“Guys like me don’t get rich. They get by with bloody knuckles.”-Alvey Kulina
When episode 208 of Kingdom opens, Alvey Kulina(Frank Grillo) is talking to his shrink but he could just be talking to himself in a mirror. At some point in life, we figure out that we are who we are. Nothing is changing. A person can’t be rewired to act differently. Alvey is faced with these facts as Lisa has been gone for weeks, staying in her dad’s condo with the pregnancy entering its final stages. What is a fighter when everything outside the ring has been taken away. He has his fists and need to impose his will on whoever comes into his path. Luckily this week, Alvey has Alicia(Natalie Martinez) to train and prepare for her big exhibition fight.
Alicia’s big debut was just one of many big moments this week on Kingdom. With every hour that passes by, creator Byron Balasco seems to be loading up for the big punch and in this hour, he unleashes a deadly hook to viewers with the Jay Kulina(Jonathan Tucker)/Christina(Joanna Going) story line.
The Jay/Christina subplot has been simmering since late season 1 when the kid pulled his mom off the streets and cleaned her up. Their relationship is built on a foundation of trust but what happens when that trust is betrayed. Christina quit her job at Patty Palace weeks ago and hasn’t told Jay. She also hasn’t told him that she is working as an escort again. She also hasn’t let him in on the whopper of a revelation that she is using drugs again, shooting heroin into her foot. When Jay and Ryan Wheeler(Matt Lauria) are having their day off party, Mac(Mac Brandt) tells the wild Kulina to go get some food and why not grab some burgers from a place where your mom works.(Not that Jamal would have allowed free food to leave that joint). When Jay catches up with the audience and goes back to the house to find the hidden drugs Christina has stashed, the Jonathan Tucker show takes over. Allow me to explain…
TV shows with ensemble casts rarely find time to showcase each and every member of their cast. Kingdom executes this to perfection. Every actor feels lived in, real and breathing. There are no caricatures on Navy Street and this climatic moment proves it. Tucker is a live wire entertainer with more speeds than most actors. He can be a sinner, saint, and joker all inside one take. However, we’ve never seen him dig this deep. He starts the episode out giving a tense Alicia a massage, nearly hurts Ryan in the ring, and helps wrestle a depressed and philandering Nate(Nick Jonas, swollen emotionally and physically for perhaps the entire season) out of bed for a little party. He’s happy on the outside but quietly waging war on himself on the inside, trying to make weight for a big fight, stay out of trouble and enjoy himself while being lovestruck. However, the Christina betrayal sets something off inside him. An explosion. The look in Jay’s eyes as he desperately asks everyone to leave his house so he can deal with his mother is heartbreaking and brilliantly played.
The Scene of the Year! Tucker and Going are masterful in this scene. She comes home to a quiet house where Jay is waiting. Here, the audience thinks he will just bitch her out and take her to rehab. Like every other fucking show on television. He does her seven steps worse. He is going to shoot himself with drugs and flip the script. Instead of him cleaning up her mess, she will have to care for him as he is under the influence of one of the deadliest drugs on the market. You may see Jay and friends snort cocaine like its going out of style, but shooting drugs into your system is where the overdoses happen and serious damage occur. Jay knows this and punishes Christina by hurting himself. He is taking the beast that stalks his mom around and taking it for a ride. This is the scene of the year for me. So far.
Why Do You Fight? Elsewhere on Navy Street as the Kulina’s deal with internal infrastructure maintenance, Alicia is losing it before her big fight. After a training session with Alvey that reveals a back injury and a walk along Venice Beach that reveals the lack of drive Alicia has for stepping into the ring. In order to truly be great in MMA or Boxing, you have to want it and be able to pinpoint the exact reason why. You don’t get punched in the face in order to pay the bills. In the Grillo Greatness moment of the week, he tells Alicia he fights because he likes to hurt people, beating them up and stealing their identity. The only thing missing from Grillo’s speech as Daniel Day Lewis’ legendary milk shake line from There Will Be Blood. Alvey knows why. Jay and Ryan know why they fight. Nate and Alicia….they don’t. Not yet.
Before it’s time to take the ring, Alicia is really losing it. She is crying. Exhibition or not, the nerves before a fight are unique. It’s not like getting into a fight on a street. That’s all instinct. Fighting for a living is like seeing the bully in the first class at school and telling them you will fight after school. For the next six hours, you boil inside and figure all the possible outcomes. That is Alicia. She has rage, talent and potential but once you climb into the ring, as Alvey said at the top of the hour, it’s you all alone in this world.
After a little Alvey pushing, Alicia climbs into the ring. I’ve said before Grillo says fuck better than any actor out there, including DeNiro. Well, watch the locker room scene between him and Martinez and you will get his best impression of DeNiro. When Alicia says she can’t do it, Grillo cocks his head, turns it and delivers the best Bobby D impression, intentional or not. It’s beautiful. Go watch it again and come back here to finish the cap.
Alicia doesn’t just win the fight. She destroys the other woman. Martinez’s authenticity, like Grillo’s. shines through here. A kickboxer in real life who moves like a ninja with swag and attitude, she survives a tough first round and is born inside the octagon. When she scores the takedown of a lifetime and pounds on her opponent before Joe Daddy calls it, everything changes. She has an endorsement deal, a future in fighting and apparently no need for Ryan Wheeler shenanigans any longer. After the fight, she tells a drunk drugged up yet alert Wheeler that it’s over.
The dudes on this show aren’t having a good season my friends.
What else happened?
~In the Keith moment of the week, he catches a pair of pool side kids playing TMZ hawks, recording Ryan have some fun with cocaine. He catches them and tosses the phone. He may not be put together like everybody else, but Keith is a useful guy when it comes to avocado farms, drinking, and paparazzi.
~Lisa’s pregnancy hits a wall when she has to go in for extra tests to see if there is a concern with the baby. She misses Alicia’s fight but leaves Alvey a message that it is a boy and that the Maker of Men has struck again. There’s hope for these two yet.
~Wheeler goes off about Alvey devoting a whole day to Alicia and while it may seem like nothing, this may come into play later with the result of Ryan’s fight. There’s a simmering boil inside Lauria during every episode that is set to explode but let me tell you it won’t be a gym mirror he damages this time.
~Every episode features a Grillo training session. Forget Billy Blanks and any other trainer you can find. Just watch Grillo work. He’s trained in gyms of all kinds and lives and breathes this environment like a second layer of skin. He’s a joy to watch.
There are two hours left ladies and gents. Fireworks have gone off but more await. Are you ready? With success comes a heightened state of desire. Will it burn down the Kulina bridge? December will reveal it all. There are no winter breaks on Kingdom. It is coming at you every week. If you are behind, catch up on Itunes, Amazon, Audience on demand or Uverse on demand. Do it. Think later. Just watch.
Every obsession with a TV show starts with a plunge. There are shows you watch and like, but do other stuff while it plays. There are shows that captivate you for the entire hour. I watched this hour of Kingdom in one prolonged death stare. My phone, a dark room, an open window and a lack of fluids. After every hour, I work out. This show will make you want to work out, hit something or show passion. It connects. Try it out.
Come back next week for more Kingdom talk.