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All Blogs on Religious Themes in NBC's drama Kings, a modernisation of stories from the Old Testament

Kings Episode 12 - The New King 2: And so it ends. This episode sees the end of the series and it won't be back - it was cancelled in the USA when it didn't get enough audience support. It was obvious from the finale that certain plot threads were opened up for the second series that was originally envisaged. There are some interesting comments from the show's creator Michael Green (also involved as a producer on Heroes) on the Kings website.
On the religious angles here's what he had to say: "The network had no negative reaction at any stage to religious content within the show. In fact, they encouraged it and found it hopeful…. It was only when time came to market the show that a decision was made not to promote the show as a biblically inspired tale. Fear of reprisal from the religious audience was the described cause. Something NBC has had bad experiences with before. As such, any references to 'King David' were actively avoided, in favor of the limited marketing campaign that many of you saw and have commented on with derision … There was no "religious agenda" among the writers. The writing staff was deliberately comprised of a diverse group of geniuses. Including believers and non-believers, lapsed and actives, people who are atheist, Jewish, Christian, Muslim. All had done their homework. All their perspectives were invaluable…. Most religious viewers actually quite liked the show. Understanding that our creative task was not transcription".
And what a finale! (see highlights in video clip above) It was high-tension stuff all the way as the political and personal conflict between King Silas and his son Jack came to a head. Rev Samuels pays the price for being involved in the plot against Silas - but before that he has an excellent scene of repentance - a heartfelt prayer to God. I'll certainly use that in RE class when I'm doing the topic of repentance. Samuel's remorse is certainly genuine, and it's a powerhouse performance by Eamonn Walker in the role. And his character has a really interesting role to play towards the end of the episode. Samuels wouldn't give his blessing or benediction to the crowning of Jack as King and so fell out of favour with the arch conspirator, Silas' brother-in-law. We got the incongruous scene of a civil servant reading out a pre-prepared blessing instead - saying something about church-state relations perhaps, or about how some states and some politicians can use the trappings of religion to suit their own very secular purposes.
The presence of God is felt strongly in this episode - at one stage Silas begs God for a sign, challenging Him to knock over a whiskey glass! God appears to oblige, but Silas wasn't looking. Later in a knockout scene reminiscent of King Lear, we see Silas in a thunderstorm, talking to God, and apparently being told by God that David is the chosen one to take over the kingdom (no spoiler to those who know their Old Testament David!) - this has been pretty obvious all along, but David hasn't seen it - has just doggedly persisted in his duty to be loyal to the King. He now knows of Silas' evildoing but helps him back to the throne because the plotters are worse and planning war when Silas favoured peace. Silas is not pleased at this news from God, and while at first he seems grudgingly resigned, he declares himself an enemy of God and plans to stop David who must escape into exile.
I hope these reviews have been of interest. After going back to school and having less time I sometimes regretted committing myself to reviewing every episode, but at least the work is done now. Maybe when I get more time I'll write a shorter article to bring all the threads together in a more compact way.

Kings Episode 11- The New King 1: It's a pity they didn't do this as a two-part finale for the series - it would have been a heck of a conclusion. However there was plenty in this episode to satisfy. There was one scene I could see myself using in school with senior classes when dealing with issues relating to forgiveness/reconciliation. King Silas makes his son Jack go through a humiliating and grovelling apology for his actions during the dramatic trial scene conclusion in the previous episode. Obviously I'd see this a lesson in how NOT to do forgiveness! It would make an interesting contrast with the prodigal son story. Without giving too much away the romance between David and Michelle is in trouble, and no-one but Michelle and Queen Rose knows about the baby resulting from the affair between David and Michelle. The political machinations become even more twisted, with David threatened with execution and an assassination plot on Silas. The final scenes are high octane as the fates of the main characters hang in the balance as the political intrigues reach a climax. Roll on the final episode!

Kings Episode 10 - Javelin: As I expected this was a very dramatic episode. The Americans do trial scenes better than anybody and the trial of David for treason was very tense. I was reminded of the trial of St Thomas Moore, at least as portrayed in A Man for All Seasons. David protested his loyalty to the king even as the king was part of the plot to get him condemned on trumped up charges. He remonstrates with Silas saying his only offence was to keep his affair with Michelle, the King's daughter, a secret - no sign of the affair itself being regarded as a sin! The concluding scene was one of the most dramatic scenes in the series so far. Again the scenes between Rev Samuels and the King are intense and really well written - at one stage he cautions Silas that David is becoming only what he is intended to be - presumable king at a later stage. "Don't give God reason to tear from you this kingdom", he also warns, suggesting his spiritual powers by causing a blackout in the store where they meet. But Samuels has been compromised by an incident in the past and Silas resents him taking the high moral ground now.

Kings: Episode 9: Chapter One
. A very scriptural episode you might say! While there are various interesting plot developments in this episode, the most interesting angle is the writing of the show's equivalent of Scripture. A scribe in the court of King Silas is writing the Book of Silas. David has been sent on a dangerous mission, to recover the charter of Gilboa (similar in appearance I thought to the American Declaration of Independence) and with him out of the way Silas wants to be the hero of his own story. David's plight is not the only example of someone being sent into dangerous territory, perhaps with a view to his convenient demise (what King David story does that remind you of?). However the writing of this particular scripture takes a different turn and we end up with the writing of the Book of David. It's fascinating and subtle. On the plot level the Queen and King are up to their usual machinations, abusing their power in secret, while often appearing magnanimous to the general public. There is an interesting discussion between King Silas and David's mother about David's destiny - a destiny that will not appeal to mother or king ("You and I will wish it never happened", she says to him). Ian McShane continues to chew the scenery as Silas - I'm be disappointed he's not nominated for an Emmy Award. Silas' relationship with God continues to intrigue - in this episode he again feels that he is not in God's favour (not surprising!) - he asks "Why does he reject all my offerings?". The dramatic ending of this episode, the arrest of David, promises some intense scenes to come.

Kings Episode 8, Pilgrimage: David joins King Silas on a "pilgrimage", but to his surprise it's a visit to Silas' lover - it seems he is rekindling that affair after abandoning it in some sort of deal with God (as he imagines it) to save the son he had in this relationship. David is not so forthcoming about his affair with the King's daughter Michelle, leading to major trust issues. Meanwhile the Queen is desperate to keep her son Jack's gay affair out the public eye, increasingly difficult after his lover tries to go public and commits suicide. Quite a potboiler. Of course the Bible stories on which all this is more than loosely based features lots of immoral goings on, but the moral perspective was clear, whereas in Kings the moral perspective is far from Biblical! David's affair with Michelle is, I think, seen in a favourable light (though the deception aspect of it threatens to cause them serious trouble), while a modern gay rights agenda seems more and more strongly to inform the story of Jack's difficulties. The lover who commits suicide is, to an extent, worryingly portrayed as a hero (even by Rev Samuels who presides at the funeral and is seen by many of the kingdom to have the voice of God), while Jack is tempted to come out of the closet - the programme seems to take the point of view that he should embrace his homosexuality.

Kings Episode 7: The Sabbath Queen. I've just started watching the series Heroes and may write about that at a later stage, but I notice that the creator of Kings, Michael Green, was also a producer on that show and wrote some of the episodes (a point made in the interview - clip on left - with Susannah Thompson who plays Queen Rose Benjamin in Kings). Not surprising in a way, as both shows are interested in philosophical issues.
I've started adding the programme titles to these reviews as there is some variation in the episode numbering on various websites - depending on whether the opening double was numbered just as episode 1, or as 1 and 2. The official website doesn't number the episodes, and for some reason leaves out the episode "Judgement Day".
This "Sabbath Queen" episode slowed down the pace. The city of Shiloh is hit by a power blackout and various characters take advantage of the darkness - Jack to resume briefly his gay love affair, David and Michelle to have a one-night stand and an unidentified assassin to make an attempt on the king's life - you'd think these people never got out! I was reminded about various Biblical quotes about sin and darkness - e.g. this one from John 3:19: "Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil", or this from Ephesians 5: 8-13: "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible".
Apart from the assassination attempt, it wasn't clear that the one night stands were seen as sinful - yes, they were furtive, and in the case of David and Michelle, you'd get the impression it was going to come back to haunt them, but you could argue that the programme was portraying these events as good, hardly a Biblical perspective. And again they were portrayed in a way that would make teachers hesitant in using the material in schools.
David still seems to want to do God's will, but wonders which of the voices in his head come from God, and there was an another interesting God-thread in is episode, conveyed mostly through flashbacks - the whole idea of making deals with God. When Michelle was young she was at death's door, in fact what appeared to be a personification of death arrived to take her, but Silas bargained for her life. Ironically, so did Michelle herself, vowing a life of service to humanity rather than to herself, if she survived. She seems to regard this as precluding her from marriage, but curiously not from an affair with David! Not exactly a vow of celibacy. So, which deal, if any, saved her life? Stay tuned.

Kings Episode 6: Brotherhood. Yet another shift of mood in Kings this episode as two new plot lines develop. The city of Gilboa is struck by a plague (very Old Testament!) and King Silas orders a curfew reminiscent of the Passover - he even mentions a passing over and avoiding the "angel of death", as every household is asked to put a candle in the window as a sign of solidarity. Of course the Passover is out of sync chronologically with the Saul/David story in the Bible which provides most of the characters and plotlines, but the writers of Kings are not setting out to provide an exact parallel and there are all sorts of resonances from elsewhere in the Bible and from more modern events. In the plague story for example Michelle annoys her mother the Queen by tending to a young boy who is dying alone from the plague - "she can't be mother to them all", a phrase which brought Mary, the mother of Jesus to my mind at least.
Silas blames God for the plague - He tests me beyond endurance, he complains to Rev Samuels, who suggests the problem is something rotten within his kingdom, a poison that needs to be purged (hints of Macbeth and Hamlet?)
Meanwhile on the political front David and the King's son Jack are on a mission to capture a terrorist - the visual style here, as they fight in the forests, reminded me of stories about partisans in World War II (as in the recent film Defiance).
The relationship between David and Jack (Jonathan in the Bible) develops - Jack resents David, seeing him as a usurper of his father's attentions, yet he says he doesn't regard him as an enemy, in fact he can't understand David. There are hints of the Prodigal Son story here (actor Sebastian Stan as Jacks exudes an intense anguish of jealousy), and it's a plot that figures strongly in films like Gladiator and Road to Perdition - the inadequate son replaced in the affections of the leader by a newcomer, who becomes the son and heir the leader wished his real son had been. The relationship between Jack and David gets more intricate as each saves the other's life during the mission, and both end up in the embrace of King Silas, who has just seen off another challenge to his authority.

Kings Episode 5: Judgement Day: One of the things I like about this programme is the way each new episode (so far) has something distinctive - a change of location, a change of tone, a new character or whatever, so there are always surprises. This episode centres around Judgement Day - a special event in the Kingdom of Gilboa when the King takes on ten cases to deliver his own personal judgement - "divine wisdom my only counsel" he says. Sounds a bit like Solomon, and sure enough his son Jack passes some sarcastic comment about cutting babies in half. Petitioners make their pleas in orange envelopes and the dramatic sight of thousands of these strewn around the palace floors is a powerful image of dashed hopes. David is torn between loyalty to the King and loyalty to his family as his brother Ethan goes on trial for treason. Chris Egan as David (pictured above with Ian McShane as Silas) portrays the pain so convincingly. Struggling with his dilemma he says he doesn't even know if there is a God, but later in an interesting discussion with the king feels he understands the ways of God - he sees God working through King Silas, as he seems to accept Silas' declaration: "I am justice".
The romantic subplot between David and Michelle the King's daughter (Michal, daughter of Saul from the Bible) takes a few interesting twists, while the mysterious Edward (Macaulay Culkin), the Queen's nephew, returns from exile. The best scenes I think are those intense discussions between King Silas and David (as at the end of this episode) and the king and Rev Samuels, usually about faith and God's will. Some of these would be useful for RE teaching. Unfortunately I can't say the same for an unpleasant sex scene, fairly strong by US network TV standards, at the start of this episode.

Kings Episode 4: As expected, a much more political episode this time and quite a political thriller, with lots of tension crammed into the 45 minutes. Lots of Holy Land suggestions with the people of Port Prosperity rebelling against the King's decision to hand back this land to neighbouring Gath as part of the peace process. The locals don't want their God-given "promised land" to be handed over or divided. You couldn't help but see parallels from Bible times to the modern Middle East. And in the portrayal of the shipyard riots there was surely a visual reference to the Solidarity protests in Poland.
Ian McShane continues to excel in the role of King Silas while Chris Egan perfectly captures the pain of the innocent David - trying to be loyal to his King and to his family in Port Prosperity. A political coup is thwarted, the King's son Jack (presumably a parallel for Saul's son Jonathan in the Bible) is even plotting against him. There's even a possible dig at CNN - the TV news in the Kingdom of Gilboa is UNN, and there's interesting talk of the news being "crafted"! Fascinating stuff, and if you weren't aware of the Biblical connections you'd probably find it so and even more intriguing.

Kings: Episode 3 (Shown on RTE 2 last Thurs). Episode 3 moved at a slower pace than usual and had a very different mood. The King's son Jack took young David on a sleazy night out in the city, but despite Jack's best efforts he kept his virtue (though there are photos that falsely suggest otherwise) - he still seems smitten by the King's daughter. We learn that the King's wife has been the architect of the kingdom and it's royal family ("we are the performance" she says as the great and good of Shiloh come to a ballet), a kingdom that she has moulded from when it was just a place of warring tribes, and she'll be as manipulative as it takes to keep it that way.
Since his alienation from God King Silas complains "My plans are frustrated", and he returns to God and Rev Samuels for help when his love child gets seriously ill leading to some interesting exchanges about what God wants by way of sacrifice - he accidentally knock's over a deer and wonders if that will do! The Biblical flavour is present, and not just in the storyline - King Silas's love child is called Seth, in the Bible one of Adam and Eve's sons; there's talk of David's star "shining bright"; talk of an alternative sacrificial lamb; and when a sponsor wants to pay ten times more for a seat beside David than for a seat beside the king, the Queen feels the sense of threat - "David commands his 100,000, the King commands his 10,000".
The next episode promises to be more political as resentment is brewing over Silas giving away some Gilboan territory to seal a peace treaty with Gath. Rev Samuels disapproves as part of the deal with God (covenant?) seems to be "undivided lands, as promised", perhaps a suggestion of present day issues in the Middle East as well as in Biblical times. You could even see and Irish political reference in that, though somehow I doubt it was intended!


The only thing disappointing about Episode 2 of Kings (the Old Testament modernisation on RTE 2 Thursday nights) was the fact that it was only 40 minutes or so in length - the pilot had obviously been a double episode. Though settling into series mode the quality remained as high.
Plot wise, David continues to serve King Silas in the city of Shiloh, not realising that Silas plans to have him assassinated as he considers him a threat. David's character (sympathetically played by Christopher Egan) is appealing - though he can be naive, he is gentle and idealistic, and in most cases is diplomatic, always finding the right word to say in awkward situations. The Biblical King David's interest in music is reflected in David's interest in playing the piano. In this episode he takes drastic action to save the peace treaty with Gath, without which he reckons his brother's death will have been pointless. In this episode there's a strong emphasis on a sense of destiny for David. His mother Jesse feels this and wants him home because he thinks it will be dangerous. Silas feels it, feels threatened and wants him dead. David himself wants to follow the signs given to him. He gets some very strong "Don't go" messages, including one dramatic scene where he apparently dreams that Silas is calling out "Don't go" to God in the Heavens. His dead brother appears with the same message, but it takes David a while to figure out how he should apply it.
Rev Samuels doesn't figure so much this time, and Silas believes he can manage without his benediction. The political shenanigans continue in the kingdom as the King's brother in law tries to ruin him by withdrawing gold from the treasury, while welcome comic relief is developed through two of the temple guards who have to clear some birds (pigeons or possibly doves) out of the palace. The birds have a symbolic role interfering in the assassination plot on David in the dramatic conclusion. There is excellent background material on Matt Page's Bible Films Blog, while the official website for the series features some useful material, though the clips and full episodes are for US viewers only.

I watched the first episode of Kings again last night (see entry for 12/7) and found it useful to have a second viewing. Since then I've also done some revision on the Old Testament stories on which this modernisation is based. I'm still positive about the show - it's visually appealing and intelligently scripted. The Biblical parallels are fairly clear - King Silas (a great performance from Ian McShane) is Saul, Rev Samuels is the prophet Samuel, the kingdom of Gath (with their Goliath tanks!) is presumably the Philistines (in the Bible Gath was one of the royal cities of the Phillistines). Jesse is David's mother rather than his father as in the Bible. Apart from such clear references there is an "Old Testament flavour" permeating the show - e.g. in the names of other characters and places - Eli (David's brother), Benjamin (the surname of the royal family), Shiloh (King Silas' new city, and in the Bible an important city for the people of Israel), Gilboa (Silas' kingdom in the show, but a mountain where King Saul was killed in battle in the Bible). You could even detect a New Testament element - in one emotional scene when David offers his blood to Gath people in order to make peace, the sense of self sacrifice was reminiscent of Jesus' own sacrifice. And I was further reminded of the American political background with the reference to "the Vineyard" - seemed to be a summer palace for the king, reminiscent of Martha's Vineyard in USA, which had links with US politicians including the Clintons.
Review of episode 2 to follow soon.

Kings is a new American drama series that started on RTE 2 last Thursday night and it certainly is different. It's a modernisation of the story of the kings in the Old Testament, with David being a central character.
The setting seems vaguely American, present day, but the leader is a king, King Silas. He presides over a powerful kingdom and as the story starts dedicates the new city of Shiloh, an urban landscape not unlike New York. He's at war with the neighbouring kingdom of Gath a conflict that provides a background of political intrigue. Silas is convinced that he has God's approval, symbolised by a mystical experience with butterflies, and has been anointed to his role by the mysterious Rev Samuels. He is quite upfront about declaring this despite the unease of his political advisors ("God isn't popular at the moment"). However he is no paragon of virtue, not averse to bumping off political opponents, and having a mistress on the side despite his loving family and finally Rev Samuels tells him he has lost God's favour and protection because he agreed to a treacherous war at the behest of a ruthless businessman to whom he is beholden. David appears as a David Shepherd (clever!), a country boy who has risen to prominence in the war because he saved the king's son Jack (does every series have to have a Jack?), and in the process knocked out a tank called Goliath!
Earlier Rev Samuels had met him and in wiping a car oil smudge off his face seemed to anoint him for great things in the future. By the end of this episode David is visited by the butterflies while Silas looks on ruefully, while the shadowy businessman is plotting to put the pliable, grumpy and secretly gay Jack on the throne - in a modern nod to political correctness Silas tells him that if he lives his life "as God made him" he won't be fit for the throne. The programmer works on a least three levels - firstly it's a reasonably good political thriller, featuring all the usual conniving, with some of the clichés of the genre balanced by many imaginative touches. Secondly it could be viewed as a political allegory - a way of teasing out the political power issues of modern America - the war scenes for example take place in a desert where the visual imagery is suggestive of Afghanistan or Iraq. And thirdly of course there's the obvious Biblical parallel - I watched it before I revised my Old Testament so I could judge that it stood on its own as a good story, but these Biblical references make it fascinating, adding that extra layer that makes it stand out. So far I find it respectful to religion. Of course you'd squirm at the idea of a modern despot (even if he's benign at times) claiming divine approval, but Rev Samuels provides a moral grounding in his role as prophet or conscience - "don't pretend I don't know" he says to Silas on several occasions.
This show has been running for some time in the USA where it has met with mixed fortunes - it started out in prime time but has since been bumped to a less prominent slot, though not as bad as what RTE has done with it - virtually ensuring obscurity by plonking it after midnight.
As regards using it in school, I'll certainly be adding clips when I do religious themes in drama with Transition Year, but there are many useful clips for other topics, especially those encounters with Rev Samuel - could be useful for classes on conscience, on anointing in the sacraments, on church-state relations, relevance of bible stories for modern times and more.