Navy Street mourns the loss of Nate as Alvey returns to the cage one last time
I’ve loved Kingdom from its first minute. (Literally, it inspired me to create this gallery of greatest opening scenes.) Instantly, it drew me into a world filled with people who were unlike any television characters I’d met before. Their world was passionate, it was violent, and, more than anything, it was unexpectedly poignant. Over the course of its three seasons, I’ve watched as Kingdom grew from a great show into an exceptional one. And as heartbreaking as this finale was — I cannot put into words how hard I cried when I watched it — I have a sense of comfort knowing that this show ended on its strongest hour yet. In the end, there is no doubt that Kingdom is one of the strong.
The hour starts with a beat-up Alvey at a bar after his fight. At this point, we’re not sure if he won or lost, but it really doesn’t matter. When Lisa calls him, it’s obvious where his focus remains, and it’s not on whether he won a belt: “He knew that I loved him,” Alvey says of Nate, as emotionally beat up as he is physically destroyed. “I know he did. I know it. He knew.”
As he picks a song on the jukebox, we flash back to Nate’s funeral, which consists of Jay, Christina, Alvey, Juan, Mac, Ryan, and Lisa spreading his ashes at the beach. This is the first scene of many in this finale that takes dialogue out of the equation, which is something not many writers are willing to do. When it comes to big, dramatic moments, often we get over-the-top, tear-filled speeches. But what Byron Balasco has always done with this show, and what he perfects in this finale, is trust the actors — and the music — to convey the emotion. In doing so, he creates moments that are far more powerful than any epic speech.
Following the funeral, we’re back in present day, where Alvey is already in the gym preparing for cut day. As he gets into his sweat suit, we’re once again treated to dialogue-free flashbacks, this one taking us all the way back to the moments after Nate was shot. Alvey is still holding his son in his arms as Jay paces back and forth, holding the very gun that killed his brother. Eventually, after a pained look from his father, Jay puts the gun down and is tackled to the ground by cops, clearly unable to handle the emotion of the moment. After all, Jay’s far too sensitive for this world.
In the sauna, Alvey asks Ryan to corner him, once again shutting Jay out, a moment that mirrors Alvey’s decision in season 2 to corner Ryan instead of Jay. As much it feels like a business decision, this time around, it also feels more like a decision Alvey’s making because he’s hurt, as opposed to him being the one hurting Jay. As we learn, Jay hasn’t answered any of his calls since Nate’s funeral, and there’s no doubt it’s hard for Alvey to look at Jay right now. And if Alvey’s trying to cope with the idea that Jay might not forgive him, he certainly can’t have him in his corner.
Outside the gym, Jay and Christina pack up Nate’s belongings and donate them to the same local LGBT center that Nate donated his check to just episodes ago. In another perfectly selected musical moment, the song talks about how “it’s all over now, you’re gone,” as Christina and Jay head to the pier to drop flowers into the ocean and Jay lets himself fold into his mother’s arms.
Another memory hits Alvey as he stays in the sauna, and this one takes us to the moment he and Jay returned to his mother’s house after Nate died. As Jay wipes the blood from his hands, Alvey’s caught in the horrible reality of the moments after someone dies: As much as you want to grieve, you have to stop to figure out the logistics of things. But when Jay asks what Alvey said, he crumbles. “I don’t know what I said,” Alvey sobs. “I don’t know…he was sitting right there.”
As Alvey falls out of the sauna, Ryan is there to give him a classic cut-day pep talk, not knowing that’s not really the talk Alvey needs.
At the weigh-in, Alvey comes in underweight, a fact Ryan relays to Jay when he stops by the house to visit him in one of my favorite scenes of the hour. This scene could so easily become so syrupy. Jay is fragile; Ryan needs to comfort him. But in keeping with what this show has always done best in dramatic circumstances, it remains faithful to the characters. Jay quite literally cracks a joke while wiping a tear from his eye. He’s still Jay; he’s just grieving. (Only Jay could say “mellifluous” in a time like this.)
After Ryan tells Jay about Lisa’s plan to honor Nate at the fight, Jay cuts to the chase: “I’m not going to do anything to hurt myself, so you don’t have to worry about that.” Jay’s got Mac looking out for him. But when Ryan tells him to call his father, that’s when Jay turns his back on the conversation. He’s not ready to face Alvey. Not yet.
And this brings us to the scene that destroys me maybe more than most. We’ve watched Alvey go through some of the toughest things life has to offer over the past 39 episodes, but this — this is where he breaks, and Grillo delivers an absolutely enthralling performance that will stick with me for a while. (As someone’s who followed Grillo’s career since before he was Alvey, I’d argue that this is his strongest work to date.)
Sitting in Alvey’s kitchen, Christina tells him that they donated Nate’s clothes — with Alvey’s “that’s nice” serving as recognition that he would’ve accepted his son’s sexuality had he had more time with the realization — but when she asks how Alvey’s going to fight, he can’t hold it in anymore. “I was looking in his eyes when he died, he was so f—ing scared,” he tells her. “He was like a little boy…I swear to Christ he looked like he was 6 years old again. He looked like our child, he looked like a baby.” Finally, Alvey cuts to the thing that’s really bothering him: “I couldn’t f—ing help him.”
From day one, Grillo has played Alvey with the utmost authenticity, but for a character who’s all about masculinity, oddly, this moment feels like the most authentic. And it’s utterly heartbreaking.
(Next: Alvey’s last fight)
The next day, it’s officially time for Alvey to get back in the cage, but not before we get another flashback to a post-funeral conversation between Alvey and Jay. “We’re not gonna get through this together as a family because that’s not what the f— we are,” Jay tells his father. “He’s the only one who gave a s—. I wouldn’t be talking to you without him. I wouldn’t even be alive. I f—ing used him to stay alive. And he asked you for one thing, for one moment he wanted you to know who he was, he wanted you to pull him in and say, ‘Relax son, I got you, son.'” Alvey swears he wanted to do just that, but as he puts it, “I didn’t know what he was saying to me. I just needed a f—ing minute.”
Despite the defeated look on Alvey’s face, Jay doesn’t stop: “You had his whole f—ing life in your hands. But you know what? I’m no f—ing better. And neither is mom. So we can just live with that together.” It’s an idea that the show has presented many times, and one that Jay will mirror again in a few moments. Jay is a Kulina in every way; he suffers from many of the demons of his parents. But Nate? He somehow made it out, for the most part, unscathed. Unfortunately, his one real “Kulina” trait — his anger — was the very thing that got him killed.
At the fight, Lisa, the new president of King Beast Promotions, welcomes Jay to the cage to pay tribute to his brother, and it’s there that Jay offers that same sentiment in my favorite line of the hour: “My brother, Nate, and me were raised by wolves. I became one, but my brother did not.” Jay talks about trying to teach his brother that life will tear you down, and all the while Nate would nod and wipe away his tears. “Nate was kind, he was courageous, he was brave, he was loyal, he was unrelenting, and he was an absolute savage in this cage,” Jay says, breaking for applause. But when Jay looks down and looks up again, you know instantly he’s about to give a very different speech. “My brother was also gay, which I think a lot of you knew,” he says. “So if you have a f—ing problem with that, I think you should stand up right now and speak.” When no one does, Jay calls out all the “chickens–t motherf—ers” in the audience, telling them, “For all of you who talked s—, who made my brother’s walls around him rise up, f— you. Stand up. Step into this f—ing light. And then sit the f— down because he still would whoop your ass.”
Overcome with emotion, Jay then cues the moment of silence, which leads to one of my favorite shots of the series as Jay looks straight into camera, Jonathan Tucker so beautifully encompassing the many facets of this character and what he’s feeling in this moment. I’ve praised Tucker for a long time, and I will continue to do so, because his work as Jay Kulina, quite simply, touches your soul. With every scene, it’s as if he breaks through that screen and is standing right in front of you, completely raw with all of his emotions, all of his flaws. He deserves so much praise for his work on this show, and I’m so happy he got one final stage — literally, in this case — to showcase it.
After he walks out of the cage, Jay returns to his seat and collapses into Christina’s lap just as it’s time to start the fight. Long story short, the fighters go all five rounds, and it’s incredibly bloody and hard to watch. But just before Alvey enters his final round, he looks to Jay in the audience. He looks to his family, the one thing he cares more about than fighting in this instant.
In the end, Alvey wins by split-decision and dedicates the fight to Nate, but the biggest moment comes when Jay enters the cage and hugs his father like we’ve never seen these two hug before. In this moment, Jay is the one providing comfort to Alvey. He’s the one keeping Alvey from crumbling. All Alvey’s wanted since the moment Nate died was to have his other son embrace him, and as devastating as it is that we won’t get to watch this relationship continue to grow moving forward, at least we see them take a step in the right direction.
In the series’ final moments, we follow Alvey’s back, as he runs from the cage, through the crowd, and eventually to the showers. And somehow, even watching Grillo’s back, you can feel the emotion as Alvey is trying his best not to collapse until he’s alone. Once he makes it to the shower, he falls to the ground, and as the music stops and we lose all sound other than Alvey’s breathing, the final shot of the series is a close-up on a victorious-in-the-cage-but-defeated-in-life Alvey Kulina.
And that’s where it ends. If the show had to go out, I’m so proud that it went out with this hour. This finale was a perfect example of everything this show does well, which is a lot. If you look at it technically — the writing, directing, acting, lighting, sound, music choices, etc. — everything comes together in this last episode.
It’s like a good fight: You use your camp to prepare, and during that camp, everything has to come together; all of the pieces have to line up so that the moment you step into that cage, you can execute your plan flawlessly. And if Kingdom‘s first 39 episodes served as this show’s (stellar) camp, with the finale acting as the main event, not only was it able to execute flawlessly, but it undoubtedly walked away the champion.