Right in the middle of “Head-On,” the penultimate Ballers episode of the season, Merle Haggard’s patriotic hit ditty “The Fightin’ Side of Me” is heard playing on a car radio. While Haggard recorded the song to salute the boys who were laying down their lives for Uncle Sam over in Vietnam, Ballers brings it out to remind the audience how the show’s flawed characters continue to battle with themselves. This episode had characters agonizingly recognizing their shortcomings, and trying to be better men.
“Fightin’” was also used for comic effect. That song played as Spencer took a cringeworthy ride with someone whose career he kind of destroyed. Last week’s episode began with Spencer watching a commercial for an auto-collision service — Dan’s Auto Collision — in his doctor’s waiting room, which I originally thought was meant to signify how Spencer was in dire need to fix himself up mentally and physically. It turns out the Dan of Dan’s Auto Collision is Dan Balsamo (The Walking Dead’s Michael Cudlitz), also known as the guy Spencer knocked the hell out of in that flashback that started off this whole damn show.
Spencer informs his doctor how the memory of him permanently taking Balsamo out of football still haunts him, to which she bluntly replies, “Just nut up and go see the guy already.” Spencer finally faces Balsamo by driving out of the parking lot the wrong way and blasting the air out of all his tires, eventually calling Dan’s Auto Collision and seeing if Dan can personally pick him up.
Of course, the reunion is amusingly awkward, with Spencer trying his damnedest to be all smiles and compliments with the silent, stonefaced guy. (You gotta love when Dwayne Johnson incessantly lays on the charm during this, practically looking dopey and desperate in the process.) Luckily, Spencer gets to him through his baseball-loving son. He invites the kid and his father to a Marlins game later that night, which Danny Boy grudgingly accepts.
Once they’re at the game, both Spencer and Balsamo come clean with each other. Spencer wants to make amends because he did hit Balsamo with the intention of injuring him. And as much as Balsamo would love to blame Spencer for wiping out his awesome football career, he admits to Spencer that he wasn’t that good, anyway. “I was done when we met, Spencer,” he says, recalling how he played for six teams in eight years and never got any cheers or adoration from fans in the stands.
Spencer goes on to rectify that situation by having Balsamo throw out the first pitch in the game. Unfortunately, we find out that he is not only bad at football, he’s also bad at baseball. He slams that ball straight into the stomach of a poor boom-mic guy on the side. However, as boos and yells of “Balsamo, you suck!” begin to rustle, Balsamo raises his arms in triumph, amazingly, inciting the crowd to applaud. Hey, even an embarrassing moment in front of thousands is still better than no moment at all.
While this story line took up most of the episode, some other characters were given screen time. Charles was all ready to get back in tackling mode for the Dolphins. Ricky even invited him back to the Fun House so he could view an inspirational video TTD made of fellow gridiron warriors like Terrell Suggs, Julian Edelman, and Dolphins great Larry Csonka calling him “Black Swan” and “the Baryshnikov of football.” However, when he actually got on the field, he found that he was a little rusty. (He looked more like he was slap-fighting with his opponents than blocking them.) While he may have had a humiliating first day (Seifert didn’t help things much by calling him the Mel Gibson–approved “sugar tits” during practice), he did get some great news from Julie: He’s gonna be a father!
Joe also had a bad day, but the closest he got to joy was watching Balsamo strike out on TV at a bar and having a hearty laugh over it. Joe is practically ready to get the hell outta Dodge and start his own management firm, with Old Man Anderson personally admitting to him that he’s a “gold medalist at being a pain in my butt.”
Anderson also told him Spencer has exceeded his expectations, which makes Joe wonder if Spencer and Anderson have been getting chummy, especially when Spencer tells Joe he can’t take him to the Marlins game and Joe assumes he’s taking Anderson. But this could be the blow (or the crack) talking, since we later see Joe and his drug dealer at the bar, exchanging pleasantries while making an on-the-sly transaction. Eventually, Joe gets relieved when he sees that Spencer took Balsamo to the game. But he’s still wondering if Spencer will tag along if he leaves the firm, since he was hinting to Spencer that he found an office vacancy in Coral Gables.
We’ve got one more episode, folks, and considering how interesting things got with “Head-On,” I’m looking forward to seeing if the finale will be a blow to my senses — or if it will just blow.
SOME STRAY THOUGHTS
- Once again, Ricky didn’t have much to do except try to win Bella back, even hanging one of her fruit paintings on the wall just as she came by to pick up her stuff. (Ricky says the painting is symbolic to him — “it reminds me also that I’m done with low-hanging fruit.”) But Bella is still staying strong, refusing to fall back in the same routine with him. Good for her — she really deserves better.
- Vernon and Reggie — I swear, these two are the show’s yin and yang of stupid. Reggie continues to be a blatantly repugnant character, as evidenced by Spencer revealing to Vernon that Reggie propositioned Angie when he drove her home — when the hell did this happen? — pulling out his little Reggie and asking her how much. (His response: “I thought she was a ho.”) Vernon finally tells him to bounce for his lewdness, but then Vernon takes off as well, leaving Spencer and Jason in a bind when Dallas offers him $45 million guaranteed and they can’t find the dude. If these two barely written idiots don’t come back next season, I’m sure no one will be upset about that.
- However, I wouldn’t mind it if Dule Hill stopped being billed as a “special guest-star” and got a permanent spot in the show’s lineup. Seifert, with his tell-it-like-it-is attitude, has practically become the character I look forward to seeing the most on this show.
- I was a bit surprised to see Julie be supportive of Charles’s decision to go back to football. (Hell, we never even saw a scene where Charles breaks the news to her.) Besides, I always assumed Julie, perhaps concerned that he’d injure himself or creep around like Ricky, was a major factor in Charles retiring. Now this makes me wonder why he quit football in the first place.
- “Chickish” — I’m sure I’ll be hearing a lot of douchebags say that now.
- Joe called Spencer a “bald, multicultural motherfucker.” Yeah, that was funny.