Ballers: S03E07 “Ricky-leaks”

Grade: C+

There’s a certain TV pattern I’ve noticed recently around how characters make major decisions. First, the show builds up to the decision over the course of one episode, but subtly enough that it’s a surprise episode-ending announcement. Then the next episode is devoted to completely rehashing that decision before ultimately affirming it. When executed well, this trope helps the show feel thoughtful and nuanced. When executed poorly, it helps the show feel boring and pointless…as seen in this episode.

In this case, the decision is selling ASM for the startup capital to bring a football team to Las Vegas. This was already a terrible idea last episode, but at least there was some thematic and character logic backing it up then. This episode’s first and largest failure is that it completely forgets about that logic. Gone are the speeches about retaining control over one’s life, or finally getting the acceptance the characters crave, or even just about how cool it would be to accomplish something so huge. Instead, this episode is just one long whine. Player management is hard! Sometimes you have to experience minor consequences for your actions! Sometimes you have to do the bare minimum to save your multi-million-dollar deal with a great football team! Sometimes your wife can’t tell you everything because she’s trying to abide by professional ethics and the law! Usually Ballers is better at distinguishing between depiction and endorsement. Where did that separation go?

To be fair, two scenes did work. One was Reggie’s smooth talking with Candace to get Vernon’s suspension rolled back. It was not only well said (and, God, it was so well said) but really well thought out. I suspect this is an argument people have wanted to make to the NFL for some time now. The other great scene was the one with Maximo, aka Shadiest PI Ever, who apparently had no problems stalking a teenager and offering to send goons to “work him over,” but was so laid back about it that he was still likable. Plus, it made complete sense that Joe would try to handle this problem by smearing the kid.

But then there was the entire rest of the episode, which felt ill-conceived from start to finish. Spencer’s dream sequence was so on the nose that it achieved precisely nothing in terms of character development. We were reminded that ASM is only worth $15 million, and they need TWO BILLION for this Vegas endeavor, and yet…somehow it’s still worth it to sell the company? Which, from how their meeting went, might not even be worth the $15M? And they still haven’t cleared the regulatory hurdles for Vegas? That’s not overreaching for acceptance. That’s just stupidity.

In an effort to justify this, Ballers trotted out Ricky and his problems. See, somehow the NFL got hold of that kid-punching tape (how, though?) and decided to leak it to discourage Spencer from pursuing his Vegas deal. (Wouldn’t it have been smarter to offer not to leak in exchange for Spencer not pursuing Vegas?) This episode seemed to be raising the argument that Spencer’s clients need his management in order to refute it. The problem is, it didn’t actually refute it. Sure, Ricky yelled at Spencer a bit, but then he did exactly what Spencer told him to…and it worked. Even though Spencer THREATENED THE KID AT HIS SCHOOL. Isn’t that the opposite of what they were trying to prove? The only unambiguous conclusion here was that Spencer shouldn’t be allowed to take Ambien.

Ricky himself had quite the character whiplash during his therapy session. I like Ricky, but where was all this emotional intelligence during the million other times it would have helped him? And what is this about Ricky and Jerret? Ricky has been consistently happy-go-lucky and slightly immature, not football’s Jekyll and Hyde. (Also, is his plot supposed to be a spin on NFL players’ problems with domestic violence? Because if so, way to miss the point, Ballers.)

Then there was Charles and the Case of Doctor-Patient Confidentiality. As a diehard Julie fan, I was not impressed that her comeback to Charles consisted of “I’m smarter than you, so there.” How about, I dunno, professional ethics? How about the fact that Charles goes out of his way to ask her for help? How about that throwaway line where she agreed to move across the country with him with zero argument? It’s good that they put in a sequence of Omar Benson Miller charming people at the hospital, because otherwise Charles, like Spencer, would have been completely insufferable this episode.

To be strictly fair, there was some reasonable calling out of Spencer around the edges this week. Jason was great at standing his ground to point out that it’s important to focus on your actual job. Spencer’s exchange with the kid was the closest the episode came to the social class vs economic class tension that usually makes Ballers watchable — there was plenty of irony in him arguing for integrity over money, and the kid was right to see through it. Ricky’s excoriation of Spencer was both accurate and long overdue. My only problem is that the timing of this episode suggests that everyone will be back on Team Spencer by the end of the season, even though that would destroy the character arc Ballers has been working on since the season 2 finale. I suppose we’ll see what happens next week.

Stray observations:
– “What can I do besides rubbing Vernon down with CBD oil?”
– “I don’t care who he’s taking to the prom.” “He’s taking Becky Harris, a senior. Judging by their texts, she’s got some plans for him on prom night.”
– “I’ve never felt this alive, except for when my wife died.”
– Straight girls, talkin’ ’bout Ballers: Not gonna lie, as silly as the dream sequence was, it’s impossible to be unhappy while ogling the Rock’s tattoo. Plus, the Miami sunshine was so bright and inviting.
– Who else forgot that Charles had a kid?