Ballers: Season One Finale Recap

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Tyler Horn, Contributor - The Players' Tribune

Well, that’s one way to leave a job.

In a way, it was impressive. Athletic, even. The amount of destruction Joe was able to cause in such a short time following his firing was a sight to see. I think the fax machine had a pretty decent spiral, actually. In Ballers, football players aren’t the only characters that get to have a little fun.

Now that the Ballers season one finale has aired, I wanted to take some time to look back at this episode and the season as a whole. Last night’s episode punctuated a major recurring theme of the show: the power of ego. Superstar athletes’ egos and corporate bigwigs’ egos, it turns out, aren’t so different. In the last episode of the first season, Ballers highlighted the incredible capacity of these egos to create and destroy. Ego will build you up, then it will break you down. Add millions of dollars into the mix … and watch out.

The finale focused on bringing closure to several ego-driven conflicts (are there any other kind?). First and foremost was Joe’s disagreement with Mr. Anderson, founder of the money management company Anderson Financial. Obviously there was a disagreement over the value Joe brought to the Strasmore-led sports division of Anderson. Joe made it very clear that he believed he was a valuable cog in that machine. Anderson disagreed, but Spencer was able to highlight Joe’s “Belichek-like” qualities. You knew Spencer would stand up for Joe, but still, it was nice to see him have his friend’s back. Anderson put his ego and apparent personal dislike for Joe aside, and now the new Sports Management division of Anderson Financial is poised to make a large impact in athlete management.

Family problems test egos more than anything else. Ricky Jerret, the wide receiver who made news a few episodes ago by calling out his absentee father on national TV, is presented with the opportunity to confront his dad when he shows up at practice.

However, both of their egos derail any chance for meaningful conversation, let alone resolution. Ricky’s father takes pride in abandoning his son. He believes that by not being there for Ricky, he has provided the chip on Ricky’s shoulder and the fire in Ricky’s heart. Just as his father had abandoned him, Ricky’s father continued the cycle. While this may have some validity in a backwards way, Ricky can’t forgive everything. I’m sure we’ll see this story line revisited in season two.

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Perhaps as a way to move past this anger with a different method, Ricky gives up his beloved number 18 (which was meant as a big f-you to his father’s number 81). Who does he give number 18 jersey to? Alonzo, of all people, the teammate who harassed him all pre-season. In this way, Ricky showed that he’s able to put his ego aside to grow as a character.

Lastly, we saw the return of Reggie, Vernon’s destructive cousin. Though only seen for a minute or so in the final scenes of the finale, Reggie is also able to put his ego aside. Arguably, Reggie’s ego is bigger than anyone’s in the show — a thorn in the side of Spencer, Joe and Vernon over the course of the first season. Reggie realizes that Spencer and Vernon’s agent, Jason, know more and have the best intentions for Vernon. Spencer and Jason are professionals who specialize in helping athletes make the most of their career and their finances. Maybe Reggie realized that simply being a best friend does not provide you with the credentials to manage someone’s life. Reggie finally recognizes this and submits to Spencer and Jason. (Maybe Reggie also realized that this was the only way to stay on Vernon’s good side.)

Like Entourage, Season One of Ballers resolves almost all of its conflicts by the final episode. The final scene is a party, with drinks held high in the air as the team celebrates Vernon’s multi-million-dollar deal. Everything always works out in the end. And that’s OK. TV dramas don’t have to always end with some crazy cliffhanger. I’d argue, however, that shows that glamorize celebrity culture ought to also show the negative consequences of the lifestyle.

Entourage was so well-liked because it had endearing characters that found a way to make it through sticky situations and come out OK in the end. The development of those characters kept people coming back. The format made Entourage a highly successful franchise. It appears that Ballers is finding this same groove, but time will tell. Throughout the season, we have become more familiar with the characters and their backstories, and as a result, we can relate to their ups and downs better. It’s incredibly important in establishing the identity of a show in the first season. I’m excited to see how these characters continue to evolve.

Overall, Ballers improved over the course of the season. Early on, it stumbled a bit. The dialogue and the exposition felt forced. By season’s end, the actors felt more natural in their roles. The Rock is Spencer Strasmore. Rob Courdry is Joe Krutel. John David Washington is Ricky Jerret. One of the issues with having a star-studded cast is getting past their previous roles. It’s often hard to see Dwayne Johnson as anyone but the shirtless, electrifying leading man from action movies. But Johnson, and Cordry (who I previoulsy only knew from comedies or as a Daily Show correspondent) for that matter, were able to overcome this.

I’m already ready for season two. I’ll miss Ballers — for one thing, it has given me something to look forward to on Sundays. I hope to be back next season to review Ballers again, but in between now and then, Sundays will be for watching the NFL. Maybe I’ll have some thoughts on that, too.

Tyler Horn is a former NFL player turned financial advisor. Click here for the Episode 1 and Episode 2 and Episode 3 and Episode 4 and Episode 5 and Episode 6 and Episode 7 and Episode 8 and Episode 9 recaps.