A common refrain heard when lauding Kingdom (it happens) is that the show isn’t just about mixed-martial arts—it’s actually a compelling family drama. The Kulinas are unlike most other TV families, and not just because the family business involves beating someone to a pulp while also keeping that anger in check in your everyday life. Alvey and Christina are both messed-up, selfish people, and their sons bear the scars (internal and otherwise) of growing up in a broken home. And even though Alvey will soon get a third chance (through his child with Lisa) and Christina is sober, they’re still far from being redeemed as parents.

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Season two has seen Alvey and Christina trying to find a way to be involved in their sons’ lives, with varying degrees of success. For his part, Alvey’s determined to play a guiding role in Nate and Jay’s lives, even if it’s just as their coach/trainer. He worries about his sons even as he places them in harm’s way, i.e., the octagon. After all, no matter how well-trained Nate and Jay are, there’s a good chance they’re going to take a beating. But because he’s a little late to the party, after having spent years dealing with his own addictions (and possible mental illness) to have had much of a hand in raising his children, his sons don’t always mind him.

Even Nate, who’s had much less opportunity or reason to clash with Alvey, has taken to openly defying his father. Aside from managing Ryan, Alvey has dedicated most of his time to training Nate and building his career. But his youngest son is no longer interested in playing by his rules—in fact, Nate doesn’t seem to want to heed anyone’s advice. Which is why, against doctor’s orders and probably even his own better judgment, he’s still training for that Fresno fight this week in “Pink At Night”.

Alvey’s fight plan for Nate involves limiting the boxing (to avoid any more blows to the head) and focusing on the groundwork. We see Nate practicing his grappling with a fellow Navy St. athlete under Alvey’s watchful eye. Then, while holding the guy in an armbar, Nate ignores the fighter’s tap-outs and Alvey’s shouts and just snaps the poor guy’s arm. Nate insists he didn’t feel the guy tapping, but Alvey calls bullshit. And even though he knows that Nate will fight with or without his help (but probably less successfully in case of the latter), he kicks him out of the gym.

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Last week it seemed as though Nate was intent on fighting to shore up his masculinity or otherwise shake off the dread that he’ll be outed by his distraught ex-girlfriend. But his actions in “Pink At Night” suggest that he might be displaying some symptoms related to his head injury. Does he really have some kind of spinal damage that’s affecting his sense of touch, or was that just an excuse? In either case, he probably won’t be confiding in Alvey any time soon.

Alvey responds to their blowout by joining Sean for dinner and drinks. But since he can’t quite shake his disappointment (or anger), Sean insists on cheering him up with a trip to a brothel. Alvey shows some emotional growth by abstaining from cheating on Lisa…and then he gets pulled over for drunk driving. Sean is the worst, but Alvey should be able to recognize his friend’s bad influence. Frankly, he’s not making much better decisions than his children, or ex-wife for that matter.

Christina might not be able to pummel her sons, but she’s done plenty of damage all the same. There’s the abandonment, which Jay has seemed content to gloss over, despite the fact it’s clearly affected him. She showed a complete lack of awareness a couple of weeks ago when she dismissed his relationship insecurities (which she’s contributed to) while essentially reinforcing them. And she seems to be in no hurry to make it up to him, feigning ignorance over what could be troubling him when they do have a chance to talk.

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I don’t mean to omit Christina in any reviews, but it can be difficult to incorporate her actions into the longer arc of the show, which is something that the writers seem to be struggling with as well. Christina was introduced as a tragic figure, one whose life could turn on a dime. She was rescued from an exploitative pimp by Jay, who also helped her get clean. But even though she’s now sober and gainfully employed, she seems miserable. That in and of itself isn’t such a big problem, since few people would be thrilled about a minimum-wage job and living under the constant threat of a relapse.

But Christina’s just spinning her wheels lately—she’s no one’s wife or even much of a mother at the moment, and hasn’t been for years. And she shouldn’t have to be; she’s free to pursue other vocations, obviously. It’s just that she certainly seems to miss being in those roles, as exemplified by her dragging her feet in finalizing her divorce, and offering her sons advice (even if it’s bad advice).

It’s possible that she resents Jay for taking her away from a life she was at least accustomed to, even if it was terrible and probably killing her. Or, now that he’s taken away what’s familiar, she just needs someone to join her in her misery. I’m not ready to say that the show has trouble writing its female characters, as Lisa is evidence to the contrary. But I wish the writers would figure out what they’re doing with Christina, or at least give viewers a hint.

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As for the extended Kulina family, this episode mostly saw them minding their own business. Ryan and Alicia are still into each other, and Lisa is still trying to help them both. And Keith is now Ryan’s assistant, which is great news for Shelby.

Stray observations

  • I really do think that Nate’s injury is going to affect his fighting career in the long run, even if it’s not nerve/spinal damage. After all, there were hints last season that Alvey suffered from depression, which could be a result of repeated head injuries.
  • The actor playing the Slaughter Water owner is Michael Graziadei, in case you hadn’t already tracked him down.
  • I was surprised at how calmly Lisa took the news that Alvey had given Sean money, then glad that she called her dad to look into the investment.
  • How much weight has Jay/Jonathan Tucker lost at this point? His face looked considerably thinner already.
  • At this point, everyone has a key to Navy St. gym, right?

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