Ian McShane is King Silas Benjamin of alternate reality country Gilboa. When first we meet him, he has apparently successful united some warring territories and rebuilt the capital city in Shiloh. Three years later, there is a new war going on with the neighboring nation Gath. When Silas's son Jack is taken hostage with some other soldiers, a young soldier named David Shepherd defies orders and goes behind enemy lines to perform a daring rescue, not knowing that he's earned the king's debt.
David the country mouse goes to Shiloh to be shown off to the press, where he runs into Jack, doing his best Ryan Phillippe in Cruel Intentions. King Silas has some sort of cabinet meeting where he throws his weight around, decrees that the country should be more aggressive in the war, and then shoots down a proposal on health care reform presented by his daughter Michelle, clearly not for the first time.
At the banquet in his honor, the ladies are falling all over David (including Michelle Benjamin) and he handles the press easily, impressing the king. Silas doesn't mind all the attention David garners since it distracts the press from the war. Silas has a busy night as he orders a cabinet member secretly assassinated (heart attack while jogging) and also has a run-in with a reverend (played by the awesome Eamonn Walker, who was Said in Oz), because the holy man doesn't support the war.
The next morning at the Benjamin family breakfast, David learns that he's been promoted and reassigned as the military liaison to the press, which he reluctantly accepts. There are rumors that Jack's actions during the kidnapping are going to lead to a court martial. David charms everyone in his first press conference, where he announces both the new offensive and Michelle's health care reforms. Shortly thereafter, Gath offers up a truce and the war ends. During the victory celebration, David and Michelle kiss for the first time. Jack finds out that he's been transferred and taken off active duty, which he feels is an admission of guilt. He confronts his father, and Silas reveals that he knows Jack is gay, and commands Jack to hide that if he ever wants to be king.
After lurking around in the shadows for the entire episode, William (Dylan Baker) steps up in a private meeting with the king and reveals that he works for (owns?) a company called Crossgen that runs the king and the country. William orders Silas to keep the war going for another year so that Crossgen can continue making money, and it's intimated that Crossgen has some dirt on Silas and his past. Despondent, Silas heads to his mistress's house, which is also home to his illegitimate son.
Silas orders David to announce that they are re-engaging in the war, and when David protests, Silas threatens him physically. Silas then orders the reverend (who, based on the Biblical allusion, I'm going to guess is named Samuel) to garner public support for the war, but the reverend refuses, since he knows Silas engineered the ambush and the hostage crisis. The reverend claims that God no longer wants Silas as king, and that another will be chosen.
David's brother is killed when the war starts up again and he throws a hissy and convinces an enemy soldier to hug him on the battlefield. That part was weird. As a result, Silas claims he's forced to restart peace talks and Crossgen pulls their money from the kingdom, as William approaches Jack to be their new man on the inside.
I didn't even mention two things: first is that Silas's wife is a real Lady Macbeth type, manipulating her husband, her kids, and the press, while claiming that she stays out of politics. And second, Silas always tells this story about how a bunch of butterflies landed on his head like a crown, and it's how he knew he was God's chosen king. So at the end of the episode, guess what happens to David? And Silas sees the whole thing, and he's quite vexed.
A bright orange flag with a stylized butterfly insignia flaps in the breeze. It's morning in America! Outside a farmhouse, a young man plays fetch with his dog. His mother calls him inside because "it's starting!" I hope they don't expect me to believe that this young man is any sort of athlete because he has a super goofy run. And his mom is Mrs. Weir from Freaks and Geeks! She's looking worn out and tired. Maybe she's tired because Lindsay works such long hours as an ER nurse and just can't seem to settle down with Uncle Jesse. Young Man comes into the house and turns on the TV, like how did the mom know it was starting if the TV wasn't even on yet? And is Young Man the only one who knows how to turn on the television? He has at least two brothers who are sitting in the room too. Anyway, the family sits down to watch some event being carried live on the news; the chyron on the TV says that it's the dedication of the new capital at Shiloh.
Meanwhile, in Shiloh, a well-dressed mother and her two grown children stand in a marble hallway waiting for King Silas. The son asks if his dad, the king, is going to talk about God in his speech, and the mom says that she hopes not because "God isn't popular right now." The son comments drily that his father likes God and the daughter finally speaks up to add, "And God likes him." Get it? Because he's a king? And he has divine right? Because presumably this is a parallel universe where that whole concept never went out via revolutions by the people. Although maybe if this thing gets picked up for a second season, we might see a revolution or two.
Anyway, the nearby soldiers suddenly snap to attention and a sniveling aide announces, "The king approaches!" In a great shot, we see Ian McShane from the back as he walks majestically down the marble hallway. His sniveling aide is upset that he didn't get to see the king's speech in advance. The king refuses a proffered coat, and wonders where Reverend Samuels is, since he's supposed to give the benediction. Another aide suggests waiting for him, but the king decides that his son will do it. The aide won't shut up about the speech, like if a guy has divine right, does he really have to worry so much about PR? I mean, if the people don't like what he says, can't he just claim that God told him to say it and we mortals can't expect to understand God's mysterious ways?
Silas steps outside where there are hordes of people cheering. He's standing on the front steps of an old-looking building (very New York Public Library-esque), but behind and all around are modern skyscrapers. This is the Kingdom of Gilboa, and we're seeing the inauguration of the new capitol at Shiloh. The king pauses before he begins his speech, and McShane is just a master. I could not be less interested in hearing a fictional king talk about his fictional alternate reality city, but I'm captivated by his performance. Anyway, important information that we learn from his speech: Shiloh was recently rebuilt, the kingdom of Gilboa is made up of a number of territories that used to be at war, but are now united, and the king claims that he saw this city in a vision before it was ever built.