I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t wait to find out what Wild Bill had done when he turns up in Willie’s yard and says he “fucked up pretty bad.” It is so worth the wait because he really did mess up, which in true Wild Bill style, means he also put on a good show while doing it.
The mess up: Bill learns about the newly designed championship belt that the nameless, corporate pro wrestling league wants him to promote. The belt is gigantic, flashy, and has lights on it … all the better to entice young wrestling fans to buy knockoffs from the toy store. Bill hates it. “Think it needs sound effects,” he says. “Make it ‘beep’ and ‘boop’ and shit.”
Naturally, the suits don’t catch his sarcasm, and love the idea. This corporate toy-making doesn’t sit well with Wild Bill, considering he’s fractured his skull and gotten two knee replacements during his wrestling career, not to mention the friends he’s seen die. All just to become a good corporate soldier?
We next see Bill sitting out of place in first-class, pounding those little bottles of airplane hooch, two at a time. Completely schnockered, he grabs his travel bag and a few more bottles and locks himself in the bathroom only to then burst out wearing a feathered vest, his cowboy hat, the championship belt prototype … and nothing else. He whoops and hollers and stomps down the aisle, putting the belt — and everything below it — on full display. Cell phones and iPad cameras capture the moment and ensure it goes viral.
Naturally, the corporate league is displeased with his shenanigans and orders him to lay low. This brings us back to Bill’s arrival at Willie’s big fancy house, complete with a massive backyard and a pond, a teenage daughter, and a nice marriage to a buttoned-up guy named Ted. This all bothers Bill, who Willie once dated years ago, and he passive-aggressively says Ted’s pancakes are too dry and giddily shows him the viral video of his “natural blessings.”
Bill is an asshole, to be sure, but it’s what he’s paid to be as a professional heel, and he’s not the type to leave his work at the office. And he genuinely loves his job and respects the sport. To have his fellow wrestlers’ physical tolls and sacrifices reduced to a beeping and bopping hunk of plastic sold at Target is too much to take. So it makes sense that he’d do what any good heel would do and simply get naked and use their own creation to embarrass his corporate overlords. Sometimes that’s the way sadness comes out.
That’s what Ace tells his nephew Thomas after a tense family dinner. Jack, Staci, and Thomas are staying with Ace and Carol after a small fire at their house. During the pre-dinner grace, Thomas gives a sweet blessing to his late granddad in heaven, only to have it rejected by Carol, Jack and Ace’s mother, who reminds the table that Tom is in hell for killing himself. “Your granddad is on fire for eternity,” she bitterly says.
Unsurprisingly, Carol’s bitter words make it tough for Thomas to sleep later that night, so Uncle Ace helps make sense of why his grandma would be so hostile when, actually, she’s devastatingly sad. “Sometimes that’s the way sad comes out,” Ace explains. And when Thomas asks why his granddad Tom killed himself, Ace says his spirit was broken.
Ace might as well be talking about himself. He’s understandably angry that Jack has written him off as a heel. But he’s worried he might be becoming a heel in real life, too, given the way he cruelly talks to Helen Cooper at the grocery store and the way he treats Crystal. Ace begins to see how the line between wrestling and real-life heeldom blur after spending an impromptu afternoon watching Wild Bill take out his frustrations on a fellow bar patron. Bill tells Ace that he has “a vicious side” in him, just like his father Tom did. “Tap that vein … riches will flow,” Bill advises. But when he talks to Jack about DWL promos, Jack warns Ace about taking his heeldom home with him and learning how to separate himself from his character.
Later, Ace confesses his anger and sadness to Carol, how he hears the gunshot from Tom’s gun over and over at night and has trouble sleeping. Carol basically tells him to ignore his feelings, but he knows the only way to move forward is to sort through them. So maybe it’s Ace who should be the one doling out advice to Wild Bill, not the other way around.
Speaking of Bill, it turns out his forced timeout wasn’t just a blip, which he learns after a cold call in which he’s politely and professionally given the boot. “That’s just about the most insincere thing I ever heard in my fuckin’ life,” he tells them before hanging up the phone and, for now, his career in professional wrestling.
But Bill’s going to double down on that sadness and alienate Willie, the one person who is truly there for him. During a chat and smoke on her lawn, he talks about how he thinks Jack is to blame for Tom’s death before saying some truly awful things about Willie’s husband and daughter to her. Willie punches him, hard, many times. He pulls a punch towards her, and she doesn’t flinch. The next morning, he’s kicked out by Ted and told the interstate motel has vacant rooms.
When Jack goes to the motel to tell Bill to stay away from Ace, he sees a completely blotto, barely-able-to-function Bill at the ice machine. Bill is clearly suffering from his old wrestling injuries and immense pain, so Jack quietly leaves instead of telling him off. Not that a little pain makes Bill have a quiet night. After returning to his room with the ice and pouring a few more libations, he digs through a duffle bag for one of his costumes. He puts it on and climbs to the roof of the motel, where he chugs from the bottle and jumps up and down, shouting to his neighbors, “Wild Bill Hancock! I am here! I am alive! Wake the fuck up, y’all!”
Sometimes that’s the way sad comes out.
Notes From the Squared Circle
• If you think Chris Bauer is having as much fun playing Wild Bill as we are watching him play Wild Bill, you are correct, as he confirms in this wonderful Vulture chat.
• Staci gets a job. After that house fire and the ensuing repairs put them even further in a financial hole, she insisted on finding something, so she got a part-time gig at the Piggly Wiggly. Jack is initially pissy but finally gives her his support when she tells him she is happy about the job because she needs something outside their home. Which, by the way, likely caught on fire because of the squirrels chewing through the wires. Squirrels he had promised to take care of, but which took a backseat to DWL biz.
• I think this every week: Staci Spade would make a great name for a female wrestling star.
• A fast friendship has formed between Crystal and sweet Bobby Pin, and it’s a delightful development. He asks her for help coming up with a character for himself, and they bond while brainstorming, practicing wrestling moves on her trampoline, and wishing life were as straightforward as a game of Mario Kart (which she always plays as Toad and he plays as Diddy Kong). This would make so much sense as a romance, and being treated with kindness and respect by someone who sees all her potential has Crystal feeling lukewarm about Ace, which is why Ace keys Bobby’s Bronco when he sees them laughing on the trampoline. Sometimes that’s the way sadness comes out. And sometimes Ace is just an asshole, too.
• When Ace pops into the local pool hall and orders “a Miller and 24,” he’s asking for a beer and two dozen chicken wings. It’s almost like he knew Carol would go off about Tom in Hell before he got to tuck into that fried chicken and mashed potatoes dinner she cooked.