There’s a scene in the latest episode of Heels that is both a very direct criticism of WWE and what mainstream professional wrestling is in 2021. Wild Bill finds himself in the middle of a board meeting in what is obviously the show’s version of WWE. While the suits around the table are discussing the new pretty Heavyweight Championship built, which now comes with glowing LED lights, he gets word vomit.
Bill just can’t shut up about how stupid the belt looks and why its very existence is a slap in the face of every wrestler who fought, bled, or died just to hold it in their hands.
Seriously, the belt looks stupid and, as one of the execs says, looks more suited for the toy aisle at Target than around a grown man’s waist. The boardroom discussion illustrates the internal conflict pro wrestling has as it gets bigger each year. Trying to maintain the “purity”of the sport and respect those who came before while evolving and moving into new corporate spaces.
There’s no doubt in my mind WWE considers the marketing of a new belt design before they roll it out. They’re less concerned with how people who read this site will feel about it than they are kids looking to recreate their favorite matches. As someone who used to be one of those kids, I get it.
But can professional wrestling still maintain its essence as it becomes more corporate and polished? This is still about two people getting in the ring and engaging in a choreographed fight for our entertainment, but it’s inherently violent and counterculture. “Cutting Promos” is the first Heels episode that—pun intended—wrestles with these questions, while examining it from the perspective of a small-time promotion doing all it can to graduate to the big leagues.
While Wild Bill is doing his best to burn every bridge with his current employer, the Spade brothers are trying to fix their relationship. An electrical fire in their house forces Jack, Staci, and their son to take up residence with Ace and Momma Spade. Clearly a contentious situation since Ace still blames Jack for ruining his shot at the big time, and Jack still believes he did the right thing for his little brother. These are two stubborn individuals who refuse to back down or apologize. But the one thing that brings them together, is wrestling.
FWD is breathing down their necks. While their owner, Charlie Gully, isn’t the type of guy to put on a shirt and tie for work, he has the same predatory instincts as someone who does. FWD has the money, roster, and overall presentation to put DWL out of business. Gully isn’t cut from the same cloth as Vince McMahon, Ted Turner, or even Paul Heyman. But he’s less of a character here and more of an idea.
To DWL, he represents that same force Wild Bill pushed back against in that New York board meeting. They don’t believe he loves wrestling or even understands wrestling. To them. Gully is a carpet bagger from the northeast who figured he could make even more money through wrestling. Their family business is pure, filled with heart and soul. FWD is loud, brash, and to them, not real wrestling. But the more Charlie calls them out, the more they realize they have to deal with the threat.
That danger looming over their heads brings the brothers together. Jack realizes he can’t do this by himself, lest he go the route of his dad. DWL can’t just be his ideas, especially since he was the one who brought his brother into the family business in the first place.
Ace, finally at the point where he can say how he feels rather than act out, explains to his brother what he wants and everything else going on inside his head. While bonding over their dad’s old wrestling tapes in the basement, the two settle their differences, if only for a moment, and work on ideas for the next show. By looking to tradition, they try to figure out ways to fight against the future they want no parts of.
Staci Spade finally gets something interesting to do this week, as she fights against her husband’s desire that she never has to work. Staci isn’t Jack’s mom, nor is it that decade anymore. She wants more for herself and wants to contribute. Especially since the DWL isn’t exactly rolling in dough and they need all the financial help they can get.
One of the best scenes in the entire series so far sees Staci and her mother-in-law walking through a grocery store talking about the latter’s past and life goals. Jack and Ace’s mom dedicated her life to raising them and supporting her husband. She sewed wrestling attire and cooked dinner.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but Staci wants an expertise that goes beyond the right ingredients for dinner and which brand tastes the best. She too has her own fight with tradition, but in the opposite direction of her husband and brother-in-law.
The rest of the episode loosely follows this idea of incorporating tradition into the present, but not as successful. Crystal’s road to superstardom continues as she helps the rookie Bobby Pin find his character. But the story is only interesting for what it says about her and not what it says about him. Bobby feels like a blank slate to catapult Crystal, which ironically, works really well in wrestling.
But, for television, both characters need to pop for a storyline to truly succeed. As of now, Bobby is dull as dishwater as a guy who is clearly interested in a woman who has a much brighter future ahead of her. Crystal is the most exciting and interesting character on the show, so the more we can highlight her, the better.
Through Crystal and Staci, the show is clearly aligning itself with the women of Heels as the ones looking to the future, while the men are either stuck in the past or having a hard time looking ahead.
While “Cutting Promos” is thematically the strongest episode thus far, it’s the least of these in terms of execution. Still a good episode, but not quite working on the same level as the ones before it. But let me not complain about good things before someone from Stamford’s corporate offices tells me I’m ruining something I love.