Jun 23 2009 2:31pm

To War, and Not Lightly: Kings, “The Sabbath Queen”

King Silas gets a birthday party this week, and everything goes well until the Queen’s brother shuts off the power during a monster hissy. As the Queen tries to keep things together, both her kids slip away to knock boots with their boyfriends, and her husband starts having acid flashbacks to the time he promised Death to give up his crown if only Death would spare his daughter. (Man, looking at his daughter, I bet he regrets that now.)

This episode was Dark. It was so Dark they turned the city’s lights off (it’s a metaphor!). It was so Dark that everyone got their heart broken in quick succession. It was so Dark that the King and Death, the Sabbath Queen, had a heart-to-heart. Darkly.

The episode opens with King Silas gritting his way through his birthday party, though he refuses to invite ex-exile nephew Macaulay Culkin. His brother-in-law William gets so pissy about the slight that he orders the city’s power shut off. Even for a character who exists only to provide obstacles, it’s a pretty obvious plot contrivance, but it’s the least of this episode’s problems, so we’ll let it slide.

The moment the lights go out, Jack and Michelle bolt for their subplots (not a huge self-preservation instinct on these kids). Michelle takes David to the conveniently-unlocked country house five blocks from the center of town so they can get Biblical. He takes a series of racy pictures as she poses like it’s a Facebook-off. It’s so mind-numbingly dull that I almost missed her Big Reveal: she can’t be with David because she’s promised herself to God. Raise your hand if you didn’t see that coming.

To this, David says, “You’ve made God my enemy.” To this, I say, “Dude, seriously, think for a second before you open your mouth.”

Jack’s liaison with Joseph, the boyfriend he denied in “First Night,” is much more interesting (“The lights are out,” Jacks says by way of explanation), but because NBC doesn’t like its gays too gay, we don’t see him again until the end of the episode, when he’s on his way back to the palace to check in with his beard and the folks.

As soon as the lights go down, Silas starts to hear eerie piano music. He loses his mind (Silas: not a patron of the arts), and as he falls in and out of flashbacks, we get some long-overdue background filler: Michelle’s life-threatening illness, the King’s utter distraction, some atrocious David/Silas retconning, and Rose’s behind-the-scenes rule.

Rose rules twice this week in the name of the King. She deals efficiently with the blackout in the present, right down to threatening her brother for his quasi-treason, but it’s in the past she surprises—we find out she singlehandedly ordered the country into the continuing war with Gath. I hope that this gets addressed before the series wraps up, because that’s chilling (and awesome).

Meanwhile, the flashbacks detail how Death (who’s been practicing her J-horror faces recently) and Silas made a bargain that she would spare Michelle if Silas would give up his crown to the better man. Now, Silas did seal the deal, so I understand if Death comes to collect. But I also understand why Silas is reluctant to give up his crown. I mean, David? Really?

Still, I found this head and shoulders above the rest of this episode. The rest of the subplots move dutifully forward, but this is clearly the halfway point of the series, and the crux of the matter has come to light: Silas knows his days as King are numbered, and we’re just in it now to see what happens as he comes to terms with that, or not. (My vote: not so much.)

The message here, unlike others in this episode, is ably delivered. The book Silas reads to Michelle is a child’s adventure with the deathly Sabbath Queen, and it provides both an entry for Death to speak and pages for the blood contract. Once out from under the special effects, Saffron Burrows plays Death with seductive reasonableness, and Ian McShane really excels when you give him the material, from the first insinuating, familiar “You,” to the moment at episode’s end when Silas sidles up to David the Daughter-Deflowering Bummer-Bargain and shoots him a look that could crack stone.

Oh, it is on. (She said, hopefully.)

And Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David, and that Michal Saul’s daughter loved him. And Saul was yet the more afraid of David; and Saul became David’s enemy continually.
1 Samuel 18, 28:29

Mitchell Downs
1. Beamish
I have to wonder if this episode is an example of sponsor intereference or just milquetoast writing.

One of the unique things about "Kings" is that its production was underwritten from the start by a primary sponsor: Liberty Mutual. Allegedly, they even had script input. I wonder if the watered down presentation of the "affairs" of Jack and Michelle were due to that sort of script "input". Then again the show has been lacking any sort of edge since episode one.

I was once more struck by what this episode could have been as opposed to what it was.

As for Macauly Culkin - that boy does creepy so damn well I have to wonder if he is not really acting. I think he has never recovered from "The Good Son". On Kings, so far, his character has been pure set dressing - he appears to amp up the "creepy" but never really does or say anything of import. I have trouble understanding why the entire City was blacked out over this little weirdo. Silas so casually stabs his top General - why could he not have arranged for an accident for the Mac-Monster...
Genevieve Valentine
2. GLValentine
@ Beamish: I agree wholeheartedly about the Creepster Kid. The show continually mistakes withholding for suspense, to its great detriment - how long do we have to wait to find out what shadowy deed got him exiled to begin with? By then, will we care?

Man, this show had so much potential, but at this point I'm not only started to get frustrated, but to understand why it got cancelled. Oh, show.
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3. heresiarch
I disagree entirely--this episode was awesome. Everyone was making terrible, sexy decisions, Silas was getting his crazy on, and Death was delightfully retro. None of that "Death is a gift, it is peace and love and yay!" It was pure "Yes, I enjoy watching you suffer. It is...beautiful." Way better.

Even David and Michelle had roughly ten billion times as much spunk as usual (putting them at a one out of ten). When Michelle delivers that "The whole kingdom doesn't grind to a halt so that we can get what we want" line, and David says, "We?"--that was like Shakespeare, from him. And he is entirely forgiven for the "God is my enemy" thing: I'm desperate for that child to stop being such a boy scout, and if secret sex and naughty photos is what it takes, then bang on.
Genevieve Valentine
4. GLValentine
@ heresiarch: Well, we can't entirely disagree, then - I said Death was awesome, and so do you. So far, so good!

David and Michelle might be more interesting if either of them were good actors, or if they had any chemistry. Their current dynamic just seems too much like Reluctant Bio-Lab Partners to generate any narrative heat. They're in the back six; David better act on this fast to get anything going. ;)
5. Superquail
Culkin isn't my favorite actor, but this episode got me interested in his character. What did he do that made his aunt hate him so much? Why would his presence "sour the wine" in King Silas' cup? Here's my theory: Culkin is the mysterious thief who stole a kiss from Michelle! Ergo: BANISHMENT!
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6. heresiarch
"David and Michelle might be more interesting if either of them were good actors, or if they had any chemistry."

True that. I don't think their relationship works as a sweet, innocent love. As a bizarre, uncontrollable obsession, it just might!

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