You know, I really wanted to come here and kick off this recap with a thoughtful intro about how wonderfully Heels connects its past and present in this episode, how well it is still able to mine so much from drawing parallels between Tom Spade and his sons, how it is always compelling to dive deeper into the Bill-Willie dynamic, but I’m sorry, I cannot. Not because all of those things aren’t true, but because all I can think about coming out of “Appearances” is the absolutely perfect reveal that before Bill showed up at the DWL to recruit Ace back in season one, he was off making sexy religious movies (not an oxymoron!) as part of the Heaven Forbidden franchise. Bill plays a horny angel! The whole premise is that when you die, you get hot and start hooking up with other hot dead people in heaven! There is a wig. Oh my sexy God, did I cackle.
Of course, we are privy to much more serious events in Bill’s life throughout “Appearances,” too. The real crux of this episode is the déjà vu Bill and Willie are feeling as they watch from the sidelines as Jack, Ace, and Staci Spade meet with Brooks Rizzo about Continuum putting the DWL on its streaming platform — it all feels eerily similar to the big moment of betrayal that severed Bill’s relationship with Willie, Tom, and the DWL. That moment started with a big meeting and hopes of something greater for the DWL, too.
While the rest of the DWL team awaits to hear how the meeting with Brooks goes — it does start off on a weird note when Ace shows up in full Condamned gear, but have hope! — we’re transported back to the mid-’90s (thanks, oddly placed references to the O.J. Simpson trial) just as Tom Spade is about to go to his big meeting with Ted Turner about the DWL and Turner’s World Championship Wrestling. Willie is still Bill’s valet and girlfriend and Tom still has big dreams for the future of his wrestling promotion. The mustaches are spectacular.
The first meeting is a disaster, by which I mean it never happens. Tom is stood up by Ted Turner after waiting hours. He is not pleased but agrees to figure out another time. Six months later, Ted Turner summons Tom once again. Ahead of this meeting, Tom lets Wille in on a secret — the meeting isn’t about Ted acquiring the DWL or taking both Tom and Bill on; he’s only interested in Tom. Wouldn’t you know, right then and there, our little Willie Day makes a calculation and decides Tom is the rising star in this trio and she would very much like to be a part of that situation. She’s ditching Bill for Tom. It seems like she took the wrong lesson from Bill’s little speech about watching out for Tom turning on them when money is involved, but such is life.
The second meeting with Ted Turner is even more of a disaster, by which I mean not only does it not happen, but Bill makes a scene when he’s canceled on again and basically tells Ted Turner that he can shove it up his ass. When Tom comes home and tells Bill and Willie the news, Bill is livid that Tom could be so shortsighted that he is messing with all of their futures. When Tom says he’ll just call up Vince McMahon, the owner of the WCW’s biggest competitor, the WWF, Bill calls him a lunatic. His ego is out of control. That’s when Bill learns about Willie’s betrayal. That’s when everything changes.
Of course, at the time, Tom and Willie thought things were going to change in their favor, but we know it winds up being quite the opposite. And so when we find Tom in our last flashback — a much more recent one than the story of Tom and Bill’s falling out — Tom is broken. Also, very broke! Things are so dire Carol informs her husband that if he can’t turn things around, that if he does, in fact, lose the DWL and their home, that she’s divorcing him. Carol is one cold broad; we know this. When she suggests reaching out to Bill for some financial assistance, Tom shoots the idea down immediately.
But Tom does visit Bill and ask him for money, and, as we learn, it’s not the first time. This entire time, Bill’s been painted as some sort of villain who made it big and forgot the people who helped him get there. He’s made out to be callous and miserly. But we’ve been wrong. You can see it on Bill’s face the moment he and Tom are alone in his Heaven Forbidden trailer and then again as soon as there’s a lull in their conversation at the bar later — he knows Tom is here to ask for more money. Over the years, Bill has given Tom almost $500,000 and has never been repaid. It’s this time, finally, that Bill gives up on the act that the two of them are actually old friends. Bill has become an ATM to him and nothing more. He laughs to himself: “Two decades on the road, and this chicken wing dinner might be the best performance of my life, pretending like we’re still pals.” Tom has never even apologized for him and Willie cutting Bill out. Even now, as Bill tells him how much Tom broke his heart, he can’t. Tom is bitter and angry (at himself, mostly), and he is sad. Bill tells him to just call his accountant the next time he needs cash and he leaves. Before Bill leaves, Tom begs him not to tell Carol. Even after everything, he’s embarrassed to say he’s taking a handout from Bill. Tom calls Carol and feeds her a lie about getting some money from a new investor. The whole thing, from top to bottom, is heartbreaking.
Tom does do one thing for Bill, though: He rewrites some of the dialogue from Heaven Forbidden and leaves it at the studio. It’s a monologue about how the things we love can hurt us the most. How even heaven can be hell. It is a marked improvement from the original dialogue of the movie, and it leaves people in legit tears! I mean, I’m sure it’ll be cut for time because we have to leave room for all the hot angels having sex, but it’s a nice moment. It’s the only way Tom can manage to apologize — to give Bill words that show he’s never thought his friend was a clown, as Bill believed. Unfortunately, what Bill might believe is the start of mending their relationship is cut short. That night, Bill gets a call from Carol: Tom shot himself that morning. We’ve been watching the run-up to Tom’s death this entire time. When Carol blames Tom’s death on Bill, telling him that he’ll have to live with deserting his friend when he needed him, Bill keeps his promise to Tom and takes all of that anger on. He never tells Carol the truth. Bill! It’s no wonder he had a mental breakdown and decided to whip his dick out on a plane! The man has been carrying this insane burden.
In the present day, all of Bill’s actions seem to point to him still processing everything that happened with Tom. He so badly wants to make the DWL into the massive success he and Tom had dreamed it could. He gives the rest of the wrestlers a lecture on being the best storytellers they can be and on striving for the extraordinary. The man references Elizabethan theater and commedia dell’arte! He’s really giving it all he’s got.
He’s less successful, however, in trying to somehow repair the damage done to his relationship with Willie. She is very obviously still carrying guilt around from what went down back then, how she chose Tom over Bill, and she refuses to talk to Bill about it. Maybe she doesn’t want to be absolved of that sin.
Heels is not so subtly revealing that Willie’s drinking has only been getting more and more out of hand, and surely a lot of it is tied to the guilt she has for what she did to Bill and to Tom’s death. And there is no way it helps to have Crystal around, reminding Willie of her own failings. The two women share similar trajectories. Even Gully ties them together when he makes an offer for Crystal to actually defect to Dystopia — if Willie can get Crystal to leave the FWD, Gully would make her Crystal’s Front of House Manager. Willie would get to bask in the spotlight that she so desperately wanted two decades ago. But when Crystal is offered a real contract with Dystopia, a place that at the moment can offer her much more money and fame than the DWL, she stays loyal to the people who have become a family to her. Even now, all these years later, after seeing how betraying the people who care about her worked out in the end, Willie is contemplating doing it again.
• The meeting with Brooks goes well. He likes the story of the DWL and wants to see more from them. Unlike Tom Spade, who made any success the promotion had about him, Jack knows this is all about them as a group.
• I will treasure Ace Spade making a vision board for the rest of my days.
• We get another hint of Diego’s unhappiness with the way he’s treated at the DWL when even Dick Valentino mentions the lack of the Luchador in the DWL’s recent moves. Is Diego going to defect?!
• Wild Bill is chatting about commedia dell’arte and Charlie Gully is name-checking Miss Havisham? Heels never ceases to surprise.