After several episodes of wheel-spinning, the show decided to push eight plots forward in forty minutes, along the thematic divide of compassion vs. ruthlessness.
As usual, David’s plot was the least interesting. He spends most of it frowning manfully in Port Prosperity, where his brother is among those barricaded inside to protest the King’s decision to hand their sliver of the country to Gath. As the King fishes, Jack scrabbles for a little media power, Michelle decides to get herself taken hostage (she’s not too bright), and the Queen’s brother makes alliances like they’re going out of style.
Finally, because we don’t have enough characters to worry about, Caprica Six shows up and pushes for a council seat. Back home, Baltar’s all, “Do you just need some space? We can slow down, it’s cool!”
It feels as though the show is comfortable enough to widen the scope; this week we got our first look at Port Prosperity, a news network, and a factory basement. (Two out of three ain’t bad?) We also got to see how the King’s policies affect the everyman, with unsurprising results, and to see how David handles them, with unsurprising results. Once again, David’s family and/or his crush object are directly tied to whatever he has to tackle. David Sheperd: blondest pawn!
However, as if to counter David’s blandness, we have the first glimpses of personality in Thomasina and General Wes Studi, who vocalize the compassion vs. ruthlessness debate. Thomasina accuses the King of ignoring the plight of his people, and says that while her job is to protect the royal family, she doesn’t know how to serve a cruel king. (Memo to Thomasina: Um, really? Have you watched any of the rest of the show?)
Wes Studi cuts the compassion crap and climbs into bed with Cross the financier-in-law; the Silas who shows mercy to traitors is “no longer the man I swore to follow.” It’s a shocking twist that Wes Studi gets a scene where he’s not standing out of focus behind the King.
Cross is over the moon. Earlier, he reminded the Reverend of their old loyalties, and after Jack’s aborted bid for news-network ownership, has Jack on board to bring down the King. Getting General Wes Studi is the last letter on this guy’s Monarchy Coup Bingo card. Take the rest of the week off, big guy!
By episode’s end, it looks like compassion has won the day: David’s life is saved by the King; Michelle’s life is saved by Ethan Shepherd; Ethan’s life is saved by King Silas; and King Silas offers his conniving son a shadow Cabinet position, throwing the power-hungry Jack into a silent conniption as he tries to decide who has the better offer, his father or his uncle.
However, almost every instance of compassion backfires. Michelle’s sympathy visit to the protestors gets her taken hostage, David’s attempt to quell the riot earns his family’s enmity, and the King’s release of Ethan drives his General right into the arms of another man.
Ruthlessness is the only thing that brings rewards. Cross escapes arrest by leaving his companions to die, Jack gets offered a Cabinet position after challenging his father with his personal TV network, and ex-centerfold and total badass Katrina Ghent’s dogged persistence pays off in a TV network and a Cabinet post.
(It’s interesting to see the collection of savvy women this show is gathering: Queen Rose, who coolly suggests her husband go visit his mistress to shake off a bad mood; Thomasina, who speaks out against the King’s opinion even as she protects the monarchy; and Ghent, whose underplaying of her own appetite for power looks to be the first of many sneaky moves.)
The sucker in this episode is David, who loses his family, his trust in his King, and the girl he loves (again). You know, the Biblical David is a clever guy. He speaks wisely, he maneuvers out from under the King’s will, and he regularly employs deception in his own self-interest. This David seems continually stunned that the King is manipulating him. Does he have a concussion?
King Silas, meanwhile, straddles the compassion/ruthlessness line and manages to deceive everyone while battling himself; when he sends David into Port Prosperity to plead with his brother to surrender, there’s no doubt in my mind he considers eliminating David in the melee. He’s seen the crown God sent; he’s not stupid. Then again, David is valuable as the most relatable face of the monarchy, and King Silas clearly doesn’t mind pinning the poor guy to the wall in the name of the kingdom.
The King’s hold on David is untenable: his General thinks the King is coddling him, his brother-in-law thinks he’s peacemongering because of him, and his daughter thinks he’s endangering him. The question is: who will be the first to strike against the King? (Please let it be David, please oh please oh please.)
And Saul cast the javelin; for he said, I will smite David even to the wall with it.
— 1 Samuel 18:11