Heels has never shied away from the brutality of devoting your life to wrestling and the damage it can do both physically and mentally — just look at the mess that is the Spade family. In “Heavy Heads,” two other characters, at two very different stages in their careers, come face-to-face with some of the consequences of the industry, and both come to similar conclusions: They just can’t quit professional wrestling.
I’m sorry, but Wild Bill never disappoints. Whether he’s saying something outrageous about his leaking sphincter, shamelessly flirting with women who run state fairs, or stripping down on an airplane to stick it to the man, Bill is somehow offensive and charming all at once. The ridiculousness only works, though, because we’ve also gotten to see other layers to Bill (and because Chris Bauer can pull off all shades of the guy). This episode teaches us a lot about Bill. He and Diego head to Florida for a Super-Fan Wrestling Convention, and as sad as this event seems, Wild Bill thrives here. He says he’s putting on a good show because happy fans mean more money for him, but, come on, the guy clearly needs this kind of attention to survive.
When Bill runs into some former wrestling buddies from the good ol’ days, it becomes even clearer that while most of his contemporaries have moved on either by choice or because they hit rock bottom, Bill’s entire identity is wrestling, and to give it up would be worse than death (he’s a drama queen, but also it’s probably true?). When Bill and Diego sit down with Alvin (who used to be known as “Man Beast” before retiring and running a bunch of fro-yo franchises with his wife) and Jimmy John (a husk of a man who has suffered some severe brain injuries) to record an episode of the podcast, you can see the horror all over Bill’s face as he sees before him two versions of a non-wrestling future. He certainly doesn’t want to become so injured he can barely function in society, but he seems to take more umbrage with Alvin, a man who chose to give up wrestling and live a smaller life. He tries to goad Alvin into an argument, but Alvin sees through all of the bravado and meanness. None of their peers have come out of wrestling unscathed; they were all addicted to the high of wrestling and it’s why he understands Bill’s inability to let it go. Bill gave himself over to his gimmick years ago, but Alvin never wanted that. And believe it or not, Alvin’s happy now. “I cheer for you, but I don’t wish I were you,” Alvin tells Bill. It is a gut punch.
The change in Bill when his old friends finally leave is heartbreaking. He refuses to accept that his future might look like either of theirs. He’s disgusted by the fact that Alvin would “get off the horse,” and almost in tears, he yells at Diego (only because he happens to be there) that he’ll “never get off the damn horse.” It’s such a telling moment — Alvin’s right about Bill, he has nothing else but the sport. There’s not really a Bill Hancock anymore, just Wild Bill. For the first time maybe, Bill has to confront what that might mean for his future. Did all of this sound super-depressing? Great, because it was. It was so depressing!
Then there’s Crystal. She’s just starting out. She is full of big dreams and has a ton of growing and learning to do. Her hard work has pushed DWL to form a Women’s League, in which she’ll be the shining star! Her picture is up on the wall of champions at the Dome! Right now, everything seems thrilling and full of possibilities. The thrill, however, is knocked right out of her when, thanks to her first opponent in the Women’s League, Crystal, too, gets a nice, long look at what might be waiting for her if she keeps at the wrestling thing.
Elle Dorado, also Tanya, arrives in Duffy to “put Crystal over,” as they say (it means to make her look good). Elle seems great. She’s patient with Crystal and seems genuinely happy to have a job. She’s good at what she does. Crystal is immediately intimated by how good. But all of the imposter-syndrome stuff is in Crystal’s head. It doesn’t take long for Elle to become an ally. Crystal learns a lot from her, not just about the form — but about what it really means to be a woman in the industry. Elle has to travel all over the place to join promotions and get enough work to pay her bills because most places run out of story lines for the few female wrestlers they have pretty quickly. And then there’s the physical toll: Elle’s pretty young and yet she’s kicking back six ibuprofen before practice because her knee is so busted it probably needs surgery, and her neck and shoulder are next in line. Unfortunately, because work is so scarce, Elle doesn’t have health insurance to cover any of the medical bills. Success is a whole lot less glamorous than it might seem in Crystal’s head. And yet still, Crystal remains undeterred to make a name for herself in the business.
Lest you begin to think that Heels has just become the biggest bummer of a show, in zip-lines Ace Spade. No, seriously. Admittedly, I did laugh out loud when Ace revealed his new gimmick. ConDamned (or Con-Damned? Con Damned? I need to see that ludicrous name in writing, please), but I wasn’t laughing at him per se — I was laughing because Heels is having a little fun with Ace and we all, him especially, could use it.
Ace has been holed up in Jack’s garage since returning from his brief sojourn to find himself. The description he gives Crystal as to where he’s been — “Took the long way around to nowhere, fell off a cliff” — is perfect. When Jack tells him that he wants them to really, truly share the DWL this time, Ace tells him that he wants to find a way out of wrestling.
Then Ace spends the day with Thomas … and it’s kind of wonderful? When Thomas accidentally loses Tom’s prop crown that Ace has been carrying around since the State Fair, and it gets crushed by oncoming traffic, Ace handles the situation perfectly. In letting it go, in saying out loud that it’s really “just fabric and plastic,” he seems to realize that it’s what he’s needed to do all along. While hanging out, Thomas tells Ace that he’ll never wrestle because he’s too small, and Ace proceeds to show his nephew that he could be a great wrestler if he wants to do that. He puts him over and lets him have a win and a great afternoon, and it cannot be lost on Ace that he is giving Thomas something that his own father never wanted to give Ace. Ace smiles, and it’s hard not to think this is because he’s finally releasing himself from the pressure his dad put him under. Honestly, can you imagine Ace even broaching the subject of his Con-Damned (Condamned? CoNdAmneD?) gimmick with Tom Spade? That man would laugh him out of the Dome.
Instead, Ace — admitting it is a little childish, but “childish is [his] specialty” after all — has Crystal dye his hair and, although we don’t see it, obviously goes to Jack and presents him with a big idea. At the end of the final event tag-team match that week, in which the big cross-promotion with Dystopia kicks off, as Rooster and another Dystopia wrestler called The Hole (a name a wrestler could, in fact, choose!) make their presence known and clear the ring, the lights go off and a hooded figure zip-lines from the rafters. In a modulated voice, he says he is “a soul in search of redemption” and won’t stop until he has it. It’s so over the top I applauded. Heels is doing great stuff with character development and utilizing this small-town world it’s built to tell emotional stories, but it also doesn’t forget that wrestling can be — should be — over the top. Heels can have fun too. More zip lines always, I say!
What’s Willie up to? We see her clearing out the cash in the DWL safe and then later handing it over to a woman who works for the county. She is either so stressed by it or has so much guilt that she winds up drinking herself into a blackout and sleeping on her bedroom floor. Staci sees a lot of this shiftiness go down, so perhaps she’ll be demanding some answers from Ms. Willie soon.
Fun fact! Elle Dorado is played by AJ Mendez, also known as her WWE and Women of Wrestling persona, AJ Lee, who just happens to be married to Phil Brooks, who is also known as his professional wrestling persona, CM Punk — but you might know him as Ricky Rabies. Heels is a family affair!
Crystal tells Bobby that he has nothing to worry about with her and Ace, but Bobby didn’t see the looks they were giving each other as she dyed his hair in the shower.
I hope we’re working our way toward Rooster returning to DWL. The Rooster-Jack scenes we’ve gotten this season, especially in this episode, have been great. Jack needs someone to remind him that he lacks a little self-awareness at times. Rooster delivering a promo ripping Jack apart that was written by Jack after Rooster delivered him some hard truths was such a great moment for both of them.
Charlie Gully may be a real dick, but man, does he have Jack’s number. As Jack hems and haws about doing a cross-promotion because it won’t really work with DWL’s storytelling vibe, Gully has to remind him that “it’s wrestling, it’s not Faulkner.” Listen, I appreciate great writing and good stories, but Gully is right — lighten up, my dude!