Kings is catching on. After a quiet premiere, ratings are improving as this alternate-history drama snags the imaginations of viewers looking for a little speculative in their Sunday. (We all know SyFy doesn’t want us; we have to go somewhere!)
The plot is loosely based on the life of the Biblical King David, set in the modern-day kingdom of Gilboa, where a war against enemy country Gath is raging. Young front-line soldier David Shepherd pulls a daring stunt that knocks out a Goliath tank, saves the life of the King’s own son, and makes David a national hero.
King Silas invites David to capital city Shiloh for a plum post as press liaison, because even in alternate universes no camera can resist a blonde beefcake, and it all seems like a good idea until Silas gets a sign that God has shifted his favor from His Royal Highness to the golden upstart. Awkward.
Kings has spent much of the first few episodes setting up conflicts without unspooling them: the tensions among the members of the royal family; glimpses and hints of political prisoners, enemies, and exiles; the will-he-won’t-he of Silas’ need to take David out of the power picture in order to solidify his own rule.
Some of these work out better than others. There are things the show does well: the aesthetics are cinema-sleek, the over-30 actors uniformly talented, and so far the show has ongoing and layered references to its Biblical counterpart that are enough to interest theologeeks.
Of course, there are issues: the under-30 cast is uniformly wooden (with the exception of Sebastian Stan; who would have thought the day would come when the kid from Gossip Girl was the best actor in the frame?), and it can be trying to sit through yet another vague conversation with yet another character you just met. However, these scenes have the feel of showrunners shedding exposition and gearing up for the game to begin, so a little anvil here or there might be forgiven.
By far the most interesting element of the show is the subtle world being revealed as we take baby steps outside the palace walls. We’ve had glimpses of the front lines, gossip websites, and treaty negotiations. Some things remain obfuscated, of which the most significant is the religion being built from the ground up—does the Reverend, set squarely against King Silas, actually have God’s ear? Is God an active and present force in this world, or just the reflection of human nature? After the runaway success of the cerebral and theological Battlestar Galactica, there’s a new niche for hard-hitting spiritual science fiction. Is NBC ready to tackle the nature of God? (Will corporate sponsor Liberty Mutual let them risk even asking the question?)
For those impatient to see what happens next, the show has stayed close enough to the Old Testament that you can grab a King James and get a sneak peek. Turns out Biblical David is remarkably more interesting than the aw-shucks ideal we’ve seen so far; I, for one, can’t wait to see him spitting and feigning madness to escape suspicion by enemy forces. (Or feigning anything, for that matter. Act, damn you, Chris Egan! ACT.)
If you’re up on your Kings episodes (and/or your Book of Samuel), what’s on your wish list for coming episodes? Mine has more Reverend, a long-awaited glimpse of Port Prosperity, more Thomasina, and Wes Studi being the shit. But there’s plenty more to choose from: what about the King’s son loving David “as his own soul”? (Hey, I just report the news. Pony up the canon, NBC!) Is the show going to be a theological battleground, or will they just be tiptoeing past all that on their way to Princess Michelle’s milquetoast romantic subplots? What in Gilboa do you most want to see?
And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom?
– 1 Samuel 18:8 (King James Version)