Lost in the Movies: The Kingdom II - "Birds of Passage" (episode 6)

The Kingdom II - "Birds of Passage" (episode 6)

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 8, 1997/written by Tómas Gislason, Niels Vorsel & Lars von Trier; directed by Morten Arnfred & Lars von Trier): Sigrid lives! Albeit only after she (temporarily) dies. Jørgen dies! Except he doesn't...except he's about to...maybe? Life and death are confusing matters in "Birds of Passage." Judith's grotesque baby continues to grow (and is expected to die soon); Moesgaard falls under the sway of Ole (Erik Wedersøe), the manipulative shrink in the basement; and mystic-healing charlatan Philip Marco (Fash Shodeinde) temporarily convinces Sigrid and Bondo that he's removed - and eaten - their diseased organs through a sleight of hand involving cow's blood. Among the younger crowd, Christian (Ole Boisen) objects to "ghost-driving," a popular sport where the mysterious "Falcon" (Thomas Bo Larsen) speeds around town in an ambulance, racing against traffic on the wrong side of the street while the students bet on his survival. Mogge and Sanne love the game and admire Falcon, considering Christian a predictable bore. Determined to impress his crush, Christian takes over for Falcon one night, speeding into one of many tense strands in this episode's cliffhanger climax. Despite these different subplots, episode six is largely focused on the Sigrid and Jørgen material.

The episodes kicks off when Sigrid herself kicks off. The dying Mrs. Drusse is swept into a vision of the afterlife - her spirit floats up to the ceiling and then above the whole hospital and city, before she finds herself in a long corridor leading to a room with two doors. One is tall and one is small, and a much happier Mary emerges from the tall one to let Sigrid know that her time has not yet come. The old woman is relieved to hear she is not responsible for the spirits roaming the hospital, but she's concerned to learn that a great task is at hand: "It will come to pass at Christmas," Mary warns her. "You must go back." Sigrid is also struck by a painting of a tiger in a tropical landscape, with black birds of passage flocking overhead. Back in her body, Sigrid organizes a meeting of invisible spirits, using water and chalk dust to commune with these ghosts. This eccentric but peaceful event takes a disastrous turn, however, when the friendly priest wanders into the lecture hall and is violently attacked by paranormal forces, who appear to tear him to shreds.

Meanwhile, Jørgen's fate is coming to a head; Helmer has learned that the Haitian poison only makes its victim appear to be dead - if he applies the antidote within a couple days, the corpse can be resurrected. Unfortunately, the fallen doctor is scheduled to be cremated so Helmer races to stop the process, eventually seizing the casket with both hands while a conveyer belt pulls them toward the flames. Out of nowhere, at the worst possible moment, Rigmor shoots her lover in the back, forcing him to collapse and lose his grip on the casket just as Jørgen's eyes open inside and fire consumes the box. Rigmor may not have killed Helmer, but it's a cinch she's killed "Dr. Hook." That is, if anything's a cinch on this show...

My Response:
If the previous episode dragged a bit, suffering from the inevitable come-down following a big season finale, this one finds its stride again. Though I'm not entirely sure from the context onscreen, I think the "ghost-driving" story is supposed to suggest a mundane (if physically exhilirating) reality behind the "ghost ambulance" motif from the previous season (in one of those episodes, the Drusses had chased the ambulance through town to pick up radio signals having to do with Mary - that plus the bloody hand means there's still something more going on). Indeed, as this season unfolds it's interesting to see a new Kingdom phenomenon unfold: the creators aren't so much allowing a predetermined story to take its course as they are finding new directions for the characters to go in. I could be mistaken; perhaps they had several seasons plotted out but had to wait for additional funding for several years. Yet I don't think so - storylines like Bondo's decision to keep the diseased kidney (which did not seem to be where the first season was headed) or the unrequited love among students feel like add-ons (even retcons). Developing situations around pre-existing premises and personalities is very much a TV thing, and I always find it compelling to watch feature filmmakers grapple with this challenge.

I also enjoy the drab yet still offbeat afterlife sequence - particularly the strange painting - and the character relationships continue to amuse. Perhaps my favorite moment in the episode has Bulder singing "The Internationale" to his groggy mother, under the mistaken impression that in her youth she was a Communist. "I was a columnist," she spits, "for the Messenger. Remind me now we're here to have us both DNA-tested." Helmer's hapless attempts to find Jørgen's body are also amusing and well-executed; it's interesting that in a show dominated by horror, our protagonist (more or less) is essentially a comedic figure. This is dark comedy, of course, and it only looks to be getting darker given how the episode ends. Indeed, the energy and narrative momentum of "Birds of Passage" make it feel more like a season-ending cliffhanger (or at least a penultimate episode before the big finale); with two episodes left, I'm eager to find out what more could be in store. Four episodes may make for short seasons, but they are very densely packed.

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