The first season finale of Kingdom, appropriately titled “King Beast”, is more interesting for what it doesn’t do than what it does. Namely, that 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 working for months for which to prepare. 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, it is clearly just the way he prepares compounded by the nervousness brought on by his return after so long away.
Everyone has their own threshold for pain, whether it’s barely a pinch or an agonizing round in the ring that makes them go over the edge. The third episode of Kingdom, “Piece of Plastic”, spends most of its time giving a long, hard look at the maximum level of emotional and physical pain each member of this gym family can go through before it becomes too much. Each of them reach or come close to their breaking points in the span of a few days, but each tribulation is woven together in such a way that they don’t seem like everything is going to hell in a hand basket. These stormy seas seem like something the Kulinas routinely go through at least once a year and manage to make it out of without sinking altogether.
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.
Kingdom is a different beast for the land of pay cable shows. Byron Balasco — he of such procedurals as Without a Trace, Detroit 1-8-7, and FlashForward — wrote the script on spec. DirecTV’s third scripted series ever (not counting their role as savior of Friday Night Lights) and only the third show out of Endemol Studios, the show is very much a mix of experience and newer hands both behind the camera and in front of it. Balasco’s expertise in the world of MMA is sketchy at best, and before now he was better know as an executive producer or co-producer than a show runner. Even after taking all of this into account, the pilot is a more cohesive look at the damaged and problematic Kulinas and their extended Navy Street Gym family than it has any right to be.