Joanna Going stars in Kingdom (Photo: Audience Network)

The “Ritual” of tonight’s episode title can refer to any number of practices the Kulina family and their associates have adopted throughout the years. When a buzzed Alvey waxes eloquent to his son Nate about how many cultures indulge in alcohol, he’s trying to make a point about the universality of enjoying a good drink. But he’s also distinguishing between rituals and routines—he admits that alcohol is often used to obtain “pain relief and pussy,” which sounds nowhere near as heady as all that common ground stuff he was pitching just moments before. The main difference is that a ritual has a deeper meaning—though one that’s imparted by the practitioner—while a routine is almost involuntary. Their frequency might be the same, but the former is usually an act that we do intentionally, while we tend to fall into the latter. And rituals tend to have an air of respect, while a routine—even a necessary one, like, say, putting your child to bed at a decent hour—often has a more negative connotation.

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Again, this is all thanks to the value we ascribe to these acts, which is why we see Jay so pissed at Ryan (and later, Alvey) for banging on his door after he’s just gotten Maya to sleep, or why Alvey embraces his own training as ritual, while initially dismissing Jay’s commitment to his infant daughter. What matters is what matters to you, which sounds simple enough. Alvey’s clung to his training schedule as much out of a desire to feel like his old self as the fact that it gives him something to do. He admits as much to Nate, but he also wants to nudge it into a more vaunted position by accepting the legends fight that Garo’s dangling before him. Then his training will have significance, and won’t just feel like it’s for show. Alvey relays his search for meaning to his therapist in the opening scenes, as well as to Nate during some impromptu father-son bonding time. This yearning is familiar territory for Alvey and the viewers, so creator-writer Byron Balasco thankfully only garnishes “Ritual” with this kind of navel gazing.

Don’t get me wrong—Frank Grillo is as compelling as ever here, showing both the power that still lies in Alvey’s aging body while he’s sparring with Nate, though his intermittent grimacing also shows the wear and tear. But with only nine episodes left to wrap the series—and with the actual fight and plenty of training still looming—I’m happy to spend some time with Christina and Lisa. Jay and Nate’s mom, who embodies bad habits (which are a lot like routines), is long since out of rehab, but she was left without a place to go. Her relationship with her older son is obviously still strained; she makes it clear that they hadn’t spoken in three weeks before she showed up to visit her granddaughter.

Now I’ve worried about Christina relapsing because she didn’t have a support system—though Nate and Jay tried in the first two seasons, they also had plenty of distractions or other routines to get through outside of looking after their mom. But lacking a purpose, especially in the “prove your worth as a member of society” world we now find ourselves in, is also enough to make you backslide. That’s how we learn Christina’s working with Terry again, as a kind of house mother to a new group of sex workers. He’s still the same exploitative pimp he ever was, but Terry has given Christina a role, which is as good as a home for her. Just like Alvey diverted any lingering fatherly instincts into coaching his fighters, Christina’s pouring her energies into looking after these girls, including one new recruit who has an especially bad night.

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These two steps back for Christina make sense, given her emotional state, but I do wish Kingdom had pushed to give her more. While acknowledging that her history of substance abuse would make it hard to find employment, I think she also has a college degree, and she must have had some ambitions before meeting Alvey, desires she might still have. Obviously, a college degree isn’t the ticket to stable employment that it once was, but Christina’s new digs just feature a lot of the same for secondary women characters—mostly, they’re just half-to-fully-naked bodies. Despite its setting, I think of Kingdom as a family drama, and while I’m not balking at the nudity, I wish there were more than two fully clothed women in this episode (wait, maybe three; Shelby was in there somewhere). Between this and the strip club, which I’ll get to, “Ritual” treats most of its women as window dressing. There’s been a fair amount of nudity on everyone’s part throughout the show, but Christina and Lisa’s fleshed-out depictions don’t quite offset the one-dimensional ones of the rest of the women on the show, especially now that Alicia’s gone. Again, I recognize the environs of the show, but this is one habit I’d like to see the show break.

But speaking of Lisa, she’s settled back into her role as Ryan’s manager and co-owner of Navy Street, though she did her damnedest to get away. Lisa’s grief over her miscarriage has undoubtedly pushed her back into the comfort of her routine, even if she’s occasionally exasperated by the people around her. But she’s not running on autopilot either; Lisa’s fully engaged in her job, which she’s great at, even if it involves cutting through a lot of bullshit. Just look at how she handles her interview with Dom Ramos (Kirk Acevedo), the new coach. Her expression’s mostly impassive, with only her occasionally narrowed eyes indicating she feels something’s off. And her instincts are right—Dom does have something to hide, though Lisa isn’t able to suss out the whole truth. Kirk Acevedo is great in all things (I mostly remember Oz), and while I remain cautiously optimistic about his developing storyline, I’m also skeptical of how deep a dive we’ll get into his character given the time constraints.

Screenshot: Kingdom

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Lisa hasn’t been able to walk away from her niche in the MMA game, though she is trying to find new ways to deal with it. The meditation scenes are silly, and clearly meant to introduce a new love interest (played by Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez’s real-life husband). After all, if Lisa really wanted inner peace, she’d probably just ditch Navy Street entirely, since it now holds two of her exes. Maybe meditation guy will have some staying power, though. After all, he caught on to just how dismissive Lisa really is about “sitting with her soul.”

Even though she’s back at her post, Lisa’s not finding it nearly as easy to manage Ryan anymore. Her fighter isn’t relaxing into anything—he either wants a better deal with King Beast, or something with the UFC. He lacks the patience Lisa’s gotten from her meditation (*snort*), so he signs a six-figure contract with various extras, like a $25,000 signing bonus and “an eight ball and tits.” Despite his renewed spirituality, Ryan doesn’t give a fuck about rituals or routines right now. He obviously still cares about his friends, as we see him invite Jay out for a night on the town (and on Garo’s dime). It’s just that Ryan really wants to push past his previous limits and accomplishments; his career is important to him, but he’s also carrying the weight of his father’s investment in said career. Then again, maybe he just wants tougher fights.

Jay does join Ryan at the strip club, but he refrains from his past wilding out. He’s really giving this new life his all, though he’s starting to crack. Unfortunately, the real estate thing is not working out, and it’s clear that he wants to beat the crap out of that squatter/tenant. His actions might say otherwise, but Jay isn’t quite done with fighting yet. If guys Alvey and Dom’s age are still experiencing a kind of withdrawal, it’s really eating away at someone in their prime, like Jay. As we learn from Dom’s interview scene, even when a fighter finds success in a different field, MMA’s not so easy to give up. Jay’s desire for a family might not be stronger than his need to fight, and we could very well see him training again soon. So what’s the harm in that? If Alvey can fight, why not Jay? Well, for one, Alvey’s mellowed a bit—just a bit—more with age. And it hasn’t done nearly as much damage to Nate’s life (though his future in the sport is now in jeopardy because of its often narrow-minded nature). But Jay’s basically been nursing a wound since childhood, one that he’s tried to heal or at least numb himself to with drugs, fighting, etc. His new routines, as dull as they appear and ineffectual as they may prove to be, are actually better for him and everyone around him, but that might not matter in the end.

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Stray observations

  • The mini-Purge: Anarchy reunion between Gilford, Sanchez, and Grillo is fun to see, as is the mini-Friday Night Lights one between Gilford and Lauria. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.
  • Nate’s panicking now that he knows that people in the MMA world know he’s gay, but he continues to hide his feelings in front of his dad, which is his own habit/routine/what have you.
  • Everybody knows Smurfs are blue, meditation guy.
  • I get the feeling Dom has some chronic illness, given his dismay over the lack of benefits. But at first, when I saw him shoveling white power into whey protein containers, I was worried we’d have another Mark Consuelos situation on our hands.
  • Someone asked about this last week, but that’s Patrick Fischler as Dan, Jay’s boss.

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