Winning Time S2E5 Recap: “The Hamburger Hamlet” — A Crap Job Waiting for the Axe to Fall

Pat Riley, standing courtside, points to the left.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

The following recap contains spoilers for Winning Time S2E5: “The Hamburger Hamlet” (written by Max Borenstein & Rodney Barnes and Jim Hecht and directed by Tanya Hamilton)

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.

The blowback of Magic declaring his intent to be traded is ugly for all parties, as the press is hungry for answers and the management and coaches struggle to deliver them. During a snowy bus boarding, Paul Westhead (Jason Segel) is harangued by reporters, asking about an upcoming meeting that Paul apparently isn’t even aware about. Kareem (Solomon Hughes) mercifully swoops in to rescue Paul from the onslaught of questions, and Magic (Quincy Isaiah), entering the bus, doubles down on his intent to exit the Lakers. 

Jerry West (Jason Clarke) and Bill Sharman (Brett Cullen) advocate for Paul’s firing, but Buss (John C. Reilly) refuses, opting instead to get Magic in his office to talk some sense. Magic’s meeting with Buss doesn’t go well. Magic essentially offers an ultimatum, refusing to continue playing for Paul. Buss invokes the work ethic of Magic’s father, which sets the kid off, declaring his skill superiority and decrying Paul’s “elementary school bullsh*t” playstyle before storming out. Buss remains wordless through the tirade and does not attempt to call Magic back as he exits. Almost immediately after this, Buss fires Paul. It’s almost cruel how Buss stares at Paul as the coach attempts to justify his continued role in the franchise, but Paul makes a good point: just a few minutes earlier Buss was refusing to fire the coach, and this turn of events makes it seem that Magic has influence in the direction the team goes. 

Jerry West stands at the podium during a press conference.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

I absolutely loved the dolly focus used to illustrate West’s reaction to being asked to coach the team. In what remains one of my favorite elements of the show, West proceeds to have an absolute conniption in response to the offer. If there’s a Guinness World Record for high blood pressure, Jerry West is claiming it by an insurmountable margin. 

Pat Riley (Adrien Brody) and Paul have a surprisingly poignant farewell, even with their antagonism so far this season. Pat reminisces about his father, also a coach, who got fired from a gig he was so passionate about. Both of them are under the impression that Pat will also get fired, giving them an amicable farewell, but Pat’s future with the Lakers is sure to sour Paul on this interaction.

During the press conference, Buss announces that West will be the “Offensive Captain,” a role that appears to be unheard of as a reporter questions what that is, as well as what Pat’s role is. The queries get increasingly stressful for Buss, including those about who actually is in control of the team, causing Buss to abruptly kick the ball to West. West proceeds to get overwhelmed by questions and flashbacks to his career, a failure to indicate whether he is Pat’s peer or subordinate, and passes the buck to Pat to continue. 

This situation is as much a surprise to Pat as it is to everyone else. He starts awkwardly, proclaiming Paul as a friend, but once West quietly tells Pat that he’s “the only f*ckin’ coach,” Pat switches into celebrity mode. West is enthusiastic to advise Pat, and that’s it, but is probably more excited that Paul is gone. 

Whether Kareem’s takedown of Buss at the roller rink was out of a lingering protectiveness of his young teammate or just principle, it’s something Buss needed to hear. I have my doubts that it will have any solidifying effects, but it was a great scene nonetheless. Buss counters with the $25 million he “gave” Magic, but Kareem immediately points out that in a few years, that salary will be par for the course and he simply took advantage of Magic, as he does with everyone else. 

Kareem and Jerry Buss face each other at the roller rink.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

Hoo boy—Honey (Ari Graynor). Jeanie (Hadley Robinson) is becoming increasingly antagonistic towards a lot of people around her this season, but something about Honey’s monologue to Jeanie in the kitchen unsettled me quite a bit. There’s an air about Honey that felt like her subtly telling Jeanie that she is inserting herself into the family, and possibly taking Buss away from her. She also calls Jeanie Jean-Bean, a blatant robbery of a pet name that clearly Buss, and Buss alone, uses. There are major evil stepmother vibes here for sure. 

I realized during the scene where Magic and Jeanie interact in the office that they haven’t gotten many, if any, scenes together so far. There’s a sweet, platonic energy in their interaction as Magic laments confronting Buss even after his lucrative contract, and Jeanie praises him for standing up to her father, like no one can. It also speaks to how Jeanie views her father, as she seems to both yearn for his approval but fear his incendiary, dominating personality. 

Pat’s got the team into “wing it” mode, moving away from The System, and it’s doing temporarily well for the Lakers despite public perception of Magic plummeting due to his trade request and his apparent role in Paul’s termination. But as the victories wane, confidence in Pat is not looking good, both from the public and from Bill, Chick (Spencer Garrett) and West, who all see that Pat’s positivity is not going to get them wins in the long run. Chick’s tirade about Pat’s perceived femininity is interrupted by Bill’s coughing fit resulting in him splattering blood on his desk and hospitalization, which Pat later mentions is a result of polyps and blown out vocal cords. I was very worried for Bill here, but hopefully this is just a minor setback because I love that guy.  

Pat, for all of his flaws, is ultimately a character that I really want to root for. And after lamenting to his wife Chris (Gillian Jacobs) about how the team doesn’t fear or respect him, and an anxiously-edited sequence of the team airing little grievances to him about each other and walking over him, Pat finally loses his temper and unloads on the Lakers, asserting himself in yet another intense monologue in which he puts down nearly every player for their shortcomings and their little rivalries with each other, and “no more of this ‘Riles’ sh*t! It’s Coach!” 

Pat Riley and Jerry Buss shake hands in Jerry's mansion.
Photograph by Warrick Page/HBO

It’s been two embarrassing losses for the Lakers, but Pat’s explosion has injected new life into the team, who have realized they have a new leader. An energetic montage sees the team’s wins handily clear the distance from the losses. Even Magic is willing to share the ball, and Pat is an animal on the sidelines, encouraging his team to play hard, even it if means a foul. 

We end the episode with the newly-wedded Jerry and Honey Buss, a less-than-excited Jeanie at the ceremony, and the Lakers set to face off against the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Finals, who have just defeated the Celtics. But as the game ends, the Celtics fans begin to chant “Beat LA.” Their team just got robbed of a championship by Philadelphia, but they still want to see the Lakers lose. Gathered around the television, every character in the room breaks the fourth wall to yell in unison: “F*ck Boston!” And hopefully, we’ll see whether the Lakers can rebuff the Celtics fans’ chants 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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