The wrestling business will chew you up and spit you out if you’re not careful. That much is true as Heels’ first season sees light at the end of the tunnel. Also clear is how the show uses elements we’re accustomed to as choreographed fight fans and mining real-life conflict from them.
“Swerve”, season one’s fifth episode, is no different, as it features so many characters “going into business for themselves” and getting away from what is expected of them.
As usual, we start with the Ace brothers because they’re the heart of the drama. Ace, after noticing Crystal and Bobby Pin spending a lot of time together, decides he needs a new valet. Of course, it’s also the fact that he notices how good Crystal is and fears her sun rays will blot out his candle, so anything he can do to get the crowd against her is on his to-do list. That type of paranoia and jealousy isn’t unique to professional wrestling, but history tell us how its derailed careers and turned bad blood feuds into life-or-death competitions. Ace’s belief that Crystal will take his spot is valid, but also shows he’s not the good guy he thinks he is since he wants to hinder her growth rather than support. Plus, his feelings are hurt, so there’s that. He and Crystal were never a couple, something he made clear as her name previously. She is free to spend time with anyone she wants. But if he can’t have her, no one can.
Speaking of Crystal, Heels does a great job building on her wrestling acumen and skills. We know she can handle herself in a fight, we know she has a brain for it, and “Swerve” shows she can talk on the microphone too. It’s great character work, giving us her foundation and then adding layers to mirror her coming into her own and gaining confidence. As the men in her life—Jack, Ace, Bobby—fall to pieces in different ways, Crystal flourishes by betting on herself at every turn. Whether it’s going with her instincts in the show’s climax, betting on a football game to win some money for a brand-new valet outfit, or even taking Wild Bill’s advice about her look and improvisation.
It’s that improvisation that drives Jack Ace wild, as he’s doing his best to exert as much control as he can during the episode. As he reminds us more times than needed, he’s writing the scripts and the words will work as is, so there’s no need to deviate. While he’s more open to collaboration now than before, he still has trouble letting go. Which is not only a sign of the growing pressure he feels as DWL steps into a bigger spotlight, but a result of him ceding control at home. Staci is firmly entrenched in her new grocery store job and doing it well. For a guy used to ruling the home and the ring, it’s a lot for him to step into the 21st century and realize equality is a thing. DWL getting an opportunity to wrestle at the Georgia State Fair only increases the weight on Jack’s shoulders, and “Swerve” does an okay job illustrating him getting pulled in multiple directions. Not great, but okay enough for us to understand why this is a big deal and what he needs for it to happen.
Heels effectively puts stakes in every one of their episodes. Yeah, I know that’s elementary for a television show, but that doesn’t always mean shows are good at it. Hell, wrestling itself isn’t always good at it. “Swerve” builds to what is, to date, DWL’s biggest show. With a spot at the Georgia State Fair on the line, everyone in the company needs to be on their best.
Continuing the theme, however, everyone has their own ideas. Jack wants to do what he wrote, while Ace, Crystal. Wild Bill, and Rooster have their own plans. Rooster wants a title shot and during the battle royal to determine the new numero uno contender, he and Diego hatch a plan to make that happen. Wild Bill, freshly fired from his job in New York, wants a piece of the action at the Georgia State Fair, while Ace and Crystal are working out their real-life drama in the ring.
It’s A LOT.
Because it’s wrestling, Heels weaves the threads together because that’s what you can do in the squared circle. They create a compelling third act of television through simplicity. In the end, Rooster and Diego stick to the plan, Crystal goes off script in the best way while Ace does it in the worst way, and Wild Bill announces his return to DWL and inserts himself into the DWL championship main event.
Oh, and they’re going to the Georgia State Fair, which now brings its own unique set of headaches. As a great man once said, more money, more problems.