The History Channel’s The Bible Mini-Series (Part 2)
Last week I wrote a review of The History Channel’s The Bible Mini-Series, Part 1. If you’ve read the review you’ll know that I wasn’t a huge fan of the series thus far due to (a) its being too ambitious in covering too great of a time span, (b) the lack of multidimensional characters, (c) the over-focus on fight scenes, (d) the odd mixture of literal biblical interpretation with completely fictional elements, and (e) the poor casting of some secondary characters.
So what about week two? Did the issues continue in this episode? Where there new issues? Happily, the second episode made significant strides in rectifying several of the shortcomings seen in the first episode – namely, it focused in on a more limited time span which in turn allowed for slightly better multidimensional character development. It also utilized better casting for secondary characters and the fight scenes became a more measured portion of the entire narrative. I also didn’t notice the blatant mixture of strict literalism with oddly fictionalized elements.
Thus the second episode was significantly better than the first, but still significantly below what I had hoped for before viewing any of the series. I am optimistic that the series will continue to improve in quality as the time spans continue to shrink, but I also feel pessimistic about the potential for a moving portrayal of the life of Christ and/or the Acts of the Apostles. This is not because these narratives lack in the material to make good television, but because I rarely have seen a portrayal of these narratives which has managed to move beyond the mediocre, wooden, and tedious (ironic, given the power of the material!).
The Siege of Jericho
I don’t have any significant complaints about the Siege of Jericho or the portrayal of Rahab, other than wooden dialogue and the general lack of being swept up in powerful emotions in the portrayal of these epic stories (for comparison, one might watch Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit and compare the emotional experience to that felt during The Bible – at least for me, the former have a much greater impact than the latter).
I did wonder to myself about marching around the city. Did the people of Jericho just allow the Israelites to walk around the city? Or did they fire at the Israelites? Send out sorties to attack and break their ranks? Or did the Israelites walk so far outside the city walls that they were out of range? I visualize the people of Jericho shooting arrows, throwing rocks, and attacking via cavalry sorties. If so, this would have been a great test of the Israelites faith. As they walked around the city day after day, suffering causalities, they must have thought, “Why are we wasting our time and our people walking around the city? We will be too weak by the time we actually attack the city to overcome it!”
This is also only one of a few scenes thus far in which a woman (Rahab) is portrayed in a positive light (I suppose one might consider Moses’ adoptive mother a positive female character in Part 1).
This narrative was told in an okay manner. I think Samson’s African heritage may have been a subtle nod to the correlations between Israelite enslavement by the Philistines and African enslavement by Americans/Europeans. While historically unlikely that Samson was black, it may go towards furthering the narrative further in the future as I imagine they will emphasize the inclusive nature of Christianity and the tearing down of ethnic and social barriers that Jesus implemented.
Again, I found the dialogue fairly wooden and the primary female characters weak (Samson’s mother) or downright evil (Delilah). I did however greatly enjoy the narrators overture that, “Samson was given great strength to cast out the Philistines but he was distracted.” (as Samson falls in love with a Philistine woman) This was a genius line that added some levity to the story.
The secondary characters looked more like hardened soldiers in this episode, although they seemed completely one dimensional evil villains.
Here is where I thought things improved significantly. The cast (both primary and secondary characters) looked much more the part than in early narrative segments. Time was spent on the narratives which allowed us to develop some affinity for the characters. King Saul is a multidimensional character who honestly struggles to obey God’s will, and one feels empathy for him when he is rejected by God.
One can hardly separate the narrative of David from that of Saul, they overlap in so many areas and as with the overlap in story so there is overlap in quality. The time spent on the story is more appropriate, the characters are more multidimensional, and at times the dialogue is almost inspired. I especially enjoyed the combination of David’s Psalm 23 with his advance against Goliath.
I found the portrayal of David’s relationship with Bathsheba interesting. Ever heard the saying, “No means no”? In other words, one is raped or sexually assaulted if one says no and the person persists? This is what frequently happens with date rape, etc. Individuals reject the advances but the other individual continues to pressure and eventually the original individual gives in. They are thus not necessarily physically compelled, but they have been emotionally or psychologically compelled – their personal will being overwhelmed by the aggressor.
In this portrayal of David, it is clear that David’s advances upon Bathsheba are unwanted and would have qualified as date rape. While in the end she acquiesces to David’s advances, her initial attempts at rejecting him indicate clearly her heart and will’s desire, which is overwhelmed by undue pressure by David.
I don’t think I had ever thought of this scenario as being a rape before – always having thought of it as consensual…but if it was a rape, this would throw significant light on the later rape of Tamar and even Absalom’s actions with David’s wives (neither of which are portrayed in this series).
For those holding discussions after the series this might be a worthwhile discussion. Too often folks feel as if they have to be physically compelled into a sexual act for that act to be a crime against them – but the truth is that the act of overpowering another’s will is a crime against them. On an emotional level we see this when “brainwashing” occurs – an individual’s will is subsumed into the will of a leader, e.g. of a cult.
There are two narrative threads that flow throughout the series thus far – intentional or otherwise. The first has to do with the significant characters who follow God (e.g. Abraham, Saul, Samson) – they are told to perform acts of which they are unsure, they act sometimes in a way that seems unthinking, they are torn by what sometimes appears to be a lack of faithfulness of God’s part, and so on. In this manner, the relationship between God and his followers is mysterious and frustrating…
The second thread is the peripheral character of women to the series. Women are constantly used by the male characters or influence the male characters by speech rather than action. This does reflect, to some extent, the character of the ancient mindset regarding women, but I get the feeling that the women are weak characters, unable to act or think for themselves, whereas while the ancient cultural context may have deemed them as such they oftentimes showed themselves to rise above these low cultural views, challenging the men to step up and stop being such cowards (e.g. Rahab, Deborah, Abigail).
I must admit that a while back as I was reading through the Scriptures regarding King David my mind’s eye was filled with the epic nature of the story and I felt a yearning to see a TV series made which would address this topic in detail over several years. I don’t think I have the technical skills for such an undertaking…but just in case anyone out there is thinking about properly funding such a series, may I make a few suggestions?
I’d recommend Paul Scheuring, Jon Turteltaub, and Jonathan E. Steinberg to head up the film crew. For cast I think Kim Coates would make a dynamic and powerful King David and Ian McShane should retake the role of King Saul. Jesse Spencer would make a dashing Prince Jonathan. Scott Wilson could play one of several wise prophets.
Katey Sagal and Mary Steenburgen both would make great leading ladies and Sarah Wayne Callies, Lisa Edelstein, Olivia Wilde, and Clea Duvall would be excellent choices as well.
Mark Boone Junior, Omar Epps, Idris Ebla, Ron Perlman, Ryan Hurst, Common, Tommy Flanagan, Robert Knepper, William Fichtner, Lennie James, Mickey Rourke, Lance Reddick, Vincent D’Onofrio, Stephen Lang, Mandy Patinkin, Rockmond Dunbar, Gabriel Byrne, Jeff Goldblum, Walton Goggins, David Meunier, David Morse, and Don Cheadle would all be excellent choices – some for David’s Mighty Men, others for commanders of the various enemies David faces throughout his reign.
The budget for such a series would need to be significant – as it would need an ensemble cast to hold things together. Scheuring, Turteltaub, and Steinberg should head up the film crew for their ability to enter into the minds of their characters and to create connective tissue between episodes. The series should have a definite arc, concluding after a predetermined period of time to avoid “jumping the shark.” But I digress…