For three seasons, we have gotten to know Alvey as a coach, a man, a father, and a fighter. But in this week’s episode, we’re introduced to Alvey, the son, and more importantly, so are Jay and Nate.
The hour kicks off with Alvey’s mother (played by the wonderful Talia Shire) very carefully starting her morning: She makes coffee, grabs a step ladder, heads to a parking garage, downs some sleeping pills, and then uses said ladder to help her climb to the ledge of the roof, where she intends to jump. But thankfully, a security guard squanders her plans.
Cut to Alvey and his sons showing up in Tucson, where Alvey’s mother has been placed on a 72-hour hold. According to the doctors, she asked for Alvey when they were helping her, but you wouldn’t know it by the way she greets him, which is to say: She doesn’t. (Not that this is the sort of situation where a happy greeting would make sense.)
So while Alvey heads off to find his mother’s purse — her only request — Lisa fills Ryan in on why Alvey’s out of town. In his absence, Ryan is supposed to work with Joe, but of course, Ryan wants Dom. The thing is, Lisa is firing Dom today. And here’s where we get the moment we all knew was coming: Ryan throws the fact that Lisa slept with Dom in her face. Cutting to the core of his problem, he tells her, “It’s your gym, it’s your life, you make your own decisions. I’m just a fighter, right?” Poor Ryan is feeling like a commodity. If only he could think of a nicer way to express that.
Lisa lets him storm off so that he can call Alvey and apologize for being a nutcase the other day, but as Alvey tells him, Alvey suffers the same affliction. Translation: They’re all good.
Meanwhile, Lisa calls Dom into her office and wastes no time in firing him. Dom, though not necessarily surprised, does everything he can to try to change her mind: First he apologizes, then he refuses to leave, and when she threatens to call the police, he attacks her as a woman. “This is why you don’t let a woman run the gym,” he says. But Lisa is quick to remind him that no one LETS her run the gym. She owns it… ass.
Dom continues with all of the things men try to throw at any woman in power: She’s taking this too personally, she’s too emotional. He then threatens to poach her fighters — which, coming from him, isn’t even a real threat — and she once again mentions the cops, so finally, he tries to put on the façade that he isn’t terrible and isn’t being thrown out. He extends a hand to Lisa as he tells her, “We tried, mama. We tried.” NOPE. Lisa’s not interested, and as he exits her office, he wishes her luck with Alvey and gives her a kissy face, and I’ve never wanted a guy to get punched in the face more. But at least he’s gone. Well, until later.
Back in Tucson, Alvey gives his mother her purse as she tries to claim that she had a bad reaction to sleeping medication. But when Alvey reminds her she was prepared enough to bring a ladder, there’s no more hiding. All she wants from Alvey at this point is for him to sign some forms so that she can go home, but Alvey knows she needs to be here. “You don’t have to feel like this anymore,” he tells her, and suddenly, we’re not only looking at Alvey, the son — we’re realizing this isn’t a new struggle for the two of them. Alvey tells his mother about the new medications that have worked for him, but she’s not hearing it. She asks him to leave. With that, he takes Jay and Nate back to her house.
Waiting for Alvey when he arrives is the note his mother left him. When he sees it, he gets Jay and Nate to go grab some dinner so that he can have a moment alone with his mother’s suicide note. And when they get back, we get a Kulina family dinner as Jay and Nate slowly convince Alvey to put aside his “clean eating” and try a piece of pizza. It doesn’t sound like a big accomplishment, but for these three, it’s really something.
Alvey then tells his sons the whole story: This isn’t the first time his mother has tried to kill herself. When he was 15, he came home from the gym early to find her on the bathroom floor after failing to hang herself. Another time, it was Alvey’s father who found her. “The woman never had an interest in living,” Alvey tells his sons, revealing so much about why he is the way he is. When someone really wants to die, “it’s a f—ing mission,” he says. “It’s really the only thing I’ve ever seen her give a s— about.”
That might be the most telling sentence when it comes to how Alvey Kulina became Alvey Kulina. We already know he hated his father, and now, we find out that he had a mother who, as far as he saw it, wanted to die more than she wanted to be with her son. And for Jay and Nate, it feels like this trip could change some things.
(Next: Ryan sets Dom straight)
At least that’s what Alvey’s hoping. By the time he heads off to bed, he tells his sons that he wants them all to communicate more. Alvey doesn’t want to be on his deathbed unsure of what to say to his sons. (Just like that, Alvey’s journey of self-realization continues.)
With Alvey in bed, Jay and Nate discuss how to get Maya back. Sweet, naïve Nate is determined that if Amy loved Jay once, she can love him again. Jay appreciates the sentiment, but he knows he messed that up. At this point, he’s doing everything he can not to be Maya’s “s—head father somewhere in nowhere California.” And that means giving Alvey his liquid morphine back. As he tells his father, “Sometimes, I lie.”
Any one of these moments with the Kulina men would be a big deal, but when combined, this episode is arguably the most important thus far in terms of their relationship and any idea of hope for the future. And it says a lot when watching three men eat pizza around a coffee table is more interesting than most high-action drama on other shows.
Back in California, Ryan meets up with Dom at a bar, where Dom overestimates just how much he means to Ryan. Here’s the thing about Ryan: He liked Dom because liking Dom pissed off Alvey (and Lisa). Now that Dom’s fired, what good is he to Ryan? As a coach, Alvey’s better. Plus, Dom has said it himself: Ryan is loyal.
Even knowing some of that, Dom tries his hardest — I mean, he really goes all in — to convince Ryan to leave Navy Street and let Dom coach him to the “next level.” He even offers to give Ryan a piece of the gym that Dom plans to open (what, with all the money he’s making from protein powder?). Ryan, enjoying every second of feeling superior and knowing what he’s about to do, lets Dom go on and on for what is almost a painful amount of time before he tells him, “If you were good enough to be my coach, you’d be my coach. But you’re not.” Then he leaves. BOOM.
Over at Christina’s house this week — sorry, Cody’s house — Cody feels the need to reassert himself as the alpha, and part of putting Christina in her place involves firing Kayla. And seeing as how Cody wants her out tonight, Christina has to come up with a plan fast, especially when Kayla reveals that her family doesn’t speak to her.
So, after Christina gets Jay’s permission, she takes Kayla to the boys’ house for a couple of nights until she can find someplace else to go. Christina then calls Alvey to check in, and that’s when he reads her his mom’s suicide note:
“Alvey, Please forgive me for this but I’ve passed any enjoyment in life. I did not want to be a burden on you. My life was good. I loved your father deeply. He was a better man than you remember. My only regret is that you never knew how proud of you I am. I don’t know why I couldn’t tell you. Please find happiness in your life. Ma”
Watching Alvey try not to crumble as he reads that his mother was proud of him is one of the most heartbreaking moments, and Frank Grillo plays it beautifully. Upon meeting Alvey in the pilot, we just accepted that he was tough as nails. Heck, in the first minutes of the show, he beat up two guys and continued his morning job as if nothing had happened. From that moment on, we haven’t gotten a lot of time to stop and think about what made Alvey that way, and so much of this season has been about that: Who is Alvey at his core, and what are the relationships that have made him that way?
By adding a new layer to this character, the show adds a new layer to the story, and it’s only better for it. (Yes, somehow, this show keeps getting better.)