Kingdom on Audience: “New Money” brought new problems

Get ready for episode 2 of Kingdom’s second season by reading my week 1 recap.

NickJonas-KingdomWhat does a champion do once they are on top? Once a dream is fulfilled and a lifetime of denial is erased, what comes after? Direct TV’s Kingdom opened its second season up with Matt Lauria’s Ryan Wheeler set to defend his title belt on the same card as the comeback of Jay Kulina(Jonathan Tucker, a live wire as usual) continues his trek back. Neither fighter gets what they ask for that night.

When we see Frank Grillo’s Alvey Kulina, he is buying $5,500 worth of weaponry, a result of treating yourself to some testosterone engaging firepower after struggling to make ends meet for years. With Wheeler’s victory, Alvey’s spectrum as a trainer was broadened and given Navy Street more attention, an influx of new fighters, and more cash flow. Lisa(Kiele Sanchez) has an assistant, which is good because she is pregnant and trying to advance in her career as a promoter at the same time. That’s like fighting two ugly opponents in a phone booth. Everybody on the show is facing either an identity crisis, a struggle to see a long term goal or a clear cut way to be happy.

Take Nick Jonas’ Nate, the prodigal not so fortunate son. He is a closeted bisexual who wants to be a fighter but doesn’t want to fight as much as his dad wants him to. He was badly hurt because of an altercation his dad had with a couple thugs that derailed his once hot fighting career. Now he is picking up the pieces of that career while wondering if winning a 100 fights will ever make him feel happy enough to tell the world who he really is. Imagine being King Leonidas’ son and telling him you don’t want to be a Spartan warrior. That’s Nate’s situation and it’s tragic if you look close enough.
The former Kuluna matriarch, Christina, has exited the world of hooking for a career in fast food, a world full of double shifts, dirty hands, bitter chats over cigarettes in a freezer with your boss and a desire to hook again on the side. Here is a woman who lost it all and tried to get it back only to find out it isn’t that easy. You have to fight to secure happiness on Kingdom. This season will see her and Alvey finally press ink to those divorce papers, or will it?

Mac(played by the freckled dartboard and exuberant Cubs fans Mac Brandt) gets the first official fight action of the season, wrestling and grappling with a fellow low paid fighter in what looks like an abandoned car lot. With Jay as his trainer, Mac wins the fight but barely escapes with his dignity. One of the things I wanted to see in Season 2 was more screen time for Mac and I got it in the premiere. Whether it’s warning Jay against doing Jay things or being the resourceful meds runner for Navy Street, Mac is all over this hour and it’s a welcome sight.

On Kingdom, nobody is window dressing. Every character gets a fair shake. Some could argue that it’s powered by Grillo because he gets the most screen time, but the supporting cast is better than ever. Tucker puts so much energy and wildness into Jay that you never know what the character is going to do next. Jonas is a bottle of quiet rage as Nate, continuing the evolution of this well known singer into something more. A performer of many stages.

The MVP of the episode is Lauria. The amount of expression on Lauria’s face as Wheeler battles demons of many kinds is impressive. Some actors need pages of dialogue to get this much work in and transform a character from a cardboard cutout to something real and Matt Lauria gets it done with a few looks. I don’t know what he was doing before this, but Kingdom is his new home. There are so many ways the show can go with Wheeler.

What happens with the fights? Jay’s opponent drops out, and this is the second time he has lost his opponent in recent weeks. It’s hard for a former talent like Jay to climb back into the rings of contention or to rise out of the lower ranks of fights. Your reputation follows you around closer than your ring record. It doesn’t help when Jay sees his “injured” opponent at the fight.

Wheeler battles a fever among other things but wins his fight by a narrow split decision. The crowd lets him have it but he promises to be better next time, causing him to question his whole future. That is where the authenticity of Grillo strikes. He grabs his fighters head and simply tells him, “A win is a win and that’s all that matters.” Part of what makes Kingdom a great show is that these characters are realistic flawed and dirty people. They have stains on their lives but they stick together.

The end of the episode flips everything on its head when the promoter of the Wheeler fight informs Alvey that Ryan had cocaine in his system. In order to keep it hush hush, Kulina will have to walk Wheeler into the lions den for free for a few fights. Everything that Wheeler has fought to reacquire has now been fumbled, and the trust of his trainer is gone. An episode that started with good intentions has now met a numb ending.

The next nine episodes will see battles of all kinds and the ties that bind inside the Kulina family circle get stretched in different ways. What will happen to Nate in his fight that causes a post fight scrum? Will Alvey and Christina get divorced? Will Lisa marry Alvey? Will Jay recapture his career? Can Ryan stay above water? What kind of storm will the new partner coming into Alvey’s gym(the guy has scumbag written all over his shit eating grin) bring? What is Alvey getting arrested for? He does own some powerful weapons and that includes the two fists that are attached to his body? How about this new fighter? Will she bring more than just fights to Lisa’s resume or will she get mixed up in the Kulina madness?

Creator Byron Balasco expertly sets the pillars in the lives of these people to crumble at a slow pace, making the damage that much more exotic and full of turmoil. As we discussed in our preseason interview, what happens when you get to the top? What comes after success? More success or a slow collapse? Or more chaos? I figure all of the above but the next nine hours will be interesting.

If you aren’t watching this show, do so now. The first season is on Itunes and Direct TV has merged with UVerse to show the second season. The excuses you can present are shrinking by the day.

Kingdom isn’t just a show about fighters figuring it out in the ring. It’s a show about people who get punched for a living but find the hardest punches hitting them when they are outside the octagon. With the third season being fired up right behind Season 2, the layers in this show will start to take shape. Get in on the action now. You can even tape your hands if you’d like. Just bring a stiff drink to the couch.

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