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A deliberate yet unpredictable Kingdom reminds us that no one is safe

Illustration for article titled A deliberate yet unpredictable Kingdom reminds us that no one is safe
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There’s nothing like the return of Chekhov’s gun(s) to confirm the feeling that you’ve forgotten about something, and that that something could be a significant threat, although you have no idea what that thing or threat could be. Still with me? Good, because a lot happens tonight and it would be best if we parse it together. Maybe it’s because it’s the penultimate episode before the mid-season break, but “Living Down” went by in a blur. It was alternately deliberate and unpredictable, its players both languishing and rallying. As the season heads to hiatus, I find I’m uneasy about everyone’s fate.

But back to those guns—the first thing we see is Alvey packing up the ones he purchased in the season opener, way back when I thought (though did not articulate here, because the reviewing hadn’t begun yet) he might have done so out of fear of retaliation from the gangbangers who tuned up Nate in retaliation for Alvey knocking them out while on a run in the series premiere. Although it wasn’t clear if they ever became aware that Jay had almost killed one of them, I still worried that they might be worried that Nate would give them up to the police.


It was all for naught, though, because the reappearance of the guns initially just demonstrates how chagrined Alvey is about having been bilked out of $30,000 by his no-good buddy, Sean. Alvey has to sell them back at a loss, a fact which he omits when he meets Lisa up for lunch later the same day. He doesn’t appear especially hopeful, but the news that Lisa’s moving to San Francisco still takes him by surprise. Naturally, he doesn’t handle it well, especially not after she reminds him of all the bad decisions he’s made recently—buying the aforementioned weapons, getting a DUI, and of course, losing money on a shady investment.

And I know we all give Frank Grillo credit for making us like Alvey in spite of his actions and against our better judgment—and yes, this is a show about messed-up people, who have admitted as much—but that scene was a wake-up call for me. Despite Lisa’s heavily-pregnant presence all season, I had glossed over about the fact that Alvey was to be a dad again, and almost definitely a bad one. Hell, he acknowledged that in therapy last week, after having previously admitted to Lisa what a lousy job he’d done raising Nate and Jay. Alvey might function better than Christina, but he’s really no better off than her emotionally.

But once again, Alvey gets to beg off from his personal life by turning to the preparations for Jay and Ryan’s respective fights. The two friends are back in the sauna to drop the last 6-7 pounds before their respective fights. The heat inspires Ryan to imagine being in some snow-covered part of Germany in an effort to cool off, but Jay steers into the skid and fantasizes about being on vacation in Bora Bora. He doesn’t mention last week’s heroin usage or his subsequent sickness (you guys were right, it wasn’t withdrawal), but he seems distracted. When Ryan tries to ramp him up with talk of their impending victories, Jay demurs, saying “I’m not gonna be holding onto mine very long. Pretty soon, I’m gonna be shitting at that trough.” Jay appears defeated or at the very least daunted by his mother’s relapse, and that’s a feeling he can’t shake. Later, when Nate scrapes off a coat of perspiration with his driver’s license, Jay tells him he’s a good brother, and that he’d kill himself if anything ever happened to Nate. However, he would take the most peaceful way out: “I’d never blow my brains out. I wouldn’t wanna leave a mess, or some room you couldn’t go in again.” (There’s that sense of dread again.)

Both Jay and Ryan are soon distracted from the tasks at hand, with Jay setting aside his frustration about his mother long enough to have a conversation with Lisa about her move to San Francisco. She’s quick to tell him she’s not abandoning him, which is something Jay won’t even contemplate at the moment. He tells Lisa to focus on the baby, because he’s bringing home the title. And despite his looming fight, Ryan rushes out of the gym upon learning his father’s in renal failure.


But the hits just keep on coming for Jay, as Alvey approaches him about Christina, wondering why she wants to move out of her sons’ apartment. Jay hides his surprise, even after Alvey tells him she asked him to co-sign on an apartment. Alvey begins chiding Jay for his continued involvement (and despair), telling him, “Everything you’re doing, I’ve already done. You’re not gonna change her. She is what she is.” And Alvey’s complete lack of sympathy for Christina continues to surprise me—yes, it is extremely difficult to live with, or cope with, someone who’s battling any kind of addiction. But while Alvey’s admitted to his poor parenting, he hasn’t stopped to think that he wasn’t a very good husband. He refuses to acknowledge the possibility that he had any hand in the way she turned out, despite the fact that he cheated on her and did plenty of drugs himself. Christina’s an adult, and there’s no reason to think Alvey forced his lifestyle on her, but he also doesn’t appear entirely blameless. The show has referred to her delicate, compulsive nature before, so perhaps they were always a bad combination—Alvey bulldozes his way through life, never letting anything have much of an effect on him. Although Alvey’s grown as adept at avoiding pain in his personal life as he is in the ring, Christina’s practically drawn to it, which is a trait that Jay seems to have inherited.

Christina is trying to move on with her life, but she’s woefully unprepared. She needs a co-signer for the apartment she wants because she has no verifiable work or rental history. She intends to seduce the building manager only to walk in on him having sex with his wife in the very apartment she wants to rent. When she waves a stack of money in his face, he tells her that only criminals use cash. When she turns to Alvey for help, he just offers her more cash, even after she tells him it won’t do her any good. I know I previously wrote that the show doesn’t seem to know what to do with Christina, but I’m starting to think that’s just a reflection of the character’s own uncertainty. Christina’s more afraid of starting over than the possibility of dying if she sticks with her old ways. It’s been so hard for her to walk away from her drug-riddled life because it’s the one she’s more familiar with. We’re creatures of habit, even when the habit is killing us.


Over at the arena, Jay and Ryan are warming up with the help of Nate and Alvey. Everyone looks focused, confident. And the family business makes more sense when you realize that professional fighting gives them a different (preferable) target for their anger. In this particular case, Jay’s opponent has become their common enemy, but once Ryan enters the ring, they’ll unite against whoever’s standing across from him. It remains to be seen how effective this kind of family therapy will be in the long run, but for now, it works.

Jay falters at first, repeatedly giving his opponent his back and ending up in a choke hold. The scene is intercut with shots of Christina shooting up again, and it looks like a life or a fight could be lost. And just as Nate’s drive was questioned recently, I wondered if the fight had gone out of Jay as well. All his talk about suicide—even if it was in jest, or prompted by the delirium from starving and dehydrating himself—and his unavoidable failure led me to believe he might be just as despondent and unconvinced about his future as his mother. But because he’s also Alvey’s son, Jay survives the round and rallies in the second, knocking out the defending featherweight (that’s what I’m going with, because of the 145 lb weight limit) champion with a flying knee. But as Christina’s fate is still uncertain, it will probably be a short-lived victory.


Stray observations

  • I couldn’t help but think of Street Fighter and Sagat’s Tiger Knee when watching Jay land that flying knee.
  • Boy, hearing “I’m gonna go out in a blaze of glory” during Jay’s fight was certainly unsettling.
  • Alicia was weirdly callous about Lisa’s pregnancy, especially considering she’s also a mom.

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