Alvey Kulina inside the cage is a man with a purpose. He’s like an animal chasing his prey — he knows what he’s after. But Alvey Kulina outside the cage is lost. He still has that animalistic mentality, but he has no idea what he’s working toward. And that means he has no idea how to deal with unexpected twists. When something comes along that he didn’t anticipate, he has no choice but to react instinctively.
And that’s where we find him when season 2B premieres. Having just received the devastating news that Lisa lost the baby, Alvey, unsure of how to handle his emotions and furthermore, unsure of what to feel, destroys his office and puts his fist through a glass trophy case. Then, he bandages up his hand and heads to the press conference for Jay and Ryan’s upcoming fight. Because if Alvey understands one thing, it’s that the show must go on.
At the press conference, Alvey explains that he will work with both fighters as they prepare to get in the cage in a Navy St. v. Navy St. showdown. But when the day comes, Nate will be in Jay’s corner, and Joe Daddy will be in Ryan’s, allowing Alvey to stay neutral, at least on the outside. And when it comes to which fighter will win, Alvey borrows a saying from the Greeks: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” (This is a solid contender for Alvey’s epitaph, right behind “f–k ’em all.”)
The press conference is also where we get our first glimpse of Ryan and Jay and how they’re handling the idea of getting in the cage together. When asked about each other’s weaknesses, Ryan quickly lays out the areas where he intends to take Jay down, but Jay, well, he’s Jay. “Ryan Wheeler has no weakness,” he tells the crowd, Jonathan Tucker’s undeniable presence and total ownership of this character smacking us in the face after months away. “Look at him. That’s God’s work. That’s 155 pounds of get-down with a smile to take your breath away, ladies.”
Needless to say, Jay’s not going to stop being Jay. But it’s also very clear that he’s taking this fight seriously, and the same can be said for Ryan. Although they handle themselves very differently, both as individuals and as athletes, they’re clearly ready to get this thing done.
But for now, they’ve still got a little time before the big fight. Heading back to the gym, Ryan focuses on helping Alicia cut weight for her fight while Jay gives Mario Goldsmith a tour around the semi-functioning gym. At least until he tries to show Mario how Jacob’s ladder works only to discover that it’s broken.
Jay quickly takes the problem to Nate, who’s been filling in for Lisa for the past three months, and spoiler: He hates it. He might be “the best bad choice” that the gym has to handle an upper-management role, but that doesn’t make him a good choice and it certainly doesn’t make him willing.
So while Jay calls the repair man for Jacob’s ladder, Nate heads out to his new gig: Serving as a personal trainer for some rich guy named Bob who clearly has some boundary issues. From the moment he tells Nate, “I’d love to see you fight,” you can tell something is off about this guy. But all Nate sees is a $10,000 check. It seems Bob is a busy man and wants to put Nate on retainer for the month. Just like that, Nate’s willing to look past any weird vibes … for now.
With Ryan taking over Alicia’s weight cut for the day, Alvey heads off to his den of depression: The Sunset Hawaiian hotel, home to Degranzo, the one man Alvey knows is good for a drink (or 10) and zero judgment. And from the minute Alvey explains that his visit was “last-minute,” Degranzo knows something’s up.
A few drinks later, Alvey catches Degranzo up. And in what might be one of the most selfless moments we’ve seen from Alvey so far, he can’t seem to get over the fact that, “She went it alone, man. I wasn’t there.” In this moment, it isn’t about Alvey’s pain or what losing this baby will do to his life. It’s about Lisa and how going through something like this is causing her pain … and he’s not there. After two seasons, I honestly think this might be one of the sweetest Alvey moments we’ve seen, because he seems, if only for a second, to be fully removing himself from the situation and thinking about someone else. Maybe it’s growth or maybe it’s a fleeting sentiment, but either way, it’s moving.
NEXT: Ryan loses control
Back at the house, Jay sits down with Mario Goldsmith to talk about his upcoming fight and how he’s prepared to take on a brother. What I love about this scene is the juxtaposition. As Jay calmly states that he and Ryan have no problem fighting each other and Ryan is a part of his family, we watch as Ryan works out in the cage, slamming people onto the canvas, his adrenaline pumping. “Everyone wants to be the alpha,” Jay says, as we watch Ryan all but puff out his chest and put his strength on display. “Two of us in any given space … has to be settled.” Yes it does. And it will.
But for now, Ryan isn’t the opponent that Jay is worried about. Rather, when Mario ventures to ask about Jay’s mother, Mario instantly becomes the target of Jay’s wrath. After all, didn’t Jay just describe himself as “prone to violence”? Be smart here, Mario.
Shockingly, Mario doesn’t use his head and is quickly thrown out of Jay’s house. By the time Nate gets home, Jay’s out for a run and he’s left alone to receive some super creepy text messages from Bob, who thinks it’s acceptable to send photos to your 20-something trainer and ask if he charges extra for an Epsom bath. Without even knowing about the creep factor, Jay’s not a huge fan of Nate’s new job as a personal trainer, but Nate claims the money is only to hold him over until he gets his next fight.
Speaking of fights, Alicia makes weight in time for hers, but Alvey calls to tell her that he’s not going to make it there. Fighting a battle all his own, Alvey enjoys another night of booze and confession with Degranzo, where Alvey admits that he doesn’t feel anything about losing his son. So why’d he destroy his office? “I wasn’t really that mad. I just figured that’s something I should do.” Alvey, in a moment that shatters my heart, wonders, “What the f— is wrong with me that I can’t feel this?” But Degranzo assures him he will feel it … eventually, and in his own way.
However, there is one person feeling pain, and it’s the woman Alicia just knocked out. It seems we’ve got another (temporary) Navy St. success story on our hands, and after she calls Alvey to update him, she is ready to celebrate!
Back at Jay and Nate’s house, Mac is enjoying some “devil’s dandruff,” while Jay shockingly abstains. At this point, Jay has had an amazing camp and he’s not going to ruin it now. (I’ve never been so proud.) But because of that, he’s obviously incredibly bored.
Also a little bored? Alicia, who’s doing her best to have sex with Ryan, but it seems the Destroyer went and had a bit too much to drink, and let’s just say that when Alicia wants to celebrate with sex, she doesn’t tolerate not getting her way. Things quickly turn ugly, but the takeaway from this scene isn’t the fight between the two of them or the fact that Ryan’s having trouble getting it up. It’s the reason why Ryan’s drinking so much. It’s the moment Ryan’s left alone with a bottle of booze and his thoughts. It’s the instant we remember how he ended last season — he killed his father to put him out of his misery.
And now? Ryan’s figuring out how to live in a world where not only is he father-less, but he no longer owes his dad something. He’s no longer paying penance for something he did. Much like Alvey outside the cage, he’s lacking clarity of purpose. And that — also much like Alvey — is leading him to drink his sorrows away.
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The bad news is that Ryan has a little too much to drink, and when Mac, Jay, and Nate try to stop him from driving home, the tension between Jay and Ryan erupts. Well, it erupts in Ryan’s head. Much in the way it took Ryan getting drunk for him to challenge Alvey in season 1, or in the way it took Ryan getting drunk for him to make the greatest mistake of his life, it takes him getting drunk to get in Jay’s face. And when Mac tries to calm things down, Ryan goes too far, hitting Mac, wrestling with Nate, and then, in the episode’s final moments, messing up his knee and blaming everyone but himself.
So yeah, the Destroyer destroyed something, but it’s not so great when he’s outside the cage.
At the end of the day, the story of these fighters is about watching them in their element — inside the cage, and out of it — in every day life. They succeed, they fail, and they do literally everything in between, and all of it — I mean all of it — is a pleasure to watch, thanks in equal part to the writing, acting, and directing. Welcome back, Kingdom.