I know it’s only an oppressive monarchy (but I like it)

It’s been a good week for Kings. First, the ratings bleed has finally clotted, and the writing for Sunday night’s episode, the fourth installment so far, has taken a turn for the better. For one, all the teen drama of last week has been replaced with the political drama the pilot had promised: what seemed like a reasonable peace settlement has the kingdom erupting with street insurrections, military coups, and the emergence of a semi-free press. As one of history’s great assholes put it, we’re witnessing the birthpangs of democracy.

That said, what’s so interesting is that our empathy lies with an aging monarch with despotic tendencies over the earnest masses (and here, credit is owed to Michael Green, Ian McShane, and maybe even David Milch, for creating a character so magnetic). Even in spite of the iconic signs of illicit state action (workers being mowed down by cops in riot gear), somehow, we’re still with Silas. Is Green revealing our own complicity with state hegemony in some meta way? Are we all willing to prostrate before power if the charm is right?

When I am king, you will be first against the wall.

Those questions would carry more weight if the slogans of the insurrection at the Port of Prosperity (whose land is being given up to Gath) actually made some sense. After all, the people aren’t clamoring for a broader democracy in Gilboa, or secession from the two bordering states; they’re just saying (unless I read it wrong) that they still want in. (As an aside, there have been some real echoes of the India-Pakistan partition throughout the series, which, themselves, echo the entirety of the post-WWII birth-of-nations. Green could raise the political stakes by hinting at the displacements caused by the wars that opened up the series, four weeks ago).

But back to the characters. David won some points by not being the most annoying character this week. That distinction goes to his brother, Ethan, who not only killed his own comrade-in-arms, but who had the gall to turn his back on David even after he saved his ass from execution. Trailing right behind Ethan is his mom, who, the folks at MoveItMoveIt lucidly point out, “doesn’t do much besides stand around with [her] hands on [her] hips acting indignant.”

Those quibbles withstanding, things are on the up for Kings with more political murkiness on the horizon. Silas’ right hand man has now defected to Cross. Jack has returned to the dynastic fold. And Silas is finding his inner Swearengen.

Well played, Green. Here’s hoping (with the rest of you) the show isn’t cancelled before it has a chance to resurrect Kevin McCallister’s career. Watch it here if you haven’t already.

– Thumbu Sammy

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Thumbu

Brother of L. Augustus Del Pietro

4 thoughts on “I know it’s only an oppressive monarchy (but I like it)”

  1. I’m with you that this week’s was the strongest episode so far, and I even kind of enjoyed it. But it did leave me a little confused about certain things. Like, for instance, the episode’s entire conflict. Two weeks ago when Silas conceded Port Prosperity, the people were understandably pretty upset. Plenty of potential drama there. This week he (despotically? arbitrarily?) decides to cede the whole region that Gilboa had wrested from Gath during the Battle of Prosperity, including the territory on which David’s family resides. At no point is the possibility of a justification for this decision (or lack thereof) even acknowledged, beyond “safeguarding” Silas’s pledge for peace. If we’re supposed to be so sympathetic to Silas — and I agree that we are — why are we not privy to his rationale here? The conflict felt to me like a narrative contrivance, something the script writers hastily slapped together in order to put David in the position of having to choose between his family or his king.

    A few other scattered observations: 1) I’m convinced that the show’s vaguely ethnic singing is indeed echoing an Eastern European aesthetic, and not a Middle Eastern one. 2) Are Klotz and Boyden supposed to be something like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? 3) Am I the only one who thinks Thomasina was a million times sexier when she was a Baltimore City Councilwoman? (It was the glasses, I’m sure of it.) 4) I’m glad that the “Toughest Pawnee” from ‘Dances With Wolves’ avoided being ethnically type cast for this role.

  2. And another narrative tangle: if the whole cession was plotted by Silas as a means to “flush out” some secret enemy, why did his sting operation immediately execute everyone at the conspirators’ meeting rather than, I don’t know, hold them for questioning? They surely would have identified Cross as the ringleader, and could have named any other conspirators who couldn’t make it to that particular meeting. How did Silas and his general know the when and where of this meeting in the first place? And if they had that information, why didn’t they have the location bugged beforehand? Sloppy storytelling, kids.

  3. All good points, JC. I realize I confused last week’s episode with the one from two weeks ago, and had assumed that the Port was the only land being handed over to Gath. But you’re right, Silas does say that the surrounding land will be ceded as well, which is why everyone is up in arms (that is a whole lot to give up just to test loyalties and fish out conspirators). I’m not sure why the rebellion and coup had to be resolved in one episode either; that seems like a convention that a lot of network shows follow. Then again, shows like Heroes and Lost thrive on their perpetual non-resolutions.

    As for Silas’ rash geopolitical decisions, maybe the writers are planting the seeds for a Lear-like spiral downward. Doubt it, though; the a-ha moment at the end of the episode was very much meant to show Silas as one step ahead of gang. I’m wondering how Cross, the General, and Samuels will eventually rope David into a better-executed coup. Cross, I think, will have to be out of the picture – he has no redeeming qualities, as of yet. Maybe Langrishe will take his spot.

    By the way, I heard the ronroco at some point, during Sunday’s episode. It’s a world music mashup!

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