Kings Post Mortem

I had a feeling all along that Kings wouldn’t get a second season. That we’d be left hanging with David in Exile. David Plotz at Slate reviews and laments the cancellation, too. I didn’t like his review, so I’ll make a couple of comments about where I think it misses the mark.

In fact, Kings took all manner of license and liberty with the story… but it managed to do more than parallel the broad strokes. It artfully brought in the subtexts of the story and animated the minor characters in ways that leave you re-watching and re-reading to see where each small detail relates.

Kings also soft-pedals the religious beliefs of its characters. The God of Kings is not Yahweh, and the Gilboan religion doesn’t appear to be either Judaism or Christianity. Religious ceremonies occur in churchlike buildings, but they’re resolutely nondenominational.

I didn’t see any soft-pedaling going on. I’m not sure what Plotz means by this, but I’d say he is not paying attention if he sees the Gilboan God as other-than Yahweh, or the Gilboan religion as other-than Judaism. It would have been impossible to re-create all of Judaism and the Judaic God in every detail – and probably chintzy if done that way. But the important elements are there. Like Yahweh, the Gilboan God is nationalistic, concerned with the geography of his nation (being displeased by Silas’ willingness to cede certain territory to Gath), and communicates intimately with the potentates and the prophet, making his wishes known. Interestingly, he also comes as Storm – a nod to the vestiges of a baalistic wind/storm god as conceived by the pre-Judaic southern Canaanites. The ‘non-denominational’ center of worship may not relate the Judaism of David’s time, but it at least communicates the absolutism of Josiah’s reforms. Sectarianism has always been a facet of religion, but rarely less so during the Deuteronomic reforms.

The men of Kings are doubters. They lack confidence that God is on their side and rarely act out of faith. David Shepherd doesn’t attack the Goliath tank to serve God, as biblical David did; he does it to rescue a fellow soldier.

The men of Samuel were doubters, too. Not in the modern sense – but in the sense that bets are hedged and worry about personal power is never relinquished. Especially Saul. For David – granted he attacks Goliath to rescue a soldier rather than to serve God… but his character quietly affirms a faithful response to God throughout. And Ephraim Samuels himself is nothing if not a prophet in the mold of the original, speaking for and following God with absolute conviction.

Perhaps the most profound alteration in the source material is in the character of the king. Saul is the villain of the Book of Samuel, repeatedly attempting to assassinate David, disobeying direct orders from God, consulting with witches, and massacring innocent priests by the dozen. Silas is ruthless and occasionally vindictive, but he always seeks peace for his kingdom and prosperity for his people. (Perhaps a second season of Kings would have depicted Silas’ descent into paranoia.) Silas’ excessive goodness, in fact, compels Kings to manufacture a nonbiblical villain, an evil tycoon seeking to dethrone Silas and install a stooge monarch.

Silas is a tyrant in the modern mold for sure. Peace and prosperity “for his people” are modernisms that make the show work as a re-interpretation. But neither Silas nor Saul were purely wicked men. Both serially made attempts on David’s life. Both deviated from God’s designs. Both had blood on their hands. But “villain” is a caricature of Saul. Silas perfectly fits the role of sovereign chosen by but later disfavored by God. Without Saul, there would have been no kingdom for David to inherit – and without the uncompromising Silas, there would have been no Gilboa for David to …

… Oh that’s right. The show is canceled, so we don’t get to find out how David’s adventure ends.

So it goes.

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