It’s a beautiful sunny day and the Peaches have just seen The Wizard of Oz, in color — a central thematic touchstone of the episode for a variety of reasons, but what we are going to pay closest attention to are, of course the gay ones.
Historically (and I say this as someone who has no real affinity towards the movie and was deathly afraid of the Wicked Witch of the West until an age that would be embarrassing to write under my own byline) there is nothing else in pop culture as gay as The Wizard of Oz. There’s the whole “somewhere over the rainbow” / rainbow flag dynamic. The Stonewall Riots happened on the same day as Judy Garland’s funeral, a fact seen as a chance of coincidence by some and a grand myth-making origin story by others. Boys in the Band, considered by many to be the first mainstream successful play with all gay characters, is titled after a Judy Garland quote. And, if you’re a queer history nerd, there are the infamous “friends of Dorothy,” which we will return to later.
But for right now, the Peaches stroll out of the theater two-by-two. Jess, in pants — gasp! in public! — with an arm dropped around Maybelle, thought it was too much color. Carson cried, which makes Greta call her a sap. A fan comes up to tell them that they’re rooting for the Peaches to be the championship, which causes Carson to ask Shirley to calculate the actual odds of them making it and not tell anyone (they are four games out of second with 12 games to go, you know Shirley is on this!).
Back at home Esti is practicing her English. Over and over again, until her diction is perfect: “I wanted to go to the movies” — when they come in only Jess seems to notice she’s upset, asking what’s wrong.
Esti tells Lupe in Spanish that Lupe knew she wanted to go to the movies, and Lupe admits she forgot to tell the rest of the team. She is sorry. But also, Lupe goes on, Esti has been in the United States for three months and hasn’t learned any English! If she had them she could have told them herself. Daaaamn Lupe, that’s a little harsh — Esti is a literal child. I can understand Lupe’s frustration of always being looped together with Esti, who again, is a child, just because they are both Spanish speaking Latinas, but Esti isn’t the enemy here. It’s a lose-lose situation with more than enough bad feelings to go around. Which is probably why Esti leaves crying.
(While all this is happening let us not forget that Sarge clocks Jess immediately, “aww wearing pants outside again, Miss McCready? You know I’m going to have to keep fining you.” To which Jess, who is perfect — that will not be my only time saying that this recap — already has Sarge’s cash in hand, “My pleasure.”)
Carson goes to comfort Esti, and in the process overhears Sarge talking to the team manager. Sarge, also always a joy, deadpans “you’re a married woman Mrs. Shaw, it isn’t befitting to be darting around in the shadows.” But Carson’s the coach, right? She needs to know what’s going on.
What’s going on is that Mr. Baker believe the MLB may shut down next year because of the continued war, and he wants the AAGPBL to be ready to take over their ballparks. He’s invited some of the other owners to the championship to watch, and needs to make sure the level of play is as high as possible. So! He wants to break up the Peaches and put their best players on teams more likely to play in the World Series.
By the way, Shirley says they only have a 1 in 18 chance of making it to the championship, they’d have to basically win every game to make it. It’s not looking great, buddy!!
Meanwhile, Max is out bowling with her Aunt Gracie and Uncle Bertie, and if you’re wondering if I watched this entire scene while screaming “So cute! They are so cute!” a truly ridiculous amount of times with my hands covering my eyes, well friends you are correct!
There is a lot that I love about Gracie and Bertie, including that Max gets the benefit of intergenerational Black queer mentorship, that she finds support on her journey almost immediately after a complicated and difficult relationship with her mother, that her self-discovery includes a family tree — not all of us are the only one in our family who are gay! But one of the most delightful things for me is simply that they’re there.
Bertie was not included in the original press of the series (and I’d argue for good reasons, the impact of his arc works best if we discover it alongside Max), and I believed that Max would be a Black character in a white world. I have a longstanding grievance with white television shows that drop a chocolate chip into the cookie batter, wash their hands of it, and pat themselves on the back for a job well done. Black people have worlds and thoughts and dialogue far away from the white gaze we live under in public. Arguably for a lot of Black people, the version of ourselves in front of white people isn’t who we are at all, and that’s word to WEB DuBois.
It’s rare for a predominately white television show to fully get that. And yes, in the case of A League of Their Own some of that is necessitated by 1940s segregation, but the gentle care taken with Max’s world building, watching Max be surrounded by a variety of straight and queer Black people who truly love her — maybe that shouldn’t be as much of a marvel as it is. But it is, in fact, a marvel.
Also, she’s looking fine as hell with that new haircut. Sorry it had to be said.
Bertie — absolutely dashing in a suit black suit and a grey and black stripped tie — is joking with the owner of the bowling alley about mutual “wife problems” while Max and Gracie look on. (Bertie: “Look! I just let my woman run the money. That’s just how we keep things peaceful, man.”)
Max, to Gracie: I can’t believe you let him come out here looking like this.
Gracie: Well, I can’t believe you come out of the house looking like a little church girl in those skirts like you’re 12, but here we are.
Max just meant.. isn’t it… isn’t it dangerous? And Gracie throws her hands a bit up to the air, sure it’s dangerous but what else are they going to do — stay at home all the time?
In the end, it’s about living life out loud, isn’t it? Finding a way to live life on your own terms. And this is another reason that Max is surrounded by a variety of Black queerness, because we aren’t a monolith. If Clance correctly named Gracie’s femme-ness as Josephine Baker, it’s pretty hard to look at Bertie and not think about Pauli Murray. Murray, a brilliant legal mind whose work left foot prints on both Brown v. Board of Education and Reed v. Reed (which legally codified gender equality), was a Black masc person who — dating back to the 1940s, in fact — often wrote in painstaking detail about how they understood their own masculinity at a time in which language for gender was far removed from our own.
What A League of Their Own does exceptionally well is finding those time-period specific ways to explore and talk about gender — whether it’s Bertie dressed to the nines, taking his woman out for a night on the town; Jess helping Jo find boxers; and Jess’ obvious discomfort in skirts on the field and their willingness to pay Sarge fines in order to wear pants off of the field.
Just to go large in scope for a second, there’s been so much discussion this week about A League of Their Own’s homophobic review bombing on Amazon. Those kinds of targeted attacks don’t come out of nowhere, they come because the show’s very existence pushes back against transphobic and homophobic lies that being trans is “new,” that being visibly gay in public is “new,” that these are signs of some societal decay. That’s the big lie. We’ve been here, we were in the 1940s playing a game of bowling and breathing life into this world.
Max jokes, and “Here I thought my Mama was the mayor of Black Rockford.” Bertie steps back to stunt on em just a little bit, “I mean you know it’s the suit right?” And he is right about that — his drip is flawless. Max looks at her Uncle and wonders if her life would be easier if she were a man, at least then she’d be able to play ball.
The next day the Peaches beat the Comets!! The Peaches beat the Comets!! (To be fair, they damn sure better win, Carson has them practicing 6 hours a day!!). Jess believes that Lady Luck is on their side, but Greta’s not so sure. Alone sitting in the kitchen with Carson, she shares her own manifesto of sorts, “I don’t know if it’s God or Lady Luck, but they give people like us a raw deal, so they can kick rocks, you know?”
Greta believes in zoology, astrology, ice cubes. Carson and Greta graze pinkies at the kitchen table, and Carson asks if this is ok. Greta says Hmmhmm. Carson wants to take Greta to dinner sometime, there’s only nine games left and this gonna end soon. She just wants to make it as real as possible until then — well, Greta says, Carson better find a way to get them into the championship.
In the hallway, Carson sees Lupe asking Sarge for a “trade” before sneaking out of the house. Carson — who, along with Greta, had noticed Lupe cozying up to one of the Comets during their game earlier — assumes she’s going to talk with the Comets because she wants to get traded to a stronger team, and follows her to the alley behind the movie theatre. This is when it gets fun.
Behind the movie theater is a door. Behind the door is a man sitting at a desk. That man asks Carson “tax problems? We do tax solutions” and when Carson responds confused, he follows up with “are you a friend of Dorothy’s?” — at which point I shrieked because I have only heard that term in history books! And now here it is, come to life! — before recognizing Carson as the catcher of the Peaches and welcoming her in.
Carson’s upset when she sees Lupe with the blonde from the Comets. She goes “I can’t believe you’re playing for the other team” — a hilarious double entendre — and Lupe stands up, panicked, asking Carson not to tell anyone.
Carson tells Lupe she heard her talking to Beverly about wanting to trade teams, but nooo Lupe wants to trade rooms, to get breathing space from Esti. Jess, who’s also there, pulls up with a couple beers and a cigarette behind her ear, baseball cap tilted just so to the side, and Cannot. Stop. Laughing.
Jess tells Carson, “look around.. okay?”
Women dancing together, men who are soldiers kissing, someone sitting at a table in an outfit that is a dress on the right side and a suit on the left.
Jess explains to Lupe, “she’s like us” and passes Carson a beer.
Carson wonders how Jess knew and in what can only be described as an ICONIC MOMENT Jess takes a drag of her cigarette before explaining in one breath as the smoke exhales: “I’ve known since that first night at the bar. But also, a couple of weeks ago, you fell asleep in my room with Greta…” Jess shakes her head. “Rookie.” She clinks her beer to Carson, “Drink up.”
Carson’s still taking it all in, wonders what is this place, but Lupe’s eyes are saucers, equal parts stunned and unfathomably impressed, “You and Greta!?!? Oh God. Oh, the height! The height!?!… who does what?”
I LOVE THE BROTHERS DO YOU HEAR ME WHEN I SAY THAT I LOVE THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE PERFECT AND JESS IS PERFECT AND LUPE IS PERFECT AND I LOVE THEM
It’s Max and Clance’s turn to see Wizard of Oz in color. Max cries about missing home but Clance says that Dorothy was a full on colonizing Scarlet Witch invading the multiverse and also the green color of the Wicked Witch of the West was an obvious allegory for racist scapegoating (she’s not wrong on that last part, we love a comics analyst queen!), Emerald City is Africa, and the entire comics industry is actually nationalist patriotic propaganda!! (correct again) — while Clance goes on, there’s a knock at the door.
It’s Bertie, who is so excited to be in Max’s home, complimenting her, “hey! This is nice!” before Max can cut him off, clumsily introducing Clance as her friend. Bertie doesn’t let Max’s awkwardness ruin anything at first, letting his niece know that there’s friends coming from Detroit (what up doe! Though also it’s a reference to the 1943 Uprising, which… not a great time) and he made Max a present. In a box!! With a bow!!!
And you all know that I’m pretty firmly Team Max about most things, but I have a line — that line is hurting Uncle Bertie’s feelings, and Max is about to bulldoze right over it. Max asks Clance to go upstairs before telling Bertie that he can’t come around like this. He knows why.
Bertie takes a step back, “So, what, you can come and eat my food, come on a date with me a date with me and my wife, but I can’t come through your door?” Bertie thought they were bonding, that they were on the same page.
Max’s face goes hard, “We aren’t. I’m not like you.”
“Wow. Alright.” Bertie leaves Max with the box and walks back out the door.
Now I get that Max is once again in the throws of a gay panic, and whenever Max sees a little of herself in Bertie, she hears Miss Toni’s voice all over again, and that fear instinct kicks in. But imagine Bertie, who’s been without blood family for so long, to have Max walk right on in through his front door. To feel like this time it could be different. And then… be rejected all over again. I don’t believe for a second that this was only ever a story about how Max needed Bert.
Of course Clance put it together even though Max shoved her away, she knows the person who came to visit was Toni’s sibling, Bertie. Clance thinks she’s being kind and helpful, saying “I can see why Toni doesn’t want her around” and “it’s ok!” — it’s not like it’s Max’s fault that family is “a freak.”
Max chokes down tears over her shoulder.
Back at the bar, a drag artist performs while the Peaches play a fun game of “which of our teammates are gay” and Carson asks the meaning of the term butch (Lupe, sighing: “oh boy”). Jess would bet at least 35% of the league is queer, including the batboy, which somehow still feels like an underestimation if you ask me. The entire gay bonding is very adorable, including Carson finding out that among the gays the Peaches are rockstars — errr, did they have rockstars int he 1940s? — and Lupe and Jess have been… let’s just say… reaping the the benefits.
When a pair of twins take interest, Lupe sends Carson on a beer run.. and that’s when…
At the bar
Carson meets Rosie Fucking O’Donnell.