Jay Kulina is a fighter, and that’s never been more true than in the first few episodes of this season, as we’ve watched him fight his every instinct, every addiction, every “easy way out.” But after last week saw Ryan crack Jay’s armor, this episode sees Jay fully lose the battle — which is a win for fans of Jonathan Tucker, who is, unsurprisingly, able to shine in Jay’s crumbling.
I love the beginning of this episode so much because it beautifully demonstrates Jay’s struggle, as well as how it parallels Alvey’s. We watch as Jay smokes and Alvey trains, both of them, in that moment, being who they are. And then, when the time comes, they put on suits and head to church, where they’re fully out of their element. In this moment, Jay is trying desperately to hold on to his new life. But he doesn’t succeed for long.
First up, Dan fires him after showing him the security footage of his fight with Ryan. Dan can’t seem to understand why Jay functions the way he does. “It’s like you don’t want to succeed,” he says. Without realizing, he’s grasped the truth exactly. In his heart of hearts, do you think Jay wants to sell real estate? I certainly don’t. But Jay manages to hold on to his new facade for just a minute longer, as he remains professional long enough to thank Dan for the opportunity… before he heads to a bar. And here’s where the old Jay says hello.
Speaking to an almost entirely empty bar — which doesn’t stop him, of course — Jay waxes poetic about the “worst mistake in human history,” which he says was agricultural revolution. The moment humans stopped roaming, we effectively enslaved ourselves, he says, and now all we do is work, and it has made us violent. “We’re not what we were meant to be,” Jay says in a line that perfectly sums up his struggle thus far this season.
He then makes his way to the grocery store so when he arrives back home three hours late to a family dinner that Alvey wasn’t invited to, at least he won’t be empty handed. But before he makes it home, he stops to snort some cocaine at an empty baseball field, and as great as Tucker is throughout this episode — and, honestly, this series — this is the moment I want to call out. There is no dialogue. It’s just Jay, returning to his old ways, unable to stop himself but all the while hating himself for doing it. He’s the villain of his own story, but he can’t not be, and watching Tucker illustrate that struggle with nothing more than a look? That’s one of the many pleasures of watching this show.
When Jay finally arrives home, he’s both drunk and high as he lies to Amy about his day: He claims that he and Dan went drinking in order to celebrate Jay selling his first house. When Christina catches him snorting more cocaine in the bathroom, he asks her to leave. She warns him that he’s “scaring” Amy, but there’s no reaching Jay at this point.
(Next: Keith has a surprise for Ryan)
Over dinner, Jay quite literally breaks free from everything that’s been holding him back, going so far as to rip off his buttoned-up shirt to show Amy the real him. He recognizes that the issue in their relationship is and has always been class, but Jay’s not apologizing for being “white f—ing trash.” “I am who I am,” he tells her. And when he throws the baby monitor across the room, Amy leaves the table.
Sitting by the pool, Jay tells his brother what really happened at his job. Nate can’t understand why Jay’s pushing Amy away, but Jay claims she already has one foot out the door. He realizes he might lose them, but maybe it’s better for Maya to grow up around Amy’s happy family in Wisconsin. “It’s a better life,” he says, but Nate’s not having any of it. “That is so f—ing weak,” he tells his brother, who responds by whispering, “I’m a very weak man.”
Jay tries to play this off, tries to joke about how he “wants for nothing,” but when Nate asks if he even thought about his daughter today, if he wants to be a part of Maya’s life, Jay can’t play it off. He tries, but his face betrays him.
Outside the Jay of it all, this week features a whole lot of politics at the gym. First, there’s the idea that Garo wants to put Ryan on Alvey’s card as the co-main event, which Alvey shuts down. Then, there’s Dom, who gets into the cage with Ryan, thereby ignoring the central rule of his job: Don’t train Ryan or Nate. But miraculously, Alvey just gives him a warning, despite the fact that he tells his psychiatrist that he’s been in a bad mood lately, possibly from getting off the Lexapro. Alvey mentions the shooting pain in his back and arms, but when his doc asks if he’s injured, he responds that it’s “not that kind of pain.” And when Alvey reveals it hurts most at night and in the morning, the doctor realizes it hurts most in the moments when Alvey’s alone — when it’s all he can think about. It’s no wonder he ends this episode by buying himself some sex before returning home and calling Christina. (The Alvey-Christina conversations are quickly becoming a favorite of mine as we get to watch the dynamic between the two people who built this world that we’re now living in with these characters.)
As for Lisa, she agrees to get a drink with Dom after work, and when he finds a way to keep her around — it involves a game that he essentially uses to inform her that he knows about her miscarriage — she ends up sleeping with him in the front seat of her car, after which she promptly kicks him out. All I know is that I don’t trust this guy, and there’s no way this is ending well.
Speaking of things not ending well, Keith returns home in the middle of the night with blood on his hands, but he asks Ryan to wait until morning to take him to the hospital. He then tells Ryan that after tonight, the house is his, but when Ryan doesn’t want it, Keith breaks my heart when he says, “Nobody wants it.” He then cries as Ryan holds him.
The next morning, Keith tells Ryan that he’s not coming back. Ryan assumes Keith is just being paranoid about what the police will do, but instead, Keith has him pull over the car under an overpass. Ryan figures out that Keith has been staying under this bridge — but when Keith tells him to lift up a tarp, Ryan figures out a whole lot more. Under the tarp is a dead body, stabbed to death by Keith. And that’s where the episode ends.
If the theme of this season is resorting back to your true self, we’re watching it unfold as Alvey returns to the cage, Jay returns to his old ways, and Keith unfortunately returns to violence. But the good news is that it makes for some wonderfully complex, twisted, and downright enthralling storytelling.