|Image Courtesy en.wikipedia.org|
Well, I suppose the best you can say is that at least this last episode of Of Kings and Prophets was better than the first one! And to be honest, it really is better than “Offerings of Blood.” The Biblical accuracy is improved somewhat (though they still make one egregious error near the end of the episode). There is also less gratuitous sex (though there’s still one terribly-gratuitous sex scene which pretty much destroys the character).
Unfortunately, that’s not quite enough to redeem the series, considering all the problems.
In this episode David gets to play at being a simple shepherd and musician in love, with Saul’s daughter Michal as the object of his affections. However, he can’t simply be in love with the king’s daughter; he also has to find his place within the palace—not an easy task for a simple Bethlehem shepherd. He accidentally stumbles into Ishbaal’s assassination plot against Samuel when Michal discovers the plot and reveals it to David while waiting for Jonathan to return. When Ishbaal attacks Michal, David leaps to her rescue (though Michal doesn’t let them fight). Then David is playing his harp at Jonathan’s betrothal party when the Reubenite elder’s son tips him with a piece of Philistine silver. David reports the silver to Saul, who immediately orders the execution of the Reubenite’s entire family (including the 9-year-old son). In gratitude for David’s loyalty (and because her dear husband is too busy with his concubine to show her much affection), Ahinoam summons David to sleep with her. Between these latter two actions, David becomes disillusioned with the court and returns home.
In a parallel to David, Saul and his family must deal with much of the same court intrigue, though in their own unique way. Because he fears that the prophet will anoint a new king in place of his father, Ishbaal sends his best assassin to kill Samuel… but Michal persuades him that killing the “Voice of Elohim” will fracture the alliance between the tribes. Oh, and Samuel slaughters both the assassin and the servant who talked to him for good measure! Meanwhile, Saul and Ahinoam are playing political games to unite the tribes against the Philistines. Ahinoam first unites the other 11 with a speech, and then brings Judah into the fold by arranging a marriage between Jonathan and the daughter of Etan (the Judahite elder whose son was betrothed to Merav). However, Saul’s concubine/spy has already arranged for the Reubenite elder to betray Saul on the battlefield. When Saul learns of the treachery from David, he kills the entire family to make an example of why no one should betray him (not God, but he himself).
There is a lot to commend in the portrayal of both David and Saul in this episode. Saul’s madness has definitely begun, and it is brought about by God’s abandonment of him and declaration that he will strip the kingship from him and give it to another—even if this is said by Saul as something he feels, rather than a message from God. At the same time, David’s unquestionable loyalty to Saul is on display in his words to Michal and his reporting on the Philistine silver to Saul. I’m not a huge fan of the “Dave-Bro” portrayal of David with regard to Michal, though: he’s got way too much of an “I love the ladies and the ladies love me” attitude for a humble shepherd (which is what he was according to the Bible itself). However, I can forgive that. What I really cannot forgive in their portrayal of David is the fact that David would sleep with Saul’s wife. Simply put, David’s loyalty to Saul all through 1 Samuel is unquestionable. Later on Saul attempts on multiple occasions to kill David (uh… spoiler alert?), but David refuses to lift his hand against Saul. Now, that’s not to say that David was immune from lust and adultery—far from it; he falls into it plenty of times—but this early in David’s life I do not see him sleeping with his master’s wife. And honestly, I don’t think the writers of this show included this scene for any theological or character-related purpose. Instead, I think that they included this scene for no other reason than because they needed to reach their quota of sex scenes.
The other major issue I have with this episode comes right at the end, when David leaves Saul’s service entirely to return to his father’s house and arrives just in time for Samuel to already be there waiting to anoint him king. Simply put, it didn’t happen. David never really left Saul’s service, and only departed from him permanently when Saul started trying to pin him to tent walls! In 1 Samuel 16, Saul summons David and puts him to work playing the harp for him to drive away the harmful spirit that plagues him (v. 19-23). Chapter 17 is the prelude to David’s fight with Goliath (1 Samuel 16-17:1 provides what inspiration there is for this episode), and takes place after David entered Saul’s service. Verses 14-15 explain exactly how it can be that David both serves his father and serves Saul: “The three eldest [brothers of David] followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father's sheep at Bethlehem.” In other words, David is able to be in both places by going back and forth between them. He doesn’t get fed up with courtly intrigue (or at least not yet) and leave Saul’s service. Maybe this isn’t a major issue (perhaps the bigger issue is that in the Bible David is actually anointed before he enters Saul’s service in 1 Samuel 16!), but it really does make the David we see in this series look radically different from the David we see in the Bible.
I don’t know how to feel about the portrayal of Samuel, who at this point is little more than a crazy, bloodthirsty old man. On the one hand their portrayal of the Lord speaking to him in 1 Samuel 16:1-3 is kind of meh—he has a vision of a lamb and some other stuff, wakes up, and heads off with a servant—but on the other hand I’m not sure how I was really expecting them to do it. I think the better option would have been for Samuel to actually (you know) talk to God, but I’m sure they don’t want to actually suggest that much! While he is on his way, Samuel is approached by the servant he left behind at Ramah, who seems to be attempting to distract him so the assassin can make his move. However, Samuel kills the assassin and then (off-screen) kills the servant as well and sends both bodies back to Ishbaal as a warning. Now, I don’t object to the idea of Samuel killing—he does plenty of that in the Bible, as he is a judge (meaning military leader)—but I don’t know if the Biblical Samuel really would have killed his own servant for giving information while being tortured. But that’s a relatively-minor objection.
Surprisingly, Yoab is starting to grow on me, even if he still sounds like an Irish-Israelite immigrant! (Seriously, why does everyone sound British!?!) He and Ishbaal have a moment of butting heads when Yoab goes to “observe” the armorers working on the swords in the army’s armory. He and David also have a couple moments together when Yoab warns David against getting mixed up in the affairs of Saul’s house when Saul is clearly on his way out. Considering that Yoab does eventually become David’s right-hand man and the general of David’s army, it’s interesting to see where he starts.
The final—and most important—facet of this episode to review is the portrayal of God. After all, any Bible-based media have to give an accurate portrayal of the main character—and that main character is always God Himself. How is God portrayed in this episode?
Answer: He’s really not. If Samuel is the stand-in for God, then he’s kind of off doing his own thing. Saul and the people in Gibeah talk about God quite a bit—whether or not He is still with the house of Saul—but God himself really isn’t doing all that much. The most direct portrayal of God is in Samuel’s vision, but that’s not very direct; the meaning of the vision is left up to the viewer’s imagination. I get that the idea of God speaking directly to His prophets is rather unpopular among modern critics, but that doesn’t make it any less of an accurate portrayal of the Biblical account!
Ultimately, I suppose that this episode follows the “Killing Jesus Principle”: “If you avoid putting God in the limelight, you can actually make a decent movie.” (Remember that every good scene in that miniseries didn’t have Jesus in it, and every scene with Jesus in it was terrible)
This series showed some minor improvement from week 1 to week 2, but I don’t know if this means it will actually become a good (and accurate) series by the end of its run. My guess is that a better test will come next week with its portrayal of David vs. Goliath. Will David fight with the Lord on his side, or not?
What do you think of this series if you’ve seen it? Do you think the portrayal of Samuel and David is accurate? Let me know in the comments!