From creator/writer/executive producer Byron Balasco, Kingdom has consistently been one of the most brutal, heartbreaking and exhilarating drama series on TV, with writing that expertly showcases the acting talents of the terrific cast. Now in its third (and tragically final) season, the characters strive for victory and greatness in the MMA world, but they often meet dream-shattering defeat and have to pick themselves back up to do it all again, all while never losing sight of their humanity and having only the strength of their family bonds to rely on. The series stars Frank Grillo, Nick Jonas, Jonathan Tucker, Matt Lauria, Kiele Sanchez and Joanna Going.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, showrunner Byron Balasco talked about where the new season is headed, what legacy means to Alvey, putting the characters through so much emotional pain, why Season 3 needed a little bit of a reset, what’s next for the characters, the addition of Kirk Acevedo to this season, and whether there will be emotional closure by the end. Be aware that some spoilers are discussed.
Collider: Where are things headed for Season 3?
BYRON BALASCO: I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll say that Alvey is gonna get back in the cage and that journey carries the season, in the sense that it puts everybody back in a certain place and you start re-examining the relationships in the family. Everybody is in a bit of a different place, but there’s something about this fight and the journey towards it that pushes everybody back to their baseline, in a way that we haven’t seen them yet.
Did Alvey getting back in the cage seem as inevitable as Jay and Ryan fighting each other, or was that more of an organic evolution?
BALASCO: It felt inevitable, in the sense that Alvey confronting his mortality has always been a big thing in the show. I think this is the most direct confrontation that he has with himself.
Do you think that Alvey really doesn’t care about his legacy, or is that something he’s just trying to convince himself of?
BALASCO: I think he would like to not care, but everybody wants to be remembered and leave a mark, in some way. It’s a fear in everybody, that when you’re gone, you’re just forgotten. We’ve all lost loved ones and acquaintances, and life goes on. That’s a hard thing, especially for a guy like Alvey, to reconcile. I don’t think that there’s necessarily an answer or solution. It’s more about finding some kind of peace with the nature of things versus solving it.
None of these characters have a very easy go of things. Are you just completely sadistic, when it comes to the characters, or does that just make good drama? Do you think about just how many horrible things you’ve put them through?
BALASCO: Yeah, I definitely do, but it’s funny because it doesn’t feel sadistic. When I think of sadistic, I think of arbitrary and capricious pain. I love them all so much, and it feels like things that just have to happen to them, that are inevitable. I hope things work out, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the thing itself doesn’t work out, but the growth that comes out of it or the peace that comes out of it is what they can take away.
When you knew that Jay and Ryan were inevitably going to have to face off, did you also know that they were going to have a rematch and that it would all end as tragically as it did?
BALASCO: I don’t always know what’s gonna happen until it starts happening, but I always knew there would be two fights. That’s just how it goes, a lot of times. Guys fight, and if it’s a great fight, they wanna do it again. But I was surprised about how I felt, after the first fight. I wanted it to be that winning that fight really had a different affect on both of those guys, and probably not in the way that they imagined it would. Jay felt emptier than ever, after the first fight. So, I knew there would be two fights, but the characters take you to where it’s gonna go, so I didn’t know exactly where it was gonna lead. The emotions and stakes around the fight just evolved.
Looking back on Season 2, how did you feel about where everything ended up, and how did that change or affect Season 3?
BALASCO: I felt like, at the end of the last season, some stories had ended, and it felt like there needed to be a break and a little bit of a reset, in these people’s lives, or at least we’d come in at a time when everybody’s lives had gone in a little bit different direction and moved forward. I just felt like those stories had ended and it was time to move to something new. In a weird way, we’re moving to something new this season, but it’s actually going back to the deeper core.
The moment in Season 2, between Jay and Nate, where Nate was finally honest with his brother about his sexuality and his brother not caring about him being gay, was really beautiful. Why was Jay the right person to learn Nate’s secret?
BALASCO: Because I think Jay is the only one that’s really paying attention to his brother. He’s the one that’s always concerned about his brother. In a lot of ways, Nate is all right. He doesn’t demand a lot of attention from his parents, or from people at the gym, so everybody just lets him be. And he puts that out there, just because he’s a very reserved, internal guy. I wanted him to feel known and accepted, and Jay was just the person to do that.
Where does Nate go from there?
BALASCO: I think it felt good for him to get that out there for his brother, but most people in his life and in the fight world still don’t know. He’s letting himself embrace who he really is, a little bit more, and that feels good, but there’s still the truth that he’s not out. He’s living half a life, in a way. Something is going to have to reconcile.
What’s next for Ryan?
BALASCO: Ryan is on a streak. He’s doing really well. But the better he’s doing, the more isolated he’s becoming. As his career is going up, the people in his life are falling off, a little bit. We start meeting the guy he was before we met him in the pilot – the guy that blew himself up. Ryan is a guy who’s obviously got a lot of demons. He’s got a lot of love that he doesn’t know how to give, just because of how he was raised and his relationship with his father, and all of that. He was taught to take and to dominate. That’s not where his heart is, necessarily, but that’s his protection. That’s how he knows how to survive in the world.
What can you say about Kirk Acevedo’s character?
BALASCO: Because Alvey is fighting, they need to bring in a new coach to pick up the slack, so Kirk’s character comes in and fills that role. He’s a journeyman who’s bounced from gym to gym, and as the season progresses, we see why he’s never been able to stick somewhere.
Do he and Alvey get along?
BALASCO: Alvey doesn’t really get along with anybody, does he? So, yeah, they have their moments.
Will this season have a sense of closure?
BALASCO: Yeah, even if it’s emotional, I definitely like to do that. I look at the seasons of this show as chapters in these people’s lives. When the show ends, it’s not like people are gonna go, “But whatever happened to the hatch?!” It’s just people’s lives. They’ll just be out there somewhere, living. You’ll always get emotional closure, whether it’s what you want or not. We won’t leave you hanging.
Kingdom airs on Wednesday nights on the AT&T Audience Network on DirecTV.