long awaited Macaulay Culkin).

As Leonard's mentioned before, one of this show's biggest strengths so far has been in its carefully modulated parceling of exposition. The family backstory is sometimes hit or miss (Michelle's revelation tonight that she was promised to another was a trifle mundane, I felt), but in terms of world-building, this is elegantly constructed television. The idea of Judgment Day isn't a hugely novel one, nor was the concept of First Night from a couple episodes back, but the expertly displayed pageantry of both gives the impression that we are witness to something far weightier than mere melodrama. It's a conceit that plays directly into the hands of one of Kings' big themes; as Queen Rose has informed us, the royalty was desinged to give the commonfolk something impressive, something more tangible to rest their belief in than the present but subtle divinity that Reverend Samuels espouses. Just as the people love King Silas because he is presented as greater than themselves, so do we. (And obviously, the casting of McShane doesn't hurt.)

I'd say my biggest frustration with things as they've so far unfolded is that more has been promised than has been actually delivered. It's possibly an unfair criticism to place at the feet of a series in its infancy, but while I much enjoyed tonight, I couldn't help wishing for more developments in the main storyline, whatever, exactly that is. David once again struggles with his conscience and the contempt of his loved ones (a group of characters I would be happy to never see again, frankly), he once again feels betrayed by the people in power he so desperately believes in, and once again, his inherently noble nature wins the day, with a little help from the Lord's luck. Silas is still working off the pain of his self-inflicted absence from "Serenity" (a brief aside: I've been wondering who was in the photo Silas showed Abaddon to get his help in episode two—could it be Silas's own mistress, Helen?), but he handles the various cases put at his disposal with aplomb, even meting out harsh justice to the man who save his son Seth's life. And Jack's manipulations, brought own by lonliness no doubt, continue; he works to get David ousted from favor by his own hand, which goes poorly.

All of these could deliver dividends, but none, of yet, have shown significant profits. David seems to have gone through this routine at least a half a dozen times at this point. (A neat trick, considering we've only had five episodes.) I want to like Jack—Ryan Phillippe-impression aside, he's tormented enough to be appealing—but so far he doesn't seem quite realized yet. There is great promise here, but it seems like we're still standing on delivery.

There was a good deal to appreciate in "Day," however. The petitioners asking for the King's justice all carry orange envelopes with their cases inside, and once the selection of ten is announced, the losers discard their envelopes onto the palace floor; the litter of orange in the hallway lasted the entire episode, making for a terrific visual reminder that for all the main characters' woes, there were hundreds, maybe thousands, who left unheard. The presentation of the Day itself was deftly done, with it's mixture of serious cases (Reverend Samuels is accused and cleared of charges of embezzlement) and more prosaic ones, clearly as much about public relations as anything. While it's slow of yet, David's development has great potential—we assume he's the one "good" man, and what we've seen supports that, but he has a desperation and hot-headedness about him that could very easily lead to disaster.  And, of course, we had our second appearance of the deposed Abaddon. I believe I could've watched a full hour of McShane and Brian Cox sharing a meal, regardless of the conversation.

And what of Andrew? Only hints, so far. He's quiet, calm, a trifle curious. William tries to angle a position for him, and Rose puts off the request; but despite a conversation with Silas about the nature of exile, we still aren't given confirmation of Andrew's crime. I have my suspicions, though. Going through his son's room, William finds a single woman's dress shoe, quite fancy by the look of it; given Silas's reaction of Jack's homosexuality, would it be any surprise to find that the King might exile a nephew inclined to cross-dressing?

Either that, or Andrew's a thief. (Totally missed this, but as clydeumney's las post points out, the Queen herself lost a shoe.) I think I'd prefer the former, actually; gives us more chance for mixed sympathies. But we'll have to wait and see.

Grade: B

Stray Observations:

  • I like Klotz and Boyden well enough, but you'll pardon me if I'm not overly enamored of Klotz's devotion to Thomasina. I'd rather have him and his partner be on the sidelines as comic relief.
  • Michelle finally got her health care bill passed, which is nice for her. Is she officially promised to Paul? 'Cause that's not the impression I've been getting. (I'd assumed she was going to turn out to secretly be a nun.)
  • I'm surprised Ethan wasn't executed.