Anyone else watch Kingdom? No, just me? Maybe this isn’t the target demo for the MMA-centered drama, which just had its series finale a couple weeks ago. The Audience Network (yeah, it’s only on DirecTV) show featured a variety of complex and troubled characters, including Matt Lauria (of Friday Night Lights & Parenthood fame) and Nick Jonas (of smokeshow fame).
TBH, these two are the main reasons I started watching in the first place, because fun fact about me: I hate violence – in media and obviously IRL. But then I got sucked in to the family drama of it all and watched all three seasons until the very end. An end that I was not pleased with. On the scale of bad finales, it wasn’t How I Met Your Mother, but somewhere near Dawson’s Creek and Jen’s heart condition.
For some background: Revered MMA fighter Alvey (Frank Grillo) runs his own gym, where his two sons, Jay (Jonathan Tucker) and youngest Nate (Nick) train to keep his legacy alive. Nate is a rising MMA fighter with a lot of promise, but has been weighed down by the fact that he’s gay and constantly trying to hide it. His mom and brother are the only ones who know about his secret since they live in a bubble fueled by testosterone. By the final season, Nate actually finds a match in Will, even though they still keep their relationship (and his homosexuality) on the DL. But his secret starts to make its way around the MMA circle, and in the final season, another fighter passes him in the hallway before a fight and calls his a faggot, giving Nate even more pause in considering his decision to come out.
This brings us to the penultimate episode, in which Nate finally decides to come clean to his father during a drunk night out. So maybe telling your dad you’re gay when he’s absolutely shitfaced isn’t the best idea, but he did it. He finally got the courage to live his truth to the biggest influence in his life, and it doesn’t go well. In fact, Alvey even says to Nate, “You gonna tell me you’re a fucking faggot?”, which clearly hits a nerve. Nate understandably gets mad and walks out of the bar, drunk Alvey attempts to get him to stay, and in their inherent violent nature, Nate takes a swing at his father to let out all that pent up anger and frustration of his Alvey’s lack of acceptance out. Jay butts in and pulls Alvey off, but when Nate thinks Alvey’s going in for a second round and it’s actually the bouncer with a gun, he shoots him. Dead. Right there in a bar parking lot in front of his dad and brother.
It’s a harrowing scene that sets up the series finale, in which we learn that, yes, Nate is actually dead. The entire finale focuses on how his loved ones to cope with the untimely loss of the one truly good guy in their family.
Ok. So. A few things. Let’s get this one out of the way first – Nick Jonas is a fantastic actor. If you’ve only seen him in Camp Rock, Kingdom will definitely change your mind about his skills. His performance is subtle, yet commandeering, natural and not over the top. He’s an animal when he gets in the ring, but plays the purest of hearts when taking care of his drug addict brother and mother. Just look at this scene when he confirms to his brother/idol that he’s gay. The nuances of his acting is comparable to that of any award-winning actor.
Alright, so back to Nate’s death. Let’s discuss how annoying it is in general that his death came in the second to last episode, which inherently meant the finale HAD to focus on his family & how they struggles in the aftermath. Too much time was spent in memorializing a character who didn’t need to die in the first place, when the finale could’ve spent more time giving fans insight on the path each of the main characters was heading, long after viewers leave them behind. To their credit, they did do this to some extent, but most of their character developments were propelled by Nate’s death, not of their own volition.
But most importantly, I couldn’t help but think of one thing while I was watching this all go down – WHY? Why did they decide to kill off a character just moments after he came out as gay to his alpha male father? What is the “lesson” to be learned from all of this? Here’s what Kingdom creator Byron Balasco told EW:
“I wanted there to be real consequences for Alvey in terms of the mistakes he made as a father and as a man. You have to be mindful of the way you treat the ones you love because you do not always get a chance to go back later and fix it… I wanted a tumbling of emotions that gathers momentum where things get away from the control of our characters. I didn’t want his death to be cloaked in any kind of shame. It’s not about Nate being gay; it’s more about the inability of these two men to understand each other and to be honest with how they truly feel about each other.”
Sure, ok. A relationship between father and son is tender and complicated, but does death justify your storytelling? And while he says it’s not about Nate being gay, the truth of the matter is that it is. You can’t tell me that writers during this golden age of television don’t know about the Bury Your Gays TV trope, and if they do, they obviously choose to ignore it.
Just in case you missed the memo, this trope is usually related to lesbian TV characters, but expands to the LGBTQ community as a whole, in which there has been a trend of disproportionate deaths of said characters, and more likely than not, used to advance a main (straight) character’s storyline. In this case, Nate died because Alvey needed to truly understand and comprehend the mistakes he’s made as a dad and general human being, and his resolution comes in the final scene of the series, in which he breaks down alone after winning the most important fight of his life. But none of this was worth it.
In fact, Nate’s death was even more infuriating due to the lack of acknowledgement of his homosexuality in the final episode. Yes, Jay honors Nate before his dad’s fight by confirming Nate was gay and calling out anyone who had ever been homophobic towards him when he was alive. But it bothered me so much that Nate’s boyfriend Will wasn’t even in the episode. Not at his funeral. Not when his family spread Nate’s ashes out on the ocean. He wasn’t even mentioned. No, Nate didn’t “die because he was gay”, but for sure let’s not actually mention anything related to the fact that he was gay with another man.
Of course, there are many TV viewers who wouldn’t be surprised to hear yet another gay character has been killed off a show:
At the recent Television Critics Association summer tour, GLAAD hosted a panel where they revealed research which showed that there are 278 regular and recurring LGBTQ characters on TV, a majority of them (142 to be exact) are on cable (EG: Audience Network), and most of them are gay white men (EG: Kingdom). Of those 278, there have been 62 gay and bi female characters who have fallen to the Bury Your Gays trope over the past two years.
Yes it’s great that more LGBTQ characters are popping up on TV, but why is it so difficult to give them a happy ending? Or at least one which doesn’t result in death? What does that say to viewers who relate to them in a way they never have before? Similarly, I mentioned this in my #FirstTimeISawMe post, but it bears repeating – yes, representation is important, but it’s the accurate portrayals of minorities that must also be given weight. Yes, more black characters! But no thanks on black thugs. Yes, more lesbian characters! But no me gusta tomboys being used as a punchline.
In this era of division amongst America in particular, those who find themselves in charge of creating shows and films shouldn’t make characters just to fill a quota or portray a particular narrative. Falling for harmful tropes such as Bury Your Gays is a disservice to fans who are obviously connecting to a show for a certain reason, and how non-LGBTQ members react to the already marginalized group as a whole. I hope the more backlash showrunners get, the more they realize this type of storytelling needs to stop. It get better? Guess we’ll have to wait see.