It's fight day, and it's Christina who's got the toughest opponent
S2 E9
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In Kingdom‘s pilot, I remember one of the moments when I realized how great it was going to be was the montage of Jay shooting up while Nate cut weight. I’m a big believer that montages can create some of the most powerful moments on television. They’re such an affecting storytelling tool, but they have to be used correctly. And this show does it better than any other on TV.

Now almost at the end of season 2, we revisit that original montage, though this time, Jay’s in the ring while Christina (purposefully?) overdoses on heroine. From the song blaring “I’m gonna go out in a blaze of glory” to the mirror images of Christina shooting up and Jay closing his eyes, this montage is yet another example of what this show is capable of. It’s one of the strongest moments in one of the series’ strongest hours.

Speaking of, the hour kicks off with Alvey saying goodbye to the guns we watched him buy just eight episodes ago while Jay and Ryan are once again cutting weight. With 10 hours to weigh in, they’re spending their day in the sauna, pretending they’re in warmer (and colder) places, eating and drinking everything in sight, and occasionally, motorboating a renaissance-fair chick, as one does.

But just when they think they know what hell feels like, Slaughter Water sends Alicia a new car, and they get to take a break to watch Alicia bounce around screaming with joy. So while Nate — Nate! — gets Alicia in check and informs her that today is about Jay and Ryan, they return to the sauna and catch each other up on their love lives. Yes, Alicia big-timed Ryan. And no, Jay can’t believe it. (Meanwhile, I can’t believe that watching these two cut weight is so enjoyable.)

Over lunch, Lisa informs Alvey that everything looks fine with the baby for now, but there is one thing he should know: She’s moving to San Francisco to raise her child near her family. And the fact that these two go from friendly couple to angry enemies in half a second is exactly why she feels the need to leave.

Elsewhere, Christina has decided to look for an apartment. Actually, she’s already found an apartment that she loves, and she has the money to pay for it. What she doesn’t have is a previous address or good credit or an employment history. And after she makes the mistake of not only interrupting the landlord during sex, but then proceeding to offer him an envelope of cash, there’s no hope for her…unless, of course, Alvey agrees to co-sign.

Spoiler: Alvey’s no longer willing to put his neck on the line for his ex-wife, leaving Christina feeling helpless.

Also feeling helpless is Jay. Still in the sauna, he tells his brother, “If anything ever happened to you, I’d kill myself.” Specifically, he’d take pills and drift off in the woods. Or maybe he’d do it on a sea cliff. Either way, he wouldn’t blow his brains out — another pilot callback of sorts — because he wouldn’t want to leave a mess. It’s both a light-hearted and fiercely dark moment between brothers, but it ends with Jay’s admission: “I don’t know what’s going to happen with mom, but you, I need you safe. I’m really proud to be your brother.”

Finally escaping the sauna, Ryan realizes that things with Alicia might not be so “chill” anymore? He’s confused. But he’s not confused about the fact that, when he gets a call about his father’s kidneys failing, he has to go be by his side. With only 4 pounds left to lose, Ryan heads out with Alvey’s blessing to find his father at his house, looking worse than ever, undergoing dialysis. As his father puts it, “Hell keeps adding circles.” He tells Ryan that he won’t be able to make his fight, but Ryan promises to record it for him so that they can watch it together afterward.

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So while Ryan fears that he might be getting close to the day when he’ll have to say goodbye to his father, Lisa informs Jay that it’s time to say goodbye to her, at least for now. She tells him that she’s moving to San Francisco, and he’s nothing if not supportive. Jay is finely tuned and ready to fight, which means Lisa can focus on the baby. However, I, for one, will miss these two because this scene is magical.

Alicia, on the other hand, is less supportive. To be fair, she asked Lisa about her pregnancy on day one, and Lisa swore it wouldn’t affect anything. Lisa still claims it won’t change things. After all, she does own a phone. But it seems Alicia’s letting the free car get to her head…until Lisa informs her that she’s going to have to return it. Just like that, Lisa is back in boss mode, and Alicia is left to stomp off with whatever dignity she has left.

NEXT: Ryan says goodbye to Lisa

Across the gym, Nate and Alvey are having the beginning of a serious conversation about Nate’s future, but Alvey says he wants to wait until after tonight’s fights to really talk. Nate once again tries to bring up why Alvey ended the fight, but dad comes out on top: Alvey didn’t put him in that fight, so Nate can’t blame him for what went down.

But today is not about Nate. It’s about Jay and Ryan, who both make weight, which results in Jay eating everything in sight (and still not really talking to his mother) before heading to the fight.

You all know how much I love Keith, so the fact that his feud with Shelby is greater than his fear of fight-day Ryan is just fantastic. And that image of him walking behind Ryan next to Alvey? I’d like someone to blow it up to poster size for me, please.

But Ryan has one thing he has to do before his fight, and that’s talk to Lisa. Both Kiele Sanchez and Matt Lauria give such understated, nuanced performances in this scene. They say so much with so little, and it’s heartbreaking. “Thank you for everything,” Ryan tells her. “Everybody in the gym knows that you hold the place together. We’re gonna miss you, Lisa. I’m gonna miss you.” She then does something we’ve never seen her do — she really hugs Ryan. In this short scene, the two of them beautifully portray the complicated history this couple has and that feeling that, no matter what’s happened between two people, when you have to say goodbye, it hurts.

Moving from one fighter to another, Jay is also having a few relationship firsts. Suiting up for the fight — literally — he and Alvey have a very honest talk about Christina, who has just asked Alvey to co-sign on her apartment. In a moment that demonstrates the level of dialogue on this show, Alvey asks if she’s using again, to which Jay responds, “I think she’s trying to see a compelling future. Things are just a little hazy right now.”

Alvey warns his son that he’s setting himself up, that he can’t change her. But Jay informs his father that he’s not trying to change her, he’s just trying to help her. It might be the most paternal we’ve ever seen Alvey be toward Jay (for now).

Okay, fight time. This is where we get the montage I’ve already praised, watching Christina check out just as Jay checks in. After fighting his way through a close first round, Jay wins the belt with a flying knee, thereby becoming the new King Beast featherweight champion.

Taking the mic, Jay thanks Lisa — “beautiful woman, a pitbull of a manager, and a giver of life” — Alvey, Navy St., Nate, and his mother. “Mom, you made me what I am, whether you like it or not.” The lesson: You cannot kill Jay Kulina. And that thought extends to Ryan Wheeler, whom Jay can’t help but call out. “You are my brother. You are my boy. But I’m coming for you.”

After getting stitched up, Jay once again comes face-to-face with his father, only this is a side of Alvey Jay hasn’t seen in a long time (if ever). Alvey is proud of Jay, and it’s making him emotional. In a superb performance from Frank Grillo, Alvey comes in to congratulate his son. Out of breath and unable to find the right way to express his emotions, Alvey resorts to saying one word, “Champ.” It’s all Jay needs to hear. It’s evident what Alvey is feeling.

It’s moments like this that this show does so well. It remains true to who these characters are: Alvey isn’t suddenly going to become a mushy father who just wants to praise his son. He’s a flawed man who quite frankly, doesn’t know how to portray what he’s feeling. He probably isn’t fully comfortable with it. So instead of giving fans the moment they might like, with Alvey suddenly becoming another man, it makes for an even more powerful moment, by portraying all those emotions through Alvey’s lens. Grillo is great. This scene is great. This show is great.

In the episode’s final moments, Jay calls his mother as the camera flashes to her, overdosed at the house. And as much as I gasped at the moment, this show is never too shocking. Because if you pay enough attention, you can clearly see where things are going. And yet, by being so honest and true to itself, it constantly manages to take your breath away. Basically, Kingdom is a f—ing champ.

Episode Recaps


In this DirecTV drama, Frank Grillo stars as an ex-MMA fighter who splits his time between operating a gym and being a father to his two sons — one played by Nick Jonas.  

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