The season 1 finale finds Ryan Wheeler back in the cage for the first time in five years.
For months, Navy Street has been working toward this moment: Ryan Wheeler’s first fight back. And much like this fight was the culmination of everything Ryan’s done so far, this finale was the culmination of everything the show has done so far. And dare I say it, it was the show’s strongest hour. It truly felt like the past nine episodes were all building to this, and yet nothing went too far. Nobody overdosed. Nobody died. Kingdom doesn’t need big shocking cliffhangers in order to deliver an hour of solid drama. It just doesn’t.
We pick up where we left off last week with Alvey waking up at the Sunset Hawaiian. We’re not entirely sure what happened but it’s evident that the Purple Drank/Lisa did something to him, because even though he’s alone, his phone is sitting in a full glass of water. (I assume it’s water.) But he quickly has to put all that in his past, because it’s time he gets to the gym.
And the same can be said for Jay and Ryan, who are separately enjoying a healthy breakfast before running through one last shake-out at the gym. For Jay, the morning is about Nate fixing him breakfast—and secretly injecting himself with HGH—and talking Christina into coming to the fight if only to sit in the dressing room. She agrees. As for Ryan, well, his head is all over the place. Unsure of why he’s even fighting, Lisa offers him the answer: Because he’s like a mouse—an albino mouse, specifically—in a maze. He needs some sort of prize or goal at the end, some girl he wants to f— or some guy he wants to f— off. Now? He has both. Let that sink in.
At the shake-out, Jay announces that he will be throwing the party of all parties after tonight’s fight. This good boy act he’s been putting on? Yeah, that’s going to end tonight. As he puts it, “It’s going to be one of those nights.” After Mac agrees to bring the goods, Alvey shows up and asks to talk to his fighter. In his office, Alvey apologizes for missing the cut, but Ryan’s ready to put it all behind him. So long as Alvey gives him a few hours alone to get his head right, they’re all good.
So while Ryan spends some time alone—hopefully not drinking—Jay takes a nap as Nate sets up for the party. But when Christina informs him that she found the plastic tip cover of a needle, Nate has some explaining to do. Well, in all honesty, he doesn’t have to say much. As soon as he tells Christina that he’s using HGH only temporarily, she promises to keep his secret so long as he’s careful.
Meanwhile, Alvey is prepping for the fight by continuing his apology spree. He heads home to talk to Lisa and starts in on what he’s willing to do to make things right, but she’s not having it. For her, the worst part of last night wasn’t being worried about him. It was the fact that she didn’t miss him. And when he asks if she’s leaving him, she simply responds, “I think you want me to,” after which his silence is deafening. So she’ll see him at the fight.
Speaking of which, let’s get to the fight. At the walk-through, Alvey finally gets to catch up with Nate, where he tells him not to rush his comeback because he’s not desperate. “I don’t ever want to see you fight for your life,” he says. Unlike Jay and Ryan, Nate is young. “You don’t need to live in chaos,” Alvey says, in one of the show’s most poetic lines. “You don’t even know what kind of fighter you are yet.”
Also at the walk-through, Christina takes a seat next to Lisa to tell her that she’s grown to respect her. Also, she’s worried that Lisa has the wrong idea about her, that she thinks Christina abandoned her children. Christina expresses her regret, but Lisa’s not in the mood. She doesn’t see the point in this conversation, and as Christina puts it, “There’s no good conversation for us to have.” But the most important moment of the conversation comes when Christina tells her that she doesn’t want to take anything from Lisa. Lisa’s response? “What could you possibly take from me? None of it’s mine.”
From there, it’s fight time. After the announcers inform us that Ryan’s never had to defend a belt in his career, it’s Jay’s turn in the ring. All in all, his fight lasts approximately 30 seconds before the ref calls it. I couldn’t tell if the opponent was knocked out, but I believe it was a T.K.O. Regardless, Jay Kulina is back, and the world better be ready. You know who’s not ready? Christina, who lets her nerves get the best of her in the dressing room. All we see is her compose a text that says, “Can we talk tonight?”
Next up, it’s the Destroyer’s time to get back in the cage. With Nate, Jay, and Alvey behind him, Ryan walks his way to the cage to fight for the King Beast Lightweight Championship of the World. His opponent is undefeated after seven fights, but Ryan’s record remains a strong 12-2. But numbers don’t matter now. At this point, the best part of the scene was watching the Ryan we’ve come to know melt away and be replaced by the Destroyer, who happens to be a fan of “your mom” jokes and winking. (Both of which are totally badass in this circumstance.)
In round 1, the fight feels pretty even, with both fighters getting in some good combinations. Round 2, however, definitely goes to Matt, Ryan’s opponent. The only reason Ryan makes it through is because Alvey doesn’t throw in the towel and instead lets the clock run out on the round. But after Ryan comes so close to losing, something inside of him snaps. It’s like watching a switch flip. In the distance, we can hear Lisa’s “you’re a mouse in a maze” speech, after which Ryan heads into round 3 with a new sense of determination. And for lack of a better word, he destroys his opponent, knocking him out.
NEXT: Now what?
Yep, the Destroyer is back. And he has a lot of people to thank for that fact. After mentioning the fans, his parents, and the people of Navy Street, Ryan turns to Alvey. On the mic in the center of the cage, Ryan thanks his coach for giving him a home and knowing exactly what he needed. But in one of the heaviest lines of the night, Ryan says, “Everything I have is because of you,” which you can’t help but read into when it comes to Lisa. With that, Alvey leaves the ring.
But when Ryan runs into his coach afterward, there’s no sense of awkwardness. Both men compliment the other until Ryan tells Alvey that he wants him to remain his coach. At this point, they’ve both made mistakes, so why don’t they call it even? Just at that moment, Lisa enters and tells Alvey he has an interview.
And this is the scene I could analyze for hours: Grillo’s performance of a man who’s just won so much but isn’t satisfied is mesmerizing. If Alvey isn’t satisfied being called one of the top trainers in MMA, will he ever be satisfied as a coach? It takes me back to his speech last week about the difference between a fighter and a coach. Will Alvey always be a fighter? Or maybe I’m looking at the wrong thing. Perhaps he’s too hung up on last week’s mistake to think about anything else?
After the interview, Lisa tells him she won’t be coming home. Instead, she heads to Jay’s party, where he partakes in a drug-friendly threesome—without Mac, sorry dude—and Ryan asks Lisa how he can make her feel better. Only, that’s not his job, and Lisa is insistent that he doesn’t just get it all back overnight. However, by episode’s end, Ryan will kiss her, but only for a moment before she pushes him off.
Also at the party, Nate gets drunk enough to realize how unhappy he is and decides to do something about it. But when he heads to a gay bar, he’s quickly turned down for being too drunk. The good news? He’s so attractive that one glance from a guy inside, and Nate’s got himself a fan. After a walk, Nate finds a quiet place to finally give in to temptation.
But Nate isn’t the only one who’s not feeling the party. After leaving her house, Christina pays Alvey a visit in one of my favorite scenes of the hour. Alvey’s getting calls from fighters and sponsors, so why isn’t he happier? As she puts it, “You get what you want, and then what do you got?” For Alvey, he seems to be hung up on his relationship with his sons. “I love those boys, and they don’t think I do, and that kills me.” Christina informs him that they only want his approval. After all, they’re pretty forgiving. Except Alvey and Christina are very different in their sons’ eyes. As he says, “To them, you died young and pretty and came back a saint. I was the piece of shit with his boot on their throat.”
The one thing he can hold onto is the fact that they’re great boys, which means he didn’t do everything wrong. And finally, Christina tells him that what happened the other night can’t happen again. It made her feel like a whore and then she felt bad about Lisa. Her last words of advice: “You’re going to have to settle for something eventually, Alvey. You don’t want to be the last man standing. It’s too hard.” Then Christina goes and gets in Terry’s car.
And in the season’s final moments, Alvey’s on a run—much like the opening scene of the series—and Jay wakes up to find his mother gone. But by the time he gets into the living room, she returns. And from the look on his face, he knows exactly what her temporary absence means.
With Alvey hitting a punching bag, his voiceover takes us back to one of the biggest themes of the show: “Most guys run from fights because they don’t want the answer to the inevitable question that every man whispers to himself: Am I one of the weak? Am I one of the strong?”
But that’s one question I know the answer to. Although the characters on this show are still trying to answer it for themselves, there’s one thing that’s evident: Kingdom is one of the strong.
(Before you go, be sure to check out my post-mortem with creator Byron Balasco to see what he had to say about the season 1 finale and what comes next.)