Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): The Kingdom II - "Pandemonium" (episode 8)

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Kingdom II - "Pandemonium" (episode 8)


Welcome to my viewing diary for the two-season Danish miniseries The Kingdom. Every day (except Saturday) I will offer a short review of another episode. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on November 22, 1997/written by Tómas Gislason, Niels Vorsel & Lars von Trier; directed by Morten Arnfred & Lars von Trier): "The sun turned so red, mum/And the night so black./Little Brother's dead, mum/And Mona can't come back./Aage's roaming out there, mum/So we lock our doors./There's a draught upon my pillow, mum/Will the Kingdom be as before?"

Sigrid's elevator is dropping down many levels beneath the ground floor (the numbers on the display are all negative). She has already discovered a Satanic cult worshipping deep down in the hospital, and identified Camille - the sleep technician whom we've hardly seen since season one - as a member of this cult. Now she's plummeting into Satan's realm, but then so is the entire hospital. Jørgen's "hook" has become homicidal; if the character's misanthropy once had some charm, since his resurrection he has become an irredeemable fascist, nearly exterminating Mona (until the blocks she plays with on her bed spell out something about Helmer, which he thinks he may find useful). His eugenicist urge finds a more drastic outlet at episode's end; as Christian prepares for his blind Falcon run, a worker rushes off to watch the monitor (a month's salary rides on Christian's fate) and leaves Jørgen in charge of a switchboard that holds the power to the hospital's machinery, and thus the lives of many of its patients. An elderly, gentlemanly figure of Death (Ingolf David) rides in the back of Christian's ambulance, warning, "It's going to be a busy night." And that busy night will begin in the very vehicle he rides in, with some of the ensemble's youngest characters. As the power goes out at the hospital, Christian can't receive commands from the dispatcher and he crashes into Mogge and Sanne. Little Brother is finally dead too, his belly distended, his gigantic limbs and fingers limp, his head resting on the floor. His own mother, after his endless pleas, cut the strings holding him in place while singing him a lullaby. Now, however, she has second thoughts, screaming into the night for the baby's father, consenting to give him what he wants - power over and through them - if he will bring her child back. The frame is engulfed by a flash of light, an almost atomic explosion...and The Kingdom ends, forever, right on the cusp of its biggest moment. Of course!

Well, there is a little more. Helmer has already had quite an episode - he is elevated in the Lodge, married to Rigmor (who, after all the roundelays, acquired the Mona report herself and now uses it to keep the sour Swede in her clutches), and forced by Mogge's desperate blackmail - mentioning an official Helmer knows back in Sweden - to give the student a passing grade on his exam. Meanwhile, even without the anesthesiologist's report, Mona poses a threat. When Helmer finds out she can deliver messages via her blocks, and that his name is featured among these messages, he kidnaps the little girl in a laundry basket and placing her on a circular conveyer belt to avoid detection. When her box returns, it is empty - where has she gone??? And that brings us to the final button, placed after the von Trier outro, as Helmer flushes some more incriminating material down the toilet and mutters that the only thing to make his night worse would be for Dr. Jönsson, the Swede whom Mogge dug up, to show up at the hospital. And sure enough, this new character (Philip Zandén), introduced over the show is over, appears in the darkened, candlelit building in the middle of the blackout. "I bring greetings from Dr. Helmer," he says to the official who stumbles across him, "from his wife and seven children in Borĺs."

My Response:
That ending, like "Her Majesty" punctuating Abbey Road, is the perfect light touch to end on - both dramatically significant and amusingly mundane, emphasizing the show's quality as comic soap opera as well as apocalyptic horror, a big twist and a delightful, ridiculous conceit. As I've noted many times, the two anchors/hooks of the series are its gothic world-building and the vanity/foolishness of Helmer's endless attempts to be found out, and both are relayed in shaggy-dog, make-it-up-as-you-go fashion, never more so than in this episode. Not only is Helmer suddenly a bigamist with hidden progeny, but a Satanic cult may have been orchestrating the hospital's misdeeds all along! It's also funny to consider how deeply the shallow, completely earthly Mogge is implicated in all of this right up to the very last moments. The many shots of the Satanic cult gathered around the cadaver's head suggest that Mogge's self-indulgent prank, way back in episode one, gave them a new power; meanwhile, of course, he is the one who (posthumously, it seems) brings Jönsson to the hospital.

I laughed when the show climaxed as it did; I'd lost track of how much time was left and half-expected an explosive, extended sequence of Sigrid grappling with the Satanic cult, Mona appearing somewhere random in the hospital and finally exposing Helmer, Aage attempting to unleash his evil through his victimized family, and doctors racing to save multiple patients, not to mention Bondo (receiving a blood marrow transplant from his recently-discovered half-brother, none other than Bunder Drusse). At the same time I was aware that von Trier, like David Lynch in Twin Peaks, might have a fondness for teasing and frustrating the TV audience, leaving things open-ended for years only to return and then leave a whole new set of plot points and characters arcs eternally open-ended. Sure enough, the lights of a haunted building go out as a mother calls for her dead child at the end of The Kingdom, just as in the end of Twin Peaks. If there was an episode nine, a Kingdom III, would these threads resolve in grand fashion? Would there be the kind of culmination we expect in a feature film, even the evasive features of avant-garde auteurs? Or would the narrative machine perpetuate itself, the characters coming untied from the ghostly train tracks just in the nick of time, only for a new cliffhanger to emerge in perpetuity? I think we know the answer.

In a way then, leaving things hanging is the grandest conclusion possible, allowing us to imagine the moment of deliverance, and to stew in delightful frustration at never seeing it, all while knowing in our heart of hearts that it's a sleight of hand, a magic trick meant to keep us watching even when there's nothing left to watch. That which draws us in, also casts us out. And so we must be prepared to take the ✟ with the 😈.

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