“Be First” is actually the fourth episode of the second season of Kingdom, but it’s as good a place to start (reviewing) as any. The first three episodes of the season reminded us of how far the Kulina clan and its extended family, including Ryan Wheeler (Matt Lauria) and Lisa Prince (Kiele Sanchez), have come. Which is to say, not very—Alvey (Frank Grillo) and Lisa are still struggling to keep their gym afloat, Jay (Jonathan Tucker) is still persona non grata among fight promoters, and Ryan continues to have trouble adjusting to life on the outside (of prison, in case you haven’t watched the first season). But at least Nate (Nick Jonas) is back in fighting trim. And this week, we get a glimpse at how emotionally damaged Christina (Joanna Going) really is, as well as just what kind of scheme Alvey and Sean Chapas (Mark Consuelo) are hatching.
The episode opens with Alvey and Sean chatting up one of the residents at Culver Crest, a facility in which the latter is an investor. The two men appear to have a long but uncomplicated history—they made it out of the octagon mostly unscathed, although Alvey remains on the periphery as a respected trainer. So it makes some sense that they would consider going into business together, although Sean’s plan to invest in senior living facilities doesn’t initially appeal to Alvey. It’s clear that Alvey just wants to get away from all of the senior citizens, because they just remind him of his own advancing age. Still, Sean assures him the assisted living sector is a goldmine, and tells Alvey that this form of “passive income” is how “guys like them” are able to retire.
Alvey’s not really in a position to retire, anyway, as he’s expecting a child with Lisa. Although they’re still living together, they don’t appear to be together. The disappearing act that Alvey pulled in “Cut Day,” and the way he’s forced Ryan, Lisa’s ex, back into their lives has put too great a strain on their relationship. But Lisa’s mistrust of Alvey is relatively new compared to his lack of confidence in her—whenever he was asked (in season one) about running the Navy St. gym, he attributed varying degrees of responsibility to her. And he’s made several moves without her knowledge, so they don’t appear to have the most equitable partnership.
Lisa’s still planning to have their baby, even though her actions suggest she’s almost as ambivalent about being a mother as she is about co-parenting with Alvey. She tells the ob-gyn that she wants enough drugs to ensure she doesn’t remember, much less experience, giving birth, but the doctor recommends she look into other options, like going through a natural childbirth. Almost as an afterthought, Lisa asks about the sex of the baby and learns she’s having a boy.
Alvey’s thrilled to hear he’ll soon have another son and declares himself a “maker of men.” Lisa doesn’t actually give him this information—Alvey assumes the baby is a boy because she’s reluctant to tell him either way. She also didn’t tell him about the ob-gyn appointment, a fact which is not lost on Alvey. She later shares her insecurities about raising a kid with him, as well as her anger at his already being absent in their child’s life (even if it was her fault). Because he’s dealt with an emotional pregnant woman before (twice), he apologizes for not reading her mind, but admits that he hasn’t been a great dad. “One son’s a mute, the other’s a maniac,” is how he describes Nate and Jay, respectively.
And speaking of Nate, Alvey’s youngest (for now) is trying desperately to get medical clearance so he can return to the ring. He was knocked out in his previous fight with a roundhouse kick to the face, but he’s undeterred. Unfortunately, he fails the mental and physical tests, and the doctor refuses to clear him. Nate’s understandably upset— he doesn’t have much to do if he isn’t training or fighting. He’s never done anything but follow in his father’s (professional) footsteps, so he thinks he has no other skills. He could find some comfort in spending time with his girlfriend Casey, except that viewers learned at the end of season one that Nate is a closeted homosexual (possibly bisexual).
Casey finds this out for herself after going through his phone to find naked pictures (and video) of men, as well as texts arranging hookups. She chews Nate out in the gym, hurling homophobic slurs at him while he begs her not to tell. Casey eventually stomps off, but Nate doesn’t look relieved when she leaves because he was unable to convince her to keep his secret.
Several Navy St. fighters witness the confrontation, including Ryan, who’s spending a lot of time at the gym. That’s because he’s on the hook for six fights in the King Beast circuit run by Garo Kassabian (Bryan Callen). Ryan and Alvey agreed to the lopsided arrangement after Ryan tested positive for cocaine before his last fight. Ryan’s arc is slow-going so far, but he has less to prove this season. After all, he’s made his triumphant return to the sport—even if he was barely able to hang on to the title in the season premiere—and made peace with his father. He’s also got his own place to live (a house he shares with a fellow ex-con), and a new love interest, Alicia (Natalie Martinez).
Alicia is one of Lisa’s new clients, a Miami-born MMA fighter with an average record. She’s had trouble gaining a footing in the sport, but Lisa recognizes her potential, as well as her interest in Ryan. Alicia isn’t concerned about Lisa and Ryan’s past, so when he flirts with her, she flirts right back. A grappling session between the two fighters passes for foreplay, and they later have sex at Ryan’s house.
Jay didn’t have a lot of screen time this week, but his handful of scenes were devastating. When he demands that Alvey give him a title shot by letting him fight Ryan for it, Alvey convinces him to drop a weight class (to 145 lbs, a more than 20-pound loss), beef up his stats, and then fight Ryan. Jay falls for it, even though he must recognize that Alvey’s just trying to buy himself some time. Despite Jay’s ability to thrive in adversity—and his victory last season—Alvey’s not betting on him, and probably never will. Ryan may have defected at the peak of his career, but Alvey welcomed him right back, because he thinks Ryan’s the better fighter.
Although he’s usually turned to his mother, Christina, for help (whenever she hasn’t been on the streets), Jay’s taken to spending time with Laura (Jessica Szohr). He’s happy to have his mother’s approval of his girlfriend, but skeptical about them spending time together. His instincts are proven right when Laura starts dodging his calls after spending the afternoon with Christina. When he confronts Christina, she coolly tells him that perhaps he’s “bothering” Laura. Although she’s perfectly aware of the fact that she and Alvey failed to set an example of a healthy relationship for their son, she warps his understanding of love even further by telling him that people move at different speeds in relationships. Sometimes someone loves you, and sometimes they don’t, says the woman who abandoned him.
Christina spent the first season recovering from her heroin addiction and transient life. She appears to be trying to get her life together, but now that she’s not a wife or a mother or a junkie, she doesn’t seem to have a place in anyone’s life. She’s also backsliding a bit, dressing up to now only pose as a sex worker in hotel bars to experience a non-opiate high. And with her divorce now finalized, Christina is lashing out at the only person who’s been in her corner this whole time, her son Jay. Alvey has hinted at Christina’s emotional manipulation, but this was the first time it was on full display, and directed against such an undeserving target.
- I didn’t really address Ryan’s roommate Keith, even though he was in the episode and even walked in on the Ryan-Alicia sex. It feels like the writers are using him for comic relief from the ground-and-pound of the drama, but if that means we’re in for months of avocado-fucking jokes, well, they might do better to stay away from comedy.
- Having said that, it was kind of funny to hear him tell Ryan all about “Big Pharma.”
- Although Alicia accused Lisa of being jealous in a previous episode, her attraction to Ryan seems genuine and, more importantly, mutual. Since they’ll all be in close quarters at the gym, it looks like the show is setting up another love triangle in which Lisa is a reluctant participant. Maybe they’ll eventually have a love octagon.
- Finally, welcome to TV Club’s Kingdom reviews! This particular entry ran a bit long, but we had a lot of catching up to do!