We all love a little Jay Kulina.
Jonathan Tucker’s creation on Byron Balasco’s “Kingdom,” a former fighter addicted to chaos who has the otherworldly ability to become wisely philosophical within seconds. Tucker had been solid in previous movies and television shows. I’m always going to howl at the NBC moon a little bit about depriving us of more episodes of “The Black Donnellys.”
But Kulina brought out all the magic in Tucker’s ability. A part that every living, breathing actor should fight others for had so many layers attached and elements required. You couldn’t get enough of The Jay Kulina Experience, which is one of the meatier reasons why I am still begging for more episodes of this underrated and quite superb MMA series.
So, in the mean time, I am just going to come at you with different aspects and parts of this show. Like a fighter getting you to the ground so they can pound on you a little, I will just keep the flame strong, as director/editor Paddy McKinley once told me. The smaller shows with gigantic fucking hearts need the extra push, like a river that flows only on good vibes and support. I’m loyal to what Balasco was serving, so here I am championing the show as if your day wouldn’t be completed without it.
****SPOILERS (If you haven’t watched the show, hold off on reading past this point until you finish Season 2, Episode 19)****
Today, I want to talk about you about Tucker’s performance. Specifically, when it elevated to “holy shit” territory, otherwise known as the area where only people with superlative taste can notice such intricate aspects of the series. It was near the very end of Season 2’s back ten stretch. “Kingdom’s” longest season (20 episodes) presented Jay early on in the luxurious yet dangerous avenues of fresh love with Laura, the photographer who spotted him on the beach and turned him into a model.
The season ended with Jay in pieces, losing both his girlfriend (another too fast, too hard love affair) and rematch with Ryan Wheeler (Matt Lauria) inside a week. The larger-than-life hairstyle and personality was whittled down to a still poetic and stoic yet easily breakable human form. All of it culminated near the very end of Season 2B09. After drinks with Lisa restoring some order to her world, Jay drove back to his hotel. Upon pulling in, all he saw were lights, the scary kind with badges and guns attached to them.
If you would like to experience it a different way, just watch Tucker’s face as the scene unfolds. It’s uncertain yet hopeful at first, but then the alarms start going off. His room empty while Eva’s car was parked outside. The trail from the next door, who was the man that Jay had a conversation with and didn’t seem to be worried about. When he hits the pool, it just crumbles, like a glass of wine smashing to the ground. He picks himself up later, but as the dark comes on, he’s shaking and smoking a cigarette, closing his eyes tight enough so he can see a world where his girlfriend Ava (a very good Lina Esco) is still alive.
It’s a haunting scene and for me, the first time that Balasco really took a piece out of the audience. Lisa’s miscarriage was a blow, Ava’s death and the manner in which it happened sent a shockwave through the viewing audience. If your mouth doesn’t drop there, you must be one chilly soul.
I do it every time. Revisting “Kingdom” allows you to see the different aspects of a scene that weren’t easy to catch the first time. The hotel scene is an ass-whopping every time. You’re never prepared for it, no matter how many viewings you acquire. It’s that elite zone of entertainment where a television show can feel like a tightly wound film. That’s what “Late to Leave” is to me.
One of “Kingdom’s finest moments. It has to rank near the top of top finishes to an episode of television.
Go watch it and find out.