In Kingdom‘s season 1 finale, Ryan Wheeler and Jay Kulina both began their comebacks, Nate gave into temptation, Christina might have returned to her old ways, Lisa changed her life, and Alvey realized that sometimes getting everything you want leaves you, well, nowhere. All in all, it was an hour full of beautifully executed fight scenes and even more powerful drama.
We talked with creator Byron Balasco about the final hour and what fans can expect moving forward.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you first pitched the show, I know you had a general idea of where it was going, but did you know how this season would end before you all started filming?
BYRON BALASCO: Well I knew basically how it would end but it always changes as you’re going through the season and the stories take on a life of their own and the characters do as well. There’s a plot point you think you’re aimed at and then by the time you get there, maybe you’re close but maybe you’ve changed it a little bit or there’s a way to deepen what you thought was going to be satisfying or right. Then a lot of times, the thing that you thought was going be really satisfying, after you take the journey of the season, you realize isn’t what’s earned, so it has to become what it becomes.
Were there any drastic changes to your original plan?
I was going to have Alvey murder everyone. But then I was like, “Where do you go?” [Laughs] No it was just sort of basic emotional things, like is it better for Cristina to not come home—what’s more powerful? And they seem like subtle things but they actually aren’t, you know? Her coming back to the house is a much different thing than her never coming home, and in a lot of ways, I think it’s more devastating to Jay that she comes back. If she stayed away, then Jay would still have a mission to go save her, but the fact that she’s coming back, it’s sort of saying, “Even if I’m here, I’m never going to be always here, how you want me to be.” Things like that that seem like small things but they actually, emotionally for the characters, take on another life. There were a number of those kind of instances.
I’ll tell you this: Keith, for example. He originally was just a couple lines and a very minor player but once I got to writing him and the relationship he had with Ryan, those two together, it brought so much to the show. It deepened Ryan so much and Keith himself was such a vivid character that I think really really tapped into people on a certain level. He was obviously funny but there was also something heartbreaking about him that I think helped build that character on its own and then also bring out a side of Ryan that we could’ve never seen without him.
I have to know: Is there hope for Keith in the future?
Yeah there’s hope for Keith in the future.
Okay good. But just more generally, I’m interested to hear you talk about how you wanted to end this season thematically.
Anytime there’s a victory, there’s also another side to that, which I think is a common thread through how people live their lives or expect their lives to go. You aim for something and then you get to it and it’s not what you thought or you don’t even really know why you wanted [it] and you essentially are now starting over again on a slightly different course but you just have to do everything all over again. So a lot of season 1 was people striving and pushing for something that they felt was going to save their life or change their life and it changed some people’s lives, it put some people right back where they were, and it’ll sort of redirect other people’s lives. But essentially, with any of these characters, these things that they wanted can’t change them. They can try to do better and be better but they can’t really not be who and what they are, you know? And if they can sort of tamp down the more destructive parts of their personality or the things that they do that seem to cause them pain or screw up things in their lives, it’s not that they can really change, they can just try to overcome it and move around it.
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Had you figured out the Nate twist with him being gay before you started the season?
That was known about that character ever since the show was born. How that was going to play out, [I] did not know exactly but wanted to do it in a way that felt really true to the struggle that a kid like that would have, the reality of his world and his social circle and family. It would be nice if he could just bake a cake and say, “Hey guys, I’m out,” and they’re like, “Oh man, we love you! Nothing’s different!” But the reality of his situation is he’s got to battle this because it’s not only his life and what he wants or who he is but the truth is, for better for worse, it’s going to re-contextualize any relationship he has. That’s maybe not something he’s prepared to do.
Are you aware that there were rumors going around that Nick Jonas did full frontal in the finale? Obviously they weren’t true.
I just don’t think we felt the world was ready for that. [Laughs] Sorry, sorry everybody.
I love that this is such a subtle show, and I want to talk to you about the decision not to include some huge cliffhanger in the finale and instead focus more on emotional cliffhangers.
A part of this show and something that you mentioned I think in one recaps is, this show is different every episode. It’s because we’re not really a big plot-drive show; we hinge on a story and characters, but we’re not driving to some mystery or some sort of big plot move that has to be resolved. I didn’t want to end on any major plot cliffhangers that we would then be compelled to pick up right away in the second season because I really do see this show as simply these people’s lives. So we have the ability to meet them again in season 2, whenever we choose—life can have progressed a great deal of time or we can pick up the next day—it’s up to us. I felt like any kind of big story plot cliffhanger would’ve been not our show and not the rhythm and promise that we made to the audience. To me it’s a lot more compelling to end on these emotional cliffhangers which aren’t like, “Oh no, what’s going to happen tomorrow?!” It’s more, “What direction is this going to spin this character?”
And you all didn’t know you were picked up before you did the finale, right?
No we didn’t know. They didn’t tell us until afterwards because we were done shooting a while ago. So we didn’t know but you know, cautiously optimistic that we would. We knew that everybody was happy with the work we were doing. But also, the truth is, at that point, we’re not going to try to convince them with the last episode. It’s, “Here’s the season. It stands on its own, so if you love it, we’ll make more.” To everybody’s credit that I work with, the studio and the network, there was no pressure on me to accelerate the story or hint toward any big moves that felt like, “We got to keep people’s eyes on this thing.” It unfolds at the pace it does; sometimes there’s shocking moments; sometimes there’s just moments where somebody’s sitting in a room looking at their hands. It just is what it is.
Did you feel any pressure in the opposite direction in that it might have to serve as your series finale?
No because I just always operated under the assumption that we would get picked up again. But also, if that was the series finale then so be it. Again, because this is really a show about people’s lives, there was no big piece of story to close off. It was more just okay, we glimpsed that and then we’ll see where we come in next year. And if I would’ve known it was one season, I would’ve done it the same way.
Now that you have so much guaranteed time, what are you looking forward to exploring with these characters?
Building on the themes of the first season I would say moving forward, it would be interesting to sort of explore the pain of the ascent in the sense that okay, on the outside goals were met, everybody won their fight, everybody’s profile was raised … now what? That brings a whole other set of problems and issues and things that you’re fighting for. So the ascent can be as painful as the descent.
Anything in terms of MMA, the physical side of the show, you’d love to work on moving forward?
We’re always looking for new ways to do our fights; we’re getting better and better at them. The actors now have over a year of training under their belts, so everybody’s a little bit better, and we as a production and as a crew figure a lot of things out too. We’re always looking to enhance it and make it better but we’re not trying to get too fancy. I like the way we shoot our fights—they feel real and you feel involved in them. So they don’t feel overly choreographed, so we’ll always aim to make it more and more real.
Is there anything else you want to say to fans about the finale?
I hope that they like it. I hope they feel some sense of closure and satisfaction but also understand that we’re just beginning with all of these people. This is really just a chapter in these people’s lives and there’s more coming. People seem to really respond to these characters individually and seem to really enjoy watching two of them in a room talking to each other, and so if we have that investment from the audience, then we can go anywhere with them.