Written by: Jeff Melvoin
Directed by: Scott Paulin
Aired: June 4, 1995
Log line: A doubles bowling tournament brings out the best and worst in everyone as Phil and Michelle strike out, Chris finds Maggie the perfect partner, and Ed and Heather’s future plans keep colliding.
Listen to the podcast of the episode here.
“Balls” opens and closes with an image of the frame. The opening scene of “Balls” shows Ed and Heather watching the Hitchcock movie North by Northwest while making out in the lavish Haynes mansion. We see scenes of Cary Grant as on the big screen television. Similarly, in the final scene, as the school bus carries the “Cicely Sweethearts” back to town, we see a shot of Maggie and Chris, framed by the back window. These two bookend images reinforces the idea of narratives, and how characters veer away and towards them.
For Ed, his script “The Shaman” becomes the metaphor for his relationship with Heather and her father Lester. Ed is clearly smitten with Heather, and appears to have a vision of their relationship – he asks her to “to steady,” something even young people in the 1990’s never ever do (this shows us, perhaps, that Ed’s romantic education consists of old black and white Hollywood movies).
He appears to ignore some of the warning signs – their differences in temperament, their class, education, and their respective wealth (or lack thereof). Even when Maurice tries to (disastrously) warn him about getting his heart broken, he is unable to stray from his own story of their relationship.
It is only when Lester speaks about Ed’s script, at first subtly mentioning that the happy ending isn’t “realistic,” then later making a direct comparison to the movie’s story to Ed’s and Heather’s relationship: “Innocent flirtation is one thing, but we both know that relationship isn’t going anywhere…Well, you come from entirely different backgrounds.” At this point, the narrative of the shaman getting the girl and the narrative that he and Heather have a future together clash with reality. Finally with open eyes, Ed notices that Heather’s affection for him may be directly related to provoking her dad and eliciting his disapproval. Indeed, like Lester’s take on the Shaman, Ed becomes “sadder, but wiser.”
Chris also grapples with the narrative of his own making. He doesn’t know what it is at first, but something about Maggie not bowling and being partnerless really irks him, so much so that he tries to create a narrative around her.
He thinks she should bowl and even holds auditions for potential partners (among his questions: “Last book read?”), as if auditioning actors for a starring role in a film he’s directing. When his efforts do get the ball rolling, with Bob Pickering (of episode 5.24 “Lovers and Madmen,” looking very different) as the new partner, Chris’s efforts backfire on himself.
Even with the gorgeous and tolerant April by his side, he can’t keep his eyes off Maggie, and slowly seethes when he sees Maggie around Bob. While Chris may not have realized it at the time, bowling is a metaphor for being in a relationship with someone (just ask Phil and Michelle in this episode); the auditions he was holding for Maggie’s partner hid a desire for himself to be her romantic partner. His slow recognition of that fact is wonderfully and subtly done, with gazes of longing and quiet, intimate gestures.
As always, every narrative comes to an end. Chris and Maggie come to a vague understanding of mutual attraction and they get their “happy ending,” framed by the bus window.
Ed, on the other hand, returns to Maurice – sadder, wiser, and heartbroken. The apology scene between the two characters is likely one of the most emotionally moving scenes of the show, especially in the context of their father-son relationship that we have witnessed over the years.
Themes / Recurrences: Love; parent-child relationships; games.
The Good: We loved the emotionally devastating scenes between Maurice and Ed, and really sensed Maurice’s sorrow at the loss of Ed. We (well, at least one of us) very much enjoyed the Chris/Maggie attraction, how he couldn’t take his eyes off her, how they subtly touched in various scenes.
The Bad: We were disappointed at the way Maggie’s character wasn’t developed in this episode. Much of this episode is about her, but we never get her perspective or sense how she feels. In fact, she is basically ambushed by Chris’s narratives and just seems to smile a lot. We don’t get to see Janine Turner do a lot in this episode.
The Notable: The actress that plays Heather, the half-Burmese (American) Charmaine Craig, appears to be wonderful and accomplished, having written two critically acclaimed novels thus far.
On’s rating: 9.0 out of 10
Hazel’s rating: 8.5 out of 10