Kingdom has proven that it can do drama, but after two weeks of establishing a world full of complex, damaged characters, this week came at things with a lighter touch. That’s not to say that it didn’t bring its usual dramatic punch—no pun intended—but one of the things that this show does well is balancing the dark with the light. The perfect example? Ryan’s interaction with Keith in the bathroom of the halfway house. Keith tells Ryan that his father murdered his mother with a hammer before shooting himself in the backyard when Keith was 10. It’s traumatizing information, stuff that should probably make us gasp. But thanks to Paul Walter Houser’s delivery paired with the look on Matt Lauria’s face, it became less worthy of a gasp and much more worthy of a laugh. That balance is one of many things that makes this show enjoyable.
This week, we kick things off with our first real look at Christina’s life as a hooker when a college-aged boy drives her to a motel. On the car ride, she reminisces about how she went to college for a year and majored in graphic art before switching to art history. Of course, it was all a moot point because she dropped out when she had Jay. And now? Her life has brought her to a motel full of horny college kids who plan to share her “services.” Without so much as flinching at the thought of more than one guy, Christina heads to the bathroom to change, shoot up, and get ready. It’s a harrowing scene, one that presents Christina at her worst, one that makes viewers empathize with her life and empathize with Jay, particularly when he later comes face-to-face with his mom.
After Lisa bails Jay out of jail, he pays a visit to Terry, his mother’s pimp, before getting a phone to his mother. Jay, desperate to help his mom, has programmed his own number into the cell phone’s speed dial, and he promises to be there if she ever needs help. By episode’s end, she uses the phone to meet her son for lunch in what might be the most heartbreaking scene of the series so far. She apologizes for her reaction to his showing up the other night—she doesn’t want him to see her on the job. Instead, she uses her time away from her job to reminisce about the kinds of babies Jay and Nate were and how everyone always thought Jay was a Gerber baby. It’s the sweetest moment we’ve seen between mother and son before it’s ruined by Terry, who arrives just in time to feel up Christina, threaten Jay with the gun he always carries, and get Christina back to work.
Based on the look on Jay’s face—and the amazing performance from Jonathan Tucker—it’s evident that this is just the beginning of this saga. It’s also evident how much Jay cares for his mother and how much it hurts him to see her being mistreated. It’s a far cry from the other Jay we meet in this episode, the happy-go-lucky party guy who gets Lisa drunk.
From one pairing to another, Lisa and Jay are as enjoyable as Christina and Jay are poignant. With Alvey’s decision to close down the gym when Ryan comes in to train, Lisa takes her worries (and her thirst) to the bar where Jay’s working the door. Once inside, she drinks her frustrations away, only stopping once to burn some asshole with her cigarette. Don’t worry—he deserves it after hitting on her and then calling her a bitch.
But after that cathartic release, she and Jay take their own bottle to a table where they discuss all things Ryan and the gym. At this point, “party-time” Lisa has turned to “hustler” Lisa when she agrees to get Jay a fight, because quite frankly, she likes having him around the gym and she thinks he’s a good fighter. It’s just the whole “being an idiot” thing that he has to get under control, but Jay gets it.
Watching these two interact is like a breath of fresh air. It’s clear they have a history—after all, she was engaged to his friend and is currently dating his father—but it’s not at all romantic, and that’s something I commend this show for. They treat this relationship in a way that doesn’t make anything weird. It’s perfectly fine for Jay to comment on how Alvey shouldn’t have let Ryan back into the gym—or rather, let the “wolf through the front door.” And Lisa appreciates it. In fact, she appreciates it a little too much. By the time she gets home to Alvey, she’s going on about how if he’d listened to her, Ryan wouldn’t be in the gym. Thankfully, instead of arguing with a drunk person, Alvey puts her to sleep.
But Lisa isn’t the only one having issues with Ryan being back in the gym. Even after Alvey goes out of his way to make a deal with Ryan’s pest control boss to drop Ryan off at the gym every day without his parole officer finding out—and pawns one of his trophies to pay Ryan’s boss to do so—Ryan’s first time back in the cage does not live up to his expectations. Five years without practice makes Ryan doubt that he’s still got what it takes, though Alvey assures him that he needs to let go of perfection and simply “trust the process.” Or rather, “Trust your coach.”
Back at the halfway house, Ryan’s the one doing the coaching when Michael continues to bully Keith. I’ll spare you the details, but Keith ends up having to take a shower after Michael’s recent prank, which leads to Keith’s first lesson in fighting. Ryan takes him through the details for throwing a punch, which ends with Ryan getting the crap slapped out of him, but hey, it’s a start. And it’s yet another great moment between these two unlikely friends … and, of course, the bear who doesn’t give a s—.
Outside of the gym this week, Nate starts physical therapy with Tatiana, who is not a hooker but is very pretty. Or at least, Nate seems to think so. But Alvey’s more focused on getting Nate back in the gym as soon as possible. Then again, Alvey’s smart enough to realize that he’s a “bulldozer” in moments like this, a sentiment he later expresses to Lisa regarding their situation with Ryan. He promises that he does hear her concerns and that the gym, along with himself, doesn’t exist without Lisa. If Ryan messes up even once, he’s out. Or so Alvey says.
At the end of the day, one of the strongest parts of this show, which was put on display in this hour, is its plethora of dynamic relationships. Watching Alvey and Ryan interact can lead to some of my favorite moments, but the same can be said for Ryan and Keith. Then you have Lisa and Jay, Jay and Christina, Jay and Nate, Lisa and Alvey. The list goes on and on, because when you have characters who are fascinating on their own, pairing them only strengthens every situation. And by switching up the interactions—from the dramatic life of Christina and Jay’s struggle to the lighthearted fun of Jay and Lisa’s night out—it’s not only easier to love any given character, but it’s also easier to love the show… which was pretty damn lovable to begin with.