No matter how hard they try, fighters never stop being fighters. They can step outside the ring, drop the gloves, and put clothes on in order to portray something else, but the urge never dies or goes away. From the moment they throw their first punch and the addiction starts to grow, the ability can't be turned off.
Jay Kulina (Jonathan Tucker) isn't fooling anyone with his new look. Ryan (Matt Lauria) thinks he looks like "Jay in a suit", and laughs when he tells the elder Kulina son this particular hurtful if truthful message. Jay can put on a suit, drive a nice car, inject a few more fake smiles, but the animal still there needs to be fed. When he had the run-in with the despondent tenant last week, the urge in him wanted to pummel the guy. Fake Jay had to say no.
This week, Ryan simply presses on Jay's urge long enough until the animal comes out and wants to fight. I don't think Ryan really wants Jay to find him a house; the champion wants to knock the dust off his ring rival and best friend in order to lure him back to the cage for a third fight. Their friendship has always been a tricky slope, full of twists and turns. From fighting each other twice to leaning on each other in between, Ryan and Jay have a unique connection, but it's stronger than wins, losses, and grudges.
Seeing them tussle outside a 5.7 million dollar home owned by Jay's boss was equal parts painful and delightful. For the first time in nearly three hours of Byron Balasco's new season, we finally saw the real Jay arrive: the man that the new coat of Kulina sibling paint had covered up, or strangled until it was silent.
It also proved that Jay still has what it takes, because while the more updated training model of Wheeler gets the best of Jay once their street fight reached the ground, Kulina held his own on their feet. After all, he is a gifted one; beset with the cage tools and outside turmoil of a Kulina man. As they walk away, bloodied and satisfied, it will be interesting to see where this moment takes Tucker's Jay.
Over at Navy Street, Alvey's (Frank Grillo, fresh and light footed at 52 years of age now) pain isn't getting any worse, and it has led to hallucinations. Lisa (Kiele Sanchez) thinks it's the lack of medication that Alvey was on before the Legends fight came into order, but Alvey insists that it's nothing. He's doing that because there's no way he wants to know what is wrong with him. His malfunction can't be diagnosed, and if it had a name, Alvey would burn it to the ground. When Mac (Mac Brandt) blurts out A.L.S. and Parkinson's, Alvey's ears perk up, and an alarm starts to ring.
Balasco's storytelling marvels in the unexpected twists he'll send his main characters on. Instead of coasting on Alvey's bravado and ability to out-talk whatever comes his way, Balasco is painting the final season of Kingdom with roads built in different ways. One has an old fighter getting one last shot at the glory that escaped him; the other showing a man losing his edge and feeling the decades of fighting on his body. Alvey Kulina's opponent this season isn't really Matt Hughes, even though that matchup will indeed be legendary. It's the fight he has with himself and all the demons that are gathering at his table.
Who else dreams about getting knocked out by the "alpha" Ryan and then about getting mad at Christina (Joanna Going) for taking the shotgun shells out of his weapon, so he can't blow his head off? That is where Alvey's head is at right now.
The press conference with Hughes goes according to plan, with Alvey coming in late after he gets the payday of one million dollars, and largely blowing off the media. He's never had patience for interviews, but he's more standoff-ish these days. Something is different about Alvey, and it's not something has to tell him. In Season 2, he was giving live speeches to people needing to start a business, and wanting to connect with people.
This season, he is moody and distant, the signs of an animal ready to go off into the wild for good. Grillo has gotten to stretch more during this third season than any previous season or role in his career. That's the thing about great television: the more drama that the characters face, the better the acting becomes. Grillo is nailing it this season, moving Alvey into a depravity zone few saw coming.
Christina is dealing with a few problems in her brothel. Her pimp is sick and more aggravated than ever, and her newest girl-Kayla-is physically damaged from her first night out on the town. Going is getting more space to work with this season, gathering as much screen time as some of her co-stars at last, but still making use out of every single minute on screen. One part of me wants her to heal Alvey, and the other wants her to get out of California.
There was no Nick Jonas this week, so hopefully next week advances his story towards a fight in the ring, with his father, or in another avenue. There's another guy who needs to get out of town, but at the same time needs the support system. More Jonas next week!
Crazy Dominick moment of the week wasn't limited to one scene, but several, so let me be clear: Kirk Acevado is a very talented man who is creating a poisonous beast that which Navy Street may depart this partnership crippled. Mr. Ramos likes Lisa, but she can handle that. Now, he is trying to link up with Wheeler, which would potentially draw a line in the sand pertaining to Alvey's business. From the second he stepped foot on this show, here is what I'm thinking about Ramos: he's there to damage Alvey's world. Both are from New York and ex-fighters looking for a way back in. He's going after Lisa first, then Ryan, and perhaps the gym next. He's bad news.
Keith has officially gone off the reservation. It is one thing to buy eight knives to increase the home protection, but it's quite another to use one of those sharp tools to cut off your ankle bracelet that the sexual offender police are tracking you with. Every time I see Paul Walter Hauser's doomed loner, I think back to early Season 2 where he was simply "Ryan's guy": a playful dude who was extremely honest, slightly creepy, but lovable. Now, all the alarms that have been sounding in our heads about this character are going off. When Ryan tells him that he is moving out soon, it could get worse. Or will Keith decide to step out on his own? Who leaves this series more damaged: Keith or Ryan?
Hat tip to Lauria for a simple fact: he's great at playing a flawed yet well-meaning guy. Everybody knows that he wants to be the ALPHA of Navy Street, and any attempt to control dealings with Alvey and Jay are NOT earnest, but Ryan is a guy trying to remain civil and get along. He spent four years in prison for beating his father to a pulp, disabling him for life. The two closest friends he has are a fruit-abusing unhinged soul and a guy he's fought in a sanctioned fight twice. He's just trying to get along, but there's a simmering rage beneath the surface.
With Grillo's Alvey, it's letting his inner animal become too visible. With Tucker's Jay, it's an attempt to hide what you really are, because others can't accept it. With Jonas' Nate, it's a full camouflage tactic to fit into where people need you to be. With Lauria's Ryan, it's caging the beast, because of a fear of it consuming you and everyone around you.
Thank goodness for the women of Navy Street, Sanchez and Going.
I'll say this about Kingdom and its third season. Call it the weekly declaration of "gone too soon" or whatever you have to. You know a show is good where it is 33 episodes into its run, and every character is worthy of a spin-off show and has so much more story to tell. As if there are only a couple peels of onion being yanked back. Less is more can be painful for fans, but also satisfying due to how much something can accomplish in a smaller time frame. No one needs 15 seasons of Kingdom, but it's confidently pleasing knowing this fighter has more in it than we will see with our own two eyes.