To the very end, Kingdom never pulled its punches. It was a drama populated by terribly faulted people, nary a perfect role model among them. And the closest thing that the Kulinas’ inner circle had to one died in the penultimate episode, no casualty of a brutal cage fight but an utterly random shooting.
What’s more, Kingdom had an incredible sense of place and culture, breaking away from TV’s myriad crime, medical and superhero shows to take us to a tactile, seldom-explored Venice Beach, liberally shooting on location to put on display no glittery, glam world of MMA fighting, but the lower-rent atmosphere that the brutal sport actually dwells in. Even as Navy St.’s assorted fighters rose in the ranks or, as Alvey did in the finale, lurched out of retirement for a splashy “legends” showdown, the proceedings always had a dingy film to them. At their height, they were a far cry from Rocky Balboa’s least-slick showcase.
The casting for the series brilliantly populated this strange world, sometimes pulling from unexpected places (a shaved-head Nick Jonas as a brawler? Parenthood mayor Jonathan Tucker as an anger-mismanaging addict?) and regularly delivering showcases for them all, Kiele Sanchez, Matt Lauria and, especially in recent weeks, Frank Grillo included. For all those reasons — plus the fact that you could (and I did) pick up the occasional workout tip! — the under-the-radar show will be missed.
The Audience Network drama delved into all kinds of drama during its final run, much of it aimed at family patriarch Alvey, who simultaneously had to contend with returning to the ring (and the physical woes/demons it awoke), his fractured relationship with son Jay, his mother’s dementia and, toward the end, the discovery of the secret that closeted son Nate for too long kept — one that would be disclosed mere minutes before the aforementioned, tragic death.
The finale opened shortly after Alvey’s “legends” fight — showing him nursing many drinks in private at a bar yet not tipping its hand to the outcome — before jumping back in time to Nate’s funeral, where the Kulinas, Lisa, Ryan and Mac scattered ashes into the ocean. Alvey of course was gutted by a sense of guilt, his reaction to Nate’s coming out having sent his son charging out of the bar where he wound up shot by an anxious bouncer. Jay only fed into that, saying that all Nate needed to hear was that his dad “got” him. Acknowledging how he himself over the years “used” Nate’s goodness and guidance to keep himself alive, Jay taunted Alvey, “You had his whole f–king life in your hands.”
With that new wedge driven between him and Jay, Alvey toughed it out through his weigh-in and final stretch of training, tasking Ryan with being his corner man for the big fight. We also saw him open up, in an unchecked way, with ex-wife Christina, bellowing in detail of how Nate looked like a helpless baby as he bled to death in his father’s arms that fateful night.
When the “legends” clash finally arrived, new King Beast boss Lisa and then Jay then shared some emotional thoughts about fallen fighter Nate. (Jay in particular had some charged words, inviting Nate’s homophobic detractors to speak up now or forever hold their peace.) Alvey then entered the case and got as good as he gave — and in fact was well-pummeled my rival Matt Hughes during the middle rounds. But a glance over to his remaining family, a supportive Jay included, seemed to give him the lift he needed to fulfill Ryan’s request for a final “five minutes of hell”— which he did, emerging the victor.
Afterward, Alvey dedicated the fight to Nate, saying, “I love you, and I miss you,” before retreating down the arena’s halls and into the showers, where in private, away from the blood-smudged cage, he indulged himself in a much-needed breakdown.
What did you think of Kingdom‘s final round?