“All on the Line” balances character drama with big topics like domestic abuse and the Covid-19 pandemic in a slower but no less important chapter.
This recap of Swagger season 1, episode 6, “All on the Line”, contains spoilers.
“All on the Line” is a slower-paced episode of Swagger dealing, primarily, with two things – the repercussions of Jace and his teammates’ attack on Crystal’s abusive coach, and the encroachment of Covid-19 on the basketball season. There are other things too, which we’ll certainly touch on here, but those two events clearly define the episode and will likely define the rest of the season; the assault has a major effect on the kids, and with Coronavirus threatening to take away the primary outlet they have for dealing with the pressure, Team Swagger is becoming a powder keg, waiting to blow.
Swagger season 1, episode 6 recap
Phil is also largely a focus. He, of course, has been a victim of abuse from his father, so he took the attack on Crystal’s coach – having intuited the real motive – a bit too far. The whole thing spooks Musa, who eventually leaves town due in part to this but also to his grandfather contracting Covid-19, and when Swagger plays their latest game, everyone underperforms because of the accumulating stresses. Ike is confused, Jenna blames Ike’s coaching – heaven forbid she blames Jace – and the threat of the season being suspended looms over everyone.
It’s nice to see the team rally around Phil once his abuse becomes known. It’s a complicated, sensitive subplot, and “All on the Line” handles it well, not depicting Phil’s father as an outright monster but a flawed man unable to deal with his anger. Phil isn’t your typical “victim” either; he’s the biggest kid on the team, which I don’t think is a coincidence in terms of optics, but his attempts to downplay and excuse his father’s abuse are classic behaviors. There’s a touch of authenticity here that the show benefits from.
Likewise with Crystal and Jace, the former is initially upset that Jace intervened but eventually comes around to the idea after it becomes obvious that she isn’t her coach’s first victim and presumably wouldn’t have been his last. The fact that Jace also maintained her privacy and never let on why her coach needed a beating means a lot to her. She and Jace meet up at the end of the episode and share a kiss, taking their relationship in a new direction, although a part of me thinks it might have been more intriguing had it remained platonic.
In all this, it’s Jenna who is beginning to emerge as something of a villain. She’s utterly adamant about never blaming Jace for anything, even things that are his fault, and her focus on him and his career at the expense of everything else is beginning to take a toll on both Jace and his little sister, Jackie, whose dance Jenna misses because she has to leave for work. You can appreciate a single mother doing everything she can to provide for her children, but you can also appreciate Jackie’s counter-argument that she never would have left were it one of Jace’s games.
Swagger does a surprisingly good job of weaving its character drama amongst big, real topics such as domestic abuse, the pandemic, and the predatory nature of youth sports, not letting the topical backdrops overwhelm the focus. It’s a mix that could easily teeter the wrong way at a moment’s notice, but as of right now I appreciate the balance.