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    Tuesday, August 31, 2021

    Smark TV: Blurred Lines

    It's Stan Sy tagging in for another late edition of Smark TV, and truthfully, that's because there was just so much to unpack in this week's episode of Heels.

    I have to start with that opening scene, which paints a very clear picture of how Tom Spade took his own life. The episode started with an idyllic montage of the elder Spade going about his everyday routine, culminating in his shocking suicide. I get that it was supposed to portray how suicide could look like it came out of nowhere for the bereaved. But, damn, this episode needed a fucking trigger warning. It's been two whole days since I watched the episode, and I still can't get that scene out of my head—and in the worst way. This obviously plays into the episode at large, so let's get to it in a bit.

    This week's episode built off the themes of escapism from the previous week, but this time, it focused on how the wrestlers themselves struggled to remember where kayfabe ends and where real life begins. Ace is once again at the center of it all this week, as we begin to understand the trauma he's had to live with since Tom's suicide. He clearly doesn't know how to process what happened, on top of the fact that Jack coldly reminded him of after his heel turn—that Tom knew Ace was home to have to deal with the aftermath of his suicide. There's a lot of pain and darkness in Ace's heart, and he's lashing out because he can't fathom any of it.

    Ace's heel turn in DWL's kayfabe was the last thing he wanted because he just wants to be celebrated somehow given that his real life is shitty. And yet, it turns out that turning heel might just be what saves his career, especially after the events of the pilot. His anger at the fans' reactions seemed to spark the natural heel tendencies that Ace was displaying in his real life, and whether he realized it or not, leaning into them worked. Jack and the rest of the DWL sure realized it.

    The problem was that Ace's unbridled emotions led to him just having another breakdown after he walked back to the locker room. His actions towards Ace, Willie, and Crystal showed that he wasn't fully in control and couldn't get out of this new heel character he'd just embraced in the ring moments ago. It could have also meant that he was finally embracing the reality that he's not a good dude in real life. The scariest part is how easy it all came for Ace to say all those things to the people who meant so much to him. That—on top of his lack of self-awareness, which Rooster makes clear for him during their exchange outside the Dome—makes for a dangerous combination.

    Image: Lionsgate TV (Twitter)
    Image: Lionsgate TV (Twitter)

    I particularly loved how Crystal had to grapple with the separation of kayfabe and reality in her own life this week. When CM Punk and Bonnie Somerville show up as Ricky and Vicky Rabies, we see Vicky taking Crystal under her wing and teaching her the secrets to being "a good valet." Crystal longingly looks at what Vicky and Ricky appear to have, envisioning that for herself and Ace, as well. She's finally found a role model whose partnership in wrestling appears to have transitioned into a family—which is all Crystal seems to want outside of wrestling.

    She does everything Vicky advises her to do, even to the point of helping Ace blow off some steam mid-show by having sex in a stockroom or laundry room in the Dome. But towards the end, Crystal gets hit with two hard doses of reality when Ace yells at her and basically tells everyone that he isn't her boyfriend, and then again when she finds out that Ricky Rabies has a wife to come home to—who isn't Vicky. That shot of Crystal looking bewildered at Vicky and Vicky looking back at her with a resigned sigh was so poignant because it was like Crystal had a look at what her future could be like in the worst way. It made me feel terrible for Crystal but even worse for Vicky, who had allowed herself to be this martyr for Ricky Rabies—all because of love and wrestling.

    We got a bit of Rooster Robbins's backstory in this episode, which gives us a better insight into his motivations behind why he's been angling for a push. Rooster spent much of the episode trying to get Jack to talk with him about his spot on the card, and when it finally happens, all Rooster gets is a curt response about a title feud happening when it's right for the storyline. Jack's supposed compliment about Rooster having "so much raw talent" also looks like a backhanded one—and whether Jack realizes it or not, it is given what Rooster's had to go through.

    When Rooster and Ace talk outside the Dome, we find out that the former is a journeyman in the Georgia indy circuit—much like Ricky Rabies. His career arc of having jumped from promotion to promotion, never having gotten a shot to be the top guy mirrors that of many other Black wrestlers, who have openly spoken about a glass ceiling in professional wrestling. Sure, they've got "so much raw talent," "so much potential," or they're "the best pure athlete" on the roster. But without the backing and the will from the booker, that ultimately doesn't matter. Rooster gives so much insight on this through his conversation with Ace, so if you know, you know. But if you don't, then it might be time to dig into the racial history of pro wrestling and how there just haven't been a whole lot of top guys and girls who are Black.

    It also says a lot about how tone-deaf Jack is that he doesn't realize all of this in his conversation with Rooster. Of course, Jack is still the hero of his own story, thinking he's doing everything he can to keep the DWL afloat. But in the process, he doesn't realize that he's inadvertently perpetuating a problematic glass ceiling that has held back the careers of many people of color in pro wrestling. It definitely isn't a coincidence that this story is set in a Southern state like Georgia.

    Cheap Takes From the Cheap Seats

    • I love Kelli Berglund, and I think she's gorgeous. But the gratuitous nudity and sex scenes are getting old. Poor Crystal can't make it through an episode without having sex with Ace. That said, I guess this week's sex scene made the most sense in the larger context of the story.
    • We've got to have more of CM Punk's Ricky Rabies. The dude's a dirtbag—I mean, who takes a business call while you're taking a shit?!—but you also can't help but love the guy because of how much passion he still has for wrestling. Ricky Rabies is also a great snapshot of the indy wrestling journeyman who loves wrestling too much to walk away from it, even though his body is all beaten up because of the pursuit of this quixotic dream.
    • That moment when Ricky Rabies thanked Jack for the booking was also a punch to the gut for me because of the reality that every booking matters for these indy wrestlers, especially when they're past their prime and/or not among the big names in the industry. 
    • The scene where Jack and Willie had to deal with Eddie Earl and all his outrageous requests reminds me of several conversations and meetings I've been a part of when I was with PWR. I've had to sit there, smile, and gut through those meetings, even when I was hearing problematic things or things I wouldn't want any part of, just in the name of securing a sponsorship deal. I'm sure those who've outright led PWR and all the other local promotions had to sit through more crap like that, so yes, that shit's relatable and real.
    • We learn this week that Staci was a sorority girl in college. I was dying laughing when Staci shrank in the restaurant after the server recognized her as Jack Spade's wife. Her experience likely mirrors that of many wrestling WAGs who aren't exactly fans of the business and don't share the same passion for it as their partners. I'm glad her friends had fun at the DWL show and ended up finding Staci even cooler afterward!
    • I understand that this show is all about humanizing pro wrestlers and how everyone has a babyface and heel inside them. But Bobby Pin has to be one of the few pure babyfaces on this show. The guy's way too nice (and naive) to even be considered a heel in the show's canon. He just happens to be dumb as a bag of bricks. He means well, though.
    • Holy crap did Wild Bill self-destruct pretty quickly. The reveal that Willie immediately came to him in his time of need should lead to an interesting plotline in the fourth episode. I'm going to watch out for this before I say any more.
    Images from Heels and Starz


    Stan Sy (@_StanSy) is the Editor at Large of Smark Henry and is also a radio DJ on Wave 89.1, an events host, a freelance writer, and the host of On Deck, as well as one of the hosts of The Wrestling-Wrestling Podcast. He also used to be one of the hosts and writers of The Wrestling Gods on FOX. He enjoys watching WWE, AEW, and the occasional New Japan match.

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    Item Reviewed: Smark TV: Blurred Lines Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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