Just as Nate will disappear for episodes at a time (though probably owing to Nick Jonas’ schedule), there’s also been a lack of cohesion to this third season of Kingdom. Sure, Alvey’s fight looms ever tantalizingly, offering him a chance to go out in a blaze of glory, which is what he’s wanted all along. That old cuss has never been happy as a family man, or even a coach. He’s been kind of lost since his fighting days ended, and while it’s certainly selfish of him to cling to the old source of his pride, at least he’s been honest about it. That hasn’t helped either of his sons much, nor any of his exes, but it’s one of many second chances that have been floating around this show, waiting to be snatched (or squandered).
But while that certainly feeds into the show’s ruminations on aging, loneliness, and how we identify ourselves, it’s also a part of the original foundation. It’s not that there isn’t still plenty to mine from Alvey’s presumed loss of purpose, but season three hasn’t added much to that discussion. Alvey being unable to lower his hands, Jay circling the drain, Nate questioning his future—these are all familiar scenes. While those stories are certainly worth sticking with, the most recent episodes haven’t really dug into them. New dramas and contenders have entered the ring, to the detriment of the show. Where it was once defined by its leanness, Kingdom is suddenly looking bloated.
Some of the new additions work—though Amy might already be gone for good—but others just aren’t fitting in. Dom might have been pitched as some kind of parallel “King” Kulina, someone still waiting on his second chance (or, in Alvey’s case, third or fourth). They have similar backgrounds, and they appear to be close in age. But since Alvey’s happy ending is far from guaranteed at this point, showing us the path not traveled doesn’t make much sense here—not to mention that Kingdom already had a “there but for the grace of god” moment for Alvey, in the Sean Chapas storyline from last season. That’s not the only problem with Dom’s characterization; he’s not just another hard-luck case. He’s actively scheming, though who knows to what end. But all that villainous hand-rubbing doesn’t jibe with the tone of Kingdom. His machinations are a bit too sensational and just feel out of place on a show that’s consistently demonstrated that we’re our own biggest enemies.
The midseason episode, “Please Give,” gets downright soapy at times, thanks to Dom’s interactions with everyone around him. He’s putting poison in Ryan’s ear (which in itself feels like a nod to Oz, which is never really a bad thing), but also trying to raise suspicion about his relationship with Lisa. There isn’t one, as Lisa makes abundantly clear, setting Dom off on some other tear. Whatever Kirk Acevedo’s getting paid, they need to triple it, as he’s acting as an antagonist for virtually everyone. Just wait for the Kulina boys to make it back to Navy Street—or, rather, stop making us wait to see that, Kingdom—because you just know that Dom will find a way to mess with them, too. If he’s running some long con on Alvey, vengeance-fueled or otherwise, blowing up at Lisa is a bad way to accomplish it, especially since she was his in. Or maybe that’s Ryan? It’s hard to tell at this point.
Pacing remains an issue, as we’re halfway through the season, and we still don’t know what Dom’s beef is with Alvey. Instead, he engages in some light stalking, which takes the episode into a weird, dark place. There’s something unseemly about him turning his rage at Alvey on Lisa, even if she does have the good sense to set the alarm and keep a gun trained on him for most of their altercation. But that foresight makes her amenability for the rest of their conversation seem out of character. He’d already had a shit fit in the parking lot over his protein powder, so even if she doesn’t scare easy, her patience with him is a bit much. Even after learning he’d made a copy of the key (without permission), she still offers a blank slate. Dom upsetting the balance at Navy Street is one thing, but we’re in crappy thriller territory with his threats. Even if he’s counting on her not telling Alvey about what went down—you know, because she can take care of herself—it’s still hard to believe she’d be able to just shake this off, especially when she seems so leery leaving the gym at the end of the episode.
But there’s hope yet, as “Please Give” does snip a couple of loose threads. Rather than keep dangling while Jay sorts his shit out, Amy sets off for her parents’ home in Madison. The episode feints at the beginning, showing some affection between her and Jay, who’s now working at a recycling center (or maybe just turning in recyclables for cash?) and as a security guard at a TV studio to make ends meet. Jay’s shot might not be entirely gone, but a happy home is still a ways away for him. Jonathan Tucker gives another gut-wrenching performance as a man who’s doing the best he can, and maybe the best he’ll ever do—at least, when it comes to having a family.
These quietly devastating scenes are so much more compelling and in line with what Kingdom is than any of the conniving Dom stuff. Christina and Alvey’s heart to heart is similarly undersold, but packs a real punch. When Alvey finally takes some responsibility for Christina’s substance abuse, she gently pushes away his hand. Her ex-husband certainly has his share of the blame, but Christina knows she has to take full responsibility for her life. It’s the only way to stay clean. Same goes for putting out any rekindled feelings between them—they may have their moments, but she and Alvey just don’t mix. There’s no recrimination here, as deserved as it may be, only closure.
These character-driven moments are still the best of Kingdom, but there’s also a lot of great fight choreography here. Alvey’s training sessions turn claustrophobic under the eye of director Adam Davidson, who’s also worked on Fear The Walking Dead and Hell On Wheels. The camera keeps up with the aging fighter early on, when he’s more than holding his own. Then, as he begins to doubt himself, whether because of injury or something in his head, it slows down and tilts a bit, showing just how off balance Alvey is. It’s enough to make him consider backing out of the fight, but even before he admits this to Lisa, his world view’s shifted, and his doubts have been established.
Our boy’s back on his feet by episode’s end, which is more than we can say for Ryan—or Keith, for that matter. Kingdom appears to cut Keith loose, sending him back to prison, but not before his tragic outcome leads Ryan to wonder about God’s plan. Ryan has more tangible problems, though, as he almost beats a guy to death. There are unresolved issues there, possibly related to his father’s death, which he was unwilling to talk to Dom about. But this can’t bode well for Ryan’s probation, which Keith was a walking, talking reminder of—and if that was his purpose, then hooray for finding it, even if Ryan’s obvious difficulty adjusting to life outside of prison already did the trick. But Kingdom’s at least running leaner now, and looking poised for a comeback.
- I wasn’t sure how to work this in, but the bar sex scene was kind of reminiscent of the one with Alicia Witt in the first season, when Ryan was pretending to be an older version of himself. But here, he’s not at all worried about coming across as a roughneck, even if he says he won’t be hit for free. Still, the dialogue was corny af.
- Bring back Nate.