Wednesday, March 18, 2009

TV REVIEW: NBC's "Kings"

I'm pretty up-to-date on things, I think. But sometimes, no matter how many plot reviews I read of a series, I don't get what a show is about until I see it for myself. For "Kings," not even the commercial promos helped in deciphering its agenda. But as it unfolded, I slowly (very slowly) understood where it was leading.

Every critique on the series has mentioned the biblical allusions to the story of David and Goliath. Christopher Egan (Resident Evil: Extinction) plays the David in question and the war tanks of the opposing nation represent Goliath. How very interesting--a series that starts off as an unbelievably expensive Army recruit ad. We're first introduced to David as a sweet-hearted kid with six brothers and a worrisome mother. Then we're skipped ahead two years to watch him dominate the battlefield alongside his brother Eli. One night they are informed that a squadron of their troops was captured. While the rest follow the orders to not venture off alone on a suicide mission to save them, David restlessly wanders off in the middle of the night to sneak up on what he believes to be a tent full of the captured soldiers. Instead, what he finds are just two--one partially injured, with his face obscured by a bandage. When a Goliath spots them escaping, the two captured soldiers run off, while David plays decoy. Noble gesture. He ducks behind a barricade. Smart move. Then we see him--from his brother's night-vision zoom camera perspective--leap out from the pit and stand tall before the canon of the Goliath. Fearless. [Place huge American Army emblem here.] It isn't until much later in the 2hr premiere, when Eli is dying after an ambush sparked by the king's decision to forgo the peaceful treaty that was fought for and agreed upon, that David reveals to him that he only stood up to surrender.

That bandaged war prisoner was the king's son Jack (Sebastian Stan from "Gossip Girl" and The Covenant), the next in line. The city worshiped David, called him a hero, and nearly hoisted him on their shoulders for praise. But all he could think was: "Everyone thinks I'm brave, but I'm not. I surrendered." Eli's last sputtered words were: "Be brave now." It was then that the real attraction of the series was revealed: David's journey to the crown. And his first speech as would-be king, which he made on the front lines, weaponless, truly standing tall before three Goliaths, in broad daylight while gripping a bloody sheet, sent goosebumps from my wrists to my ears:
"You want blood? Come here and take it! It's fresh! Still warm from the life that just left it--the blood of my brother. So take it! Take his blood and call it enough! If you need more, take mine. Do it! I surrender! Shoot me and call that enough! Or can one of you come down here?...and show me your face? Show me that you're more than tank, metal, and shell...that you're human, like we are. That you breathe, that you bleed, that you feel, and feel pity. That you live for more than our death. Come, any of you who have lost a brother. Come and tell me it's enough."

Woa! I suppose I shouldn't have expected that to be in the first hour. It was the set up--the prologue to an epic tale. It was where King Silas made a laughable speech to the multitude about how he knew he would be king, how a crown of living butterflies had settled on his head. I mean, he sounded like a cult leader. But he had to say it, so that when it happened to David in the end, the ire in King Silas' eyes would be crystal clear.

For the same reason, we had to watch the scene that takes place two years before he joins the war, where David fixes Reverend Samuels' car (Eamonn Walker from "Oz") and pays him with an expensive broken watch, so that we are led to believe that the eerie looks he was giving him were in some way linked to his belief that he would one day rule. No matter how surprised everyone is of David's courage and abilities, he is never shocked. It's as if he's already seen what has been written. Even he had incredible dialogue at one point. King Silas has been fighting the neighboring nation, Gath, and hoping for peace so that the soldiers could come home. (Hmm, like ours?) But after his brother-in-law, who controls a resounding majority of the nation's finances, refused to allow the war to come to an end, since it was so profitable, he agreed to take Gath by surprise during their truce and invade. The Reverend strongly opposed this--and pretty much everything the king does, as did most religious figures of the past--and he spoke frankly:
"Since you have cast aside the word of the Lord, he has cast you aside as king. He grants you no more favors. He protects what you love no more. God wishes a man after his own heart. You have none. He will find another."

Me thinks he already did. King Silas and his brother-in-law are fighting what they call the Unification Wars, but what they really want is to dominate. The king wants it so bad that he was the one who ordered the captured squadron's backup to retreat, leaving them for dead. With their deaths, he would get the approval he needed from the people to retaliate with full force, instead of only reacting to attacks. Granted, he didn't know his son was in that particular squadron, but he did still try to forfeit the lives of his own people for what he believed to be the greater good. In the beginning, we were led to believe that King Silas would risk his life and authority to save his son, since he refused to negotiate with "terrorists" until he discovered his son was one of the hostages. He even went so far as to board a helicopter to the front lines and ride with him all the way to the hospital. However, in the second hour it was unceremoniously revealed just how much he loved his son. Not only did he "graciously" turn a blind eye to the fact that Jack was secretly bedding male lovers, but he never had any intention of ever giving him the crown because of it. His rejection was cold and jarring: "You cannot be what God made you--not if you mean to take my place."

Oh and if you think he's more of the daughter-spoiling-type dad, think again. While he does treasure Michelle (newcomer Allison Miller) and defend her honor when she's caught kissing David on the street by photographers, he treats her just like anyone else when she attempts to get health bills passed in court. He sees her as a future trophy wife, not a policy changer. Luckily, David doesn't pigeon-hole her as much, and I think that's because--besides the fact that he's the charming boy-next-door type--she doesn't pigeon-hole him either. I wouldn't say that their love is going the epic route, but it'll definitely get interesting. See, we're watching King Silas as he is now, at the end of his reign. But we are to presume that if the butterflies really did land on his head, he must've at one point had David's morals. How long before David turns into Silas? What will be the temptations that take him down that road? And what will he give up along the way? We've already seen that King Silas' brother-in-law helped him rise to the crown in return for giving up his mistress, who he has a five-year-old boy with. We saw how quickly a threat to his crown will persuade him to tread another year on the front lines. We're witnessing the final collapse of a broken man...or are we?

King Silas seems hell-bent on keeping his crown. After the stunt David pulls--pleading for peace for the second time on the battlefield with his rousing speech--the king's previous words made even more sense: "This court needs a new face to look up to. We can use him." But how long before he's of no more use? The previews for the entire season suggest he'll be marked for dead eventually. And with the nefarious brother-in-law offering Jack the throne should his father continue to allow peace, I see an all-out war brewing, minus the guns and the bloodshed...for the most part.

Character-wise, the series isn't half bad. I didn't think Egan would hold my attention for long. He seems bland and generic, unlike Stan, who often seems weary and tortured in many of his roles. But Egan managed to shine brightly on the screen, especially during that speech. Heck, if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have realized that during the entire premiere we were never shown what a Gath citizen even looked like. Normal. Human (that's good, lol). But how long before the secret messages about our present day war begin to get tiresome? I hope not any time soon. I hope it gets to "Gossip Girl"-levels of dramatic with a little action thrown in for good measure. I mean, in just two hours, a son was outed, a pint-sized illegitimate heir to the throne was revealed, a forbidden romance was ignited, a war was ended twice, and two backstabbers were unveiled. Now that's drama!

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