If the eight episodes of Heels’ first season are all we’ll ever get, it was a satisfying dose of storytelling with a mostly joyful ending.
But if there is a second season (I know I’m not the only one hoping there’ll be a return to The Dome), the Heels writers leave a lot of stories to unfold and questions to answer about the characters we’ve become so invested in this season.
First though, that ending: Crystal is just one of several Duffyans caught up in Jack and Ace’s sibling rivalry, but she’s been the one paying the highest career price since her fizzled romance with Ace led to her ouster as his valet and Jack’s refusal to acknowledge she’s got the skills to be inside the ring.
Then the Jack/Ace/Bill ladder match — the DWL state fair exhibition’s main event that is supposed to end with Ace winning the belt and his redemption as a face — takes the titular double turn. Bill has to fake a knockout on the mat, lest the crowd see that all the drugs he took to be able to wrestle through the pain led him to lose control of his intestinal integrity all over the back of his tights.
That leaves Jack and Ace to play out the script until Gully disrupts the plot by tossing Kleenex packets into the ring and triggers Ace’s trauma from the bout with his brother in the pilot. Jack finally admits to Ace that he and Willie planted the first tissues that led to Ace turning into DWL’s latest heel. Ace loses control of himself and this kayfabe turns into a real fight. Ace meets Jack’s apologies with a chokehold. At the fair as Bill’s latest Bunny Bombshell valet, Crystal hops into the ring to take on Ace. He plays along and allows the deserving underdog her chance to climb to the top of the ladder and grab the DWL belt for herself.
Crystal triumphs, and everyone, from the crowd and Willie producing the match backstage to a grinning Bill (who leaps off the mat to prevent a charging Gully from getting into the ring to claim the DWL belt) and match referee Bobby Pin are celebrating the surprise new champion.
This brings us to the first question for a potential second season: Since Crystal is the reigning champion, Jack will have to implement a whole women’s division of the DWL, right? Willie suggested it earlier, but now that Crystal proved how much the crowd loves her while she’s defeating her male competition, Jack would be a fool not to make Crystal the league’s new face and star.
That’s probably the only easy decision ahead for Jack.
After Jack drives to Jacksonville to bring Ace back into the DWL fold, he and Ace forge a new closeness. He admits that he would do things differently in hindsight and promises Ace the belt and a return to face status in the state fair match. Being told he would be a good guy in the ring again makes Ace aspire to be a good guy in his life. When Helen rebuffs his apology for his cruel comments, he gets her tickets to the sold-out fair event. He shows concern for Jack’s marriage, shakes his brother’s hand, and wishes him good luck before the ladder match. Before their last ring battle, in the pilot, he told Jack he would be stuck in Duffy until he ended up killing himself, like Tom.
Or maybe it isn’t the promised title of a professional good guy that fuels Ace’s turnaround; maybe he’s driven by simply getting what he wants. On the drive back from Tallahassee, Jack says he’s grown up watching Ace have all these dreams laid out before him by their father. Jack had just one dream, the DWL, and Tom deemed that beneath Ace’s potential.
Jack has been holding Ace back from leaving the DWL and wrestling in a bigger league because he’s jealous of Ace’s relationship with Tom and his opportunities for bigger success. And that’s probably, partly, true.
But Jack tells Ace he’s been trying to protect him from the perils of being a very immature young man and drinking himself to death. “For fuck’s sake, Jack, watch Ric Flair’s 30 for 30 … I would have been fine!” says Ace. (This is the exact opposite point he thinks he’s making, as anyone with access to Flair’s Wikipedia page knows.)
When Staci confronts Jack for acting like a real-life heel and planning that mass public Kleenex toss at Ace, he deflects by pointing to Ace’s cruelty. It may be Jack is just fast-talking to save his marriage — Jack is quick with those scripts, after all — but it also contains some truth. Jack and Ace are both complicated guys, both good and bad, both heel and face.
That doesn’t mean they’ll make up after Ace’s exit from the ring, maybe the DWL, Duffy, and even from his brother’s life. And it doesn’t mean Jack’s going to be able to save his marriage without a lot of reprioritizing the DWL with all the other things he cares about in his life.
But it is sure is a lovely and satisfying dose of storytelling, with a hope of more to come.
Notes From the Squared Circle
• Another big question for Season 2: Willie helped the DWL get through the state fair event. But Bill’s still around, and she’s unlikely to be able to ignore those resurfaced feelings she has for him, not without continuing to down those big cups of whiskey. Are she and Ted done? And will she join Apocalypse’s AA group?
• Speaking of Bill, a humbler man might run and hide from the viral memes that would undoubtedly follow cell phone pics and videos of his trip to (to paraphrase one of the all-time great Negan lines from The Walking Dead) Poo-Poo Pants City. But will Bill’s surprisingly selfless act to help Crystal help revive his wrestling career? If anyone can turn it into a full-fledged comeback, it’s Wild Bill.
• More questions: now that Crystal is the Queen of the DWL, we’ll need more backstory on her. For starters, who were those two kids jumping with her on the trampoline? Relatives? Kids from the neighborhood who admire her skills? Does she live by herself in that trailer?
• We learned very little about Carol, Mama Spade, this season, except that she doesn’t seem to find much joy in any part of her life. Understandable for a recent widow, but was she ever happy with her life? Were she and Tom ever happy? Or did his obsession with the DWL consume their lives, and marriage, just like Jack threatens to do with his family?
• We know Willie left her romance with Bill behind to become Tom’s valet back in the day, and she was later Tom’s partner in the DWL … were Willie and Tom ever more than professional partners? How did their partnership impact his marriage to Carol?
• Now that Rooster has heard straight from Gully’s mouth that he used Rooster as part of a larger plan to lure Ace to the Florida Wrestling Dystopia and destroy Jack, will Rooster rejoin his pals in the DWL?