There’s something truly compelling and poignant bubbling underneath all the trivial stuff that Ballers seems to explore from week to week. It’s there in tonight’s opening segment, where we once again see Spencer in a flashback to his days on the field. He’s just laid a hit on a Buffalo Bills receiver, both him and the receiver hurting after the play. Spencer’s head is rocked and he’s dazed. The receiver is not moving, completely incapacitated. It’s a play that any football fan, casual or not, has seen over and over again. Does he have a concussion? Is his career over? These are the questions the viewer asks when watching such a play happen on Sunday, and they’re questions that Ballers should be exploring.
For whatever reason, the show has no interest in diving into Spencer’s on-field past, or are is at least revealing the details very slowly. It’s frustrating not only because Dwayne Johnson is a performer who can sell the over-confident, charismatic athlete who’s hiding all the heavy shit going on inside, but because so much of Spencer’s past influences who he is now. It’s why he’s in financial management and popping painkillers whenever he gets a chance. Ballers certainly has a solid ensemble, but more time spent fleshing out Spencer’s character would serve to benefit the show as a whole.
In “Heads Will Roll,” the most captivating stuff has to do with Spencer and his unclear medical situation. Ballers is at its best when it’s tackling (sorry) the issues athletes deal with on a day to day basis, be it on or off the field. Tonight’s episode sees Tracy, after spending the night with Spencer, urging him to see a doctor. She even halfheartedly blackmails him, telling him that she’ll keep the real source of tension between Ricky and Alonso secret if he agrees to see a doctor that day. He does, and the outlook isn’ good even though Spencer spends the whole appointment making jokes before the doctor tells him to talk straight. It’s clear he’s dealing with something, we just don’t know what it is yet, and Spencer doesn’t want to know.
Johnson plays vulnerable and arrogant perfectly, and it adds a sense of sadness to the episode. So far, Ballers has played a lot of the off-field worries of athletes, from the need to find a job post-NFL to blowing money on huge family brunches, for jokes. Tonight’s medical storyline mixes in some much-needed gravitas, and the episode is better for it. That’s especially true considering that much of “Heads Will Roll” does little to move any of the other stories forward.
After waking up on his boss’ yacht, Joe realizes that two women are still on the boat and have invited their friends over for a cruise. Joe initially balks at the idea, but then sees that her friends have brought along New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz and Arizona Cardinals linebacker LaMarr Woodley. From there Joe goes into full sell mode, doing what he can to secure the NFLers as clients. Thankfully, this boat trip isn’t nearly as debaucherous as the last–debauchery is left to Charles, who has a woman sexting him and might just be on the way to her house. Plus, it allows Joe to scuba dive into the hot tub and shout “here comes the lifeguard, bitches,” so that’s something. Joe doesn’t cement Cruz or Woodley as clients, but Cruz agrees to chat soon about his future, so there’s still hope.
While Joe is working on Cruz, Spencer and Jason are negotiating Vernon’s contract with the Dolphins. They figure they can get him a solid deal, but Vernon (and, of course, Reggie) want him to get $101 million. As Jason points out, that’s more than J.J. Watt, the most coveted and talented defensive player in the NFL, gets paid. Reggie, who boasts a neck brace in the episode’s best sight gag, won’t settle for less. Jason and Spencer negotiate hard and end up coming back with a deal worth $71 million, which is more than what was initially offered by the club. Still, Vernon and Reggie shoot it down, causing Spencer to finally take a stand. He lambasts Reggie for ruining his friend’s future and tells Vernon that if he ever wants to correct the biggest mistake of his life he should give him a call.
It’s all pretty low-stakes television, and none of it really deepens the characters or amps up the tension in the storylines. Even Ricky can’t revive the episode, his storyline boiling down to him thinking he and Alonso are cool only to discover that Alonso stole his car, parked it near an abandoned warehouse, and then removed the tires. Washington gets to be kinetic and frustrated, which is always good for a laugh, and the repetition of his new mantra, “I am bigger than my problems” makes for the episode’s funniest moment. Still, just about everything in “Heads Will Roll,” outside of Spencer’s medial issues, feels inconsequential. There’s not a lot happening on Ballers, the ensemble going to waste.
- It was Ricky who gave that woman Charles’ number. Don’t do it, Charles!
- We also get to see Rob Corddry do Victor Cruz’s salsa dancing TD celebration, which is, of course, wonderful.
- That opening segment feels so raw and violent. I wish the show would explore that more. It’s the only time Ballers feels urgent.
- This week in the awesome Ballers soundtrack: