Kingdom, Season 1, Episode 2, “Glass Eye”
Directed by Adam Davidson
Written by Byron Balasco
Airs Wednesdays at 9pm ET on the Audience Network
After a premiere where every storyline invariably came back to Nate’s comings and goings, the second episode of Kingdom, “Glass Eye”, offers a look at everyone connected to Navy Street, with Nate mostly out of the picture post-hospitalization. The audience’s curiosity about his condition is satisfied early, but besides a wordless sequence with a dummy in the backyard, he doesn’t have much else to do. Everything is still tangentially related to Nate’s status because the show is still in too nascent a stage to truly spin anyone’s doings off to something unrelated, but even when Jay or Alvey are doing things on his behalf, it is without his permission or even his knowledge. He prefers not to talk to the cops even if it would be in his best interests, spurring Jay to stumble to the police station half out of his mind on drugs. Alvey automatically assumes that Nate is counting down the days until he can fight again without even asking if that’s the case, all but marking the six months off in his head on the way home from the hospital. The provided timeline of Nate’s physical therapy and hopeful return to the ring does at least give an expected arc for the season. Presumably, Ryan’s return will keep the gym afloat while Nate is recovering, and by the end of the season they will both be in the ring together, in full fighting shape.
One thing this episode does exceedingly well is base decisions in realistic character expectations and outcomes. The investors Lisa meets with aren’t going to magically save the gym, because that isn’t how life works. Sure, $20,000 in an envelope at lunch is nice in theory, but as her later conversation with Alvey proves, that direction holds potential downfalls for their future that aren’t yet clear. Even Ryan’s return to the gym elicits cautious optimism and a noticeable lack of assurance that a newly resuscitated fighting career holds anything but failure. Nothing is guaranteed for Navy Street, especially with Alvey’s commitment to allowing clients with outstanding bills to work out standing in the way of Lisa’s managerial efforts.
Kiele Sanchez’s performance was a little swept under the rug in the premiere review, but this may be the best material she’s been given in her entire career. As the lone women in a world of macho, conflicted men, she is a voice of reason without seeming shrewish, and a voice of compassion without seeming too soft or motherly. In other words, she seems like a real person, instead of a female character written with biases one way or another. Keeping everyone in line is Lisa’s job, and instead of doing it begrudgingly, she does it out of love for Alvey and the gym’s best interests. Sanchez allows the understanding side of Lisa to come across when admonishing fighters for late payments, even as she puts her foot firmly down where Alvey will not. Most importantly, the show lets her have faults, instead of making her an angel who judges everyone else. She admits she went to see Ryan at his support group and doesn’t try to make excuses, instead offering up an explanation to Alvey that he accepts because of their trusting relationship.
As long as Belasco continues to expand Lisa’s motivations and personality just as much as any of the fighters she has to wrangle, Sanchez proves here she will be able to keep up. This, almost more than anything else on the series, will be something to keep an eye on as an arbiter of the show’s quality going forward. Will they be able to devote enough screen time to every character every week? Probably not, and trying to will only backfire. But maintaining the development of Lisa (as well as Joanna Going’s Christina) will at least prove that the creative team cares about the female characters on some level, and includes them when prioritizing which plates to keep spinning and which to let fall.
Curiously, the way Alvey is trending as a character is more of a concern this episode. His emotional exposition to open the episode works on some levels, but becomes overwrought the longer it goes on. Credit to the show for framing his outpouring of deep thoughts as something actually happening, instead of a standard voiceover, but his contemplations about family and his life’s direction fall short of leaving a longer impression than for those few minutes. The inaction of the police with regards to Nate’s attack marginalizes the whole family in the eyes of society, but Alvey’s general indifference to their lack of progress puts him in a position to be sidelined from future retribution. Even if Jay’s actions are done without thinking, he at least attempts to make progress on behalf of his brother. It’s unclear whether Alvey stays out of it because he knows it was payback for his actions or whether he just wants to let things pass and focus on Nate’s recovery, but what it comes down to is that he talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. He tells everyone he wants to turn things around in his life and work, but is clearly content with the status quo for as long as making changes is more difficult than staying the same. He wants Lisa to turn the gym around, but doesn’t comply with her requests, instead losing himself in coaching and training young fighters.
Then, after an episode full of wavering during major decisions, he delivers an emotional and inspirational speech to Ryan that is one of the most confident character moments yet. It simply doesn’t mesh with his actions the rest of the episode, even though the acting is spectacular by both parties. Alvey can be just as lost as everybody else, he can be a leader for young men and his sons, or he can be a little of both. But the show doesn’t effectively sell that he is any of these right now, and if they don’t decide soon, he is at risk of becoming a muddled character who is there simply to bounce off of other people. It’s still too early to be so concerned about minor warning signs, but Kingdom has such confidence for a young drama, and it would be a shame for it to derail itself with easy-to-fix mistakes.