Here’s everything that happened in Ballers Season 4

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: August 13, 2018 (Last updated: 3 weeks ago)
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Ballers Season 4 Recap
Ballers Season 4 (Credit - HBO)

Before we dive into Season 4: when we last saw the boys, Spencer (Dwayne Johnson) and Joe (Rob Corddry) had turned down the offer to be part of the team bringing football to Sin City, despite literally spending the entire season trying to do just that. Spencer has integrity, after all. Instead, they returned to the agency to save jobs and expand like mad (this is one of the things that bug me about Ballers–the final scene of each season always feels like such a throw away).

Ricky Jerret (John David Washington, currently winning raves for BlacKkKlansman) decided to give up football, which was breaking his mind and body a piece at a time, to be a daddy. And Charles Greane (Omar Miller) was making a go for a General Manager position with the LA Rams. Anyway, I’ve now had time to delve into season 4, and I’ve recapped all the key moments. Spoilers ahead.

Episode 1 – “Rough Ride”

Ballers Season 4 Recap

Ballers Season 4 Episode 1 (Credit – HBO)

Season 4 opens with all our key players gathered together for some pricey wine and a send-off as Charles heads west for his new gig. It’s a fun scene that highlights all the Miami neon that is so quintessentially Ballers. One month later in LA, the glow has dimmed.

Spencer and Joe are in town for meetings including one with extreme sports mega-man Lance Klian (Russell Brand). Brand is everything you would expect in this role–motor-mouthed and frantic, spewing sexual innuendo from under his wild mop of hair–in essence, a perfect foil for controlling, buttoned-up Spencer.

The deal seems like a perfect expansion, save Spencer’s hang-up about LA due to his brother’s suicide. On the upside, Spencer receives a phone call from his season 3 nemesis Candace Brewer (Emayatzy E. Corinealdi) congratulating him on his place on the NFL Hall of Fame ballot. Ballers often mirrors recent sports scandals, so this may be the Terrell Owens shout out for the season.

Poor Charles experiences his own growing pains as the new big man for the Rams, where the lack of both cookies and blitzing have employees pushing against his You Win In the Locker Room approach to management. His promise that they will all keep their jobs is most definitely going to prove premature.

Meanwhile, Ricky is house hunting with Amber (Brittany S. Hall) and TTD (Carl McDowell), who will all apparently be living together with the new baby in some sort of “it takes a village” arrangement. Not surprisingly, baby girl hasn’t cut teeth yet and Ricky is looking to get back into the league. Sad times that the Browns are currently his only option. With Charles at the Rams and Ricky in LA, we all know that will soon change.

By episode’s end, Spencer has decided to stay in LA to face his demons over his brother’s death and try to wrangle what will surely be a thorny deal with Lance. He is also supposed to scout a promising high school QB, but his interest is more about the kid’s mom (Joy Bryant).

These pieces, along with the Hall of Fame, look like our character arc for the season. Past seasons have set up similar things (CTE, fatherhood), only to see Spencer remain fundamentally the same by the season’s end. Let’s see if this off-season Spencer can grow something besides his wallet.

Episode 2 – “Don’t You Wanna Be Obama?”

Everyone loves LA. Or at least they do this season. Like every other main character this season, hanger-on Reggie and his mainstream meal ticket, Vernon (Donovan W. Carter), was basking in those golden rays.

We get a throwaway scene with them, perhaps only to remind us they are both still on the show. Vernon’s plotline last season was probably the least interesting, so it is going to take more than some pool floats to reinvest me.

For perhaps the first time, it isn’t Vernon’s drama that is going to ruin Spencer’s day–it’s speed-tongued extreme sportsman Lance Klian and his theatrics over a missing surfer, Parker Jones.

Parker, it turns out, doesn’t want to be the greatest black surfer, he just wants to be the greatest surfer, something that his marketing doesn’t agree with, as evidenced by a Coke ad that altered his skin tone.

Over some weed and straight talk, Joe and Spencer take up Parker’s cause to place talent over race. Lance, however, doesn’t agree with their mindset, blasting Spencer for blowing a high-stakes deal over something he considers insignificant.

A late-night meeting with Jada, the mom Spencer was eyeing the last episode when he was supposed to be scouting her son, gives Spencer a better end to his day. We’ll see how this develops over the coming episodes.

On other fronts, it’s moving day for Ricky (John David Washington) and company as they settle into their new digs. On the down-low, Ricky is taking pitches from agent Jason, this time to hit up a new man on the Rams team, Charles, for a job.

Charles, the sweet man that he is, says he’ll think about it, but ensures his new twitchy assistant he has no plans to jump-start Ricky’s career, yet again. Ricky and TTD have other plans, picking out a pricey watch for their old friend to sweeten the deal.

Nice as that thought is, Charles has bigger issues with a smug staff who question all his thoughts. Conveniently for the plot, the staff loves the idea of bringing Ricky in (even though Charles had no intention of pitching it), in part because they can get him “dirt cheap.” Charles approaches Ricky, but only offers a tryout, an ego punch that Ricky will have to take on the chin.

Ballers Season 4 Episode 2 (Credit – HBO)

We conclude with Parker’s surfing competition and the plotline I have been expecting since last fall: after being named champion, Parker, who was told he needed to be more black, raises his fist in the power sign, sending sponsors scuttling and Lance into a troubled beard stroke.

This on the nose moment is, of course, the show’s take on the National Anthem protests. Given that this has become one of the most reported sports stories of the past year (that still is not resolved), it seems natural that Ballers would address it. Putting it in the context of surfing instead of a national, mainstream sport? That seems like a bit of a cop-out. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, I suppose.

This episode provides us with a slightly obvious, but valid juxtaposition of how athletes are valued within their industries. Ricky, after sitting out just one season, is a bargain basement steal despite his skills; Parker is more marketable if they darken his skin tone and make his talent a racial statement.

But not too strong of a racial statement. Lance’s argument to self-righteous Spencer that he shouldn’t get precious about Parker because the world isn’t “about talent anymore” brings up a solid point about the role of commodities in professional sports.

This is an industry where talented men and women are bought, sold, traded, and often, thrown away. Of course, one could argue that they are compensated for this life they all volunteered for, but it does raise questions about how much ownership the sponsors, coaches, owners, and fans have of these athletes.

Episode 3 – “This is Not Our World”

The world is crumbling under the eye of a lone raven. No, Game of Thrones didn’t make a sneak-attack return; Spencer is just suffering from heavy-handed nightmares about visiting his dead brother’s grave. This scene was a waste to open “This is Not Our World”–it was painfully obvious writing, from the beer to the Screenwriting 101 monologue. We get it, Spencer has unresolved issues with his brother’s death. The way they have woven this into the show is so cliche that it is almost distracting. Do something more interesting with it.

As I feared, Parker’s protest in the last episode is a footnote, possibly for the season. The fallout is focused solely on the lost Coke deal. To recoup the loss, Lance (Russell Brand) is blowing large amounts of money on a skateboarding shoot.

One aspect of this season I appreciate thus far is how square Spencer and Joe seem transplanted in L.A. Maybe it’s supposed to be a sign that the boys are growing up. Maybe it’s because we can’t see past Lance’s Spin Doctor’s chic outfits.

Whatever the reason, Joe and Spence end up on a road trip to the desert to curb Lance’s money-hemorrhaging artistry.

Something about this plotline doesn’t add up. In the last episode Lance was pushing Parker to sell out for an ad campaign; in “This is Not Our World”, he’s making grand speeches that Spencer and Joe don’t own him. Is he a free-spirited auteur or a calculating capitalist? Whatever he is, he and his rope sandals are fired. At least for now.

There are some egos at work in “This is Not Our World”. Ricky has managed to check his long enough to try out for Charles (Omar Miller). Unfortunately, over the year off, Ricky has lost his groove (supposedly due to those psychiatric drugs he took to save his brain over his career).

Hiding the tryout from his lady leads to even bigger problems. Poor Ricky just can’t catch a break.

Ballers Season 4 Recap

Ballers Season 4 Episode 3 (Credit – HBO)

Vernon’s time in LA turns out to have an actual purpose (aside from a plot point) as he returns to his old high school where they are retiring his number and naming the field after him. The entire event is an obvious ruse to get the local boy made good to donate to the school.

Reggie’s sentimental nature encourages Vern to throw a little money at their alma mater, which Vern takes as a cue to donate a million. Given Vern’s past behaviors and Reggie’s reaction, I’m banking that he doesn’t have this kind of money to toss at any cause, no matter how noble.

“This is Not Our World” was a disappointing episode in that it stepped away from some of the potential it set up. Instead, we had random collections of scenes (Jason? What?) that seemed written just to advance the plot in the most unimaginative way possible.

That being said, half a star goes to two fabulous guest stars: Ernie Hudson (Winston!) and Grace Zabriskie (Big Love! Twin Peaks! Seinfeld!). They tie for MVPs of “This is Not Our World”.

Episode 4 – “Forgiving Is Living”

Spencer has a nasty habit of overplaying his hand. He’s done it season after season, in a variety of ways. As was the case with all the previous incidents, it is due to Spencer thinking he has a grasp of the situation when he doesn’t.

This go-around, in “Forgiving Is Living”, firing Lance was supposed to give him control of the Sports-X empire. Instead, Lance has gone rogue and taken all the clients with him, along with pissing off Spencer’s investors. As Joe points out, this undermining is a pretty classic Spencer move, but our hero doesn’t appreciate the irony of someone playing his own game.

It turns out Lance is not as spacey and useless as Spencer believed. After rendering Sports-X dead in the water, Lance offers to buy out the Miami boys, an offer Spencer is willing to take; Joe, however, blows it off. Joe’s motives here aren’t exactly clear.

But props to Rob Corddry for his work this season in pushing Joe beyond a mere wanna-be sidekick. He’s become more of the voice of reason to Spencer’s stubbornness. Last episode I noted that I couldn’t get a read on Lance’s character.

Reviewing “Forgiving Is Living”, I hypothesize this is partly because Spencer can’t seem to fully grasp what he’s dealing with–his perceptions color our experience. Making Lance more shrewd than we have been led to believe is a smart move and Brand makes all these shifts believable within the context of his character.

Ballers Season 4 Episode 4 (Credit – HBO)

Although managing the fall-out of Lance’s firing dominates most of “Forgiving Is Living” (featuring a number of extreme sports cameos), there are some other minor plots. Ricky, still reeling from his poor tryout, is focusing his frustrations on boxing.

Replacing one violent sport with another may be the key to the retiree’s happiness. This episode also gave a decent amount of time to Jason (Troy Garity) and his arbitrary girlfriend-client scandal plot line. I have yet to find a reason to care about this. Jason has never been an Entourage Ari Gold-level character. Trying to make him that right now is too little too late.

“Forgiving Is Living” ends with Spencer meeting Jada (Joy Bryant) for a drink. Ballers has never played coy with Spencer’s lady-killer abilities.

But none of them has ever seemed to have real potential. Maybe Jada can shake things up. However, looming in the background is her super-talented son, Quincy.

Episode 5 – “Doink”

Season 4, episode 5 of Ballers, “Doink”, has the odd fortune of sharing a name with Episode 5 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It is certainly a strange coincidence given that both episodes are about the main character looking to outside sources who spell trouble. Sadly, in this case, “Doink” lacks real purpose and possibly sabotages its main character.

Joe is having a hell of a morning. After a night of crazy partying, he’s trying to be inspiring to a hipster team moments before making drastic cuts. Defeated, he meets with Lance again, debating if they should sell their shares. Maybe this just isn’t the world for them.

While he’s hungover, coke crashed, and scrambling, Spencer is discovering from networking big shots that the extreme sports channel is not a big deal to, well, pretty much anyone. So, of course, Spencer does what he does best–he sells something he doesn’t have: in this case a college football network.

That’s in between texts from Jayda about Spencer meeting with her son, Quincy. Q is a phenom as promised, but he’s more concerned about calling out Spencer’s intentions than taking career tips. Mom decides to force the friendship, inviting Spencer over for a family dinner.

Unfortunately, the all-star son isn’t having it until Spencer calls him out for taking money and jeopardizing his eligibility. Spencer’s ace? He offers the kid a piece of a network.

I’m sorry, but this is a fantastically stupid plot twist that at most makes Spencer an opportunist and at worst a corrupt user. Also, when exactly did we move to the “babe” part of this relationship? The whole thing is just off and makes Spencer unlikable.

Ballers Season 4 Recap

Ballers Season 4 Episode 5 (Credit – HBO)

In B and C plots of “Doink”, Ricky realizes he’s not the only game in town for the Rams, who have their eye on another player. This is just the push he needs to focus on his training, though he comes up short. Speaking of the only game in town, Charles learns he doesn’t have as much power as he thought (and his clothes are ugly).

We end with Spencer and Joe reuniting at the bar where Joe is ready to sell, but Spencer is ready to double down. Of course, they’ll pick door number two.

Episode 6 – “No Small Talk”

It’s going to be like the Sting, Spence promises Q as they visit the Southern Cal campus where he will do his time until he is NFL eligible. Play the game, and reap the rewards. SC certainly makes a strong showing with a stadium full of fans and a jet flyover.

I would say this is pretty over the top, but I know some college teams that would do this type of stuff to bring home a recruit if they thought it would work. Of course, the SC player giving the state-of-the-art facility tour is every bad cliche–a white lug-head who isn’t clear on what classes he’s taking because he doesn’t have to be.

He advises Q to wear a school hoodie to get freebies; Q notes that wearing a hoodie at night is a good way to get shot. “No Small Talk” benefited from moments like these, where we see that Q is not just a great football player; he’s smart, shrewd, and evidently a film buff.

However, that isn’t the important part. Here is Spencer’s move: Q will sign, but only if Spencer’s company gets the SC TV rights. This is a big play that doesn’t look like it will make it past the first quarter due to some bad blood from Spencer’s past.

Ballers fans know this is pretty standard fare. Spencer has an innate gift for causing friction with people who will someday control his fate. This go around, it’s a board member who wants to set the record straight about who is responsible for his brother William’s death.

William was depressed, but he was also a habitual pill popper (which seems to run in the family). The system consumed him and spit him out. Like all athletes, he was only useful when he was winning, only valuable when he could play.

Although the spin on this scene isn’t particularly subtle, it makes a valid point about how athletics treats the players, something touched on earlier in the season. Once they move beyond the troubled past, the asking price of $200 million is still too high for our hero.

When Spence tries to tell Q the deal is off, pulling him out of a campus screening of True Romance, his youngling is not quite so cooperative. Turns out Q wants to get an education and maybe spend some more time with the pretty film student who cut his recruiting reel. The bad news for Spencer is that he has to make the deal happen, somehow.

Hopefully, however, that goes down, he will realize he is as guilty of manipulating this young athlete as the establishments he raged against just a few scenes before.

Ballers Season 4 Episode 6 (Credit – HBO)

Since Spence apparently doesn’t actually go to the SportsX office anymore, Joe is running the command center, hoping to land a super elite skateboard team and reassuring Reggie that investors shouldn’t be wary.

For once, Joe’s motor mouth seems to serve him well. It may not land him some skaters, but it does gain him some respect from Reggie. I am a fan of this second-string smart-mouth pairing. More Reggie and Joe, please.

While Q has repeatedly said he wants to get paid because there is no doubt he will play, Ricky has been paid and now just wants a second chance to play.

Charles certainly sees that desperation, especially when Ricky turns up with Jason at a preseason party. In the end, Charles takes the chance on Ricky, just like I keep taking a chance on Ballers.

I called out the Q-TV plotline in the last episode for making Spencer unlikeable. I still concur with that. However, there is potential. Spencer’s blase attitude towards Q’s mom (dating-ish), and his seething frustration in most of “No Small Talk”–it has possibilities to actually push Spencer into something more. Take him down to build him back up, so to speak.

Episode 7 – “The Kids are Aight”

So, in “The Kids are Aight”, once again Spence has made a promise he can’t keep. His big play is to bring in a college football network, with phenom Q getting a back-end piece. But he doesn’t have the money.

He turns to his favorite money pots, the Anderson brothers, back and bickering over a kidney donation. This scene makes me miss Richard Schiff as Old Man Brett Anderson. It’s also worth noting that he thinks Spence is getting dirty with this ploy of using the kid. The counterargument, is that the NCAA system is corrupt, while valid, lacks authenticity and is certainly going to land Spence in trouble.

Just when he locks in the Andersons, news breaks that Q has made a verbal commitment to Ohio State. Oops. Always the charmer, Q assures Spence their deal is still solid; he just got wooed by LeBron.

Meanwhile, Jason calls Spence out for scamming his recruit (remember that he was originally supposed to check on Q for Jason). Spence drops by Ohio State to break it off gently.

All seems to go cordially until he’s pulled over by the cops on his way to the airport so they can search his car for drugs. As we know, Spence is a pill popper, so his bag has more than a few little gold bottles that end him up in jail. Turns out he’s been set up by a booster to leverage Q into rethinking his deal with Ohio State.

Ricky’s getting back into playing shape and hanging out at upscale BBQs where people sip white wine and talk about how good life is under Trump’s Presidential term. This is another in a long line of political references that have popped up all season; little elbow nudges about the Rock’s vague announcements of political interests.

It escalates quickly when the later-life frat boys (complete with hideous pastel sweaters) mock Ricky as a potential protest kneeler. He loses his cool, lashing at out them for marginalizing the movement and his experience.

Back home, Daddy Jarrett and Amber tell Ricky to keep his politics quiet–they have to play the game on and off the field. And just like that, Ricky blows it up, tweeting an anti-Trump rant that Charles doesn’t have time to notice as he’s romancing his neglected wife. He’ll find out soon enough.

Ballers Season 4 Recap

Ballers Season 4 Episode 7 (Credit – HBO)

Reggie and Joe, part two, includes more attempts to land Illegal Civs, that hotshot skateboard group who stood them up in the last episode. Joe’s explanation of driving loafers might be my favorite moment of the episode.

Sadly for Joe, It goes worse than they could have imagined when the skateboarders puke all over the sponsors. (I am knocking “The Kids are Aight” half a point for the projectile vomit. Sometimes more is less. This is one of those times.) Ballers certainly do have it out for sponsors this season.

I also like that they do not attempt to explain why Reggie is in this plotline and not his own boring Vernon plot save that he is worried about his investment. Fine, I’ll take it.

“The Kids are Aight” is ripe with other controversial allusions, although I wonder how many were in play when it was actually shot. Joe and Reggie are recruiting for a Nike, pre-Kaepernick ad. Ricky actually tags his anti-Trump, anti-White tweet #ImwithKaep.

At Ohio State, the assistant coach mentions Urban Meyer, the actual head coach suspended for two games after failing to take action against a real-life assistant coach who was blowing money on strippers when he wasn’t beating his wife.

It’s worth noting because it brings home not just how quickly the sports world shifts, but how far people will go for a win.

Episode 8 – “The Devil You Know”

For every action, there is a reaction. Q, once ready to roll out as a college phenom, is being investigated by the NCAA. Spencer is in danger of losing his network deal and Anderson Brother funding.

Ricky is fired for his anti-Trump, Kaep supporting tweet. And Joe has lost the potential Nike deal because Illegal Citizens isn’t a brand (not because of the puke issue). Welcome to Hangover Week on Ballers where everyone is paying for their actions in the previous episode.

“It’s lots of righteous rage,” one the NCAA investigators tells Spencer as they quiz him about his relationship with Q. That is a solid statement for this episode, “The Devil You Know”, which includes a speech from Spence that reads like a promo for HBO’s upcoming documentary, Student Athletes (debuting October 2).

The timing of an episode calling out the exploitation of college athletes certainly isn’t coincidental. Whether or not it’s valid depends on your point of view. Clearly, Spencer, and the Ballers team, believe it’s a broken system.

As for the NCAA? They have deemed Q ineligible. Both Jayda and Joe call Spencer out for his own role in exploiting the young player and risking everything on his selfish scheme.

Charles, possibly the most mature person on the show, is sent to fire his newest player, Ricky before he even suits up. Their exchange, about the role of professional athletes on the public forum, hits the right note in not being too preachy (unlike all Spencer’s speeches) while looking at the bigger picture.

Just because Ricky has made millions doesn’t mean he isn’t grateful, but he also doesn’t think it gives the team the right to muzzle him. Charles perhaps sums up one of the most important points this season of Ballers is finally getting around to making: sports is changing.

With CTE, corruption, and politics making news as much as scores, the future of sports is unclear. At least in this world, Charles becomes the real winner of “The Devil You Know” by saving Ricky’s job and advocating for social responsibility. Too bad Ricky may be throwing it all away with the push of the needle.

Ballers Season 4 Episode 8 (Credit – HBO)

Reggie and Joe are still angling for the Illegal Citizens deal which somehow includes Vernon. They seal the deal after they get the young skateboarders to take footage of themselves getting hurt. Whether unintentional or not, it speaks to a point that has come up throughout the season: how far should athletes go to sell themselves? Do we just care about the points? The wins? Or do we care about the people?

“The Devil You Know” ends with Q indicating he still has a chance with Ohio State. Spencer brings up his brother again in contention with his end game: he wants to bring down the NCAA.

Episode 9 – “There’s No Place Like Home, Baby”

Spencer visits his brother’s grave, but this time it isn’t a dream (or as cheesy thanks to the soundtrack). His plan to take the fight to the NCAA includes a lawsuit. Kudos to the young man serving legal papers with a side of gourmet coffee. Super classy.

Just as Joe is closing on a great deal that may save SportsX, he gets word of Spencer’s lawsuit via a threat from the NFL. These two haven’t been in the same room for weeks–their reunion is certainly not a happy one. Joe rightly calls out Spencer’s ego and his really stupid network plan. I have never appreciated Joe more than in this moment he challenges Spencer.

That Spencer pushes him away does not bode well. From a narrative perspective, it is murky if the writers side with Spencer in this scene.

It becomes clear a few minutes later when Spencer gives an interview about the corruption in the NCAA which feeds the wealth of the program while young athletes are exploited and tossed away. Inspired, Joe launched a social media campaign to support Spencer’s cause.

It’s a problematic moment because though the message is well-delivered, it doesn’t negate Joe’s previous points.

Ricky finds himself facing an intervention after the discovery that he is injecting steroids. Even his father, the hanger-on, questions how he could betray Charles’ trust. Perhaps this is what leads Ricky to turn himself into Charles.

This is a great scene where we see Charles as a leader, having Ricky sign his contract but making clear his disappointment. The contract, as it turns out, is meaningless when Charles makes the smart decision to cut Ricky.

Ballers Season 4 Recap

Ballers Season 4 Episode 9 (Credit – HBO)

The NCAA offers to reinstate Q’s eligibility to make the Spencer problem disappear. Spencer counters with that, plus players being paid. They refuse. Defeated, Spencer returns to SportsX and promptly resigns, despite Joe’s protests.

It’s worth noting that Joe is solely responsible for reinvigorating the business, so it’s not technically that big a hit to lose Spencer at this moment. But that, of course, is beside the point. We also see Joe turn up at Lance’s house in the post-credit scene which indicates that we aren’t quite done with Russell Brand.

I’ll also nominate Rob Corddry for the season’s MVP. For the first time, I liked Joe and actually cared about his plotlines.

In a bar, Spencer listens to the news that Q’s eligibility has been reinstated before the young player reveals he’s signed with USC. Q thanks his mom and ends by sending a signal, from The Sting to Spencer. Spencer smiles as he begins to explain The Sting to the curious bartender.

A note to the producers for next season: no one cares about Jason’s crazy girlfriend. At all. Just stop with her on the show. Forever. Thanks.

This is perhaps the first season of Ballers that has ended on a down note. We haven’t ever seen him lose like this, nor so without direction. Never mind that there are about five plots that never got resolved in season 4. None of them was really that interesting anyway. This final beat with Spencer is an exciting moment because it means there are questions to be answered.

And that is every episode recapped – what did you think of Ballers Season 4? What was your favorite episode? Comment below.

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