[This is a review of the Ballers season 2 finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
Coming off a lightweight season 1 finale that seemed to show little confidence in a season renewal, HBO’s dramedy Ballers — like an average performing rookie — came into its sophomore year with something to prove. And over the course of the next 10 episodes, the series set out to do just that, by introducing plenty of tension-building conflict and by saving the juiciest and most interesting storylines for its charismatic lead character — all while injecting just enough humor to remind viewers that the comedy half of its dramedy formula hadn’t completely disappeared (thanks, Rob Corddry).
This season, that formula was a winning one more often than not, as Ballers gave Spencer (Dwayne Johnson) some serious personal problems to tackle and some even harder questions he couldn’t bring himself to answer. While season 2 promos touted Spencer’s former financial mentor Andre (Andy Garcia) as the show’s new big bad, it turned out that Spencer’s internal struggles and his post-football health issues were far more compelling draws — which is why it was smart for the season to conclude by pushing the beef with Andre to the side and letting Spencer take his future (and the future of his clients) into his own hands in the finale episode, ‘Game Day’.
And fortunately for everyone (including the audience), the series handled Spencer’s future with satisfying and monumental moments of character growth, instead of having him continue on his self-destructive path. Poised to gamble his own clients’ money (which Andre warned against) to buy ASM from Anderson, Spencer appears to making the same foolish mistake that bankrupted him of his pro football earnings years earlier. To Spencer, this seems like his only play — a desperate Hail Mary attempt to save his new life and career. But after failing to smooth things over with a disgruntled old friend from the NFL Player’s Association (former NFL running back Eddie George) and finding that blowing off steam on an all-night bender with Joe (Corddry) doesn’t solve his deep-seated issues, Spencer finally realizes he needs to admit his faults and his wrongdoings before he can ever move forward.
So, when a humbled Spencer addresses the crowd of impressionable league rookies at the symposium with an off-the-cuff and uncensored personal tale of woe, it’s the type of character turn we’ve been waiting for him to make all season. And we’ve been waiting for it because Ballers has done a good job at making us actually care about the character. As he has for the entire series, Johnson plays the role with a sympathetic vulnerability and undeniable charm here that makes Spencer easy to root for, which is why it’s not surprising when he wins the room of NFL newbies over.
However, the real character-defining moment comes at the end of the finale, when Spencer finally sets pride aside and admits to himself that he needs to take care of his health by having hip replacement surgery. While’s Spencer admission of guilt may affect his career as a financial advisor for NFL players, this is the decision that will ultimately affect his life, showing that even the ultimate competitor can realize that there are things more important than football and financial success.
It also should come as no surprise that Spencer’s storylines have been by far the most affecting this season, with the arc involving Ricky’s (John David Washington) free agency coming in at a distant second; while the arcs dealing with Vernon’s (Donovan W. Carter) uncertain future with the Cowboys and Charles’ (Omar Benson Miller) struggle to balance home life with working in the Miami Dolphins’ front office have carried just a modicum amount of emotional or comedic weight. The series may have been intended to serve as a look into many aspects of life after professional sports, but by the end of season 2, it’s becoming even more evident that the success of Ballers truly hangs on Johnson’s shoulders, which begs the question: Would Ballers be even more effective as a character study from Spencer’s perspective, rather than an ensemble?
Of course, it’s plain to see the series won’t alter its format completely, so here’s hoping that there is a little more dramatic or comedic juice out of the secondary characters’ arcs while the focus continues to be set on Johnson’s Spencer Strasmore. Washington’s Ricky Jerret certainly showed some growth of his own in this finale by even considering a significantly smaller contact to play for a Super Bowl contender (the New England Patriots) to cement his legacy as one of the best at his position, but Spencer’s character continued to drive the series in season 2, so there’s no reason to distract any more than the series has to from its central character.
What did you think of Ballers season 2? Let us know in the comments.
Ballers season 3 will premiere on HBO in 2017.