"The premise of Kings is unlike that of anything else on TV: a reimagining of the biblical story of David, set in the modern world. Or an alternative version of it, where democracy never developed, where a King holds court in a skyscraper, where God speaks to man with signs and portents while man uses cell phones and the Internet."NBC’s Kings—a series that takes place in a modern and alternate world and draws heavily on the biblical story of King David—premiered last night after weeks of speculation and discussion in both the mainstream and religious presses. Some folks like it. Some folks don’t. Either way, it is definitely bringing God-talk into open spaces. Personally, I’m finding the series interesting on several levels, from its connections to (and differences from) the biblical story to its revelations about who we are and why we do the things we do (something all good stories do). But for now, I’m leaving the exploration of the connections to and differences from the biblical story to others, because what resonates most with me is how the story allows for a divine or Other-ly aspect to that world—and what that says about our own.
--James Poniewozik, Time Magazine
Series creator and producer Michael Green has said that the series purposefully allows for these moments to be open to interpretation:
We set out to make sure that all of our supernatural moments also had pedestrian, terrestrial explanations as well," he says. "You can call it magic realism if you like, you can call it God if you like, you can call it fate or irony or circumstance if you like. The show doesn't necessarily come out and say at any point that this is one thing or the other, but it does leave it open to the interpretation. We're hoping that the show allows for that debate, where people will watch a moment and wonder what its source was."And indeed, some of these Other-ly moments are explained otherwise. For example, David Shepherd (Chris Egon, the analogue for the biblical David) shows an uncanny ability to predict when the Goliath tanks will fire their rounds, but he later explains how he hears changes in the tank’s operation before the tanks fire. Moments like these are good reminders for us to be careful about how we interpret the events around us.
But I deeply appreciated that Green included moments harder to rationalize with “pedestrian, terrestrial explanations.” Like when Reverend Ephram Samuels (Eamonn Walker, the analogue for the prophet Samuel) meets Shepherd on his farm and both are aware something Other is in the air. (I also appreciated Samuels’ “anointing” of Shepherd, alluded to as he wipes away a smudge of grease from Shepherd's forehead, strikingly reminiscent of this world’s marking of a cross on the forehead by a priest.) Especially in light of their next meeting, this moment invites consideration and questions regarding intervention by some fate or Other in bringing the two together. Yes, moments like this can be (and often are) brushed away as emotional oddities. Indeed, I think moments like these should be open to scruitiny, but I also think that these are moments which invite us to consider something Other in our lives. A moment more difficult to brush off, however, is the “crown” of butterflies that forms on Shepherd’s head as he stands by the edge of a lake on the palace grounds of King Silas Benjamin (Ian McShane, the analogue for Saul). (Such a crown also supposedly appeared around Silas’ head when he was younger, an event which Silas publicly and continually refers to as his own anointing by God to be king). Again, some sort of physical explanation could be made (and probably will as the series progresses, if it is consistent with Green’s comments), but it is one that is more difficult to explain and which again invites us to allow for the involvement of something Other in our lives.
I find that this aspect of allowing for an Other-ly aspect and the series’ allusions to the biblical story provides for deeper insights into the biblical story itself. Shepherd’s innocence and capacity for bravery and goodness helps me empathize with the biblical David’s challenges and struggles as he goes from a far less complex wilderness to the palace (a place, at this point, deeply infected with Saul’s corruption as Shiloh is corrupted by Silas’ own machinations). I also appreciated the complexity of Silas Benjamin. I’ve always found the biblical Saul equally complex—a man torn between his own selfish attempts to preserve his own power and agendas and yet a deep capacity to care for his family and the people over which he rules. And watching Silas’ conflicting feelings about Shepherd gives me greater insight into Saul’s reactions to the biblical David. In today’s secular halls of power, people often have similar conflicting feelings of admiration and fear when a younger and notable presence emerges; imagine, however, how much deeper and more complex those feelings would be if one lived in a world where you knew God was choosing the king who ruled. Silas may have rejected God once Samuels tells him he’d lost “God’s favor,” but when he sees the butterflies surround Shepherd’s head, Silas must confront the possibility that God is doing his thing whether Silas wants to accept it or not—and this gives us some insight into the internal struggles and dark rages Saul succumbed to.
But here’s the thing that struck me the most about the series. Gilboa is a fictional country, and the city Shiloh exists in an alternate world. But the world that David and Saul walked in is the same one that we do. While Time Magazine’s James Poniewozik might have written the words quoted at the beginning of this post as an example of how the world of Gilboa differs from ours, I believe they are actually a description of our own world—“where God speaks . . . while man uses cell phones and the Internet.”
If God is who he says and can do what he says in Scripture, then he does indeed speak today—and often. The God revealed in Scripture is a God who wants to be known and goes to great and deeply personal lengths to do so. And while the God of Kings (at least, up to this point) is limited in revelation to “signs and portents” (as Poniewozik puts it), the God of our world also reveals himself in deeply personal ways—both in the time of David and today. What’s missing from Kings (at least, at this point) are the deeply personal and transforming relationships that those like Samuel and David shared with God. And God’s action in their lives—and the lives of folks throughout Scripture, history and the world today—is just one more example of God’s intensely personal interest in and love for his creations.
I welcome a series that invites ruminations and God-talk like this. In addition, I found Kings to be a well-written, wonderfully acted and engaging series, which makes it even more enjoyable. I, for one, am looking forward to more.