“Kingdom,” Byron Balasco’s excellent drama series on Audience Network, came to a stunning close Wednesday night. After confirming a painful loss alluded to the week prior and ending on the bruised and battered body of Alvey Kulina (Frank Grillo), post-fight, fans may be struggling to cope with a devastating ending that encouraged introspection more than it provided easy answers.
“The conclusion of the show is about having done the work,” Jonathan Tucker said in an interview with IndieWire. “We have bled, we have cried, we have laughed, and now it’s about allowing the work to find itself; the magic to find itself; the authenticity to find itself.”
Tucker played Jay Kulina, Alvey’s oldest son, who was dealt the most pain over the series’ 40 episodes: [Editor’s Note: There are spoilers for the entire series, including the finale, ahead.] His girlfriend died last season, his mother dealt with a serious drug problem throughout Season 1, and just last week, Jay’s brother, Nate (Nick Jonas), died after being shot by a bouncer outside a bar.
This death drove the finale, as Jay, Alvey, and the rest of the Navy St. team tried to cope with an unexpected loss. Before Alvey’s return to the ring for a $1 million “legends” fight, Jay was tasked with giving his brother’s eulogy to the crowd inside the arena.
“I already knew my relationship with Nate,” Tucker said. “It had been built, and it had been run through 40 hours of television. The trap is to try to force something and make something happen. […] Because it comes from a place of fear.”
“It’s funny because you talk to fighters going into fight week, and the best fighters will acknowledge their training is done. They’re not going to learn how to throw a better hook. The work is done.”
Jay delivered his speech in silence. No music buoyed the drama inherent to the moment, while the camera barely left Tucker throughout the lengthy monologue. The result felt like a beautiful piece of theater in the midst of a gritty, authentic TV drama.
“I remember the first take, with the camera right there, the lights right there, the microphone in your hand, and thousands of extras in the arena,” he said. “You can go to a place of ego and fear, which is, ‘Oh, this is my time. I have to make it happen.’ Or you can go to a place of intuition and gut, which is built by time and hard work and preparation. You just allow yourself to be yourself in the moment. That’s when what you want to happen happens.”
Words were sparse after Jay’s big speech, and the rest of the finale was built on looks. There’s the final look Alvey makes straight to camera, after a beautiful tracking shot by Padraic McKinley, but there’s also a meaningful exchange between Alvey and Jay right before the final round begins. Father and son share a look; forgiveness isn’t part of it, but there is a shared understanding that gives Alvey the strength to finish the fight.
“It’s not absolution,” Tucker said. “It’s an understanding, but understanding in a complicated way, which is what I think the show does so well. It’s an understanding that I know who you are, maybe even more than you know who you are.”
With an ending like this, fans are undoubtedly wondering what happens next. But the answer lies within the show, as it’s presented itself over 40 episodes. As Tucker said, the work has been done; the magic exists; you know who these people are, and how they recover from Nate’s death — or if they even can — is the kind of question posed again and again throughout the series.
“This is ‘Kingdom.’ You want to be real? People don’t come out of depression. Sometimes people kill themselves. You want to be real? Not everyone recovers from drug and alcohol addiction. Mental illness isn’t always something that can be controlled and managed. Fighters lose over and over again,” Tucker said.
“I’m not saying life isn’t beautiful and magical. There’s also humor in it. [But] people live hard lives, and sometimes they can’t catch a break. We have been unapologetic and unafraid, as a team and a show, to address that in a dynamic, meaningful, and authentic way.”
Fighters fight. Jay, whether he likes it or not at this point, is a fighter.
“Every day we choose to wake up and fight for something. Whether we’re fighting for our family or friends, fighting for something professional like a legacy or a cause, fighting for our faith or just for ourselves to get out of bed, we have to make a choice in life.”
“Kingdom” trained its fans to be, too, and that’s how viewers can get through a painful goodbye. The work has been done.