Kingdom, Season 1, Episode 5: “Eat Your Own Cooking”
Directed by Gary Fleder
Written by Walter Cvetko
Airs Wednesdays at 9pm ET on the Audience Network
At this point, one theme that jumps out about Kingdom is that the show resists the urge to descend into a never-ending river of narrative clichés whenever possible. It doesn’t always succeed in this effort, but the difference is noticeable through the first five episodes, in a way that separates this cable drama from many others that embrace the violence and anger of its male leads at the detriment of more mature aspects of the show. That isn’t to say that Kingdom has proven it can stand alone without gratuitous anger and fighting, but it builds stories around these incidents in a way that spurns stereotypes in favor of the character work necessary for throwing punches to mean something more in the long run. “Eat Your Own Cooking” does enough of this to be passable, but only bats .500 with cliché avoidance tactics, and as such is the weakest episode of the first five.
The problem with this week’s episode is that it doesn’t commit fully to any of the threads it introduces in the beginning of the episode. Getting a closer look at Alvey’s mental state and his repressed anger issues is intriguing, as is the issue of Ryan’s parents freezing him out post-prison stay, or Jay’s fight going all wrong until the last minute, when it goes right. The show acts like it doesn’t have the confidence to only focus on one family member for an entire episode at this point, which is accurate, but the weightiness of the subject matter put on the table is too much to balance between four or five storylines at once. It throws off the balance of the entire episode, and gives short shrift to what could be interesting stories if the show decides to delve deeper in future installments.
Alvey’s past is something that has been touched on multiple times, between his history as a successful competitor and his questionable extracurricular activities when he was a young fighter, but the way those thoughts are still clearly swirling around his head is all at once expected (because the foundation is already there) and shocking (because it is a grisly look at unflinching violence). Frank Grillo plays Alvey as calm, cool, and collected, outside of his earlier incident with the Mexican gang members, and an exploration of his inner workings is a welcome thought. It parallels nicely with Ryan’s efforts to control his temper at both the gym and the halfway house. In fact, if the episode was nothing but Alvey coaching Ryan on how to wrangle violent tendencies based on his past experiences, it would have been much stronger of an hour. Their conversation in the locker room about Ryan blowing up at the photographer has a hundred layers of history and understanding language in a few minutes of dialogue, yet the audience only gets to see the most superficial side of things. Alvey’s disturbing dream gets pushed aside after his confession to Lisa in their kitchen and Ryan dealing with his parents’ refusal to speak to him basically comes out of nowhere at the end of the episode. Cutting out all of the excess with Jay, Nate, and Lisa’s dad, and transplanting it to another episode down the road, would have allowed for a contemplative and unencumbered look at the mind of a conflicted fighter.
That isn’t to say the other parts of the episode are particularly bad, per se. They just stand in the way of it being a smooth episode of television. They are also the site of all of the episode’s clichés, which doesn’t help. Jay finally getting the opportunity to fight is fine, but doesn’t come with any major surprises, other than that he has the wherewithal to survive a beating when fighting at a higher weight. The message here is that Jay has some desire to be a close to functional person, but his actions with his mom already showed this last week, and as such, the fight doesn’t do much besides put an actual fight on screen for the first time since the premiere. Not an entirely unworthy reason to watch Jonathan Tucker get his face smashed to bits — there does need to be some fighting in a show about MMA fighters, after all — but there is no character growth besides Jay continuing to not care about his physical well being. Lisa stalking DeMarco into the parking lot for her money is great though, and hopefully not the last appearance of Jamie Kennedy’s wonderfully greasy portrayal of the promoter.
Nate’s storyline fails to register on any level, mostly because he doesn’t do anything besides smoke pot and wander around the apartment, staring wistfully at things. Again, Kingdom should be applauded for not having him free his mother or go into her room for a heart to heart between mother and son, but the expected scenes have to be replaced with something, and this is where the show falls short. Watching him play video games and ignore text messages does not make for an interesting watch. Credit where credit is due for ably side-stepping Tatiana turning into a parody of a medical professional, one who makes a mistake by hooking up with her patient. Yes, she does it, but it isn’t forbidden love or a big deal afterwards. Rather, she is a strong woman who subverts expectations by playfully mocking Nate after their one-night stand when he goes to leave the room. She doesn’t overreact at work by blaming everything on him, instead acting as a mature adult and assessing the situation responsibly. Nate doesn’t visibly learn anything from it, however, making the entire Tatiana storyline a bust if it doesn’t go anywhere else in the future. It is the part of the episode most deserving of being cut, and as indicative as anything that the show hasn’t quite figured out how to balance all five main characters’ goings on from episode to episode.