Over the course of three seasons, we’ve seen various cycles play out on Kingdom—substance abuse, emotional neglect, and dysfunctional relationships, to name a few. We’ve born witness to many down swings and low points for all of the characters, regardless of whether or not they created the circumstances. But that’s just it—how do we/they assign blame? What’s the formula for meting out responsibility? Alvey had an abusive, alcoholic father, and while he might not have wailed on his sons, he’s guilty of inflicting other kinds of pain. So is the psychological damage he’s done to Christina, Jay, and to a lesser extent, Nate entirely his fault?
The show’s never seemed to think so. It’s factored in Alvey’s painful upbringing—making similar allowances for Jay and the rest—while regularly underscoring his flaws. And this season, we’ve gotten longer glimpses into King Kulina’s past, including that heartbreaking anecdote about how he used to have to fight at his father’s behest, for his father’s pride. We know who the Alvey was in Alvey’s life, but what about the Christina? That is, what about Alvey’s mom? Was she also left to her own devices and children while her husband cavorted, or did she have a happier marriage than Alvey?
We got a big piece of the puzzle tonight, with the introduction of Annette Kulina played by TALIA FUCKING SHIRE. (Breaking from the review to say, HOLD YOUR HEADS HIGH, KINGDOM FANS, because Talia Shire counts herself among us). If Alvey’s dad was the forge that prepped Alvey for battle, what influence did Annette have? Well, from what we saw tonight in “Old Pueblo,” she provided the other half of the fucked-up relationship model that he (and to some extent Jay) has followed. When Jay tells Nate that Annette was “put through the ringer” by her husband, he could just as easily be talking about Christina.
There’s no telling just how Alvey was affected by her depressive episodes, but thwarting your mom’s suicide attempts would be tough for anyone. Annette’s depression has obviously been a lifelong battle, one she tries to finish in tonight’s opening scenes. The first few minutes of Kingdom episodes are usually a doozy, but the slow reveal of the character’s intent and the actress’ identity were especially hard-hitting. Shire didn’t have much dialogue this episode, but, true to the show’s form, she made great use of her time. I laughed, mostly in shock, when she brought that step ladder out to make her way to the top of that parking structure.
That said, I hope we learn more about Annette before the end of the series, which is approaching all too quickly now. She’s one late addition I enjoy. (Her presence also has the unintended effect of making Dom’s lingering one seem all the more unnecessary, but more on that in a bit). At the very least, I’d like to see her discuss her struggles with depression, rather than have her story told by her son, affecting though that scene may have been. But her current reticence does mean that it’s on Alvey to explain just why he and his sons drove to Tucson.
I was actually a little surprised that Alvey brought Jay and Nate along, especially since it seems their grandmother never played much of a role in their lives (and now we’re thinking of the consequences of that). As the youngest, Nate knows the least about her, which is why he asks Jay to tell him. Beyond knowing that she endured something similar to his mother, Jay recalls that Annette wore “a lot of makeup,” which suggests he doesn’t know much more himself. But it’s okay because for the first time in a long time, maybe ever, Alvey opens up to his boys about his boyhood. They’re familiar with the stories about their asshole grandfather, but now they’re privy to their grandmother’s history. Alvey matter-of-factly tells them what it was like to come home to hear the sound of your mother’s body hitting the ground after a botched attempt at killing herself. And for the first time in a long time (maybe ever), Jay and Nate feel sympathy for their father.
That dinner scene is an echo chamber of vulnerability, as Alvey lets his sons in and they take in the new knowledge. They’ve known for a while that their father’s not all-knowing, but now they’re learning about the time he was rarely ever in control. It’s a difficult thing for someone to hear, let alone share, but aside from some teasing about Alvey’s fight diet, they just sit with it. The scene’s another a testament to the cast’s lived-in dynamic; there’s no need for overt displays of affection or offers of consolation. They all take turns listening, wearing their concern on their faces.
I take that back—we do get a sense of how Alvey was affected by Annette’s suicide attempts. It toughened him in other ways; it made him resign himself to Christina’s self-destructive tendencies, and maybe even Jay’s. He looks right at his eldest son when he says “Someone really wants to die, you can’t get ’em off it. They’re on a mission.”
If that admission had come in an earlier season, I might have thought that Alvey was throwing in the towel. He’s often despaired of his son, but his attitude has softened considerably. From the start of this season, he’s left room for other possibilities for Jay’s misfortunes beyond “my kid’s a fuck-up.” He’s gone from essentially betting against Jay to wanting to be in his corner. I say “wanting,” because this is Jay’s decision, too—and he’s been burned by Alvey before. But knowing what he knows now about Alvey’s past, he might be willing to give him another chance, like the one he might be getting. Though no apologies are offered or accepted, there’s an air of forgiveness—two sons forgiving their father, and their father accepting their failings. It also seems like Alvey’s ready to let go of some of his resentment toward his parents, too.
This is the kind of story development I’ve been holding out for this season—not quite a resolution to the strife, because this might be TV, but it’s a realistic drama. But after meeting such flawed but compelling characters, it’s much more satisfying to even just go back to their pasts to see how they got here. The sins of the father will be visited on the children—that old Bible quote has lingered in the periphery through Kingdom’s run, as Jay and Nate dealt not just with their own issues from being raised by Alvey, but looking after another victim, Christina. Of course, she also did a number on their emotional development and wellbeing. That’s the deceptively simple truth that Kingdom’s been espousing from the beginning: Parents screw up, and so do their kids. Sometimes, the provenance of our issues can be traced directly back to one incident or one person, but usually, it’s a multitude of things. We’ve watched these characters deal with the effects, but in its final season, Kingdom is going back to the beginning to help them do more than just cope.
“Old Pueblo” is a surprisingly uplifting episode (not for the show, just given its material). Even with some possibly grim foreshadowing—via Alvey’s “Jay has a few good years left,” which was a comment about his MMA career, but could mean the other thing—a lot of painful memories were dredged up and confronted, and for the better. But with two episodes left, things could still go left.
- Tonight’s episode, like the remaining two, was written by Byron Balasco. And Michael Morris, who’s directed a dozen Kingdom episodes, was at the helm. Kudos, lads.
- I can’t tell you how much I love Talia “Adrian Balboa” Shire guest starring on Kingdom. She made a rare onscreen appearance because she digs the show as much as we do. I mean, COME ON.
- Keith: “I’m no longer the ‘penis on fruit’ guy in here.” You’re certainly not, Keith.
- Speaking of which, the parallels between Keith’s mental illness and treatment and Annette’s could have been handled more deftly, but I maybe understand the point of character better now? I don’t know. I’m just glad we’ve wrapped up that arc.
- Dom going all Melrose Place on Lisa proves that he is on the wrong show.
- Finally, I apologize for not posting last week, but I swear to you that I’m here until the end, screeners or none.