Screenshot: Kingdom

Despite its title, the episode “All Talk” is much more dynamic than most of the Kingdom episodes that preceded it this season. Directed by Adam Davidson (who helmed the series premiere), it has all the elements of the strongest installments of the series, combining humor and a lively fight with Jay’s anguish, Alvey’s tunnel vision, and Nate’s recalcitrance. Though, to be fair, the youngest Kulina (and his portrayer, Nick Jonas) has emerged from his shell this season. Who knew Nick Jonas could be so soulful? No offense, it’s just that I’m too old to have been a Jonas Brothers fan, though I am aware of the phenomenon.

Point is, I have no frame of reference here (sorry, didn’t watch Scream Queens either). Still, I would give Jonas the “most improved award” for bringing such emotional depth to a character who isn’t anywhere near as verbose or demonstrative as his brother and father, who both have a tendency to just… go… on. It’s all the more impressive considering Nate hasn’t really gotten the attention he deserves, especially not this season. The one-year (roughly) time jump glossed over his recovery from his sexual assault, though the memory lingers because he is, after all, dating Will, his attacker’s (presumably) former assistant. It’s a bit unsettling to see it being brushed under the rug for the most part. Nate keeping the secret of the assault and his sexual orientation’s no shocker, because he doesn’t even seem like the type of guy who would offer up his favorite song without a lot of prompting.

Indeed, the youngest Kulina’s also the most tight-lipped and withdrawn member of the family, though he’s still far from anti-social. Alvey’s history and notoriety have paved the way some for Nate as a fighter, but his strong-and-silent demeanor has also won him some fans. Witness the interview before his big fight tonight. This kid’s not just telegenic; he sits confidently next to his old man, looking and presumably feeling like he belongs there. And yet, as Alvey talks about how “close” he and his sons are, Nate’s expression clearly but briefly contradicts that statement. There’s the briefest flash of sadness in his eyes (though Nate always looks a little glum), but he quickly pulls up the corners of his mouth again. Alvey also falters while uttering that statement, because sometimes his bullshit can get to be too much for even himself. But mostly, they both seem aware of the missing piece: Jay.

As hard as Alvey’s been on Jay, and as much as he might not want to give up the spotlight, this joint interview is also bittersweet because it could have included his other son. He says as much to Nate, who knows (as we do) that Jay’s in no condition for interviews or training at the moment. “All Talk” has a lot in common with the series opener, “Set Yourself On Fire,” in addition to featuring the same director. Jay’s getting fucked up with Mac again, even though the nurse-pusher shows some self-awareness when he wonders aloud about how ridiculous they’ll look, snorting coke poolside at 40. Nate’s getting ready for a fight once more—and getting most of his father’s attention. And Alvey’s still wondering where he went wrong with his older son.

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It’s a return to basics, but it still ends up pushing the episode and overall series forward. Alvey’s concern for Jay isn’t a stray thought the way it was in the premiere; he actively wonders what he might have done to put Jay off. Though it’s definitely had its narrative shortcomings this season, Kingdom has laid the groundwork for Alvey’s epiphany. We might question the fact that his interest in his son’s wellbeing was prompted by the birth of his granddaughter (or possibly the unexpected mail from his mother), but there’s no doubt that Jay’s latest downward spiral is on Alvey’s radar. All of Jay’s acting out has registered with Alvey, but rather than admit that he’d made a mistake at some point, he devoted his energy to his younger son. The same could probably be said for his marriage; he gave Christina a family so he wouldn’t feel so bad about the cheating and virtual abandonment. Or, to put it another way, when the marriage didn’t quite work out the way he thought, he moved on to building a family. He had Jay, but when his son turned out to have more in common with his mother, he moved on to Nate, then Navy Street, then Ryan, etc. This pivoting might help Alvey in the ring—”Find a way, not an excuse”—but it’s made him worthless in his personal life. What remains to be seen is just how much of himself he’s actually willing to give in order to help his son. For example, will he skip his big fight, if needed?

Despite taking us back to familiar territory, “All Talk” is no mere retread. Yes, we’re ringside again, and yes, Nate is attempting another comeback. And naturally, Jay is coked out while Alvey just tries to keep it all together. But every Navy Street fighter has his own style, which Kingdom shows off in different ways. As befits his personality, Jay’s fights are the most unpredictable and, more often than not, the hardest won. So the camera gets right in there, showing us all of the exertion and pain, the blood and the sweat. Ryan’s fights are quite kinetic, and the camera almost struggles to keep up with him the sitting King Beast champ. We’ve yet to see Alvey go all in, but his many sparring sessions have been shot from above. Early on, this demonstrated his prowess—”God’s eye,” and all that—as well as his spot on the periphery of the sport, since he became a coach. In season three, though, Alvey’s time in the ring shows elements of everyone else’s, from Jay’s desperation to Ryan’s explosiveness.

Nate’s seen slightly more action than Alvey throughout the series, but unlike the fighter, those bouts have been ugly. His career was stymied after he was attacked by the men who were actually looking for Alvey. But after he was mostly healed and accepted that unsanctioned fight with a larger guy, he showed little finesse. It was enough to make Alvey question whether or not Nate was a fighter or just an athlete. Kingdom and Nate look to put those doubts to rest in this episode-closing slugfest. It’s not the kind of victory we’d see from any of the other Kulinas or Ryan, but there’s a reason for that beyond the fact that Nate is his own man. He’s rattled by the homophobic slur hurled from his opponent’s camp, which leads to him wanting to kick the guy’s ass rather than win the fight. Kingdom shows us the distinction when Alvey chastises Nate for wanting to box with the guy. Not because he desired to do so, but because Nate was going about it the wrong way. Nate fine-tuning his fight style is part and parcel with the show’s thoughtful treatment of what is, on the surface, something purely visceral.

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Kingdom’s consistent ability to put forth variations on its MMA theme is laudable, so it’s a relief to watch the show return to its roots. We’re probably still headed for a heartbreak, though, if the foreshadowing via the baby’s crib (“an empty casket”) is any indication. But I’m definitely in the show’s corner again.

Stray observations

  • These are mostly questions, but could Alvey’s influence really keep Ryan out of jail? The robber dude might not be dead, but it’s not for lack of trying on Ryan’s part. Wouldn’t the fact that Ryan’s a professional fighter frame his actions in a different light?
  • Another highlight for me this evening would have to be Jay and Alvey’s heart to heart. It might be too little, too late, but Alvey owning up to his doubts about fatherhood was cathartic (for me, anyway). The Kulinas have already become one of my favorite TV families. Everyone’s relationship feels so authentic, so lived-in.
  • If you didn’t hate Alvey’s dad before…

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