There’s a scene in the latest installment of Heels that is a very direct criticism of both WWE and what mainstream professional wrestling is in 2021. Wild Bill is in the middle of a board meeting on the apparent version of the WWE show. While the suits at the table are discussing the new, pretty heavyweight championship build, which is now equipped with glowing LED lights, he gets word puke.
Bill just can’t be silent about how stupid the belt looks and why its very existence is a slap in the face of any wrestler who fought, bled, or died just to hold it in their hands.
Seriously, the belt looks stupid and, as one of the managers says, more suitable for the toy walk at Target than around a grown man’s waist. The discussion in the boardroom illustrates the internal conflicts that wrestling has as it gets bigger every year. Trying to maintain the “purity” of the sport and respect its predecessors as they evolve and move into new areas of the company.
I have no doubt that WWE is considering marketing a new belt design before they launch it. They are less concerned about how the people reading this site think about it than children who want to re-enact their favorite games. As someone who used to be one of those kids, I get it.
But can professional wrestling still retain its essence as it becomes more corporate and polished? It’s still about two people getting in the ring and having a choreographed fight for our entertainment, but it’s inherently violent and counterculture. “Cutting Promos” is the first Heels episode that – pun intended – explores these questions while examining them from the perspective of a small promotion who does everything to advance to the big leagues.
While Wild Bill does his best to burn down every bridge to his current employer, the Spade brothers try to fix their relationship. An electric fire in their home forces Jack, Staci, and their son to move in with Ace and Momma Spade. Obviously a controversial situation as Ace still blames Jack for ruining his chance at the big time, and Jack still believes he did the right thing for his little brother. These are two stubborn people who refuse to give in or apologize. But the only thing that brings them together is wrestling.
FWD breathes on their necks. Her owner, Charlie Gully, might not be the type to wear a shirt and tie to work, but 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 made of the same stuff as Vince McMahon, Ted Turner, or even Paul Heyman. But he’s less of a character here, more of an idea.
For DWL, he represents the same force that Wild Bill rejected in this New York board meeting. They don’t think he loves wrestling or even understands wrestling. To them. Gully is a carpet excavator from the northeast who thought he could make even more money wrestling. Your family business is pure, full of passion. FWD is loud, cheeky and for them not real wrestling. But the more Charlie calls them, the more they realize that they have to deal with the threat.
This danger looming over their heads brings the brothers together. Jack realizes that he cannot do this by himself so that he doesn’t go his father’s path. DWL can’t just be his idea, 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 instead of behaving, explains to his brother what he wants and what else is going on in his head. While they are glued to their father’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 at tradition, they try to find ways to fight against the future that they don’t want anything from.
Staci Spade finally has something interesting to do this week as she battles her husband’s wish never to have to work. Staci isn’t Jack’s mother, and it’s not this decade either. She wants more for herself and wants to contribute to it. Especially since the DWL is not exactly in the dough and they need all the financial help they can get.
In one of the best scenes in the entire series, Staci and her mother-in-law walk through a grocery store and talk about their past and life goals. Jack and Ace’s mother devoted her life to raising and supporting her husband. She sewed wrestling clothes and cooked dinner.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but Staci wants expertise that goes beyond the right ingredients for dinner and which brand tastes best. She too has her own struggle with tradition, but in the opposite direction to her husband and brother-in-law.
The rest of the episode loosely follows this idea of incorporating tradition into the present, but not as successfully. Crystal’s journey to becoming a superstar continues as she helps rookie Bobby Pin find his character. But the story is only interesting for what it says about you, not what it says about him. Bobby feels like a blank board to catapult Crystal, which ironically works really well in wrestling.
But for television, both characters have to pop for a plot to be really successful. As of now, Bobby is boring like a guy who is clearly interested in a woman who has a much better future ahead of her. Crystal is the most exciting and interesting character in the series. The more we can highlight them, the better.
Through Crystal and Staci, the show clearly focuses on the women of heels as those who look to the future, while the men are either stuck in the past or have a hard time looking ahead.
While “Cutting Promos” is thematically the strongest episode to date, it is the lowest in terms of implementation. Still a good episode, but not quite on the same level as the one before. But don’t let me complain of good things before someone from Stamford’s headquarters tells me I’m ruining something I love.