Every episode of Heels is named after a piece of pro wrestling jargon that relates in some way to the events of the show. Last week’s episode was called “Swerve” in reference to its dramatic plot twists, and the latest is called “House Show,” which in wrestling means an event that is untelevised and therefore only performed for the theatrical “house.” This may seem like an appropriate title for one of the series’ quieter chapters set between DWL events, but there’s another term that’s a much better fit: “Rest Hold.” This episode puts a halt on the momentum built up from last week’s chaotic DWL main event and lets each character take a beat and plan their next move, which turns out to be pretty boring to watch.
From the outset, the storytellers announce loud and clear that “House Show” will be an episode about characters confronting their sins and seeking forgiveness. In one of its first scenes, we see Apocalypse leading an AA meeting in the DWL Dome, sharing about the importance of being honest about his past mistakes rather than trying to deny them. His words clearly make an affirming impression on the rest of his group (we can tell because we keep cutting to them nodding as he speaks), and though the other regular characters aren’t there to hear it, they more or less behave as if they have. The rest of the episode follows other characters on their own quests for forgiveness.
In case Apocalypse’s AA meeting isn’t enough to set up the theme of the episode, the rest of it centers around a baptism. The cleansing of original sin off of Big Jim’s (Duke Davis Roberts, The Son) baby girl has everyone in a reflective mood, including Ace Spade, who has predictably shown up for this even-numbered episode as a sympathetic character rather than a cartoon villain. Called upon to speak as baby Shelby’s godfather at the ceremony, Ace faces a congregation made up of his DWL peers and talks about how life is about failing and learning from your mistakes. His fellow wrestlings in attendance seem moved by this, but it’s impossible to tell how much of a difference this speech makes because we do not see Ace interact with any of them beforehand.
Shortly thereafter, Ace sincerely and unequivocally apologizes to Bobby Pin for having broken his fibula through his skin last episode. This might mean something if not for the fact that sweet innocent Bobby still believes that this kind of injury is just part of the job and is nobody’s fault. While it shows growth that Ace admits that he did wrong without making any excuses, having the injured party dismiss the apology as unnecessary totally dissolves all the tension generated by the transgression in the first place. Once again, it appears that Ace’s misbehavior will cost him nothing, as no one else seems interested in holding him accountable, either. I’d love to have confidence that Ace’s introspection is going to have lasting consequences, but since the episode ends with him wallowing in self-pity as the home video spectre of his father expounds on his incredible, now-unfulfilled potential, there’s even odds that Ace will be a weaselly shit again next week. If the storytellers can allow Ace to retain this growth from one episode to the next, this will do a lot to alleviate my frustration with his character.
Of course, Ace is just one of the many characters fessing up to their mistakes in this episode. Crystal approaches Willie, Bobby, and Ace each separately about going off-book in last week’s main event, but doing so doesn’t change her standing with any of them. Willie seems angrier with Crystal for cutting an unscripted promo than she is at Ace for injuring another wrestler, and has no particular interest in seeing her in the ring again. (Funny how a man’s violent actions are somehow more forgivable than a woman’s “provocative” words.) Apologizing to Bobby lacks any stakes because he does not believe he’s been wronged. Crystal apologizes to Ace for her role in the sabotage, but he’s come to offer one for his own misbehavior so this is basically a wash. They’ve already done most of their soul-searching off-screen, so their on-screen meeting lacks urgency.
I Do Not Respect You, Booker Man
Meanwhile, Jack Spade’s mismanagement of the DWL reaches incredible new heights. Last episode, Jack won the opportunity to showcase his promotion before a State Fair audience of up to 10,000 people. Enough time has passed that not only are tickets on sale, but they’re lagging behind previous years’ State Fairs. This leaves Jack scrambling to drum up interest for the show, something that he clearly has no idea how to do. With the big day fast approaching, Jack has yet to determine any of the matches on the card, let alone build stories with which to promote them. He knows he’ll be defending the DWL Championship in the main event, but hasn’t decided if it’ll be against Ace Spade (who just popped someone’s leg off in the ring) and/or Wild Bill Hancock (the drunken old man who hasn’t wrestled in a decade and doesn’t actually work here), and he doesn’t seem open to giving the opportunity to someone else.
To spread the word about the show, Jack arranges to be a guest on the wrestling podcast No Questions Barred, hosted by affable ex-wrestler Dick Valentino (WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley, wearing a Santa Claus-themed Hawaiian shirt that he probably wore to set). Dick seems game to let Jack talk up the show and make use of the infamy he’s built up from his screwy main event scene, but Jack is unwilling to reflect on recent events and unable to tease a storytelling direction he doesn’t have. Dick, looking for any angle to get his listeners invested, pivots to Jack’s father’s suicide.
“I thought we were here to talk about the future of the DWL,” says an angry Jack. And while one can’t blame him for refusing to discuss a family tragedy with the public, I for one can’t help but scream at my TV: WHAT future? What the hell did Jack expect to talk about on this podcast for an hour? It’s as if Jack thinks he can stand in front of a poster with the word “WRESTLING!” printed on it, talk about how hard he works, and that alone should put asses in seats. It is becoming impossible to believe that Jack was raised in a wrestling federation or that he should be in charge of one.
Adding to the argument that he is terrible at his job, Jack once again brushes off Rooster Robbins’ attempt to get any attention at all from the creative lead of his promotion. Rooster lets Jack pick the time and place to discuss plans for the State Fair show, and Jack still gets annoyed when Rooster tries to advocate for a shot at the title in the main event. I remind you that Jack has so far made no plans whatsoever for the State Fair show and has nothing to counterpitch him. Jack cannot reply with the obvious — that just last week he promised a hot crowd a three-way ladder match with Ace and Wild Bill — because he doesn’t want to acquiesce to Bill’s hijacking of his storyline and still thinks he’s going to come up with some alternative. He doesn’t tell Rooster that he has plans for him to continue his feud with Diego Cottonmouth or any such like, because Jack hasn’t put any thought into this either. After being dismissed for the umpteenth time, Rooster accepts a cash offer to wrestle for Charlie Gully (guest star & showrunner Mike O’Malley) at rival promotion Florida Wrestling Dystopia. While we’d like to wish him the best on his future endeavors, there is a 99.9% chance that he spends one episode at FWD, discovers that Gully is somehow worse than Jack, and is back at DWL by the season finale. (I am, preemptively, a little mad about this.)
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More Apologies, Actually
Rooster isn’t the only person who’s run out of patience with Jack — Staci is also reaching her breaking point. Jack has booked his podcast appearance on the day of the baptism, at which Staci will debut an original song that she’s written for the occasion. Despite Staci putting the event on Jack’s phone calendar, despite her rehearsing the song on the porch all week, and even despite Jack walking out on his podcast interview 50 minutes early, Jack still manages to arrive late to the ceremony and miss her performance. Later, Staci lets loose and tells Jack that she’s tired of feeling ignored and that she and Thomas deserve better. It’s not the first time that she’s expressed this sentiment to him, but it also doesn’t feel like a repeat. Each time Jack disappoints Staci, it feels as if she learns to better understand and articulate that disappointment. At the same time, Jack’s apologies and promises to apply her input feel entirely genuine, which goes a long way to explain why she’s been as patient as she has. When they fight, it feels like a real conversation between two people who love each other and are communicating in good faith, a portrait of a hard marriage, not a bad one.
While my complaints about Heels have mounted over the past few weeks, Staci’s subplot has remained immune to all of them. Unlike Ace, her character has progressed in a steady, linear direction. Thanks in large part to Alison Luff’s performance, Staci doesn’t feel like a helpless character begging for our sympathy, whereas Ace and Crystal’s stories run primarily on pity. Like Rooster, Staci just wants the respect that she’s due, but in her case this desire is never framed as presumptuous. Her celebrated singing voice is actually good, in contrast to Jack’s entirely imaginary storytelling prowess. (Sure, her songwriting is amateurish, but nobody’s claiming she’s Lucinda Williams.)
Our final “sorry” sublot is between Willie and Wild Bill, who finally air out a few decades’ worth of history for the audience. Willie was Wild Bill’s valet in the early days of the DWL, but when it seemed like Tom Spade was a better prospect for success in the business, Willie’s character turned face and she hitched herself to the rising star. Willie confesses that she knew this would lead to the end of her real-life romance with Wild Bill sooner or later, but that it seemed less important than her career at the time. Wild Bill considers being dumped by Willie to be the turning point of his life, the moment when he stopped giving a shit about other people and became a mean cuss 24/7. This, ironically, is what launched him to stardom. Willie has tried to do right by Bill as a friend, but Bill’s acid tongue has lost him that privilege. Clearing the air and exchanging apologies hasn’t repaired their friendship, but it has perhaps created enough understanding that Willie might tolerate Bill working at the DWL in the short term.
Willie and Bill’s confrontation is a bit of a rollercoaster, oscillating between awkward comedy and heartfelt drama. Wild Bill is the most outlandish character on the show, and even seeing him in a situation that calls for total sincerity reads as a bit goofy. Willie feels more grounded only by comparison — her rapid-fire wit would be totally at home in a classic screwball comedy if not for her fondness for the word “fuck.” Though the shortest of the parallel apology subplots, it’s also the one that feels most like it’s made a measurable impact on the characters involved, a welcome development in an episode that drags its feet for most of its 56 minutes.
In an eight-hour story, there’s nothing inherently wrong with spending one of those hours letting the characters stew and reflect. It’s even nice to make space for completely inconsequential scenes now and then, such as the DWL locker room’s inane meditations on the utility of the male nipple. What makes “House Show” such a frustrating episode is that nearly every character is reflecting on the same internal conflict in mostly the same way with nearly identical results. It’s completely monotone — everyone is regretful for their selfishness, everyone confronts the people they’ve wronged, and almost nothing changes.