So I just finished re-watching NBC’s Kings for the nth time. Really, it’s a show that was canceled way too soon. I mean, I guess technically we know the broad strokes of what happened…they’re in the Bible. Because, yes, the show is based off of the story of David (you know, like David and Goliath?). However, there’s no preaching, though God is definitely an active force on the show (and the way they portray that is particularly cool, to me. Because while there’s definitely Forces At Work, they don’t dominate, they’re just a part of the world people live in and are transparent to most).
Uh, anyway. This is the sort of show that every time re-watch it, you see something you didn’t really notice before. I could seriously spend weeks analyzing it but I just wanted to talk a bit about the female characters this morning as they’re on my mind.
I know a lot of folks want more well-written female characters in popular culture so I’m going to suggest if you haven’t seen Kings (or even if you have), that you give it a watch. You can still find it streaming online on NBC’s website even though the show ended a couple years ago (or you can buy it on amazon, etcetc).
Obviously, the show has quite a few main male characters (it’s not called Kings for nothing). King Silas (Saul), Prince Jack (Jonathan), and David (well, David) are major players in each episode.
But the ladies…well.
There’s actually a really good range between the somewhat innocent and naive to the strong and commanding power behind the throne.
So first, on any list, would have to be Queen Rose Benjamin. She has been by Silas’ side since he was still fighting to unify the kingdom of Gilboa. She is stated more than once to have “built the monarchy” or “designed the monarchy”. Silas may have fought the war to create the kingdom but it was Rose who designed how it would work.
She commands the Benjamin household…which might sound demeaning except that you haven’t seen her army of servants in action. She makes sure everyone gets where they need to be on time. She gives the masses something to aspire to (someone else quotes her as saying “they need to see us be us”). She brings the arts to Shiloh (Gilboa’s capital city, which we see being inaugurated in the first episode).
And despite her repeatedly stating that she doesn’t like to get involved in politics…well. She’s subtly influencing so many things in this show that some of them you don’t even notice for sure until you watch it again. Her machinations are mostly obliquely referenced but she’s definitely there, making sure Things Happen in order to Manage her family. In her own way, she wields as much power as Silas, even if he is the one more visible.
Then there’s Princess Michelle Benjamin. She is the oldest child (by four minutes, Jack is her twin) and she is only not heir to the crown, presumably because of her sex. However, it is also both implied and stated that because she is the eldest (and, let’s be real, she’s Silas’ favorite) that she could displace Jack. Particularly once David becomes her love interest and he becomes the Hero of Gilboa.
She has an interesting arc over the show. I remember dismissing her a bit on my first watch-through as being a little weak and almost criminally naive about her family’s darker side. But as I’ve seen her more I’ve seen a different part of her.
She’s a woman who cares deeply about the people. She works to champion a health care program designed to catch and prevent disease (it does, in fact, successfully do that in one episode in a way that saved thousands of lives). She’s shown to not have given up on the program even though she publicly petitioned her father to implement it on a number of occasions. He turns her down originally because her argument was high on the humanitarian factor but low on hard facts. Also, I presume, because he doesn’t want to be seen as practicing nepotism. She perseveres, though, and improves her work and does, in fact, get the program implemented. And once that is done, her mother suggests to her she should move on now that her little project has been done and she’s rather surprised at the idea that she shouldn’t continue such work and is, in fact, vehement that she will. Later, we see her championing alternative energy solutions, as well (though that’s less of a focal point in her case but it’s still there).
She’s shown as being conflicted about her relationship with David, since she cares deeply about him, but she was also trying to uphold a promise she made years ago to God. Not to mention that due to her father’s changeable nature where David is concerned, it makes it difficult for them in general and at the end of the show she’s had to sacrifice greatly because of all this.
Anyway, back to the arc that I got sidetracked from. At the beginning of the show, we see an idealistic young woman who seems to believe the best in her family. I remember comparing her to Jack and wondering how they grew up in the same household when they had such different views on how their family worked. Of course, the difference was, I realized…that Michelle was the favorite. She was, presumably, rather sheltered. So, over time, she comes to see her family (particularly, her father) in a new light. When her brother is making all the wrong decisions, she stands up to him, at gunpoint, and tells him how wrong he is. When there’s an uprising in one of the border towns due to her father’s policies, it’s Michelle who goes there and tries to make peace when no one else will.
When David’s mother is left standing in line to receive a death benefit for one of her sons, it’s Michelle who volunteers on David’s behalf to go help his mother make her way through the line. Michelle cares and maybe it’s easy to see that as weakness, but it isn’t just that.
And on the note of David’s mother, Jesse Shepherd shows up multiple times throughout the show. It’s she who recognizes that there’s a destiny for David before anyone else does. She tries to steer him away from it, fearing what it will do to him (because it never ends well for people with destinies). Of course, she can’t fight against God’s will.
She’s a single mother raising seven sons after their father died in the Unification War. She has to deal with losing one son to the current war with their neighboring country of Gath. Another son is convicted of treason and imprisoned, presumably for life. She tries, fiercely, to protect all of them. And then there’s David.
There’s a point in the show where David disappears for a while, on a quest. And Jesse is shown as coming down to Unity Hall (where all the government work is done) and waiting in the public lobby area every single day. For weeks. Silas sees her there and is somewhat unnerved by her unwavering dedication in waiting for her son. He goes to speak to her and she looks him straight in the eye and tells him what she thinks of him. He’s king of all he surveys, he could have her head for whatever charge he wants to come up with, and she still isn’t afraid of him. And he lets her stay.
One of my favorite characters on the entire show (after Jack, ahem) is Thomasina (I don’t know that anyone ever refers to her as having a surname?). She’s been with the Benjamin family for years and basically appears to be their right-hand woman. Forever working in the background of the family, she’s right there for whatever they need. And that runs the gamut from keeping them organized for major events to orchestrating the unfortunate death of someone threatening the family to standing by the prince and holding an umbrella over him as he watches a funeral from afar.
We don’t learn much about her history, it’s true. The most we ever hear is that she’s worked for the Benjamins in her current capacity for over ten years. That she’s known Jack since he was crawling. That she has a sister in a sanitorium. And we can surmise that someone she cared about is dead.
For all that and for all of things she’s asked to do (from the somewhat shady to the quite reprehensible), we never see her break. For all of that, she is not shown as being unfeeling. I think she must be a very strong person and she’s another that doesn’t only tell Silas what he wants to hear even if she’s careful in how she phrases it.
A completely different sort of woman is Katrina Ghent.She’s introduced, basically, as a former Playboy-type model. Maybe Sports Illustrated. She’s said to be the widow of a very old, very rich man. People underestimate her and think she’s all fluff but she also knows what she wants and she’s not afraid to take it.
At the start of her arc, she’s just this presumed gold-digging, maneating bitch (and she is those things too, I think, but she isn’t just those things) and she goes from that to using her politics and money to secure a seat as the King’s table of ministers. But her real goal is to become Royalty and she continues maneuvering until she becomes engaged to the crown prince.
Of course, she has a failing in that she comes up against Rose and doesn’t know how not to push too hard. Rose wins the battle, let’s say.
And way down on the end of the spectrum we come to Lucinda Wolfson. At first she looks like an afterthought, just one of Jack’s momentary girlfriends he takes to formal party. She ends up getting a larger role closer to the end of the series and she is definitely the most naive of them all. I told Qi last night that she had to be saying to herself that she really had no idea what she was getting into when she got in with the Benjamins.
Despite that, she has the chance to get out and she doesn’t take it. Instead, she chooses to stand by Jack despite everything that happens in the show (okay, that decision is only alluded to in the actually-aired show, but you see it more explicitly in one of the deleted scenes on the dvds). That says something for her and at least suggest she was taking some sort of an active role in her own life as opposed to just letting fate buffet her around which is really what it looks like on the first watch-through. She still rather fades into the background but she makes a counterpoint, characterwise, to the other women on the show.
In general, I think a really good job was done on making the women more than just window-dressing for the men and made them characters with agency in their own right as opposed to only being defined as “Silas’ wife”, “David’s love-interest”, etc. Some more than others, of course, but there were only so many episodes on the show and not everyone can get fully developed.
Be forewarned, more rambles are likely to be forthcoming. And of course, if you’ve got comments, feel free to leave them. :)