EPISODE REVIEW: Kings: “The Sabbath Queen” (Episode 8)

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IN THE PAST:
five years ago? Ten? - Gath is massing their forces on the border and Princess Michelle is very sick - evidently with cancer - and is at deaths door, and King Silas can not concentrate. He is beside himself with grief, and near mad with a tune that keeps playing in his head. Rather than make a decision on the Gath crisis, or attend to matters of state, he simply holds up in the hospital, reading Michelle the same children’s novel over and over again, never getting to the end in the hopes that if he doesn’t finish the story, she won’t die. The Angel of Death shows up - she’s English. I always had my suspicions about that. Somehow, Silas knows that she’s the one who’s been putting the music in his head. Presently Michelle flatlines.

“I do it as a courtesy. Most I come to in silence.”
“You enjoy watching us suffer.”
“It is beautiful to see. I admit I come to you in the night, Silas, I watch you.”

Suitably creepy, made better by the strange high-English patois they use! Since death likes suffering, Silas offers his own in exchange. Death strikes a harsh bargain: She will take from Silas what is most dear to him: his crown.

“You want it, it’s yours.”
“Not for me, for the one who will cause you the most suffering. For the better man.”
“Fine.”
“And when he appears, you will step aside willingly?”
“Yes.”
“Knowing that if you do not, you’ll be forgotten, your name becoming a curse?”
“Yes.”

Michelle recovers spontaneously. The music in Silas’ head stops. Michelle made her own bargain as she lay dying, she promised God that if He spared her life, she’d spend the rest of it working for Him, for His people, for anyone but herself, she would take nothing for herself, no pleasure, no love, no man. She swears this before an aghast Silas who tries to talk her out of it, but she insists he swear that he’ll keep her true to her oath and not let her waver. He reluctantly agrees.

The Gath crisis has grown worse, and the Chancellor - one we’ve never seen before - insists they must have the king’s decision. The queen takes it on herself to write orders for him and pass them off as the king’s own. Thus *She* started the war with Gath.

Leaving the hospital, Silas hears that tune in his head again, and is briefly frightened, then realizes it’s coming from the auditorium. Walking in he finds teenaged David Shepherd playing it on the piano. David snaps to attention, and explains that his father just died in the hospital.

“What’s that tune you were playing?”
“I don’t know. It’s just something my dad taught me.”
“You play it well for him.”

The king leaves, not recognizing the foreshadowing for what it is.

The queen dismisses the chancellor, buying him off and saying ‘no one must ever know the king was out of control’, and also to keep the fact that she started the war quiet.

Then the entire series up until this point takes place.

IN THE PRESENT:

It’s King Silas’ birthday (And by the way, Ian McShane is 66). A crazed corporal has called in a death threat to the king for some reason, but Silas isn’t taking it seriously despite repeated concerns from the new Chancellor (Whom we’ve seen through the whole series up until now). The Queen’s Brother is invited to the party, and he’s asked her to get his recently un-banished son (The ever-creepy Macaulay Culkin) invited to the party as well. The king refuses, the queen passes this on to her brother, though it’s quite clear that she would have refused if Silas didn’t. This angers her brother, who decides to ruin the party by causing a blackout through the whole city and suburbs.

While giving a frankly charmingly off-the-cuff speech, the blackout hits, and Silas starts hearing music in his head again. Something bad is coming. Michelle and David have been a bit tense since she revealed she was promised to another - he assumes it’s some dude, but of course it’s not - but they’re still clearly attracted to each other. The two of them slip out to have an anonymous, romantic walk around the city before the power comes back on. Shortly thereafter, the new chancellor reveals that the corporal has been seen near the palace. Silas orders everyone out to look for Michelle, including the party guest.

Gay Prince Jack quickly grows bored of looking for his sister ditches his beard, then goes to hook up with his boyfriend Joseph, whom he told to stay away and had publicly beaten a few episodes back. Joseph freaks out - “I don’t want any trouble” - but quickly realizes why he’s there. The two of them kiss (Kinda’ hard to watch), and then they head off to, y’know,…yeah.

Anyway, back in the palace, the queen once again takes the initiative in her husband’s name, passing off orders he never made, then goes to track down her brother, knowing he’s behind it. She finds him and Mcaulay downtown, sitting on a fountain, eating caviar.
“Welcome to a party everyone is invited to,“ the businessman says.
“You did this just because your son wasn’t invited to the party?“
“Beluga. You want some? It’ll just spoil if we don’t eat it.”
“William, you’re my brother but I swear if you don’t stop this right now, I’ll have your head.”
“Nah. He hasn’t learned his lesson yet.”

Silas is somewhat out of his head, stomping around the palace with a very formidable-looking pistol. Security is virtually nonexistent as everyone is out looking for Michelle.

Meanwhile, Michelle and David are at The Vinyard house. Michelle tells a kind of funny/disappointing story about her first kiss and her miserable pre-planned life, and says she regrets none of it, except that first kiss. That much she’d take back and do over again. Her and David make out, then do more than make out. Afterwards, David snaps an in-disposed picture of her, then apologizes. She tells him to snap some more and starts getting undressed. Presumably they more-than-make-out again, and afterwards they’re looking at the pictures.
“If your father saw these, he’d have my head.”
“It wouldn’t be your head that he’d have.”

Michelle awkwardly explains her vow to David.

Back at the palace, the new chancellor tells the king that there’s someone unauthorized in the palace, then runs off to help. Silas follows. There’s gunshots and then the new chancellor is dead. The angel of death looms out of the shadows, and lunges at the king, but Silas lets off his whole round in to her. She flies back, topples to the ground, but when he turns her over, it’s the crazed corporal who sent in the death threat.

Power comes back on through the city, and the queen’s phone rings. It’s Macaulay.
“I suppose you put the power back on?”
“Yes. I reversed his order in his name. He’ll be furious, but not for long. I figured I could help you out.”
“I’d rather live in the dark than owe you my thanks.” She hangs up.
Gay Prince Jack admits to Joseph that he’s the love of his life, and the only real thing in it, but it’s over. Again.

Sneaking back in to the palace, we get the following dialog from David and Michelle:
“You’ve made God my enemy.”
“I’d die if I thought that were true.”
“Everyone is always talking about what God wants. I don’t claim to know which of the voices in my head at night is His, but I can’t believe that He saved your life so you could pretend you were dead.”
“You think God wants this?”
“How can God be opposed to love?”
“My father can’t know.”

Back in the palace, Michelle says she was simply off for a walk, with Captain Shepherd as her chaperone/bodyguard. The king thanks David, and leaves to go see his mistress.

“I thought you bargained me away last time,” she said.
“If I’m going to die, I’m going to die with you.”

THE END.

OBSERVATIONS

This episode played out a lot like “Out of Gas” from Firefly - with flashbacks introducing the backstory of characters we already know in intertwined ways. It was clever, entertaining, and for the first time in the run of this show, kinda’ creepy. The angel of death - different quite a bit from her Biblical counterpart - was fairly imposing. Well, to be fair, the angel of death in the bible is pretty imposing, but he’s not *cruel.* It should also be noted that nowhere in the Bible nor the Koran does it say that God has put death outside the realm of His power, as this show states tonight. Odd deviation.

We see several dead-or-alienated characters in the flashbacks: General Abner, David’s mom, both his dead brothers. Kind of nice to see them again, but Abner’s been dead only a week, so it wasn’t too much of a shock there. I loved all this internal continuity stuff, it just makes this whole world richer and more nuanced, but evidently women don’t change their hairstyles in Gilboa nearly as much as they do in our world.

What the hell did Macaulay Culkin *DO* that was so bad it got him banished, and caused the ongoing revulsion - that’s the key word here, revulsion - of the King and Queen? Whatever it was, it must have been pretty damn bad, and hats off to Culkin for turning in an understated-yet-eerie performance. His every mannerism just drips “Something is deeply wrong with me.” I want to know what he did, but I actually thing given the candor of this show it might actually creep me out. I wouldn’t be surprised if he killed and ate somebody. Meanwhile, the rapprochement between Silas and William from the plague episode certainly didn’t last long, did it?

The story of Michelle’s illness seems to have some resonance with the story of King David and Bathsheba’s semi-illegitimate son, who died in infancy, as told in 2nd Samuel 11. This is the second time we’ve hit this theme really hard in the story, the previous time being the illness of King Silas’ own illegitimate son in the 2nd episode of the show. The Old Testament concept of the sins of the father being visited on the son is something this show has hit pretty hard so far.

Gay Prince Jack continues to be tortured by his nature and his obligations, and he continues to be a compelling character because of it. Having been showcased last week, he’s merely carrying a minor subplot this week, and doesn’t get much screen time, but it’s still hard not to feel for the guy. He plays repressed rage and resignation very well.

It’s interesting that the queen is prone to overstepping her bounds in times of crisis. While she’s not a ‘power behind the throne’ kind of character, she’s consistently been portrayed as much smarter than she lets on, and rather manipulative. How much does she know? Does she know about Silas’ mistress? Does she know Jack is gay? Does she care about either of them? Does she have any lingering guilt about starting a long, grueling, bloody war with Gath in her husband’s name, which her husband clearly didn’t want? It’ll be interesting to find out.

And Silas, ah, yes, Silas. As usual an amazing, nuanced, mannered, brilliantly understated performance from Ian McShane, who manages to chew the scenery just by eating a piece of cake. The man’s a marvel, and Silas remains the most compelling bad guy on TV. Definitely he’s a bad man, though not without hope of redemption, and not wholly given over to darkness yet, he remains a compelling bad guy. And how ballsy is it to base a TV show around a main character who’s ultimately evil and comes to a bad end? Too ballsy, as it would turn out: The show is dead, after all. Oh well. It was a brilliant idea, beautifully done: The decline and fall and madness of a monarch who was touched by light and retreated in to the shadows. For the third or fourth time we’ve seen that Silas can not think rationally about his children, and that he favors Michelle particularly. When she’s in danger, he’ll move heaven and earth for her. Conversely, he happily sends Jack in to harms way. Interesting, no?

This is the second episode in a row without Klotz and Boyden, the two idiot guards. I miss them. I hope they’re not gone for good.

A couple themes popped up tonight, love, death, and life, and the bargains one makes for all of them. Life is implied to be equated with love, and death is expressly equated with the absence of love. Michelle has shown that she’s willing to be argued out of her oath, and the ‘present day’ goings on seem to have served mostly to remind Silas of a bargain he made in the past. What all this means I don’t know. The themes were thin as smoke and interwoven, and dissecting them doesn’t lead me to any major conclusions, but it is an interesting, and pretty pattern, even if it doesn’t appear to *mean* too much in the grand scheme of things on or off the show.

A note: The flashback scenes of young David and his family in the hospital visiting their dad seem out-of-sequence to me. They take place early in the episode, yet logically they must have taken place *after* the queen declares war, which happens very far in to the episode. I’m not sure why they put that scene so far out of sequence, but it was rather distracting.

Another curious thing: Does Silas remember his meeting David years earlier? He gave no indication of this earlier, and it's easily the kind of minor thing he might forget, but clearly, now that he's thinking of his deal with death he *must* remember it now. Is this significant? Silas knows David is his replacement, of course, he knew it since the end of the first episode, but this chance meeting years ago is somewhat confounding for both of them. It's odd that David never mentioned this to anyone, either.

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