This A League of Their Own recap contains spoilers. (Buckle up! This is the longest recap about a single episode of television that I’ve ever written in my life of writing about television. I loved it that much.)
Max is damn near running down the stairs towards the darkness of night. She’s not with Carson. Make no mistake, Carson is right behind her, on her steps, breathlessly asking “It’s really dark!!??” and “Is this your field?,” scrambling to catch up — but Max is singularly by herself.
She came to Carson after the Peaches game (which ended in a brawl on the field by the way, long story) to call in a favor on Carson’s Big Gay Greta secret from the first episode — “You asked me to forget about what I saw. But it’s still fresh in my mind. So I need you to do something for me.” — and now here they are, fraught. Carson trying to figure out what comes next. Max only hearing her mother’s voice ringing in her ears.
She needs Carson to hit off her.
Max winds up. The first ball is strong, fast — but wide. She goes again and Carson taps it. Max grows even more frustrated and Carson tries to encourage, “Alright! Give me another!” But it keeps cracking through, her father telling her mother “it always comes back to Bertie!” and her mother spitting back “look at me and tell me that you don’t think she could turn into an invert?” Shit. Shit. Fuck. Max throws again, and Carson knocks it clear out of the field. FUCK.
Carson’s stunned, she’s never seen a woman who could pitch that fast. But of course, she doesn’t get it. Being a Black woman trying to compete means you can’t just be great, you have to be The Best. Great is below Max’s standards. “Great” leaves room for her to choke — and as we saw when she froze on the factory diamond, there can be no room for her to choke. Max isn’t herself. She can’t shake what she heard. She can’t go on if she can’t pitch. She runs away, leaving behind a Carson who has more questions than answers and also, her bag.
The next day at the factory, Max starts by apologizing to Clance. She was so wrapped up in her own baseball world that she forgot their first rule, no matter what else, that they always take care of each other. So how is Clance, anyway?
Clance is good! Sure she just said goodbye to her husband, possibly forever, and each waking moment without him is ripping her apart from the inside out, but that’s nothing! She’s good! You hear me? GOOD!
Max completely understands because she just blew what might be her only shot at her life’s dream, and also maybe she was never good enough to play baseball after all, oh and her entire life has been a lie but psssshhhh she’s fine!
They are Good! STOP ASKING QUESTIONS! They are good!
There’s a new woman in the factory, Gracie, who Clance immediately says looks like Josephine Baker — and my friends, that’s how you know Gracie is gay (it is my personal life wish for someone to say I look like Josephine Baker, the highest of queer Black femme compliments!).
Gracie clocks right away that Max’s last name is Chapman, but there’s no time to get into it on account of this being the worst day of Max’s life. No. Sorry. I forgot. She’s Good.
Meanwhile, the Peaches brawl is front page news, and now even the Girl Scouts hate them! Girl Scouts! Dove is gone for good and Mr. Baker Junior is here to deliver the bad news that the Peaches are on the verge of being shut down, and also that his uncle might put him in charge of the nougat division for this fuck up (“No one comes back from nougat!”). If the Peaches want to keep playing, from now on they need to be the best of friends. They need to hold hands — Sarge warns, maybe not hold hands — and they will need to kiss and make up — well, maybe not kiss either. Carson will be taking over for Dove as coach and Lupe is being blamed for the entire fight even though it was actually Carson who started it. That’s whiteness working overtime, folks. We’ll come back to this.
Carson and Lupe return home and we find out that the papers are being told that Dove will continue coaching from “from afar” (hahahaha), and also that the team as a whole has pretty much iced out Lupe. I have a lot of strong feelings about that! Considering that they had already isolated Lupe to begin with, when they had their little secret Peaches practice inviting everyone but her, but for right now Lupe takes it in stride with an excellent piece of physical comedy from Roberta Colindrez where Lupe takes a cigarette from Jo, promptly tells everyone Carson’s now in charge and oh by the way the Peaches might be over, and swiftly leaves into the house for Carson to have to deal with the ensuing chaos that Lupe left at her feet.
Carson makes long eyes at Greta from the porch and makes up an excuse about having to ughh… go pee, which obviously means making out in a car in the shed. Carson is stressing about being a housewife while Gretchen calls her “coach” and starts to unbutton her own shirt.
Shirley is still really freaked out that Jo might be “a queer” by the way, so Carson tells her that Jo and Dove were actually having an affair, as a cover.
I know that in the comments of our recaps there’s been discussions about Shirley being played as a neurotic Jewish stereotype, and I’ll admit that I didn’t notice it in my first watch of the show, but that’s very real. It’s also definitely not my place to say, other than as a fellow highly anxious person I found Shirley’s self-soothing while Jo crows about her Big Leo Energy (that’s gay) from the hallway to be so comforting, if only because we rarely get to see self-soothing on television at all. My personal method of choice is the 5-4-3-2-1 system, but Shirley’s self-taps while counting to 12 will definitely get the job done.
(Fellow anxiety sufferers — your brain can’t do two things at the same time, so a great distraction is also doing math problems, you’re welcome.)
Max stares at her bedroom wall in the middle of the night, before all at once she starts tearing down all her baseball posters. The stew of rage, confusion, and loathing has roiled to a boil and now there’s no containing it, just spit and snot and tears coming down as Miss Toni comes running into her room at the commotion. Miss Toni, a Black mama to her core, wants to know what the hell has gotten into Max’s head making all this noise?? But Max is just getting started, shouldn’t her mother be happy? She’s giving up all this baseball foolishness for good.
Miss Toni never wanted for Max’s heartbreak, she loves her. Max narrows all of her emotions into a laser, focused directly at her mother: “You love me, but you don’t like me.”
Miss Toni’s taken aback, “it’s not my job to like you. It’s my job to raise you.”
(I’d bet good money that this phrasing is an intentional reference to my one of my favorite August Wilson monologues from Fences, which is also looking at questions of Blackness, worth, and parenting in an mid-size industrial city, in this case Pittsburgh, set in the 1950s, not long after the time period of A League of Their Own.)
Max’s face squeezes tight. Each word pushed out from some place deep inside of her like it’s a punch, “as long as I don’t end up like Bertie… right?”
There it is.
It always comes back to Bertie.
Max always thought that Bertie had done something to Miss Toni, but actually it was Miss Toni who threw Bertie away. “You’re gonna throw me away too if I ain’t what you want.” Max’s chest is heaving, but her back is straight. She knows its the truth.
Miss Toni tells Max that if she don’t stop disrespecting her in her own house, so help her God —
Max gasps quietly, her first real breath since the fight began. Her voice waivers, “You would, wouldn’t you?”
Miss Toni takes too long to respond, just a second too long to say “Maxine stop this” but there is no stopping this, because they both know. Max has known since she heard her mother call her an “invert,” she’s known since every time her mother winced when she put on pants or grabbed her mitt. She just didn’t know the words, and now she does.
Max moves in with Clance that same night, who admits that despite her Oscar worthy performance from earlier – she is not OK. Max agrees to sleep in Clance’s bed and let Clance be the big spoon (and if Clance maybe grazes her ass a few times in her sleep because it’s muscle memory for when Guy was her little spoon, that’s just what friends are for). They will make it through this together.
The next day Carson shows up at Max’s job at the factory bringing her signature “I need someone to do me a favor” pie and Max’s lost bag, which provides some *truly Top Tier comedy* from Gbemisola Ikumelo as Clance stage whispers, “Is this white woman smiling at you?” followed by the absolutely pitch perfect “don’t you go nowhere with this white woman” — I have nothing to add. No notes. If you know, you know.
That night, Carson and Max meet again on Max’s field. Max admonishes Carson, “you can’t just show up at my work like that” (of course, Carson being conveniently unaware of her own white privilege being a reoccurring theme of the episode, and the series overall if we’re being real). Carson wants to pay Max off to keep the Greta secret, but Max doesn’t want the money, she just needed someone to pitch off of just to see if she’s good enough to keep trying. She got her answer.
Carson wants to go back when baseball was actually fun, because if we’re honest right now it kinda blows. She wants to have a catch (!?!? Carson what??? But also it’s only ever going to be “have a catch” from now on, so sorry), and that’s a turning point in their relationship. Trying to once again find the love of the game they both once loved so greatly.
When we next see them together, it’s daytime and they are having more catch.
Max fires one off. “Satchel Paige.” Arguably the most famous Negro League pitcher of all time, with a career that spanned five decades, credited by Joe DiMaggio as the best pitcher he ever faced.
Then another one. “Bullet Rogan.” The player who won more games than any other pitcher in Negro League history, while simultaneously ranking fourth highest in career batting average.
Max says the MLB ain’t got nothing on the Negro Leagues (facts) and Carson tells her to throw one as herself, but I beg please no because I cannot handle it. Every time Chanté Adams winds up, it is hard enough. I am weak. WEAK, I SAY.
Carson notes that Max has the yips and the only way out is to have to face those voices that tell her she can’t “right in the eye… wait no, voices don’t have eyes… right in the mouth.”
The advice leads Max right back into Miss Toni’s house, but this time she’s riffling for something specific — and she finds it: Bertie’s address, tucked inside Miss Toni’s bible.
Max walks to Bertie’s, a modest home with panel siding, a white iron porch and faded stripped awning. She nervously clears her throat before knocking. And who opens the door? Gracie, who looks like Josephine Baker, from the factory.
Gracie smiles big at the confirmation of her niece standing in front of her, but Max stammers — sure that she has the wrong address. Before Max can get a full sentence out, Gracie calls behind her upstairs, “Bertie! We got company.”
Max comes in as Bertie descends down the stairs, black pants and suspenders over a white button down with a pocket watch tucked in their pocket. Their hair parted to the side. Max’s eyes go slightly wide, she steps back.
Max: “You’re my Aunt Bertie? Toni Chapman’s Sister?”
Bertie: “Well, I am Bertie. Everything else you said is up in the air.”
Max says nice to meet you, but Bertie says they met once before – when she was a baby. With every sentence, Max’s eyes grow just a little wider and wider, her eyebrows arching up, as Gracie (who is leaning on Bertie’s shoulder) tells Bertie about how Max has become a leader at the factory. Bert credits Max’s work ethic to their side of the family — and that stance too, both of them looking at each other with their arms crossed in front of their chest, feet wide apart.
“Two peas in a pod,” Bertie beams. Gracie offers to fix Max a plate and Max asks to use the restroom first. As soon as Bertie and Gracie leave the room, she bolts out the front door.
It’s too much. It’s all just too much, too quickly. For the first time Max is looking at something that could maybe be a mirror.
The overwhelm of it takes all the air out of her lungs.