Jace takes one for the team this week on Swagger [Apple TV+ recap]


Isaiah Hill in ★★★★
Jace (played by Isaiah Hill) owns up to a nasty incident from his past.
Photo: Apple TV+

TV+ ReviewSuperlative Apple TV basketball drama Swagger puts Jace in the hot seat this week, as allegations prove too tough to beat. Jace does something crazy in the name of helping his community but it makes things even more fraught.

Meanwhile, Ike and Emory are at loggerheads about how to handle their star player. And Crystal must decide how she feels about her life once more becoming the subject of public debate. Entitled “Through the Fire,” it’s a typically excellent installment of this fiery show.

Swagger recap: ‘Through the Fire’

Season 2, episode 4: Star player Jace Carson (played by Isaiah R. Hill) is in trouble. Video has surfaced of him and his teammates Musa (Caleel Harris), Royale (Ozie Nzeribe) and Phil (Solomon Irama) beating up disgraced coach Warrick (Al Mitchell). The attack came after Jace learned Warrick was sexually abusing Crystal (played by Quvenzhané Wallis), but Jace lied to coach Ike (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) about his involvement.

Now, the falsehood is weighing on Jace. Perhaps understandably, the team performs poorly at its game in New York a few hours after the video drops. No one involved seems able to concentrate on basketball.

Nick Mendez (Jason Rivera-Torres) comes to Jace and Phil after the game and reads them the riot act. If they don’t fix this, he and every other member of their team will lose their chances at scholarships and the NBA.

Jace hears this and decides to own up. He goes on TikTok and takes sole credit for the beatdown, absolving Phil, Musa, Royale and, by extension, everyone else on his team. Crystal is mad at him for having changed his strategy and once again calling attention to the beating. She won’t admit that she thinks it’s brave of him until much later, because she’s too shaken by the events to form much more than angry words.

Uh-oh, Mom’s mad

Jenna (Shinelle Azoroh), Jace’s mom, is furious. He could go to jail for this, to say nothing of losing his career. Jackie (Jordan Rice) reminds her that Jace was 14 years old and in love when the beating took place. Jace refuses to name his accomplices (seeing as he made them up), which further complicates his mom’s feelings, because it means he’s still lying about something.

Ike is mad, too. Jace lied to him and he did a stupid, violent thing. His wife Tonya (Christina Jackson) tries to convince him Jace was doing the right thing, just in the wrong way.

Jenna asks Alonzo (Tristan Mack Wilds) to pay for a lawyer (Brittany Guess) for Jace. However, school administrator Dr. Price (Orlando Jones) insists Jace be suspended from games until they figure out what to do.

Ike insists that he should interview the rest of the team rather than the school. Naim (Sean Anthony Baker) and Meg (Tessa Ferrer) start talking, but Nick, Royale and Drew (James Bingham) toe the line. It’s only because Naim is Musa’s father that he gets the truth out of the boy. (Caleel Harris and Sean Baker perform this short scene beautifully. They’ve been clutch utility players on Swagger from the start, and it’s great to see them get that scene together.)

Phil confesses, too, when his mom (Monique Grant) and dad (Michael Beasley) ask him to in front of Ike. (It’s great work from Grant and Beasley here, too. I’m= glad they’re getting more airtime this season. This show? It’s very good.)

Too many ways for this to go horribly wrong

Among the few people at Cedar Cove who believe Jace isn’t the guilty party are the members of Phil’s diversity group, including Rae (Catherine Owens), the girl he’s crushing on. Jace is less lucky; his white girlfriend Amber (Caroline Elizabeth Gregory) breaks up with him after the news.

Laer, Jace goes to a party with Jackie to try to get his mind off things. After some dancing and a little friendly advice, he pulls himself out of the worst of his self-loathing and anger. Jace goes on Musa and Drew’s podcast and, rather than discussing the beating, he just talks about how important basketball is to him. Jace gets the two to open up about the same thing, and we get really lovely flashbacks to their childhoods.

What are we going to do with Jace?

When the school’s board of directors meets on the matter, they agree that it sends a peculiar message to allow Jace to stay on. But when Diane (Vinessa Shaw), one of the more outspoken board members, raises this question, the room falls silent: Is Cedar Cove going to be able to win another game without him?

In their own way, Phil, Royale, Drew and Musa answer that question when they refuse to play that afternoon’s game until Jace’s suspension is lifted in response to some boneheaded student protests. This would have been a powerful enough suggestion, but then the boys find the press after the game and confess to being there with Jace the night of the beating. Now the school has four problems on its hands.

Swagger gets into some very, very strong stuff this week. I liked the ways the episode shows Crystal and Jace dealing with the fallout from this together and separately. The vignette of Jace hanging with Jackie at her college is lovely, with both performers digging deep to find the unselfconscious parts of their characters, to allow this beautiful exchange of emotions.

Quvenzhané Wallis also has a great scene where her school’s boys’ team tries to claim the gym space from her and she gets her phone out and starts chastising them. Swagger’s attention must necessarily be divided amongst such a large cast, but the creative team definitely knows what they have on their hands with these powerful players.


Watch Swagger on Apple TV+

New episodes of Swagger season two arrive Fridays on Apple TV+.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Watch on Apple TV

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper and But God Made Him A Poet: Watching John Ford in the 21st Century, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.


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