In season one of the Argentinian political thriller The Kingdom (Netflix), a televangelist and his family were thrust into the limelight after his running mate on a right-wing presidential ticket was murdered. But with that elevating exposure came scrutiny, and revelations about all the dirty business behind the church facade, including money laundering and even child sexual abuse. Kingdom Season 2 is six episodes instead of eight, and opens as Emilio (Diego Peretti) has become Argentina’s president. But in no way does that mean he’s free of trouble.
THE KINGDOM – SEASON 2: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: “Remove justice, and what are kingdoms but gangs of criminals? What are criminal gangs but petty kingdoms?” When the second season of a show called The Kingdom begins with this quote from St. Augustine, how much do you want to bet that what it portends comes to pass?
The Gist: The people of Argentina have experienced their disproportionate share of inept and tyrannical governments. And in season two of The Kingdom, they’ve taken to the streets to let Emilio Vazquez Pena (Peretti) know that his newly installed theocracy is just another bad fit. With vital resources scarce, protesters clash with riot police as graffiti appears everywhere calling the president a liar. And out in the parched countryside, a group of boys use an improvised pipe bomb to blow open a dam. But then one of their number is beaten to death while in police custody, and Emilio’s adopted son Tadeo (Peter Lanzani), who since we last saw him has become a vagabond and voice for the poor, makes an impassioned speech that quickly goes viral. “Who owns the water?” Tadeo pleads, the dead boy limp in his arms. Is it the man in the presidential palace, whose administration and Kingdom of Light church have failed the citizens equally?
Julio Clamens (Chino Darin) has become a law professor, and together with Ana (Vera Spinetta), Emilio’s daughter, he’s trying to put their links to the president behind them. (The couple haven’t even told him about his toddler granddaughter.) The student protestors won’t let Julio forget how he helped bring Emilio to power. But when they reach him on a Zoom call, Ana and Julio tell Tadeo how his message of protest has inspired the country.
Ruben Osario (Joaquin Furriel) also saw Tadeo’s viral clip, and the campaign manager and political puppet master sees an opportunity to frame him as a violent extremist, thereby providing public cover for Emilio to act as the people’s savior, a role the televangelist leader is most familiar with. And after a bit of protest — the president can’t expose Ruben and his dirty tricks without revealing his own family’s embezzlement of church finances — Emilio agrees to let Ruben vilify Tadeo in a play to retain presidential power.
Emilio has Elena (Mercedes Moran) to worry about, too. His wife knows all about his pedophilic tendencies, but lets him remain as figurehead of the Kingdom of Light Church even as she sees its membership dwindling and bankruptcy looming. Emilio’s weak son Pedro (Santiago Korovsky) is also being manipulated by his new wife Celeste (Sofia Gala Castiglione), who concocts a plan to fake a miracle in order to shore up the church’s public standing, even as she eyes stealing the Kingdom of Light cash for herself.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Netflix also includes the gritty Argentine drama El Marginal, where a former cop infiltrates a prison. But the streamer is also chock full of Kingdom content, so be aware of what you click. In the South African series The Kingdom, a helpful angel arrives in a small town. And in Kingdom, zombie mayhem messes with politics in 16th century Korea. And that’s not all! The Kingdom shares its original title, El Reino, with a 2018 Spanish-French political thriller of the same name. The lesson here? Name your IP something more distinctive.
Our Take: The abbreviated second season of The Kingdom should offer closure to viewers who found their way through its somewhat trudging first installment. Emilio, the pastor turned president, is being pressured from two sides, caught between keeping the faith and questing for power. Elena, Emilio’s wife, is managing his church’s crooked finances and pushing for Christian conservative influence over the government, while Ruben, the slimy political operator, openly positions Emilio as a frontman for moneyed interests in the shadows. Ideally, a six-episode run should also keep the pressure on the series itself, to amplify its dramas and move the narrative steadily forward. But in its early going, The Kingdom has not shown a willingness to do that. Characters are added in without immediate connection to the action, and last season’s suggestion of Tadeo’s young associate Jonathan as being a real miracle worker and the people’s salvation – not to mention being the twisted fixation of Emilio’s prurience – isn’t emphasized as much as the deceit and political chicanery of Ruben and his associates. What this Kingdom really needs is more fuel for all of the potentially catastrophic fires it is too slowly setting.
Sex and Skin: Nothing in the first episode, though Netflix’s maturity rating section for The Kingdom includes a laundry list of not-very-Christian items.
Parting Shot: After another long day of political puppet mastery, Ruben Osorio returns to his silent luxury apartment, only to go cold when he’s confronted with a vision from his shady past. “This is yours.” And Ruben is tossed a long rope tied into a noose. “I came to return it.”
Sleeper Star: Mercedes Moran as Elena was a powerful presence in season one of The Kingdom, and she picks up right where she left off in season two, keeping Emilio under her thumb, doing damage control on the floundering finances of Kingdom of Light church, and generally ordering everybody around like the matriarch she is.
Most Pilot-y Line: “Remember how things used to be?” Emilio is surveying the unrest that has exploded in the streets of Buenos Aires from the backseat of his presidential vehicle. “When I’d go out, people would go crazy. They wanted to hug me. They wanted to touch me, kiss me. Now they draw Hitler mustaches on me.”
Our Call: SKIP IT. The broad scope The Kingdom is working with is played too slowly to have real impact. That said, viewers who made it through the first season should find some resolution in this abbreviated second go-round.
Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges
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