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The mid-season finale of Kingdom is all about ultimatums and opportunities

Illustration for article titled The mid-season finale of Kingdom is all about ultimatums and opportunities
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“King Beast” was the tenth episode of Kingdom season one, and served as a nice capper for the show’s freshman outing—it yielded a satisfying conclusion to the stories that had unfolded, as well as put the second season’s events in motion. Ryan and Jay were both victorious in the same weight class, though only one of them was now a champion. Nate was on the mend, as was Christina. The only real loss was Lisa and Alvey’s relationship, but they must have both known it wouldn’t last. Some questions were answered, some doors were shut, but the progress that was made felt wholly earned—everyone had scratched their way to the top, or at the very least, up from rock bottom. So it makes sense that the show returned to the King Beast circuit for the setting of its mid-season finale, because the previous outcome had served so well as a bridge between seasons.

True to its portentous title, “Traveling Alone” ends with multiple separations, but it first pairs up the show’s players, giving them an opportunity (or ultimatum) to work through their issues, some more successfully than others. But first there’s the small matter of Ryan’s title fight, which he suddenly feels terribly unprepared for, even begging Alvey to let him off the hook. Echoing Alicia’s panic before her exhibition fight, Ryan repeatedly tells Alvey that he doesn’t want to fight. Alvey snaps him out of it, reminding Ryan of just how short-lived a professional fighter’s career is, so he’d better get to it already. Although he’s temporarily reinvigorated, Ryan says this will be his last fight, and given what comes later, it’s hard not to believe him.


His performance anxiety was unwarranted, though, as Ryan easily defeats his opponent and maintains his title. His confidence returns with a vengeance, and he’s practically crowing when he tells the commentator that MMA is “a violent business, and business is good.” He’s feeling so good that he accepts Jay’s challenge for the lightweight championship, telling his fellow Navy St. fighter that he may be his brother, but again, “it’s just fucking business.” Then he thanks his father, “the greatest man” he’s ever known, as Nate records the proceedings.

Jay and Nate make their pizza-laden return home, and the brothers take turns apologizing to each other for not being there for each other in recent weeks. Their bond hasn’t been overlooked this season so much as gone untested: They’ve been on different though familiar trajectories, with Nate once again recovering from a fight and Jay elbowing his way to a seat at the table. Despite Jay’s substance abuse and Nate’s reticence, they’re remarkably well-adjusted for having had such unstable parents. Nate takes a moment to thank Jay for fulfilling his role as the older brother, and they toast.

But their victory party is soon interrupted by Jay’s discovery of Christina’s unconscious body. They’re unable to wake her, so Jay resorts to injecting her with narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of opioids. Mac The Nurse gave Jay a vial of Narcan when Christina moved in with the boys, because they all saw the overdose coming, even though they were seemingly powerless to stop it. Christina comes to, and Jay celebrates her resuscitation with a bump of something (cocaine, probably). But Nate’s had enough of living with his addict mother, and when she all but admits that the overdose was intentional and brought on by feeling superfluous in their lives, he tells her she’s absolutely right. Jay is rendered silent by Nate’s resolve, and he just listens as his younger brother tells his mother to check into rehab or leave them again: “Well, then fucking do it. Or get the fuck outta here. Cuz I’m not gonna lose my brother over you.”

Alvey finally catches up with Sean (at the latter’s invitation) in a motel, and he sees how all of Sean’s bad decision-making has caught up with him. His former friend confesses to the Ponzi scheme, telling Alvey he never really meant to screw him over. Alvey scoffs when Sean tells him he still doesn’t know what it’s like to have nothing, but Sean isn’t referring to the humble beginnings and gnawing desire that propelled Alvey through his career. He’s describing the lack of a past and a future, and having nothing to look back on or towards for motivation. Although they’d fallen out of touch years ago, the men led parallel lives, in which they effectively sucked the life out of everyone around them in their pursuit of another victory or another high. When Alvey forces Sean to admit his complicity in his fiancée’s death, he’s unwittingly acknowledging the part he played in Christina’s downward spiral. “I was taking so many pills, and she just tried to keep up,” Sean says, before pulling Alvey’s gun and shooting himself.


Alvey’s remarkably good on his feet in this situation, wiping the motel room clean of his fingerprints before heading home to find Lisa in his kitchen. He immediately tells her everything, and although she looks worried, she also appears vindicated. It’s possible that Lisa hadn’t stopped by just to say goodbye, that she might have been wavering in her decision to move to San Francisco. But any lingering doubts are removed as soon as Alvey tells her that he skipped all of the post-fight interviews to attempt to clean up his mess, only to make things worse. She’s concerned for Alvey, but even after he begs her to stay, she’s determined to limit his role in their son’s life. She recognizes Alvey’s desperation, his need for a third chance, which is what she and the baby represent. But as she tells him, she simply doesn’t want that life anymore. And when she leaves the next morning, it’s unclear how long she’ll be gone.

These decisions to cut ties and lose the dead weight of dysfunctional relationships are all proactive until the episode swings back around to Ryan, who faces a terrible dilemma. He shares his victory with his father, who looks very much at peace with Ryan’s position in life before asking him to reach out to his mother. Father and son drink until they’re unconscious, but Ryan is woken by his father’s cries of pain. Once more, he begs his son to kill him and put him out of his suffering, telling Ryan he’s already forgiven him. Ryan takes refuge in the bathroom, even calling Jay to ask if they can go out, but Jay tells him about Christina’s overdose. With no place to hide, Ryan walks quietly back into the living room and asphyxiates his father.


The next morning, Alvey sits Nate down to talk about his career in MMA, or rather, to talk him out of a career in MMA. He asks his son what he wants out of life, suggesting that there’s more to it than just fighting. Nate can’t see beyond the path he’s always been on—that his father set him on—so he can’t understand that Alvey is finally offering him a life better than his own. “Do better than me,” Alvey pleads, but Nate’s just taken aback by the implication that he’s a good fighter, not a great one, and we see that Alvey might really need that third chance. Later, Alvey waxes philosophical again about the nature of fighting, this time with the captive audience that is the reporter from fight night. He admits that winning vicariously through his fighters isn’t nearly as satisfying as winning on his own

And with that, we’re placed in hibernation/hiatus mode. It seems like just yesterday that I was relieved to see the show return for a second season, and now we’re enumerating the ways in which it built on the previous outing. I know we joke about—and despair of—people not watching the show, but the pay-off has been there for anyone who’s followed it so far. Kingdom has both narrowed its focus and widened its appeal with potent, straightforward storytelling, and I can’t wait to see what happens next year.


Stray observations

  • It was pointed out to me last week that I’d misheard Jay’s “feeding at the trough” line, which completely changes my interpretation of that sauna scene, and is much more in line with the guy who wins by knockout.
  • There was no Keith and no Alicia this episode, and since their absence wasn’t felt, I have to wonder about what they’re contributing to the show.
  • Uh, I know Ryan probably knew exactly what he was doing when he effectively smothered his father, but surely there are some forensic countermeasures he should have taken?

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