We’ll get to CM Punk in a few, so just bear with me for a bit.
There’s a point in every wrestler’s life when they “come to Jesus.” And by Jesus, I mean the promoter tells them whether they’re a heel or a face. Some come in with a very specific idea, like Steve Austin, as to where they fit on that spectrum. Austin knew since his early days he was a bad guy and relished it. When he started getting the reactions that eventually became legendary, he pushed back. He didn’t want to be a babyface and resisted until he couldn’t anymore. For a wrestler, that alignment is everything and represents who they are from the tip of their boots to the top of their heads.
Ace Spade finds himself in that same position in the latest episode of Heels. He defines himself as everybody’s favorite person. He needs the adulation, the flowers, and all that perks that come with it. To quote one of my favorite movies, he can’t stand the thought of anyone not liking him. “Cheap Heat” juxtaposes this question of identity with Jack’s journey, his wife Allison’s journey, and the rest of the wrestlers in DWL. Everyone is either figuring out who they are or juggling multiple personas for different purposes. And as we learn before the opening credits, Jack and Ace’s dad dealt with that struggle as well.
Ace’s dedication and desire for good guy stardom comes from his father. Tom Spade, the creator of DWL, was everybody’s favorite in the ring. Ace’s desire to chase the ghost of his deceased father is to the detriment of his professional life. From the first episode, it’s clear this cat is a heel. Heels mirrors real-life in how fan’s tastes changed and yesterday’s good guy is today’s villain and vice versa. Jack, as smart as he is at times, doesn’t even see the value in his little brother as a bad guy until Crystal opens his eyes to the possibility. This furthers the idea that Crystal’s talent is wasted as a valet and she needs to do more for DWL. While Jack and Ace wrestle over who is the true star of the league, Crystal shows that fight is moot.
So what pushes Ace to the point where he realizes he should be the heel? Enter CM Punk!
Punk plays Ricky Rabies, a wrestling legend on the tail-end of his career. Jack brings him in to put butts in seats, build more heat for himself, and provide a little stability after the last show went off the rails in the main event. Ace takes this as an affront to him. This night is supposed to be his comeback. He’s giving a babyface promo, getting the W against a rookie, and angling for a rematch. According to Ace, bringing in a star the caliber of Ricky Rabies undercuts all of that. Ricky Rabies is the main event, regardless of where he is on the card.
Punk plays Rabies very similarly to how most of us imagine Mick Foley is off camera. He’s cordial, jovial, happy to help in anyway, and gracious for the opportunity. It’s the role that only a wrestler can play because it’s obvious he’s incorporating every veteran he ever met or idolized. There’s a little Terry Funk in Rabies, along with Foley and Harley Race. Rabies is nowhere close to Punk’s in-ring persona, which probably adds to the amount of glee he has in the role. Rabies has no ego, he just wants to come in, pop the crowd, and get paid. Like I said, he’s happy to be here.
Ace, realizing he needs to do something to get people talking, leans into the heel work after his apology promo goes south. The fans aren’t feeling it, they aren’t feeling him, and the “cry baby” chant gets under his skin. Everything gets worse when fans start throwing tissues at him. Because, ya know, cry babies need to wipe their tears.
When it’s time for the main event match, Ace accepts his identity as a true heel. And to the surprise of no one, he’s really good at it. Crystal, as any good wrestling mind or valet should, knows her partner and the talent he has. She has an innate sense of what works and what doesn’t. She knew Ace Spade as a heel is where the money is. The fact that it works as well as it does is the first sign that she truly knows what she’s talking about. Maybe, just maybe, Jack Spade should pay more attention to her and pick her brain.
“Cheap Heat” is another really dope episode of television for a show that surprises me every single week in its ability to juggle nuance and earnest drama with soap opera.