Kingdom: A Lesson In How NOT To Do Queer Representation

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Nick Jonas as Nate Kulina in Kingdom

I’ve mentioned in a previous post about how one of my favorite TV shows, my beloved Kingdom, sort of failed horribly by marketing a rape scene as a sex scene with their gay character. Sadly, that is not the worst part of it.

To set the stage for the uninitiated, Kingdom is a TV show that comes on Audience, a DirecTV exclusive channel, about the lives of a family of MMA fighters and their many dysfunctions. While this post is going to make it seem like I’m negative on this show, I’m going to preface this with reminding the world that I love this show. It is one of the best done television shows I’ve ever watched, because all of the characters are very human. I have never watched anything with more human characters than are in this show. Everybody is flawed. The most likeable ones still make horrible choices and the most unlikable ones still have things that give them a reason to care about their suffering. It’s a beautifully done show with incredible writing, complex characters, amazing relationships, and such a unique setting to tell a very universal story of family and human nature and identity…

And then they absolutely dropped the ball with queer representation.

It disappoints me greatly because I tried so hard to give the show a shot to make it make sense, and it never did, to the point that now, I’ve had to face a realization: they decided to have a young gay man be raped just to give him a way to meet a boyfriend.

In Kingdom, the younger of two sons of this MMA legend is Nate, played by Nick Jonas, and the show starts hinting very early on that he’s gay. This is a really well done character, in that this young guy is a very quiet, reserved, ‘fade into the shadows’ kind of person in ever aspect of his life apart from fighting because he’s gay and deeply closeted. For a long time, this makes for really great queer representation, because Nate is everything that is realistic for an MMA fighter who is the son of a legendary MMA fighter and cannot disappoint his father or lose his career if it comes out he’s gay. He’s deeply closeted to the point of self-denial and we all see the struggle of a queer kid in his situation so very perfectly done.

Season 2 of Kingdom was in a 2A, 2B format and 2A continued to do very well at showing the struggles of a closeted gay man who has finally started at least sneaking around to gay clubs and stuff even though he’s still got a girlfriend cover, hasn’t told a soul, ect. The problem starts in 2B. In season 2B, for reasons I won’t get into, Nate is making money as a personal trainer, and long story short, one of his clients, a middle aged rich business dude, gives him $10,000 to keep him on retainer to ‘always be available’ and we, the viewers, realize what exactly Bob wants with him. Instead, one night Bob calls him to come train him and when Nate arrives, Bob is having a party.

As you can probably see coming, Nate is confused but Bob says ‘just have a drink and enjoy the party’, and of course, Nate has a drink that’s been drugged, and is then dragged to the bedroom by a woman where another man is waiting, and while he’s barely conscious, the woman and man have sex with him while Bob sits in the corner and watches it all. It was a really disturbing and unsettling scene because of what it was, but also because I started to think, ‘Wait, this can’t be the sex scene they’ve been talking about, right?’, and for the rest of the season I TRIED SO HARD to give them benefit of the doubt and wait for him to have sex with someone, but no. Their ‘sex scene’ was him being raped.

The morning after, he wakes up alone in the house with nobody else but Bob’s PA, a young, handsome British man named Will. Will gives him the hush money Bob left for him, because apparently Bob has a habit of doing this, and Will has this whole, “I hate the guy, but this job opens doors” thing, and gives Nate his number, ‘in case you want to talk.’ Right away, I got a bad feeling, that ended up being right of me, because of course throughout the rest of the season, Nate and Will start this ‘going on a date but not really’ thing after a few times of meeting up for lunch while Will brought Nate hush money from Bob the Rapist, who we learn is a repeat-rapist since Will has 3 or 4 other envelopes of hush money to deliver. This goes on for a good while until Will gets tired of the song and dance since Nate is in the closet and tells him to stop calling.

Even up until this point, I tried so hard to give Kingdom the benefit of the doubt, because while it’s ridiculous to imagine wanting to date the PA of the man who was essentially your rapist, rape victims handle things differently. It’s not wildly out there for a rape victim to feel drawn to someone who knows what happened to him, and especially since his mother almost got raped by her rehab counselor a few episodes later, and that eventually it would end in a confrontation with Bob or a fight or something. I expected all of this to play out to some point, some coming out opportunity for Nate, or some bonding with his mother thing. (He came out to his brother without anything related to his rape coming into it, by the way. His brother found Will’s number, but he didn’t know what it was about until Nate came out out to him. This was a beautifully done scene, to Kingdom’s credit.)

It was bad enough realizing, ‘well shit, they had Nate be RAPED just for his brother to find out he’s gay’ when they could have had his brother find out like his girlfriend earlier did by finding his phone logged into Grindr, or something similar and then have Nate come out to him. I was pretty annoyed they just had to go with ‘the gay kid got raped’ just for a really roundabout outing that wasn’t really related to it.

Season 3 premiered last week, and oh boy. It only got worse. Nate has a serious, committed boyfriend this season, which is set over a year after the last season finale, and the boyfriend is Will. No word on whether or not Will is still working for Bob the Rapist, though he does mention having to go to work a few times. Instead, now, over a year and a half since he was raped, we find out that all this time Nate has been dating Will.

And the problem is that it made my friend and I come to a conclusion that’s very upsetting: Kingdom writers decided the best way to get their sexy, young gay guy living in LA a boyfriend was to have the boyfriend’s boss rape him.

The only reason Nate was raped was to give him a boyfriend and allow that boyfriend’s business card to prompt him to come out to his brother.

This TV show that does everything else so well decided that the best course of action out of all the other possibilities to give their gay character a boyfriend, cause ‘yay representation’, was to have a middle aged man drug him, watch him be raped – in a scene that plays out like an erotic sex scene, by the way – and then leave his hot young assistant to pay him off the next morning, because clearly a hot, buff young thing like Nate living in Los Angeles can’t meet a hot gay guy without it being the assistant of the man who raped him.

I hated seeing the rape scene, because I usually quit watching things with rape scenes in them, but at the time I really thought it was going to lead to something valid to the plot. Boyfriend Will has only been on screen a grand total of about 5 minutes over last season and this season so far. There was no connection between his rape and his mother’s almost-rape. Nobody other than Will knows he was raped. He’s never been shown dealing with the trauma from his rape. There has never been any mention of it ever again. It has had nothing to do with the plot at all other than Will. Even the whole Bob issue just stopped. We never saw or heard about Bob again after Will’s last attempt to get him to take the hush money. I even though maybe Nate’s brother would find out about it and go ballistic like he did with the man who almost raped their mother (long story short, he almost murdered him).

Up until this point in time, the 2nd episode of the last 10 episode season, the only thing that Nate being raped has led up to is Nate getting a boyfriend.

There are so few words to be said for how unequivocally horrific that is. Of all the things you could do that’s bad queer representation when there were so many opportunities for good queer representation, that one is off the charts. I wanted so badly to think something was coming of this, but at this point, I have very little hope in them ever even referencing the rape again. These writers who have so brilliantly crafted every facet of life and humanity and relationships into something so complex and beautiful can get toxic masculinity right, can get women right, can get family right, can get addiction right, can get loss and grief right, all of those things they get so right and they got queer representation so incredibly wrong.

I still deep in my heart have a tiny part of it that hopes and prays they end up doing right by Nate and giving him better representation, especially given that in tonight’s episode we found out the rumor he’s gay is out there in the MMA world, so there’s still a tiny bit of hope that this beautifully done, near-perfect show might not be guilty of such an atrocious fuck up as this seems to be.

…But I’m not holding my breath

(This same post is also posted on J. Chelsea Williford. I cross-posted because queer representation fits there and TV show discussion fits here. Sorry if that confused anyone.)

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Author: J. Chelsea Williford

Student at Middle Georgia State University, writer, pop culture lover.

One thought on “Kingdom: A Lesson In How NOT To Do Queer Representation”

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