Heels has only gotten better with every episode because of the pace and order with which the writers have dribbled out the backstories of these small-town wrestling gods and goddesses. “House Show” kicked the tricklings up to a torrent, giving us the juicy details on what is shaping the characters’ most profound relationship conflicts.
It turns out that potential friendship-ending blowup between Willie and Wild Bill was just the latest chapter in their history of breakups. A couple of decades ago, when Willie, Bill, and Tom Spade were building the DWL in Duffy, Willie was Bill’s valet. She was also his girlfriend. But then big-league wrestling came calling for Tom, Tom asked Willie to become his valet, and she said yes. She’s sorry now, especially when Bill, a vulnerable Bill we have had yet to see, finally “consolidate[s] into a cogent thought” how that made him feel, and how it changed him from a man capable of kindness to the Bill who threw a painful moment from their past in Willie’s face. Bill admits that he loved Willie and that getting tossed for Tom messed him up.
Willie admits to her mistake and apologizes for it. But that doesn’t excuse what Bill said to her about the abortion she had all those years ago, especially when she took him into her home when he seemed to have nowhere else to go. She was a “fucking oasis” when his world crumbled around him, and nothing that happened between them could ever excuse bringing her daughter into their conflict.
Bill says, “That’s why I’m apologizing.”
It is fantastic writing and absorbing performances by Mary McCormack and Chris Bauer in the best scene of the season so far. I feel this reconciliation of sorts is not the end of this relationship. Willie and Bill seem unsettled and emotional, even after each says “I’m sorry.” Besides, Bill is jobless right now, but we don’t think he came back to Duffy, Georgia, just to get a shot at the DWL championship belt in the leaky Dome, do we?
The trip down memory lane also reveals that Bill has been betrayed by his friend Tom, not only by asking Willie to team up with him but also by alienating Wild Bill from the DWL. That certainly must have made Bill’s mega-success in the big league that much more satisfying. Bill also has a brief encounter with Jack, who tells him he is not privy to the nuances of Bill’s friendship with Tom. Again, as much as we learned from this episode, I think there’s still plenty more to come on this front (which is only one reason I’m anxiously awaiting a season-two renewal announcement).
More truths spilled out about Papa Spade, too, particularly about the destructive ways his pitting Jack against Ace when they were kids continues to wreak havoc on them, both individually and as brothers.
Ace cues up an old videotape from a birthday party when he looks to be in his early-teen years. Ace and his friends are playing football in the Spade backyard while Tom and a teenage Jack watch. “Dan Marino times two, Jackie Boy,” Tom says, puffing on a cigar as he talks of his younger son. He’s not just playing proud dad but taunting Jack as much as he’s praising Ace, commenting on how Ace’s instincts and footwork are better than Jack’s.
Watching the tape impacts Ace, whose sports dreams were all pinned to football, not wrestling. Tom’s dreams for Ace were of him playing football at the higher levels too. This must intensify the anger Ace has about feeling forced to get involved with the DWL and the resentment at Jack for drawing him into the family business, making him a heel. That continues to weigh heavily on Ace, who takes the occasion of the christening for Big Jim’s baby, Shelby, to apologize to Bobby Pin for breaking his leg and to Crystal for being mean to her. He tells her she’s special.
For Jack, the wounds inflicted by his father surely still fuel him. It’s why he’s obsessed with being a better wrestler than Tom — he writes all the scripts and keeps the championship belt around his own waist — and will seemingly do anything to make the DWL more successful than Tom ever could. Tom, after all, never had the DWL wrestling in front of 10,000 fans, as Jack is set to do at the South Georgia State Fair.
But if one of the Spade brothers is deeper into his daddy issues than the other, it’s Jack, whose near-blind devotion to the DWL continues to push his marriage to the breaking point. The squirrels, the gerbil, having his cell phone glued to his ear, missing Staci’s solo performance at Shelby’s christening, refusing to practice cornhole or catch fireflies with Thomas … Jack is participating only in the part of his life that involves wrestling and is relying on Staci to handle the rest. She tells him, as she already has so many times, that she and Thomas need more — more than the “exhausted and depleted you.”
Jack always pretends he’s listening to what she’s saying and promises to do better, but if she keeps having to have these conversations, is he really listening? Can he really ever change?
Notes From the Squared Circle
• Jack is also about to lose one of his best wrestlers, Rooster, who has given Jack chance after chance to talk about his future. After one last attempt ends with Rooster feeling disrespected once again, he calls Gully and tells him he’s ready to join the Florida Wrestling Dystopia.
• Apocalypse runs an AA meeting at the Dome. What he tells the group — “Have gratitude for your regrets … They’re there to remind you to be a better version” — is a sentiment that could be the theme of the episode, if not the whole series.
• As she stands in Tom’s old office, thinking back about how dejected he was about the state of the DWL, Willie looks down intently on Apocalypse’s meeting. Could it have something to do with those giant cups and mugs full of hooch she’s always carrying around?
• The Heels writers aren’t stingy with the levity, either, and my favorite example comes in “House Show.” Bobby, Diego, and Apocalypse are in the locker room at the Dome, and the conversation turns to Apocalypse’s robe, fashioned by Carol Spade, which is soft but chafes his nipples. That leads to a debate about why men even have nipples. Diego’s theory is that maybe God thought women would one day be running the workplace, so men would be at home with the children and need to feed babies. The three are pretty proud of this conclusion, which Rooster has been listening to them reach. “You all got to be the most brain-damaged individuals I have ever met, and I’ve met some demented motherfuckers,” he tells them. “I’ve dated demented people, I’ve helped demented people, and I’ve fought demented people, and if those demented people were here, they would rejoice knowing that there exists far more demented people than they are.” That’s classic locker-room chatter, which, though it transcends sports cinema in many ways, Heels very much belongs to.