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    Sunday, September 5, 2021

    Smark TV: The Ball in the Box

    If there's anything we've learned over the last year and a half, it's that grief sucks. People deal with it differently, but the reality is that it never really goes away. My favorite analogy comes from Twitter user Lauren Herschel, who shared what she learned in therapy in this series of tweets

    In a nutshell, she shares that grief is like a ball in a box. There's also a "pain button" in the box, and when that ball hits the "pain button," well, you get the picture. In the beginning, the ball is so huge that it barely fits in the box, which means that it'll definitely hit the "pain button." But the ball shrinks over time, allowing it to move more freely around the box. There are good days, and there are days when the ball still hits that "pain button."

    We've been seeing the Spade family's journey with grief throughout the first half of the season, but it's only really been made clear in this episode, especially after last week's installment gave us a clearer picture of how Tom Spade's life came to an end. Jack has been dealing with his grief by putting all of his energies into the DWL at the expense of his relationships. Ace—who was unfortunately at home when it happened—has been wallowing in his own misery. We've seen him sink to the bottom of bottle after bottle while putting Crystal through a toxic relationship—not to mention his problematic sense of self-worth in the wrestling business. 

    Jack's fortunes didn't seem to change in the first half of the hour, when his sponsorship pitch to Eddie Earl—who we met last week—was turned down. I have to give props to the writing team because this scene played out about as close to reality as it could've. These conversations do happen in sponsorship meetings for wrestling promotions/events, and what we saw happens nine times out of ten. It was pretty striking to hear Eddie Earl say, though, that he wasn't interested in investing in a company that wanted the people of Duffy to dream big and find possibilities beyond their small town. To Eddie Earl, it made sense because that means they'd stay in Duffy, not really get anywhere in life, and eventually have to pawn their stuff off at Eddie Earl's. What a self-righteous and devious capitalist.

    Ace also starts off this episode in a rut, finding himself at a bar with Wild Bill after the latter's alcohol and drug-fueled airplane fiasco compromised his job at the Heels universe's equivalent of WWE. Thankfully for Ace, he sees a glimpse of what his future could be like by seeing Wild Bill's self-destructive tendencies play out right in front of him. In a way, it mirrors what Crystal saw in Vicky Rabies at the end of last week's episode.

    The Spade brothers find a bit of redemption this week when they learn to work together after Jack, Staci, and Thomas are forced to stay at Carol and Ace's because of the fire scare at Jack's house. Jack finally learns to give Ace's ideas a shot, and Ace conceptualizes a promo, which the roster shoots at Crystal's convenience store. It seems to push the brothers' relationship in the right direction, while lighting a fire under the DWL's collective asses. It's a grassroots initiative since the promo is self-shot and self-funded, but at least they're learning to use their resources and funneling them into something productive, so that's a win.

    And then there's Carol (or Grandma Spade), whose grief has come out in the form of rage. She couldn't understand why Tom would do that to their family and why he would put them all through that darkness. That anger, coupled with her deep, conservative religious beliefs, led to her outburst at the dinner table in which she described her late husband as "burning in hell" immediately after Jack's son Thomas had said grace. That was a pretty fucked-up thing to say over dinner as it was but in front of a child? Grandma Spade had no chill. Gotta give credit to Uncle Ace for explaining this to Thomas in a way the latter could process later on.

    Since we're talking about Carol, we have to talk about the rest of the women in this episode and how they all seemed to take agency into their fates this week.

    Like Crystal and Ace, Staci also saw a glimpse of her future during her grocery trip with Thomas and Carol. It was established in the pilot that Staci longed to help with her family's finances by getting a job, much to Jack's dismay. In talking to Carol about her life as Tom Spade's wife, Staci realized she didn't want to have the same fate as Carol—a wrestling wife who just sewed costumes and took note of her husband's comfort food. This led her to reaching out to Carol and learning to build a deeper relationship with her, and getting a job at the grocery by the end of the episode, which was a big step forward for Staci.

    Meanwhile, Crystal built on the events of last week when she distanced herself from Ace and started hanging out with Bobby Pin. Ace told her at the last show that he isn't Crystal's boyfriend, so good for Crystal for not tying herself to Ace and having her own agency as a strong, independent woman. She didn't need to be in that toxic relationship with Ace, so it was great seeing her choose to spend time with someone who was going to treat her right.

    At first, it seemed like Bobby was going to be this dumb, awkward oaf who'd totally blow it with Crystal, but props to Bobby Pin for just being a genuinely nice guy both in and out of the ring. His character development this week lends credence to the fact that nice guys don't always finish last. I'm actually rooting for Crystal and Bobby as a love team here! I also thought it was a great touch to include that exchange between them, when they said it might be best for them not to be seen in public since Crystal is still Ace's valet... and she's dating Ace's rival in real life. Makes sense. Oh, and Ace keying Bobby's ride? Total dick move, Ace.

    Speaking of dicks... Hooboy.

    We don't know the entirety of Wild Bill's backstory just yet, but this episode did flesh him out quite a bit—in more ways than one. The character has shades of Michael P.S. Hayes and Ric Flair, both of whom being old school legends of the game. I don't know how Hayes has adapted to the corporate structure of the WWE offices, but it's clear that Wild Bill Hancock doesn't like it all that much. He must like the money—otherwise, why would he be spending time there?—but he doesn't like the mainstream marketing and the corporate capitalism of it all. His contempt for it leads to his own version of the infamous Plane Ride from Hell.

    Weirdly, he runs to Willie Day of all people, and we find out why. They were once lovers, and Willie even had their unborn baby aborted. Jack spoke for the audience when he asked Willie why she and her husband Ted willingly took Wild Bill into their home. I appreciated how human Willie was when she just admitted to still having some feelings for him—or at least remembering how great the sex used to be. In the end, Wild Bill abuses Willie's kindness, and she also takes agency and has her husband kick Wild Bill out of their home. Score another one for the women here.

    Alcohol and drug abuse are nothing new in wrestling, but beneath that, there's always a deeper reason why. Heels's social media have hinted at Wild Bill feeling some sort of guilt, possibly relating to Tom Spade's death. And if there's one thing we've come to know about people who've turned to alcohol and drugs for an escape, it's usually rooted in deep pain. We still don't know what Wild Bill's deal is, but just like Jack Spade at the end of the episode, it's pretty fucking concerning. I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one who was afraid that Wild Bill was going to hurl himself off the motel's ceiling down onto the parking lot at the end of the episode. Thank goodness that didn't happen.

    Heels is hitting its stride now that we've reached the halfway point. It doesn't necessarily present stakes for the DWL—or even wrestling as a whole—because it's still a show about a family dealing with loss and grief. But it's also managing to smoothen the edges of its characters, giving you a reason to root for them in the process. It's twisted how the circumstances of Tom Spade's death led to the self-destructive tendencies of those around him, which makes the growth and lives of these people the exact stakes in this first season. You want to see Jack and Ace rebuild their relationship. You want to see Crystal get her shot in the business. You want to see Bobby Pin succeed. Hell, you might even want to see Grandma Spade learn to deal with her grief. We're halfway in, and we're feeling the heat. Let's see if they can take us through a hell of a comeback spot for an awesome finish.

    Cheap Takes from the Cheap Seats

    • Not gonna lie. It was pretty refreshing to see women as the shotcallers in Heels' version of WWE. Even their equivalent of Johnny Ace or former WWE executive Canyon Ceman—who fired Wild Bill over the phone—was a woman!
    • Crystal's character workshop on Bobby Pin is more proof that this woman has a real mind for the business. It's upsetting how she's been made to feel that she's nothing more than a valet, when it's clear as day that she's so much more. It makes me really want to root for her and that eventual moment in the sun for her character.
    • Fellow local wrestling fan Dan Cabangon pointed this out to me last week, and it needs to be said. It's mindboggling that Heels is set in the current era, and yet the DWL and Florida Wrestling Dystopia act like they're territories from the '70s and '80s. It just doesn't make sense, especially with the presence of their universe's equivalent of WWE.
    • Oh, and hey, The Rock exists in this universe. I need to see that promo Jack Spade cut on The Rock. Also, that promo Jack Spade cut on The Rock is peak delusional Jack. Come on now.
    • I'm really digging Heels' opening theme. "Love in War" by Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell and show composer Jeff Cardoni has been stuck in my head for weeks. It's good shit.
    • The show's soundtrack is on Spotify! And yes, Bobby Pin's rap is in it. Of course it's called "Bobby Pin Rap." Damn! Way to go, Trey Tucker.

    Images from Heels and Starz


    Stan Sy (@_StanSy) is the Editor at Large of Smark Henry and is also a TV and events host, a freelance writer, and a podcaster. His podcasts include On Deck with Stan Sy, Now Steaming: A Tsinoy Podcast, and The Wrestling-Wrestling Podcast. He also used to be one of the hosts and writers of The Wrestling Gods on FOX Philippines. He enjoys watching WWE, AEW, and the occasional New Japan match.
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    Item Reviewed: Smark TV: The Ball in the Box Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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