Kingdom, Ep. 1.10, “King Beast”: Are you strong or are you weak?

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Kingdom, Season 1, Episode 10: “King Beast”
Written by Byron Balasco
Directed by Tim Iacofano
Airs Wednesdays at 9pm ET on the Audience Network

The first season finale of Kingdom, appropriately titled “King Beast”, is more interesting for what it doesn’t do than what it does. Namely, the episode contains no overreactions to the events of fight day. There is a complete lack of build up to the fights both Ryan and Jay have been preparing for for months. Both fighters are loose at Navy Street during final preparations, if not totally relaxed. Jay is his usual sarcastic self throughout the entire day, keeping everybody around him in good spirits as the fights inch closer. Even in the stew room, surrounded by nervous family and friends, the tension doesn’t overwhelm the excitement of the battle. Ryan is visibly coiled up inside, ready to burst, but not in a way that overwhelms his chances in the ring. This is clearly just the way he prepares, compounded by the nervousness brought on by his return after so long away. There is no sense given that this fight is a once in a lifetime experience, or that losing could topple the entire enterprise, and thus they will not get another opportunity to succeed. The cycle of preparing for a fight, and executing the plan once the actual day arrives, is a fact of life to these boys, so making it seem like the most important thing they have or ever will do in their lives would be misguided. Having the fights themselves last less than a fifth of the episode combined feeds into this as well. The fights arrive, they happen, then they are over, win or lose, and the relationship machinations surrounding this group of people end up being more important than the sport they thrive on.

The relationship merry-go-round doesn’t fit in as naturally as the fighting aspects of the episode do, which has been a problem throughout this freshman season. The best thing that can be said about the break-ups and make-ups between the ever-present love quadrangle that has been stewing for half a season is that there is some form of resolution to be had in the decision making for once. Alvey gets broken up with by Lisa and Christina (who immediately sacrifices all her progress getting sober and calls Terry), neither woman giving any sense that they are wavering in their choice. He is left with the title of best trainer in the industry by some post-fight interviewer, and from the look on his face, he doesn’t even care all that much. Short of flat out giving Lisa the gym to own and operate by herself, this is the best thing the show could have done here. Putting aside for just a minute the fact that Kiele Sanchez and Frank Grillo have minimal chemistry together, the show keeps building Lisa up as a woman whose independence makes her sexy to everyone that knows her, and then smothers any chance of her breaking out on her own with the last vestiges of her feelings for Alvey. The two of them working at the gym together without being a couple gives both of them a chance to start making decisions by themselves, without the other getting unreasonably upset or worried. It also gives the show the chance to continue Alvey’s descent into madness and depression, now that he doesn’t have Lisa to impress or pull him out of it.

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The chemistry between Alvey and Lisa itself wasn’t awful during their relationship, but when put next to Ryan and Lisa’s electricity, it only looked worse. Lisa drunkenly throwing herself into something with Ryan the second she isn’t tied down is sad to see as a person, but makes complete sense when looking at the tension between them that has been building up for months. Lisa’s attraction to Ryan is more intense when she can’t stand him and wants him out of her life than it is to Alvey when she is doing something happy or fun with the latter. Whether this was the plan all along, or was altered even slightly after the writers saw how good these two actors are together doesn’t matter, as it offers a new trove of complications without compromising character background heading into Season two . There’s no way Ryan will be able to let it go if Lisa doesn’t want to get back together immediately, which is predictable, but might give Matt Lauria something more tangible to work with, rather than just being moody about life in general all the time.

By far the best narrative advance “King Beast” makes is Nate’s alley experience. All season, Nick Jonas has been used as a sidekick to characters that are currently in the ring or have more important problems to take care of, and each time the show tried to do something related to his sexuality, it hasn’t landed as well as it could have, because of the minimal episode time it was given. The fact that this encounter is part of a season-ending montage, and as such still doesn’t get more than two minutes devoted to his choices, is not a good sign for the time it may get next season. However, it is still a commitment, rather than the show leaving it by the wayside because they don’t know how to execute it properly. The exploration of an overwhelmingly heteronormative sport, and how the participants deal with accepting someone whose sexual orientation does not align with theirs, is an interesting prospect, and now Kingdom just has to decide to put more energy into showing that side of things. This is indicative of the largest problem of Kingdom‘s first season, the failure to go all-in on any of the various storylines in the rotation. It is tough for a freshman drama to avoid, especially in a 10-episode season. By the time character identities are established, it makes sense to ride out the pre-established arcs and give each about the same attention, for fear of losing a main character completely in the midst of someone else’s plot. Heading into the second season, there are a lot of spinning plates from which to choose when deciding which get to stay in the air. Hopefully Kingdom realizes where its strengths lie, and returns with an increased level of focus and emphasis on the most interesting aspects of this universe, instead of staying in neutral.

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