Revisiting Kingdom Hospital – episode 13

Matt finally gets to the end of Kingdom Hospital, and finds himself let down by an ending that just doesn't do the job well enough

It seems like a lifetime ago I purchased a shiny copy of Kingdom Hospital and decided to write a series of articles about it – not least because the series really drags in places. Indeed, this climax of the series proved so drawn-out and uninspiring that it’s taken me a fair while to work up the enthusiasm to write about it. What we have here, essentially, is the tying up of many loose ends, and the leaving undone of others. As is partly expected, it’s revealed that all of the central characters have a role to play in freeing the ghost Mary from her hellish limbo, and saving the hospital itself from certain doom. So then, Sally Druse calls one final séance, which unites these central protagonists for a show-down with the evil Paul. Mr King clearly read and adored every moment of the Lord of the Rings. I’m not entirely sure how old he would have been. But novels such as The Stand and It have shown he enjoys the gathering together of many characters to form a “fellowship” which must face-off against the ultimate evil. This plot device worked brilliantly in The Stand; the idea of making ordinary people into saviours of the planet is a great one. However, he might have used up his limit on that now, particularly as at least half of the fellowship in Kingdom Hospital ultimately prove unnecessary. Once inside the old kingdom, the group do little more than walk around the dark corridors with awed expressions on their faces – for a very long time. These scenes are interspersed with many, many flashbacks. And the flashbacks are way too long – some of them showing whole scenes already played earlier in the series. It would’ve been far better to cut these down to mere clips, and they would have done the job just as well. The result is that, as soon as yet another flashback kicks in, you’re sinking lower and lower in your chair, going “Yes, I remember this part, I know what happens, get on with it … please!” Meanwhile, Stegman has gone mad, haunted by Paul, and grabs a gun with the intention of shooting dead Dr Hook, and probably anybody else who gets in his way. After constant not-so-subtle mentions of him throughout the series, Stephen King himself finally makes the inevitable “guest” appearance, playing a hospital janitor whom Stegman runs into during his search for Hook. Look at that smug little face. Back in the old kingdom, the fellowship have somehow been taken into the past, at the moment when the fire breaks out in the old mill and Mary is about to meet her demise. Weeks and weeks of supernatural activity, secrets and plot devices build up to this pivotal moment, during which the artist, Peter, draws a fire extinguisher on the wall, which is then made 3D by Christa and Abel. Hook then grabs it and uses it to put out the blaze, which kind of leaves you thinking, why was it necessary for Hook to be there in the first place? Is he the only one in the group with fire extinguisher handling abilities? The rest of the fellowship just sort of fade into the background, as does the story. In an instant, everything just kind of dissolves, all excitement ebbs away, and you’re left thinking “That’s it?” Yes, that’s it … or is it? Things wrap up with a typically corny shot of everybody leaving the hospital arm-in-arm and grinning like clowns. Um, surely the doctors and nurses should actually be treating patients and not just strolling outside for a coffee? The camera then lingers on Stegman’s office window, where we see Paul and his doctor accomplice aren’t dead after all – which kind of renders everything the fellowship did pointless. The idea was if they stopped the mill fire and saved Mary, then all the ghosts under the hospital would be put to rest, Mary would never have died, and Paul would never have been there to create havoc. But it doesn’t really seem to matter anyway, as there’s never been a second series, so I suppose King doesn’t have to answer any plot-hole-screw-up questions. For a series based on a Lars Von Trier classic, made by Stephen King, and focusing on a hospital, you’d expect things to be scary or at least slightly creepy. It’s quite rare to be saying this, but the biggest niggle I have for this series has nothing to do with character development – as all of the characters are fully-fleshed out and very well realised. It has nothing to do with logic or structure either. The biggest problem is, there just aren’t enough scares here. Nowhere near enough.

A painstaking amount of time is spent getting to know our heroes and villains, which is great, but it simply doesn’t have a pay-off because we never really get to see them in any form of danger, and so there’s never a time when we’re in fear of their lives or caring for their safety. Given that episode twelve ended with the promise that “some will live, and some will die,” there’s also a great sense of injustice that the series failed to follow up on that promise, because nobody dies, everybody lives and leaves the hospital sunny-faced and care-free. It’s been quite a lengthy visit at the kingdom; there have been some very enjoyable episodes, a few laughs, some outlandishly quirky moments … Unfortunate then that all of this boils down to an incredibly clunky, disappointing anti-climax. In future, King will need to deliver far more scares if he intends on keeping his crown as the master of horror. Whoever gave him that title must be pretty easy to scare, anyway.