This A League of Their Own recap contains spoilers.
What do you want first: the good news or the bad news? You’re right, you’re right, let’s just rip off the bad news band-aid. Jo did not return home last night after the police raid of Rosie’s. Carson seems convinced — for absolutely no reason at all — that she’s a-okay, that she simply spent the night with that girl she met at the bar. Greta, who is sitting on her bed staring out the window, as she has been all night long, understands that Carson has made it through her entire life of pretending to be a happy straight housewife by embodying the This Is Fine meme, but they don’t have any reason to believe Jo’s okay. It’s not like her to miss curfew. It’s not like her to make Greta worry like this. It’s not like her to risk her place on the Peaches roster by staying out all night. And sure enough, Greta sees her out the window and rushes downstairs, where she’s being escorted into the house — bruised, bloody, and limping — by the cops.
Sarge tells Jo she has ten minutes to pack her things. She’s not being kicked out of the league, but she is being traded to the Blue Sox, and only by the grace of Sarge, who paid out of her own pocket to keep Jo’s name out of the newspaper. See, when gay establishments get raided like this, usually they print the names of the patrons to “keep the public safe” from them. The rest of the team looks on in absolute agony as Jo hobbles through the house and up the stairs. Carson tries to talk Sarge out of the trade because somehow she still hasn’t wrapped her head around how dangerous it is to be gay out here in public in 1943. Sarge shuts her down firmly, as Shirley stands on the stairs and mumbles about how she knew it, she just knew it. Queers!
Greta follows Jo upstairs and tells her she can be packed in ten minutes too. They’ll catch a train to Los Angeles, to Las Vegas, literally anywhere Jo wants to go. As long as they’re together. Greta’s sorry, so sorry for leaving her to fend for herself against those cops, for being so caught up in the moment with Carson, for breaking the rules even though Jo kept warning her it was going to get them hurt. But she’s going to make it up to Jo, she really is; from now on, it’s just the two of them and the open road and whatever Jo wants to do. But what Jo wants to do is go to the Blue Sox. Jo says it’s not Greta’s fault she’s a tall glass of charisma and lightning with a perfectly symmetrical face. And it’s not even really her fault that she’s always been okay with letting Jo stand in her shadow, carry her bag, be her wingwoman. But this is a new world, and in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, Jo de Luca is a motherfucking star. She’s somebody, her own somebody. She’s grown and changed and Greta’s missed all of it because she’s been so preoccupied with Carson. Jo loves Greta, will always love Greta, but she’s gotta go.
As Jo walks out of the house with her bag slung over her shoulder, Maybelle says quietly, “Oh my Josephine.”
And if you think that’s bad, wait’ll you hear who walks in after Jo walks out: Charlie Shaw.
Carson’s locked in Greta’s room begging for forgiveness while Greta unloads on her about how selfish she’s been, about how she wouldn’t stop pushing, about how she had no respect for Greta’s rules or boundaries — and now Joey, her life and her whole family, is gone. Carson keeps trying to shoo away the person banging on the door. When she finally opens it, the news punches her in the face. Charlie, her husband Charlie, is downstairs. Not to minimize your sacrifice, Charlie, but you couldn’t have waited like two more weeks, man??? You couldn’t have taken just another beat to enjoy the Irish countryside?? This is the worst timing I have ever seen! And I once walked in on my own parents having sex!
Max wakes up in a much happier place than any of the Peaches. Physically, she wakes up on the floor of Bert and Gracie’s house, in a cowboy-looking hat, in her clothes from last night’s party, with a lipstick kiss on her cheek. Metaphorically, she wakes up a whole new person. She was with her family last night, she finally saw what her future could look like, and she met a woman who made her whole body hum. Gracie comes up with a heist-like plan to discover the secret identity of Max’s girl, but Bert just clanks a pair of cups together and asks the other hungover gays strewn across his floor, sleeping on top of each other like a basket of puppies, who Max was dancing with last night. They say it was S. Where will she be today? Well probably at the Red Wright’s All-Stars baseball game, with everyone else in town. They’re facing off against the Screws.
Clance and Max hit up the factory, which has been closed down for the day for the baseball game and also camaraderie, which they think is a joke. Both the baseball and the camaraderie. Max may have given up on her dream, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t still believe that she is literally four billion times the player Gary ever will be. And as far as the camaraderie, the factory is taking the women’s overtime wages as a “donation” to the war effort, so. Fuck ’em. Max doesn’t want to wait in line for any autographs, but her ears do perk up when Clance notices the Red Wright’s All-Stars have a woman pitcher. Max looks around and finally clocks her, in her full uniform, across the factory. She’s a smokeshow. Just like the woman Max danced with last night at Bert’s. In fact — holy cats, it IS the woman she danced with last night at Bert’s. Her name isn’t S, it’s Es, as in Esther. Esther! Like Queen Esther! Whose name means “hide” or “conceal” in Hebrew and THE STAR in Persian!
I have seriously never gasped so hard at a fictional reveal in my life. I was more stunned than Max, for sure; she marches right over and gets into an aggressive flirting match with Esther that ends with her hurling a baseball through the Red Wright’s All-Stars banner. She might have been able to keep it casual — like maybe a 15% chance — if Clance hadn’t switched into hypewoman mode seeing Max standing next to another woman pitcher. She says Max is the best, not like the best in Rockford, but like the literal best-best. Four billion times better than Gary, as previously calculated, and no, maybe Max isn’t playing baseball right now, but if she were still playing baseball, she would be better than Esther. Esther says it’s cool, not everyone is cut out for the kind of athleticism, tenacity, and resilience that goes into being a real pitcher on a real team. You know, real pitchers, the ones who let their arms do the talking. Max’s entire gorgeous head almost explodes off her body when Esther says that. She can’t decide if she wants to kiss her or throw another baseball, this time through the center of the sun. She opts to storm out of the factory.
As they hoof it across the parking lot, Max does begin the process of coming out to Clance. As close as she can get for now, at least. She tells her she was at Bert’s last night, that she’s going to be spending a lot more time at Bert’s, actually. And Bert is not a “freak,” so it would mean a lot to Max if Clance would stop saying that. And she does, right then and there. She might not understand it, exactly, or fully, but she can tell it means something important to Max and that’s all she needs to know. She encourages Max not to give up her dream of baseball. She encourages Max to be whoever she wants to be, even if that means she won’t be fulfilling Clance’s lifelong dream of them living next door to each other and their kids marrying each other. And then she says the most beautiful thing to her best friend: “But I’m always gonna worry about you — because you’re mine.” These two!
Less excellent? Carson has packed up her stuff from the Peaches house and moved it into Charlie’s hotel room. It’s a step above Geena Davis just ABANDONING THE ENTIRE TEAM DURING THE WORLD SERIES when her husband came home from the war, but just barely. Things are weird between them, of course. They’ve been living whole different lives for so long. He doesn’t even know how she eats her eggs now! Or that she doesn’t need him to order for her! And things get even weirder when Carson jumps Charlie. Presumably she’s never been so eager to have sex with him in their lives, and maybe that’s why things are so clunky that she ends up head-butting him and nearly breaking his nose. She decides her best move is to hide out in the bathroom. Finally Charlie coaxes her out and they cuddle together, talking about their whole lives, their old teachers, the kids they went to school with. They’ve been best friends since they were six. Carson did miss him. She does love him. But he’s not pizza. When he excuses himself to take a shower, Carson starts putting his clothes away in the dresser, and that’s when she finds — dun dun dun! — the letter she sent him. Or, well, the letter she and Greta sent him.
Carson: Uh hello, is this the letter you told me you never received?
Charlie: I have PTSD!
Carson: Well, I don’t know what that means!
Charlie: Do you know what you have? That thing your mom had that made her leave you! Every time I wake up in the middle of the night, I assume you won’t be there!
Carson: That’s mean. But it does make me wonder if she also was a les—uh, lespedeza lover. You know, lespedeza, like bush clovers? Well, not bush clovers. Japanese clovers? Anyway it doesn’t matter, the point is you lied.
Charlie: Look, we’ve both been unhappy, but I know what will fix it: KIDS!
Carson: Not until I finish playing baseball.
Charlie: Okay. You’re a baseball player. You should play baseball.
Carson: This would be so much easier if you were a dick.
Their argument is interrupted by a phone call. It’s Maybelle. Greta’s gone missing. Shirley found all her stuff gone when she marched into her room on her quest to confront every Peaches player and ask them if they’re queer. Jo saw her boobs! Her boobs! A betrayal! And now she needs to know just how many queers have been ogling her virgin breasts! This despite the fact that Maybelle revealed she’s got several kids and is just living for this one moment in time and Shirley needs to calm down and learn to take people as they are. It doesn’t matter if they’re mothers or homosexuals or lespedeza lovers! Carson hangs up and blitzes to the train station, where she finds Greta sitting on a bench waiting to skip town.
Also trying to get out of Rockford is Esti, who has had it with everyone on this team, especially Lupe, making her feel like a ghost. Lupe and Jess search the whole town looking for her, and finally find her at the train station too. When Esti spots them, she takes off running, and Lupe tries to chase her, which is hilarious because Esti is the fastest player in the league. It’s like a Road Runner cartoon. When she darts, she practically leaves a cloud of dust behind her, Lupe just standing there coughing inside it. She finally agrees to come home with them, under one condition — they’ve got to teach her how to drive.
It’s Sarge’s car, but Jess is like, “Sure absolutely!” Lupe thinks they’re all going to die, not just because Esti has never driven before and Jess is just nonchalantly instructing her in a language she only barely understands, but also because Esti is yelling at them the whole time. She is so hurt, so lonely, so confused because she thought Lupe was the answer to her prayers, but actually she was the meanest Peach of all to her. Just when it looks like she’s getting the hang of motor vehicles, she absolutely wrecks Sarge’s car.
Jess hops out and takes a look in the trunk, says she needs to walk back to the gas station they saw a mile ago and pick up some stuff to fix the tire. Which leaves Lupe and Esti alone in an awkward silence. Finally, Lupe tells Esti the whole truth. When she was Esti’s age, she had a daughter, and her parents took her baby away because they thought she wasn’t fit to raise it. Lupe, she has Esti’s daughter’s eyes, and sometimes, when Esti looks at her, it’s like seeing but not seeing her own little girl. And it breaks her heart.
And, well, that breaks Esti’s heart. She forgives Lupe in a single breath.
Jess arrives with three bottles of Coca-Cola. Lupe’s like, “Wait a second!” and opens up the trunk to find a spare tire and jack and everything. She’s like, “You said there was no spare!” and Jess smiles and says, “No, I said I needed to go get something to fix it” and hands each of them a Coke. These butches repair the car in a jiffy, and soon enough, Esti’s on the road home with her two dads.
Back at the Peaches’ house, Carson pulls the team together and gives them a pep talk. She says they’re down but they’re not out. Today was nuts but tomorrow they’ll focus. They might not have Jo anymore, but they have each other. And Carson’s not going anywhere. Just because Charlie came home doesn’t mean she’s abandoning her dreams or her team. Maybelle says they’re going to unravel those Sox! The only person who’s not interested in this pep talk is Shirley, who’s sitting upstairs on her bed reading the note Greta left Carson. She glares at Carson when she walks in, holding back tears, and says, “I know about you.” So many lesbian letters floating around out here! Just super super gay gay gay lesbian letters! Which just goes to show you, even when it’s dangerous, queer women cannot stop their feelings from bursting out of them!
Max decides to make nice with Esther before the game. She apologizes for hurling that ball through the factory and says she’s mostly just upset at herself. She knows Esther will get it, so she explains how she’s been practicing her whole life to be a pitcher. She’s been begging anyone and everyone for a shot, and that’s what she got. One shot. Kind of. Like maybe 10% of a shot that she had to pay for out of her own pocket. And she choked. A lifetime of dreams crushed in five pitches. She knows that’s it for her. She’s a Black woman. She worked ten times as hard and got a fraction of the chance and that’s all there’s going to be. She gives Esther some tips for pitching to the Screws, and also her phone number, in case the All-Stars ever swing back through town.
And oh, Esther is a marvel on the mound. She smirks and sits the Screws down one-by-one. Late in the game, Red Wright himself trots out to the mound and whispers in Esther’s ear that it’s time to start pitching to hit. That’s the way these things work. The All-Stars get a bigger cut of the game’s ticket sales if they throw it in the end and let the home team win. Max is furious just thinking about it. She scowls out at the field where Esther’s winding up — but oh! Shoot! She’s tweaked her arm! She can’t pitch anymore! The All-Stars only have nine players; it looks like they’ll have to forfeit. Until Esther turns toward the stands and points at Max. She tells Red to put her in. She’s seen Max throw exactly one baseball, but something in her gut is telling her Max has what it takes. It’s a really cool reversal of that scene where Carson brings the pie to Max at the factory, and Clance is like, “Why is that white woman smiling at you? Do not go ANYWHERE with that white woman.” This time, Clance is like, “Is Esther pointing at you? Why is she pointing at you? Go. Go out there. Go pitch!”
They have the sweetest moment before Max finally runs onto the field, where Clance tells Max she believes in her and she’s got what it takes to be a star. And Max tells Clance the same, that her comics are brilliant — because, yeah, obviously Max peeked into her sketchbook! — and it doesn’t matter about her insecurities or what the neighborhood kids say. It doesn’t matter that it’s not in color. Lieutenant Victory is the hero Guy needs; heck, the hero we all need. They jump up down and hug each other and Max walks out onto the field. Red fires a ball off at Max’s head and she catches it, Geena Davis-style, with one bare hand. LET’S GO!!!!
When Esther hands Max her glove, I screamed THIS IS THE MOST ROMANTIC THING I HAVE EVER SEEN at my TV — and also Viola Davis’ 2015 Emmy speech, which had been banging around in my head this whole series, broke through full blast: “In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful, white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line. That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800s. And let me tell you something, the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” Max knows that. Esther knows that. And so Esther puts her whole self on the line, to give Max an actual opportunity. Team rules are pitch to hit, Esther says, but, well, Max isn’t on the team, so the rules don’t apply to her.
Max steps up to the mound, in her loafers and jeans and blouse, takes a deep breath, and pitches a no-hitter for the rest of the game, sitting the Screws back down on their bench, over and over and over. The crowd can’t believe it! The All-Stars can’t believe it! The Screws can’t believe it! Clance and Max and Esther, though? Oh, they can believe it all right. Clance never stopped believing it. Everyone in the bleachers rushes the field when Max ends the ninth inning with a strikeout, Clance leading the pack.
There’s a cookout in the factory parking lot after the game. Esther and Max sneak off to talk and flirt and drink beer and steal one sweet kiss. Well, sexy-sweet. Max does grab Esther by the front of her unbuttoned baseball jersey. (Gulp!) Red finds the two Aces hiding out together and offers Max a pitching job. She says absolutely not, she would never do that to Esther, but Red says no, he means: Come on the road with them and he’ll sell Max and Esther as a double feature. Max is so stunned she can’t even speak, and then finally yells “YES! TAKE ME! NOW!” She’s not even embarrassed; the last 24 hours have been the best of her entire life. She wonders aloud to Esther why she risked everything for her, and Esther says, at first, she was, of course, afraid that Max could take everything from her. But then she realized: “You’re not the one doing the taking.”
Max Chapman has always known what she wants. Now she knows who she is — and, for the first time in her life, she’s not afraid of it.
Every episode of A League of Their Own is streaming on Prime Video. Editor in Chief Carmen Phillips will be back with your season finale recap tomorrow!