Heels spends a lot of its time interrogating the past to understand the present. It’s also a show about professional wrestling, meaning it’s drenched in nostalgia. However, the show is painfully aware that nostalgia isn’t always, ya know, the best. When the show is at its best, it does all of these things together, sometimes in one scene, and reveals character details as a result. “The Big Bad Fish Man” takes the battle between past and present from subtle metaphor to overt literal thing happening on screen.
FWD plays a prank on DWL, a way to acknowledge the small Georgia company as real competition. Of course, this gives birth to a disagreement between Jack and Ace because most things do that. Jack, the traditionalist, wants to ignore FWD. He figures putting on a dope show at the Georgia State Fair is all the payback they need. Ace disagrees entirely. The younger Spade brother believes the only way to handle habitual line steppers like FWD is to take the fight to their backyard and confront them. He’s seen ‘80s movies, so he knows what to do when a bully gets in your face.
Ordinarily, I’d roll my eyes at a show creating tension between characters when said tension is already over. But not here because we know there’s still unresolved issues between the Spade brothers, and there are certain aspects of—using my best Triple H voice—the business they’re not on the same page about. Even if they’re reading from the same book. Ace is a hot head and will always take a swan dive into any situation without thinking it through. It’s why he drives to Florida, full of piss, vinegar, and mostly alcohol, then confronts Charile Gully at his mansion.
Gully makes FWD seem like the coolest operation in the world. He’s hosting a party, he calls his wrestlers “family,” and welcomes Ace with open arms. Gully doesn’t want to fight Ace nor does he want any of his wrestlers to throw a punch. Gully wants to recruit Ace. Much like he did with Rooster, FWD’s owner wants to give Ace the one thing Jack isn’t. For Rooster, it was a spot in the main event and the heavyweight championship. For Ace, it’s being the good guy everyone loves to cheer for. And I get it.
Gully is a combination of Vince McMahon and every other smooth talking promoter in the history of the game. It’s easy to understand why Ace is tempted and eventually agrees. Is he hesitant? Of course. But Gully talks a good game and no matter how many hatchets he and his brother bury, Ace still has the one thing he wants above everything else. Gully is willing to give it to him and on the bigger stage Ace desires. Of course, his little brother taking their mother’s car to Florida means Jack has to get involved. Ignoring Staci’s pleas—yet again—Jack makes his way to the Sunshine State to “rescue” his brother from the millionaire’s evil clutches. Ironically, Jack has to confront Charlie Gully and the rest of FWD, the one thing he didn’t want to do.
Rather than relegating his dream of making it to the big time to just some random plot detail from the pilot, Heels incorporates it into its penultimate episode in a way that involves all the major pieces on the board, while bringing two central conflicts to the forefront: DWL vs. FWD, and Jack vs. Ace. Somewhere between all that winning and dining, Ace realized all of the people depending on him back in DWL. Through body language, he conveys just how torn he is. But Heels makes it perfectly clear. The action culminates when Jack invades FWD’s televised event, punches Charlie Gully in the middle of the ring just for living, and fights off anyone else in his way with Ace’s help.
But here’s the rub: Ace isn’t really making a choice. Like most things in his life, he’s letting someone—Jack—choose for him and going with the momentum. While it’s good he’s realizing it’s not all about him, he’s still yet to take that full step into adulthood as it relates to his career. We’ve got one more episode in the season to see if he gets there.
- Crystal’s shown her talent as a wrestler and a valet. She belongs in the main event. Wild Bill, realizing this, makes her his new valet. She will bask in the glory of the Georgia State Fair spotlight. Despite the time given to Jack and Ace, Crystal’s journey is still the show’s best angle.
- Staci’s talents got her a spot singing the National Anthem at the Fair during the rodeo. A very big deal for her as well on her quest for agency and showing the world her talents. Jack is supportive but clearly the timing presents a conflict. Can he be there for his wife and run DWL’s biggest show to date?
- Wild Bill is truly upsetting the ecosystem, as his semi-permanent return is messing with Willie’s marriage. Willie and Bill used to be a thing and the emotional fallout from their past is, you guessed it, affecting her present and future. Worst of all, she doesn’t want to talk about it with her husband and refuses to let him in. It’s a nice touch to show that the past really does hurt everyone on this show.
Heels is ending its first season next week. A lot of storylines are in play, so will get a satisfying conclusion? Or are we in for a dusty finish? “The Big Bad Fish Man” continues the streak started two weeks ago. While the episode isn’t quite on the level of the one preceding it, it’s still a good, logical hour of television that effectively lays out the stakes for the finale.