Are you a fighter? Are you that animal? Is it in you? Are you one of the strong?
For each one of these characters, these are the questions they have to ask themselves. And for Alvey, the answers seem to become more and more obvious over time. Yes, he’s a fighter. He IS that animal. Therefore, his question becomes less about the if and more about the how — how he can be that animal when he’s no longer in the cage? He’s a fighter by nature but not by profession. Not anymore. He’s done that. Now, he’s tasked with trying to find the clarity of purpose he once found within the cage in the real world. And he chases that every day.
It’s been his central struggle all along: When we first met Alvey, he might not have been chasing something in a literal sense, but he was running, angry at his body for wanting to give up, pushing himself. He only stopped to throw a few punches, to cause a literal fight. In the second episode of the series, he told his psychiatrist, “I’m starting to feel like I’m a big f—ing joke, like I’m a revival act, that everything I’ve done that’s worth a s—, it’s already happened.” For him, his challenge is making life outside the cage as simple as life inside the cage.
And then you’ve got Ryan. While Alvey’s looking for a fight wherever he can find one, Ryan starts the hour by looking for the fight within himself. Is he no longer that animal? The one who once tattooed “Destroyer” across his chest? It’s a fear he first voiced well before Alvey got him back in the cage last season. And now that it’s time for him to defend his belt, it’s that fear that’s got him pinned to the bathroom floor.
But when it comes time for Ryan to put his struggle up against Alvey’s, he loses. Alvey informs him that this, this is his moment. He’s never going to have clarity of purpose that he has right now. Alvey tells him to enjoy it, because it will end. Looking down the road at the future (and the p—y) ahead of him, Ryan agrees to fight…but only if this is his last fight. (Yeah, we’ll see about that.)
In what might be the most chaotic walk-out ever, Jay is worried about why his mom isn’t picking up her phone, Ryan is trying to get Nate to record everything for his father, and Alvey’s on the phone because Chapas has finally called him back. I love that this show takes what’s typically such an dramatic moment and, by causing panic among a number of hyper-intense individuals, turns this scene into an opportunity for both drama and humor.
Somehow, the guys get it together long enough to get Ryan in the cage, and once inside, he does what he needs to in order to “inflict maximum damage,” as he puts it. Ryan wins by knockout in the first round, and just like that, a switch flips. He’s no longer the guy who can’t find “it.” Now, he’s the champ. His ego has been fed. Now he’s talking a big game, even when it comes to Jay. “I heard you, bro. You’re a brother, but it’s just f—ing business, baby,” he tells him. In this moment, Ryan Wheeler is not only that animal, but he gets lost in it. It’s this transition that makes it easy to understand how he got to where he is in life.
From the fight, we follow Alvey, Ryan, and Jay and Nate to three separate places. First up, Alvey skips out on his post-fight interview to meet Chapas at a sketchy motel. Armed with a gun and a more threatening weapon — his fists — Alvey gives Chapas a piece of his mind. (Translation: He beats the crap out of him.)
But Chapas wouldn’t have called if he didn’t have something to give Alvey. (He’s not that stupid.) Removing a bag from behind his mini-fridge, Chapas repays Alvey for his $30,000 investment. As to where Alvey’s money went, Chapas claims that Alvey “invested in me not getting my head chopped off.” Needless to say, Chapas owed a lot of money to some scary people, and then suddenly, he found himself trapped in the middle of a never-ending cycle of schemes, debts, and death threats.
Alvey tries to offer Chapas some money to get back on his feet, but he refuses. He claims he has a plan. The bad news it that said plan involves Alvey’s gun. Grabbing it as Alvey turns to leave, Chapas shoots himself in the head. Was it the last act of a desperate man? Was it his final “screw you” to Alvey? We’ll never really know. All we do know is that Alvey attempts to clean his fingerprints off of everything he touched and runs.
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Heading home, he updates Lisa on the situation, and she’s not too excited about the fact that he chose to leave his gun behind. But then again, it’s no longer her problem. She’s simply dropping off her key.
Before she leaves, Alvey makes one final plea. Claiming he was scared when she got pregnant, Alvey says that made him go a little nuts, but now he’s ready to put her and this baby first. He wants to get married. He begs her not to leave him. Her response? Alvey just saw his friend kill himself and he’s thinking about his own death, which is making him say this. This speech isn’t about Lisa. It’s about Alvey and how Lisa and this baby can save him. But that’s not Lisa’s job anymore. As she leaves, she informs him that he better get his s— together if he wants to be a part of his son’s life. Her exact words: “I’m not gonna let you f— him up.”
As for Alvey’s other sons, they’re already f—ed up, but that’s what makes them great. Returning home after the fight, Nate proposes a toast to his brother. He tells his big brother that he’s proud of him. “I know what you’ve done for me my whole f—ing life. You’ve taken a lot of s— so I didn’t have to. I won’t forget that.” The two of them raise a glass to “bitches and money,” which serves as both a touching moment and a heartbreaking reminder that Nate still doesn’t feel he can be honest with his brother about his sexuality.
But their night of bonding quickly takes a turn when Jay discovers that Christina has overdosed. The thing I love most about this scene is the difference between Jay’s reaction and Nate’s reaction. It perfectly sums up the difference between them as individuals: Jay is hyper-emotional and all too familiar with extreme situations, acting quickly to get the Narcan that Mac gave him when their mom moved in. Meanwhile, innocent Nate simply can’t process what he’s seeing. By the time he’s really in the moment, Christina has woken up.
NEXT: Ryan has a decision to make
But once Nate does have time to process it all, he finally speaks up. Out by the pool, Jay apologizes to Nate for letting him take that fight in Fresno. Between Laura and the weight cut, Jay took his eyes off his brother when he shouldn’t have. And that speaks to the one constant in Nate’s life: the love of his brother. And that’s why, when Christina comes out to join the boys, Nate’s done cutting her slack.
Nate asks his mother, “Can you think of one thing you’ve done for us today?” She can’t. “Can you think of one thing you’ve ever done for us? You’re absolutely right. We don’t need you.” Nate has sat by and watched as Jay’s done everything possible to save his mother, including shooting heroine and nearly killing himself. Now, it’s time for Christina to quit the drugs or leave. “Because I’m not gonna lose my brother over you,” Nate tells her.
At the end of the day, Jay is Nate’s priority. And in that moment, remaining silent, perhaps Jay realizes that Nate should be his. That’s why, the next day, when Christina tries to back out of going to rehab because they can’t afford it, Jay tells his mother, “This is going to happen. We’re not going to live like this anymore.” And for now, she agrees.
Finally, we catch up with Ryan post-fight as he shows his father the recording on his phone. And Ryan’s father has news of his own: He’s going to have to move to a facility next week in order to save money. But when he wakes up in the middle of the night in pain, he proposes another option. He asks Ryan to kill him. “You and me, we’re good,” he tells his son. “I forgave you. Do this for me, Ryan.”
In a vehement performance from Matt Lauria, Ryan runs to the bathroom to get a grasp on what his father’s asking of him. In this moment, he doesn’t want to be alone. He can’t. So he quiets his sobs to call Jay. He doesn’t tell Jay what’s going on. They simply talk about their evenings as if nothing strange has happened to either of them. They lean on each other without actually leaning on each other. And when Ryan hangs up the phone, he makes his decision as Lauria beautifully transitions from shock and panic to utter devastation.
Knowing what he needs to do, Ryan returns to his father, places him in a headlock, and while gently stroking his hair, puts an end to his father’s misery.
The next day, we catch up with everyone at the gym as Nate sees Lisa off. Nate has agreed to take over her position at the gym, at least temporarily. However, if Alvey has a say in it, Nate’s break from fighting might be more than temporary. Finally having the talk, Alvey asks his youngest son what he wants to do with his life long-term. Does he want to go to school? Get married? What does his life look like once all this is over?
Of course, all Nate has ever known is fighting, so it’s all he can see. But Alvey informs him that he should plan on fighting for three more years maximum. And then what? He’s broke before he’s 30? Nate can’t fathom why he only has three years left when Alvey fought for so much longer, but once again revisiting Alvey’s struggle, he tells his son, “I was born to do this s—.”
Nate is a great athlete, but Alvey’s not sure he’s a great fighter. To be great, you need a certain mindset, a certain “mental illness” that Alvey doesn’t see in his son. Nate’s not that animal. Alvey wants more for him. He tells his son to “do better than me.”
But much like what happened with Christina, Nate needs time to process, so for now, he’s off to train. Because if he’s not a fighter, well, that would bring up a number of other major life decisions that this 23-year-old might not be ready to deal with at the moment.
Ending the episode with Alvey’s interview, Alvey once again hones in on the idea of clarity of purpose that fighters experience within the cage. It’s why winning as a fighter is better than winning as a coach. It’s the difference between experience and observation. Alvey wants to be in the pocket. Once that cage door closes, “that’s when instinct and flow takes over. You overcome the panic of anxiety. And your mind goes really, really quiet. Not still…just quiet. I chase that every f—ing day.”
Now with 20 episodes under his belt, Alvey’s still caught up on the idea of clarity of purpose, of experience versus observation. But that’s the very thing that makes this show great. Because this is a television show, you’d think we’d be observers, little more than Alvey outside the cage, watching every week. But by inviting viewers into a world this rich and intoxicating, watching Kingdom is more than observation. It’s an experience.
Before you go, be sure to check out my postmortem with showrunner Byron Balasco to hear what he has to say about the midseason finale and what’s next.