Kingdom, Season 1, Episode 6: “Please Refrain From Crying”
Written by Alex Metcalf
Directed by Gary Fleder
Airs Wednesdays at 9pm ET on the Audience Network
Until now, the approach to family issues on Kingdom has been to tackle them in theory rather than fact. The telling rather than showing tactic has worked to this point, giving the show a chance to flesh out most of the major histories of the characters before shuffling the pairings and forcing anybody to confront past transgressions head-on. This episode throws all the theory out the window and places everybody who could possibly be holding a grudge against somebody else in the same room for an extended period of time. Alvey and Christina, Ryan and Lisa, Jay and Alvey, Nate and Christina, Ryan and his parents, the list of potential time bombs goes on and on. As expected, it offers some additional insights into this family and their past, as well as a return to steadiness for the show after a discombobulated outing last week.
Christina’s reintegration into the real world goes much smoother than could be hoped for after being locked in a bedroom for days on end while detoxing. She doesn’t escape or immediately try to find drugs while running errands with Nate, which is promising, but this completely gives the benefit of the doubt to a recovering addict, which comes off strangely. The opening scene of Jay washing his mother and essentially welcoming her back to real life is a major shortcut in her part of the story, completely cutting out any complications from the drug or attempts to escape. One way to look at it is that Kingdom is much more interested in telling the story of her reincorporation to the world than it is getting into the specifics of drug addiction. The other is that her long-term addiction to something as devastating as heroin is a contributing factor to why Alvey can’t bear to sit at the same table as Christina or why Jay and Nate live by themselves in a ramshackle bachelor pad while Alvey and Lisa enjoy a beautiful home by themselves. The latter is the more concerning of the two, in that it is skipping interesting relationship dynamics in pursuit of conspiracy theories as to whether Christina wants to try at all or is just waiting until everyone trusts her enough so she can con them out of their money.
Joanna Going’s portrayal of a mother working to establish a connection with her estranged sons is fine, but as soon as it crosses over into “does she have an ulterior motive” territory, the whole thing falls apart. Alvey and Jay butting heads over their opinions of what potential their family has to reunite, or how Nate responds to his absentee mother’s return, is far more interesting than questioning Christina’s motivations and personality traits. Their hours at the bar in a sort of half-hearted conversation about fighting and family dynamics is a prelude to the fight that happens later, a sort of thumb in the dam of alcoholic banter that does little more than make each man jealous of the other’s progress. Alvey can’t stand that Jay is closer to Nate than he is and Jay practically scoffs at his father’s declaration of pride at his win. The show has worked hard since the pilot to reposition Jay as someone who has certain issues, sure, but has the faculties to function as a fighter, brother, and son rather than a complete deadbeat who never stops drinking or shooting up. That alteration of his image is important here, as it is believable that he could be more in the right than his father instead of being another junkie mouthing off about things of which he has no comprehension.
Ryan and Lisa’s trip to see his parents is the most fraught and awkward of all the reunions and it is not a coincidence that these two are the only ones spending time together this episode who aren’t related. There is no expected forgiveness in their interactions as there would be with blood relatives, only a history of broken hearts and lies. Ryan’s reunion with his parents is probably more suited to a bottle episode-style rollout, giving more of an opportunity to spend time in his head as he and Lisa make the trip to see them as well as a longer conversation once they arrive. The way it is presented cuts short the chance to dig into the past of these four people, instead offering only snippets, like Lisa disappointing Marilyn when the latter asks if they are back together romantically. That exchange alone lets the imagination run wild as to Lisa’s relationship with Ryan’s family both before and after his imprisonment, but then stops short. If all the time spent on Keith and his murder of another house resident, which is a nonstarter in so many ways, had been spent with Ryan and Lisa instead, it would be proof that the show is more interested in the compelling complications of a fraught pairing rather than easy fireworks. Instead it once again sacrifices its endless potential to be a contemplative hour of television in favor of blood and guts, even though at this point it should be clear gore outside of the ring is wholly unnecessary for the success of the show.