The following contains spoilers for Winning Time S1E2, “Is That All There Is?” (directed by Jonah Hill, written by Rodney Barnes and Max Borenstein)
Winning Time’s second episode, “Is That All There Is?” shows that all there is…is quite a bit. One thing I love about Dr. Buss is that he’s not the magician of business that he might present himself as. He’s scrappy, he is forced to think on his feet, and when his charm doesn’t immediately woo whoever he’s talking to, his mouth writes a check that his ass has to scramble to cash—but his experience in real estate and his ability to move money around and make ramshackle promises always feels like it’s going to come together in his favor.
The dude has absolute BDE. When Red tries to intimidate and belittle Buss after being taken out to dinner, Buss decides he no longer has an appetite, gets up to leave, and still tells the waiter to put Red’s meal on his tab—to which Red adds a lobster to his already hefty bill. Buss more than likely knew this would happen, and by simply walking away and paying for Red’s very expensive meal, I’ve got a feeling that Buss is eventually going to deliver a proverbial killing blow later on down the line. This is probably my favorite scene in the episode: Buss and Red are coming from two different business sensibilities, and each of them approach the conversation like a chess game, talking about winning, trying to out-maneuver each other, and verbally sparring through the guise of a gentleman’s discussion over liquor and steak until Red takes the gloves off. John C. Reilly and Michael Chiklis are fantastic in this scene as they square off.
I’m watching this show as an almost complete outsider to this story, much less NBA culture in general, so I’m absolutely eating up how things progress as the Lakers and the sport of basketball evolve over the course of this era. The rivalries brewing are all engaging as multiple strong personalities, whether new to the league or veterans of the business and the game, are about to collide. Magic, Buss, West, Kareem, Red, Nixon—this is shaping up to be ferocious.
Jonah Hill takes over directing duties from Adam McKay for “Is That All There Is?” and mostly sticks to the same style that McKay established as the blueprint for the series, but it doesn’t feel quite as alive this time. That being said, I think that could also be chalked up to the fact that while the pilot episode was the brilliantly bright, flashy introduction to the world and characters and Buss’s aspirations for the sport, this second episode has to get to work on some character development.
The episode opens with a young Jerry West, hiding as his father violently abuses his mother, and escaping outside to shoot some hoops as a way of coping with living in a broken household. This creates an interesting look into perhaps why West is such an angry person. His passion actively pushes against him, and the one thing he might actually have some control over screws him over ad nauseum. Towards the end of the episode, his wife Karen, who he’s been ignoring in a basketball-fueled funk for days, forces him to confront what his behavior does to his marriage. “This is basketball, this is what it takes!” West insists, but you can see in his eyes he’s still deeply in pain.
I also really liked the scenes involving the bathtub Magic buys for his mother. It’s a luxury tub with jets and whatnot, but Magic’s act of charity is rebuffed by his mother, who is frustrated by Magic’s inability to get her attention in a normal conversation. In a later conversation regarding the tub, Magic’s father reminds her that his “All the time he has left is forever” attitude is like she was when she was younger. Magic’s not entirely free of fault, though: he spends most of the episode flaunting his wealth and trying to punish Cookie for dating the manager of a shoe store, who for the time being appears to see her as more than a trophy. Magic’s arrogance is at an all-time high, and it’s really starting to push away the people who cared so much for him and cheered him on as he got to this place.
We get a final (for now) confrontation between Red and Buss, and the slightly-taller Buss steps up to Red and regurtitates Red’s own earlier words against him: he’s going to cut his heart out, beat him with it, and eradicate any memory of the Celtics. It’s a terrific monologue, and only intensifies my excitement for the clash.
The episode closes with Buss getting on a desk and delivering a stirring speech to take the Lakers to “The Promised Land,” only for West to state that the only piece that doesn’t fit is him, handing a resignation letter to Buss. The final shot is Buss scoffing into the camera. I love this, because Buss is now full throttle and I believe he will convince West to remain with the Lakers in some capacity, and West will rediscover his passion for the sport. There was a lot happening in this episode, and even with a full hour time slot for Winning Time, I feel like there’s still so much more to explore.