Winning Time S2E2 Recap: “The Magic is Back” — Nervous Time

Jerry West and Pat Riley stand next to each other in an office.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

The following recap contains spoilers for Winning Time S2E2 “The Magic is Back” (written by Max Borenstein & Rodney Barnes & Jim Hecht and directed by Trey Edward Shults). 

Editor’s Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.

Having mostly recovered from his knee injury, Magic (Quincy Isaiah) has returned to the Lakers, but things aren’t the same. In the first practice session, Magic, not being accustomed to The System, accidentally collides with Norm (DeVaughn Nixon) and causes Jerry Buss (John C. Reilly) to notice that Magic is still a little out of sorts. Off the court, Magic isn’t faring much better with his team: while he recovers in a training room, the rest of the Lakers loudly laugh and joke in the locker room. Feeling left out, Magic pokes his head into the room to join in, and the energy immediately deflates. It’s becoming more apparent that Magic might be a celebrity to the fans, but is the annoying little brother to his teammates. 

Head coach Paul Westhead (Jason Segel) and assistant coach Pat Riley (Adrien Brody) aren’t exactly jumping for joy either; a month out from the playoffs, Magic doesn’t have much time to learn The System and re-integrate to the offense. However, Jerry West (Jason Clarke) might have a solution: David F*cking Thompson! The Denver Nuggets superstar is just what the Lakers need to clinch the playoffs, but would require trading Norm. Paul doesn’t like this idea at all, given Norm’s excellent performance in the season so far and the team’s solidification. Paul also chides Pat for not coming to him first about this prospect. 

On the night of the first game, reporters crowd Magic while the rest of the team quietly and awkwardly prepare in the background. The tension is thick and it’s already clear Magic’s peers aren’t thrilled. I can at least give Magic some credit for noticing this, as well as bluntly rejecting the “Magic is Back” shirts presented by Lon Rosen (Joey Brooks). However, when Magic first enters the stadium to a roaring crowd chanting his name, with his team again standing back silently, he’s once again intoxicated by the glory. Magic is benched for a large part of the game, but knowing what the crowd wants, Paul swaps him out for Norm, with disastrous consequences for the team’s performance as Magic’s rustiness costs them the game. 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar strides through the Lakers locker room.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

Post game, after everyone else has left, Magic is taking an ice bath and listening to the radio broadcasters talk about his poor performance, as well as the irritation of some of his teammates. Pat actually gets Magic to admit that he’s not in tip-top shape, and that he’s concerned about his knee, but begins hosting secret one-on-one practice sessions with the kid to help him get his mojo back while keeping the actual knee condition under wraps. 

Cracks are spreading all across the relationships so far in this episode, and they continue with Jeanie (Hadley Robinson) and her brother Johnny (Thomas Mann). Johnny is dating one of the players on the Buss tennis franchise, and is encouraging her to sit things out for a while to recover from an injury. Jeanie immediately echoes her father, criticizing her brother for not considering how this will hurt their franchise. Johnny hits back to say how much like Jerry she is, while Jeanie devours what appear to be Rolaids. In a later conversation, one of Jeanie’s friends asks her what she would want were she not trying to please her father, leaving Jeanie at a loss for words. 

Reporter Fred Fletcher (P.J. Marino) is on the scene, and I do not trust this guy. When he first pops up in the gaggle of reporters crowding Magic, he strikes an odd reaction shot, raising his eyebrows when Magic says that it’s a good thing that Norm has taken the starting spot. Later, Fletcher shows up outside the Lakers locker room, pad in hand, and lets Norm drop some pretty spicy takes. He’s also the one to reveal to Paul that Pat and Magic have been training in private. It’s entirely possible that Fletcher is just the main guy to report on the team, and he’s just out to get a scoop, but there’s a certain degree of malevolence I’m feeling from him that makes me suspicious.

Jerry’s been thinking a lot lately about an old flame, Honey (Ari Graynor). It’s been 15 years since they connected, but she’s been visiting him in his dreams—not in a sexual way, but in a romantic one, that makes him want to see her again. Not much comes of this, at least not this week, but the quiet fireside chat makes me think Honey and Jerry might be getting back together. 

Chick Hearn and Keith Erickson sit together at the broadcasting table.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

I really do think that Jason Segel and Adrien Brody continue to have the best dynamic on Winning Time, both in terms of character interactions and actor chemistry. Paul and Pat are an incredible duo, both when they are comrades and when they are squaring off. Returning from scouting Thompson, Paul is finally convinced by Pat to take the trade, accepting Pat’s confidence that Magic will be ready to fill in the gap that will be left by Norm. 

Yet, just a couple of scenes later, Paul vetoes the trade after West reveals Magic’s gloating of Norm being traded, saying that he cannot allow the team to think that Magic has an influence on their direction. The scene is a terrific showdown between the characters, and it only gets better later on when Paul learns of Pat’s private training sessions with Magic and loudly confronts him behind the curtain on a private plane, with the team awkwardly hearing the whole thing.

Norm and Magic are still clashing as well, prompting an amusing and electric scene in the locker room in which Cooper (Delante Desouza) tries to intervene to get the two to apologize, and Kareem (Solomon Hughes) gets louder to force them to apologize, after which Cooper makes the pair hug and brings in the entire team to a group hug, seemingly patching things up—but it is woefully short-lived.

With moments left in the final game of their first round playoff series against the Houston Rockets, with the Lakers down by one point, Paul tells Magic to consider three different options as to who to pass the ball to. But Pat pulls Magic in and tells him, “You’re the guy.” I have no idea what Pat’s play is to keep feeding Magic’s ego, but his hubris causes him to take the shot rather than pass, and the shot misses, costing them the game. The noise of the stadium surrounds Magic, but this time, he stands alone with no fanfare as his teammates walk past him silently. 

Does anybody not hate each other at this point? We’re only in the second episode of the season, and it’s not looking good for any of these relationships—besides Buss, who seems to be doing just fine with Jeanie and Honey, and if Buss is the only guy getting along with people, you know things are bad. How much more tension can the Lakers dynasty take? We’ll hopefully see more next week.

Written by Hawk Ripjaw

Hawk Ripjaw has been sharing his opinion on film and TV since his early teens, when the local public library gave away prizes for submissions to their newsletter. Since then, he's been writing for local newspapers, international video game sites, booze-themed movie websites, and anywhere else he can throw around some media passion. He watched the Mike Myers Cat in the Hat movie over 50 times in two years, for science.

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