KINGS poster

February 28, 2014

I watched Kings again a few weeks ago. If you haven’t seen it, it’s available on huluPlus and only 13 episodes and very, very good. In fact, I’m fascinated by it and I’ve seen the whole series through twice. It’s a little like Battlestar Galactica.
Not that it’s as dynamic as Battlestar. Not quite as powerful. But it had the same gravitas. And I was wondering today why that is. What makes it so captivating. You know what I came up with? Both shows are full of subtext. And people love subtext. It’s intriguing and compelling and makes everything so much more interesting.
This is one of those rare things that I recognize but don’t understand why. Because normally, yes, I keep thinking and digging and talking to Kel about it until I figure out why something affects people the way it does or why we react to it. Subtext – I have no idea. But it makes stories better. It gives characters depth and complications and discordant emotions and it’s beautiful.
The thing also, with Kings, is that the actors are all stunning. All of the characters are complex (probably because of all the subtext and manipulations and the awful choices they make for loyalty and honor). And that’s the distinction I don’t know how to make between filmed stories (both tv and movies) and novels. Because on film you can see the expression on an actor’s face and that tells you so much about what they think about the words they’re saying or what they’re hearing. The subtext is understood both from the context of the conversation and the emotions you can see in the performance. How do you get that disparity into words?
Maybe it’s just that I’m such a new author that I don’t know. I can write dialog but how do you express to the reader that the words they’re saying aren’t really what they’re talking about? I mean, Ian McShane as Silas is amazing. He makes the king likable even when he’s ruthless and evoked compassion despite the brutality of his words. I was actually sad when he burned the amaryllis and wanted a happy ending, however futile it was.
Chris Egan as David was appropriately innocent and good and then conveyed the requisite strength when it was required of him. But Sebastian Stan just owned his role. The scene in the pilot on the stairs amazes me every single time.

Silas: We give up what we want when we want power.

KINGS Sebastian Stan as Jack Benjamin NBC
KINGS — “Goliah Part One” 1.01 | Sebastian Stan as Jack Benjamin, Ian McShane as King Silas Benjamin (NBC)

But as amazing as the guys are, these strong women are so fascinating. They have every bit of depth and power and complexity as the male characters. Thomasina who gave her life for the family and expected to lose it the same way. She’s this quiet figure throughout the series that is a pillar of enormous fortitude and strength.
Rose is cold and vicious and sharp and horribly wise. She’s like one of the women from Dune. So awful and fantastic. Probably my favorite scene of the whole series is when Rose is talking to Michelle and tells her that she’s allowing the pictures to be released. That she will be derided and David applauded. But when the dust settles she’ll be a woman and she can wield more power than a little girl ever could. It’s an amazing scene and horribly honest and the sort of thing women don’t get to play often.
Because actors can bring so much more to a character than just words. They can bring depth and resonance to the world and just quoting the text isn’t the same.

Rose: You’ve always been my little girl. Even when we both pretended you weren’t. Tomorrow that’s over. Your pictures will be broadcast. They’ll be everywhere you turn and places you do not. And there’s nothing to be done.
Michelle: But you’re the queen. Can’t you do something?
Rose: It is the queen that is allowing it to happen. The story will dominate the news. You’ll be ridiculed by women. Made fantasy by men. And while David is congratulated you will be dragged through the mud. But when the dust settles and memory fades, you’ll be thought of as a woman. Which is what you are. Sexual. Desirable. Formidable. And you’ll wield that power in ways young girls cannot.

How do you take the life in a character and reduce it to mere words? And then make those words contradict the emotion of the moment? Or mean something else entirely? Maybe subtext is just a skill like any other that you learn by trying, attempting an approximation and doing it wrong until you figure out how to do it right. Or maybe it’s like any sort of other artistic moment that somehow you stumble your way into it when the words mean more than you think they mean – that part of writing that happens beyond the author’s conscious control. Maybe it’s a little of both.

KINGS Goliath 1x01 Sebastian Stan as Jack Benjamin (NBC)
KINGS Goliath 1×01 Sebastian Stan as Jack Benjamin (NBC)

P.S. I also loved the world with God in it. Signs and the voice of God, his hand moving among them unquestioned. It was really subtle but also powerful and interesting. So few stories incorporate God so unquestioningly and it really worked. Faith and religion is a whole other difficult thing to incorporate into a story but that’s a post for another day.

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