Man oh man oh man, trust the best show on TV not to go quietly to its death. Instead, the show hits the ground running, and never lets up for an hour, it deviates wildly from the source material, finds its own voice, and yet seems vaguely reminiscent of things we’ve seen before. True, in a week we’ll be done with this show forever, and that’s sad and frustrating, but when the episodes are this good it’s hard to care about our imminent Kings-less future. Indeed, it’s hard not to think of anything beyond the moment at all, the show is so good at grabbing our throats and slamming us in to the story whether we want it to or not.
Fortunately, I want it to.
PLAY BY PLAY
Silas is visiting Mad King Vesper Abaddon in his cell in Gehenna. They talk about wine, and then Vesper tells Silas that he made a mistake. He says that love is good, but to be feared is better. He tells him to kill David and Jack both. Silas gives Vesper a TV to catch up on the world at large. As Silas leaves, we see David is in the next cell. Silas tells him in no uncertain terms that he’ll be dead ASAP.
Gay Prince Jack is in hiding with his beard/fiance while William Cross schemes. As the King plans to go ahead with the Port Prosperity handover, the queen begs for - and receives - Jack’s life. Michelle first complains and pouts about David’s disappearance and evident star chamber justice. After talking to her mom, however, she realizes that she needs to keep up appearances and think of the baby first, and if that means playing her dad’s game for the short term, so be it. She tells her dad that she’ll be seen in public with someone new, someone she’ll seem very fond of, which will make the public forget David. Impressed, or perhaps uncharacteristically easily manipulated by his favorite, Silas tells her where David is when she asks to say goodbye to him.
Back at Gehenna, Michelle tries to explain that she’s pregnant, but David won’t even listen to her. “I would have bet my life on you. I *Did* bet my life on you.” Her betrayal seems to hurt him more than anything else. She gives up and leaves. In the next cell, Vesper talks to David through the air vents, and asks the young captain for his steak if he’s not going to eat it. David passes it through to him. Vesper doesn’t tell David who he is - though I think David suspects - but he does tell him that he’s the one who told Silas to kill him. “Sorry about that. Eventually, when you’re gone, the king will realize that by killing you he was playing in to my game. I imagine he’ll be really mad about that.” He also mentions that he was a mad man for decades, until David came along, and through the permutations of the king, Vesper’s mind returned. Interesting. He is faaaaaaaar more lucid here than when last we saw him. “But since I owe you double, let me give you some advice,” he says, “It is better to be loved than to be feared” - exactly the opposite advice he gave Silas - “you can die happy.”
“I’d rather live miserable,” David jokes. Vesper laughs, and says “I like you.” The guards come to take David to be executed.
In Port Prosperity, the hold outs who refuse to move are being forcibly deported. Some are killed. Michelle takes the guy who wanted to see the king’s socks. Jack shows up, and asks Silas for forgiveness, though he’s clearly seethingly angry.
“Forgiveness is a form of love,” Silas says, “And I do not love you. Kneel.” Jack reluctantly does. “Kiss the ground I walk on. You’ve put your mouth in dirtier places.” Insulted and furious, Jack does.
“Your mother has given you life two times. That’ll be the last,” Silas says ominously as he leaves. Jack sits slumped on the ground, with weird things going on all over his face, and no doubt weirder things in his mind.
William Cross gives his son some interesting exposition about how he used to genuinely like Silas - “He was so funny” - and how he considers himself born to read the language of nations, whereas Silas could barely make out the glyphs. He talks about how War is progress, and nothing gets done in peacetime, “Except art,” he says derisively.
The King comes out to give his speech, and William keeps waiting for Jack to kill his dad, but he doesn’t. Then a lone gunman jumps out and shoots. Jack dives in front of the bullet, but Silas still takes two. There’s blood everywhere. The gunman keeps shooting and shooting until a slew of guards take him down. At the same moment, the firing squad preparing to execute David are, themselves, ambushed.
Back at the palace, the queen refuses to admit Silas is dead, even when Samuels comes to talk to her. “You see things of this size, but there were no signs, Silas does not die!” she says. They play the fanfare for the king, and in comes Jack, his arm in a sling. He tells his mother - who’s still covered in blood - that they must play-act their parts and be strong for the country. His mother, now fearful, tells him that Silas isn’t dead, and if Jack assumes the throne, Silas will come back and kill them all. David is there, and Jack hugs him and says he’ll do right by his example. David realizes that it was Jack’s men who saved him. He wants David to be his chief advisor, and goes in to the board and tries to go ahead with the handover of Port Prosperity, but William Cross won’t have any of it.
William makes it very clear that this is a Japanese-style monarchy, where the king does what the person keeping him says. Suddenly there’s a report that Silas’ ambulance has been found, but he’s not in it. Where is he? William doesn’t know, but it freaks him out a bit. They quickly realize that wherever it is that he goes when he’s on pilgrimage is where he’ll be now. Michelle tells David to go to her father, and spirits him out of the palace through a secret passage in the full view of William’s creepy son. With the further assistance of the Two Stupid Guards, David makes it.
There he confronts the dying king, calls him a son of a bitch, and says he has no right to die loved, not after all the pain he’s caused, not after all the lies and suffering he’s done. “You once told me you were chosen to lead. Was that all just a lie? Or did God make a mistake?” Shamed, and strangely in awe of David - watch his eyes in the scene - he tells his illegitimate son that he’s the king and gets up.
TO BE CONTINUED…
There was a theme of fear and respect running through this episode - that you can only truly respect those you fear, principally because they represent a threat and therefore demand to be respected. Men of power, it seems, are only friends with people who are a danger to them. There’s an obvious codependence going on here through the whole story.
Wow, Vesper was interesting wasn’t he? The wine scene was really one of the most interesting I’ve ever seen on a TV show, and kind of funny, too. It’s interesting that he calls Silas his worst enemy and only friend. He deliberately gives Silas bum advice in hopes of hurting him, and then he gives David the exact opposite advice because, well, he instantly likes him. How can you not like a condemned man who gives his last meal to the guy in the next cell? It would be interesting to know what game Vesper is playing at with Silas. Was he just trying to mislead him, or is there a bigger game afoot with him? In any event, the gallows humor here was pretty funny.
Silas has no respect for Jack, and evidently does not consider him a threat, though had Jack not groveled on cue he’d be dead right now. It’s interesting that it seems to have pushed him to a turning point - he *will* not be a man like his father is, nor like his father wants him to be. When he sees David again, and hugs him, he’s genuinely happy to see him, and swears that he’ll rule after David’s own example, not his fathers, nor even his own impulses. Is Gay Prince Jack actually becoming a good man? Yes, I believe he is. Good face acting at his turning-point scene, by the way. Also well done is Jack's awkwardness when admitting his friendship for David. I don't think he's interested in David, but he doesn't quite know how to express manly affection other than in the gay ways. Well played. Really the breakout star of this show is Sebastian Stan, and I expect big things for him in the future.
Queen Rose’s scenes were interesting, too. This is the first time we see anything like fire in her relationship with the king, and she plays him well, but she’s obviously aware that she’s treading on very dangerous ground when she makes her ultimatum. She plays pretty much every card she has in her hand to save Jack’s life, and then it only barely works. She’s never quite been a power behind the throne, but Silas owes most of his stature to her, if not his power, and having shot all her bolts, she’s aware she’s got nothing left. Her scene with Samuels is interesting, half way between grief and fear, between not being willing to accept that he’s gone, and utter fear that he might not be. Is there some fear in there? Undoubtedly. Even if he was dead - nice fakeout in the episode, by the way, I didn’t know which way that one was gonna’ break - she’d obviously live in fear for a long time that he wasn’t really gone, just lurking in the shadows. It’s interesting that they played these scenes with her still covered in her husband’s blood. I think there’s a metaphor there - she is, after all, partially responsible for his crimes - but it’s interesting that his departure destabilizes her extremely. She’s teetering on the edge of madness in these scenes.
David is good in this, but I think I’ve figured out what my reservation about him is: he’s not a face actor. Ian McShane can sit there thinking about Tetris, and you can see it in his face, you can tell things are going on in his mind, his face is very expressive. The guy who plays David is not at all bad, and yet he doesn’t connect on the same level that Silas and Jack do, simply because his face isn’t so expressive. I realized this in the jail cell scene where David is brooding and thinking, and I thought “Man, McShane would eat this up” even though there’s no dialog. Also, I felt the “Refusing to listen” scene was the first tedious plot device in the run of the show. That said, however, I loved his prayer/last words.
Silas is also dancing on the edge of madness in this, barely bothering to repress his darker side. It’s interesting that David openly hates Silas now, and only in that has he become someone Silas respects/fears. The final scene, with him admitting to his secret son that he’s the king, is interesting. It’s the king putting aside desires for a life - and I guess a death - that he can’t have, and getting back to the real world.
William Cross is alternately frightening and hilarious in this episode. “I do not speak the backwards words of kings, so I’ll just talk plainly” and then a few minutes later he finds himself waxing poetic, “Now you’ve got me doing it.”
Man, I loved this episode. It was pretty reminiscent of the season finale/cliffhanger for the first season of the new Galactica. It was also a lot like the Severed Dreams three-parter in the middle of Babylon 5’s run, where everything is falling apart, and all the characters are desperately trying to hold on and salvage what they can even as the situation spins further and further out of their control. I love how raw everyone is in the second half of this episode, how flat and dark Silas is, how rattled Jack is, I love when William takes the safeties off and just rides herd on everyone, and doesn’t give a damn who knows. I love how formidable he is, after a season of scheming in the background. I love that Tomasina is still protecting the King. I love that no one has a chance to change their clothes, that David is stomping around in his uniform with the “X” drawn in chalk over his heart for the firing squad, how Queen Rose is covered in blood. I love Vesper’s confusion at seeing a TV remote control - he’s been in Jail for what? 30 years? - and his unbridled happy reaction when Silas buys the farm. I love everything about this episode except the “Refusing to listen” thing.
I can not wait, can not wait, can not wait for next week.