Fire up whatever entrance music gets you going, friends, because after two years Heels, your favorite wrestling show that is about so much more than wrestling (they’re a family!!), is finally back in the ring. What went down within the DWL last season may feel like a distant memory — although the image of Wild Bill, an icon, a king, shitting his pants during the ladder match for the DWL will live on in my mind, body, soul, forever — but Heels season two picks up immediately where we left off: On the, um, heels of a wildly successful showing at the South Georgia State Fair.
It should be one of the best nights of Jack Spade’s life. Everyone’s offering their congratulations, telling him how proud his dad would be to see what he’s done; even the State Fair people are so hyped that they already want to sign contracts with the DWL to come back for the next three years. In fact, the only person who deems the event a giant failure is Charlie Gully, who, you’ll remember, tried to thwart Jack’s plans for the main event by turning the crowd against Ace. Suffice it to say, Gully’s opinions on the match are a little biased. The sheer amount of vitriol the guy spits when he cuts a promo directly following the event ripping into the DWL for letting the valet win the belt makes it clear that Jack and the team really did something special. It’s a real he doth protest too much situation, you know?
Champagne bottles are popping, and new DWL champ Crystal is making out with Bobby Pin, and you know Bill and that State Fair lady are definitely going to fuck later. Yet, there’s no revelry to be had for good ol’ Jack on what is thus far the highlight of his career because it took this man, like, two days to effectively blow up his entire personal life. Two of the most important people in his life have left him. Staci, who crushed it singing the National Anthem at the rodeo, is still staying at her friend’s house with Thomas, and Ace, well, Ace is nowhere to be found.
After learning that it was Jack who supplied the audience with tissues in order to turn him into a heel, and almost strangling Jack to death in the ring before helping Crystal save the event and the DWL with her quick thinking, Ace walks out of the ring, out of the stadium. The last we see him, he’s grabbed his stuff from his mom’s house, and he and his Red Bull are driving off to who knows where. It feels like a point of no return in their relationship — or, at least, almost no return because you gotta have faith, right? — and it’s both heartbreaking and inevitable. From the moment we learned it was Jack who provided the tissues for the crowd, who set his brother up to be deliberately humiliated out of spite and jealousy, out of fear of losing him, we’ve been holding our breath waiting for Ace to find out the truth and that moment, at the end of season one, didn’t disappoint. By which, I obviously mean, holy hell it was brutal.
Heels uses the season two premiere to twist that knife even deeper. What a risky but smart move for Heels (this episode was written by Gully himself, Mike O’Malley, and directed by Peter Segal) to spend the majority of its first time back in two years in an extended flashback. The team behind season one of Heels was great at giving us just enough of a glimpse into the past — and the actors were able to tap into those emotional histories from the jump — that watching the Jack/Ace relationship fall apart already packed a punch. But now? Letting us see how this whole thing started and the hope the two had to build something great together? Well, that’s just cruel — in the absolute best, most emotionally devastating way.
We go back to the morning of Tom’s death. We already know it was Ace who found his father out in the backyard after he put a gun to his head, but now we watch as Jack finds Ace still sitting in the yard, wrapped up in that Bulldogs blanket, unable to face his father’s body. We see their mother, Carol, return to find the harrowing scene. It’s all done without dialogue, and it is haunting. The rest of the flashback chronicles Tom’s funeral and the direct aftermath. The overwhelming emotion for those closest to Tom is anger. Like, a real, palpable, seething anger.
Jack’s already a part of the DWL by this point, so a lot of responsibility falls on him. The story about Tom killing himself is that the DWL was falling apart, and it looked like he’d have to close the whole thing down. It was a reality and a level of failure he was unwilling to face. There are a lot of great, revealing conversations throughout these flashbacks, but there was one moment when I audibly gasped. Let’s talk about that Willie and Jack conversation in Tom’s office, shall we? While Willie’s beating herself up for not convincing Tom to walk away from wrestling before it is too late, Jack attempts to comfort her by calling Tom a coward and a pussy. It is very unhelpful.
The only note Tom left behind was addressed to Jack, but he refuses to read it. He’s so angry, he doesn’t want to hear anything his father has to say. When some of the guys come in to give their condolences, Rooster brings up the idea of giving Tom a ten-bell salute, an honor given to a wrestler who has died. Jack won’t even consider the idea, noting that Tom was “all about hitting his finisher, and he already went out with a bang.” Folks!! That is so bleak. You have to be in a whole world of hurt to say something like that and … kind of mean it? For most of season one, it seemed like Jack considered himself the one to uphold his father’s legacy, that he was working so hard to keep the DWL going for his dad, but wow, wow, wow, that doesn’t seem to be the case at all.
At home, Jack tells Staci about the idea of a salute. What would they be saluting anyway, he wonders, “Tapping out when things got rough?” Jack Spade is like the twisted, wrestling version of Elle Woods using legal jargon in everyday life, and listen, I don’t hate it. It’s Staci who brings him around on the idea though, because if the Dome is being sold and DWL shuttered, it might be nice for everyone to go out with one last event. The ten-bell salute for Tom could be part of it, but it could also be a way to give everyone involved with the DWL, including fans, a celebratory way to go out.
Sure, Jack decides to go for it partly because Staci’s right about closure and celebrating what Tom and what Jack built together, but you know part of it is also because Jack gets to be in charge. That guy is handing out printed scripts before anyone can say no! His dad ignored his suggestions on how to improve things, but now he can put those suggestions into action.
Jack’s not the only Spade who wants a chance to prove himself. Ace is already weighed down by the thought that he disappointed his father — it’s a feeling that we saw push and prod Ace all last season. He basically begs Jack to let him try wrestling. It would be his last chance. Jack can see how much Ace needs this, and something tells me the fact that Tom forbade Ace from wrestling (he thought it would be distracting as Ace focused on football) makes saying yes even sweeter. Not surprising anyone, really, Ace is a natural — even if he does rush into doing a move from the top rope and really screw it up.
All of Duffy — sans Carol, who believes wrestling to be both a “stupid” thing to live and die for — turns out for the DWL’s final night. There are chants of King Spade, there are tears, and hell yeah, there’s wrestling. Ahead of their match, Ace pulls Jack aside — he’s nervous. He wants to do right by, well, all of Duffy. Jack tells Ace to trust himself and to trust him. “Don’t make me look stupid,” he tells Jack, who laughs it off — Jack would never do that. Friends, did I start to tear up thinking about how this is all Ace has been worried about from the beginning, and it is exactly what Jack does with the tissues? Yes, and I won’t apologize for it. Jack’s betrayal runs deep.
In the ring, Ace looks anything but stupid. He immediately wins the crowd over with his honesty and his insane athleticism. He’s great from the beginning. Then, he asks Jack to let him jump from the top rope and we finally see why it’s so important to him. Standing up there, he remembers being a kid and watching his dad make the same move. The editing here — cutting between Ace and Tom — by Mats Abbott is gorgeous. Ace wins, the crowd cheers, and he and Jack walk back up the ramp, arms around each other. Did you, too, immediately think about how a year from now Ace will be leaving the ring alone, unable to even look at his brother without wanting to kill him? Very cool and not completely heartbreaking at all.
After that match, you can see exactly how we get from the DWL shutting down to where we are in the present day. Jack is inspired after seeing Ace out there, after feeling the electricity from the crowd, and he tells Ace that they should keep the DWL alive. To see Jack pitch it here as a Spade brother partnership, the resentment Ace let build last season begins to feel almost reasonable. Ace did some shitty stuff, but this was supposed to be something they did together. It’s yet another promise Jack broke. In the past, of course, Ace says yes. There is so much hope and excitement, and they have no freaking clue how hard it’ll be to keep that alive.
In the present day, Jack goes home to an empty house and makes a call to Staci that is just brimming with some real Sad Boy Energy. That’s not a dig, by the way — Sad Boys fuel me. He tells her about Ace and his flurry of fucks and their broken relationship. He tells her that he hasn’t missed his dad for even one day since his death, which is illuminating, okay? He tells her that he needs her to come home. He’s broken! Staci says she loves him, but she also hangs up. Oh, and she says something about how she didn’t marry a face but “a good guy named after a face card,” which, out of context, sounds insane, but we’re handling it.
Alone and defeated, Jack pulls the letter his dad left him out of his nightstand. It’s well-worn. He’s gone over it countless times, no doubt. All it says is Jack, Take care of Ace. Dad. I could write 10,000 words about what a minefield of emotions this letter must be for Jack. The burden he must feel to do what was asked of him, the guilt he feels for failing his father once again, the hurt he must feel over this being the only thing his father cared to say to him in the end, the easy way this can become evidence confirming that Ace was always the favored child. And all of those competing feelings have been there in the story since day one, but now with this note and this time spent in the past, it all becomes clearer and the pain more palpable. Damn, this wrestling show for making me feel so much! Just let me be dead inside in peace, please!
• Last season, Jack gave Bill shit for not showing up to Tom’s funeral, but it turns out Bill was there. He finds Carol outside the Dome during the reception, and they have a tense conversation in which you can feel her disdain for the man who she felt ditched Tom and never looked back just as much as you can feel the pain and guilt Bill feels for all of it. Later, we see him attend the ten-bell salute, hidden from the crowd. This guy could be so one-note; instead, the writers and Chris Bauer have taken such care to make him feel real and well-rounded (yes, even with shitty pants and airplane dick antics!) Please know, as we begin this Heels journey together, that I treasure Wild Bill Hancock. Get used to it!!
• The flashback also shows us a pre-DWL Crystal. She’s a diehard fan and assists with the funeral reception, where she bumps into Ace for the first time. I’d still like to know more about why she’s so into the DWL and what’s up with her family. The woman needs a backstory!
• Another great conversation we’re privy to in the flashback belongs to Ace and Staci, who I hope get to interact more as the season continues (if/when Ace returns to Duffy). She has a soft spot for her brother-in-law, and he feels comfortable being vulnerable in front of her. He tells her about how he feels like he disappointed his father, calling himself “an investment that didn’t pay off,” which is honestly such a fucked up, depressing way to view your relationship with a parent. Tom Spade did a number on these people!
• Speaking of, when Ace admits he wishes his dad had allowed him to wrestle, she tells him to think of it as “an act of love.” Wrestling hurt Tom so much, and he didn’t want Ace to get hurt. “If that’s the case, then he probably shouldn’t have killed himself,” he responds.
• We also learn that around the time Tom died, Staci had a miscarriage. When a nosy woman who heard about it from someone at the hospital where Staci had her D&C brings it up, Staci is, understandably, livid that her personal business is getting around town. She’s obviously still processing the loss, but I’m sorry, Staci angrily mumbling to herself, “[I’ll] D&C your fucking ass right through the fucking floor” is hilarious.
• The nosy woman, I guess trying to be empathetic (she tells Staci that she’s had miscarriages too), says the phrase “miscarriages stink,” which is a mind-boggling way to phrase that sentiment. Do better, Barbara!
• Bill to State Fair Constance: “There’s not a single part of my body I can’t control.”