The only thing more powerful than the moment when a character discovers something new about themselves is the moment a character realizes when something needs to go. And that seemed to be the theme of this week’s hour, in which multiple characters let go of various parts of themselves, no matter how small.
For Jay, it was both his hair and his relationship with Laura. For Keith, it was ALL of his hair (and maybe a part of his old self). For Ryan, it was the guilt he felt for what he did to his father. For Lisa, it was her relationship with Alvey. For Christina, it was her sobriety and her temporary hope for a relationship with her son. For Nate, it was any leftover delusions of grandeur he had about his career. For Alvey, it was the idea that his youngest is a fighter (and also probably $30,000 of his money).
We kick things off with Alvey and Nate getting ready to head to Fresno for Nate’s fight. Lisa, embarrassed by Alvey’s DUI, has no problem watching him walk out the door. Jay then bids his brother farewell, followed by good-luck hugs from both a very sweaty Ryan and an even sweatier Keith. My favorite moment of this episode might’ve been Alvey looking at Nate and saying, “You know he murdered someone?”
So while Nate and Alvey try to get checked into their hotel, Jay continues his starvation diet by giving Mac a lecture about how much time the average human wastes on food. “You’re eating your life away” is poor Jay’s way of trying to convince himself that he doesn’t want that burrito.
But that’s not nearly as hard to watch as it is seeing Christina pay Terry a visit, sleep with him, and walk away with heroine in her purse. Actually, maybe this week is all about things that are difficult to watch because Nate’s fight also falls under this umbrella.
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After Alvey shows up drunk in the middle of the night and messes with Nate’s sleep, it’s time for Nate to get into the (extremely sketchy) cage in Fresno. And here’s the thing about sketchy promoters and sketchy fights: They come with sketchy refs, sketchy crowds, and an extremely loose grip on “rules.” Fighting a guy that’s 6 pounds overweight, Nate sticks to his strategy: Take him down because he has no ground game.
But when the ref continually stands the fighters up because he wants a good show, things get ugly. Alvey’s fear comes true when the fight turns into a brawl, and eventually, looking at his beaten son, Alvey’s forced to call the match. It’s then that he calls Lisa with the realization that his son might not be a fighter after all. She responds with a realization of her own: She won’t be home when Alvey gets back. She’s going to stay in one of her dad’s condos for a while.
NEXT: About Lisa’s decision
Let’s back up: Lisa’s decision comes on the heels of her learning about Alvey’s investment and asking her dad to look into it. The good news is that, financially, it’s not a bad investment. But as her father points out, the problem is not the investment itself but rather that Alvey did it without consulting her.
Lisa then confesses to her father that she feels completely detached from her baby and that scares her. She wants to want this child, but she doesn’t. He gives her the fatherly answer of “you will,” but what really sticks with her is when he tells her that she has to start taking care of herself. So that’s why she’s moving out. As for Alvey, he’s coping the best way he knows how — by drinking.
Back in Venice, Jay is cleaning out the kitchen in the middle of the night, which prompts a confrontation between Jay and Christina. Jay’s still hung up on what Christina must have said to Laura, and when she won’t tell him what it was, he claims that their house is too small. She asks if he wants her move out, to which he responds by not responding at all and instead going for a run. So, as she loses her grip on her son, Christina also loses her grip on sobriety, shooting up for the first time this season.
However, not all of the “letting go” is sad this episode. Keith losing his hair is nothing if not joyful, mostly because it’s Jay who shaves it off. When Ryan brings his father to the gym to film a video package for sponsors, Jay offers to take Keith, Ryan’s “best friend and associate,” to his house. As Jay puts it, “It’s a pleasure. He’s f—ing riveting.” Seriously, these two. I’ve never been happier.
At Jay’s house, Jay asks Keith what it feels like to kill a man. “Feels gross. The bones feel gross when the blade hits them.” If this isn’t the “hammer” moment of this season, I don’t know what is. (I’m referring of course to Keith casually telling Ryan about his mother’s murder while brushing his teeth in season 1.) Keith then explains that, if given the chance to do it again, he’d still kill Michael.
With that, Jay does the only logical thing he can do: He shaves Keith’s head and turns his beard into a summer-appropriate Van Dyke.
Another good “letting go” moment comes from Ryan. In a beautiful montage that proves once again what this show is capable of, Ryan’s father watches him train while discussing Ryan’s childhood, how he was a polite boy, how he taught him to do, not talk.
“Getting by is not an option if you can be exceptional.” That’s what Ryan learned from his father. He learned everything from him, and he’ll never forgive himself for taking everything from his father. And yet, his father looks boldly into the camera and says he does forgive his son. Furthermore, he’s proud of the man he is today, and he’s looking forward to attending his next fight.
The cameras stop rolling, but the tears don’t stop flowing. Ryan’s dad informs him that he meant every word. He can’t stand to see Ryan in pain anymore. “I love you son. And I’m proud of you.”
Those are the words Ryan spent years in jail thinking he’d never hear again. And with those words comes a poignant moment, handled beautifully by both Matt Lauria and M.C. Gainey. For a show that’s about fighters, the power of this show is never in the big takedowns, the epic punches. It’s in the small jabs, the moments of pause and reflection. It’s in the humanity.