Thursday, December 1, 2016

REVIEW: 'Pitch' - Speculation Over Mike's Future Leads to a Close Moment with Ginny in 'Scratched'

FOX's Pitch - Episode 1.09 "Scratched"

Mike becomes the biggest news story in the MLB when rumors start about him waiving his no-trade clause. Evelyn and Will go in on a business venture together, but Amelia is concerned that it relies too heavily on Ginny's fame.

Television has struggled for decades in maintaining male-female platonic dynamics for its lead characters. Just because a show features a man and woman in the lead roles doesn't mean they need to be forced into a will they?/won't they? situation. It's a predictable storytelling pattern. Mike and Ginny's dynamic on Pitch so far has been fantastic because the show hasn't leaned too far into the romantic conventions. They are unquestionably the leads of the show. Both of them are complex characters that have had such fascinating story arcs this season. They both exist as characters. That's the first thing that needs to be done before any relationship can actually feel real. The two characters have to exist beyond that simple dynamic. Pitch has done that. And yet, the question now arises: should the series put Mike and Ginny together romantically? I genuinely don't know if they should. The two of them have worked so well as mentor and mentee. "Scratched" is one of the strongest episodes of the series so far not because of romance but because of the suspense over whether Mike will be traded. And yet, it still builds to that almost kiss between Ginny and Mike which will more than likely be the core source of tension in next week's finale.

A Ginny-Mike romance could work as well. It's not surprising at all that the show just tries to see what would happen. It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense right now. It does feel forced as well to make things tantalizing and scandalous at the end of the season. It's easy to understand how Mike might love Ginny. He has spent so much time with her. He's struggled with love his entire life. He's in love with the sport. Baseball ruined his marriage and his relationship with Amelia. But Ginny gets all of it. She understands just how grueling and important the sport really is. Plus, Mike is at the end of his career. He's looking back at a life lived filled with regret and uncertainty about his choices. Last week saw him fully admit that Ginny is a beautiful woman. It's a romance that works from his side of the equation. It gets more complicated when looking at things from Ginny's perspective. The show has struggled a little bit by making her too naive about the ins and outs of the sport. She has become an audience surrogate in a lot of ways even though it doesn't always make sense for her. And now, the show is propping up a love triangle for her. A cute tech billionaire asks her on a date. It's a nice date but she still chooses to run to Mike instead. They are close. She has relied on him so much during this transition to the majors. But does that translate to romantic feelings for him? It's unclear. The show suggests it does but it doesn't really feel like it. So, the final twist doesn't work as well as the show probably wants.

But again, this is a strong episode of Pitch for reasons having nothing to do with Ginny and Mike's relationship. It's genuinely stressful thinking about Mike being traded to the Chicago Cubs. He has waived his no-trade clause. He may be leaving San Diego. Charlie and Oscar are the only ones who actually know the truth. They are the ones working on the deal. Mike is a legend in the city. But he's on his way out. The team already seems to have his replacement with Livan. With Livan and Ginny, the Padres have started forming a World Series winning team. They no longer need Mike as much as they used to. That feeling has stirred inside Mike. It's enough for him to doubt just how much he needs this team. He isn't even talking with his teammates. He's not letting anyone in on what he's up to. He's all alone in this world even though he's in a stadium full of fans who adore him. It's a tough, emotional time for him. The show genuinely plays it both way. This could be an epic sendoff for Mike from a team who has loved him for many years or it could be a flame out that ends his career in the most disastrous way.

The show has relied less and less on the actual game of baseball to derive tension as the season has gone along. That's great because it allows more time for the characters and to highlight the behind-the-scenes world of the sport. And yet, baseball can be an intense and entertaining sport. All it takes is the right combination of events for everything to be dramatic. The average game doesn't mean much. But what may be Mike's final game for the Padres is so thrilling and intense. Oscar and Charlie want him to sit it out because of the trade deal. They wouldn't even be giving him a sendoff to honor all of his time with this team. That's the business side of the sport that detaches all kinds of emotional connections. But Mike does step into the game at the final last minute. It's the bottom of the ninth with two outs. It's a thrilling conclusion to what may be the end of Mike's career - in either baseball or with the Padres. He swings at the first two pitches. And then, the final one gets a special slow-motion sequence that watches the ball leave the pitcher and go straight to the plate. It's the same kind of shot that started Ginny's journey on the team. It's thematically strong with the parallel journeys they are on. But with Mike, it's a crushing defeat. It's not a celebration like Ginny's was. He doesn't even swing and the Padres lose the game. It's heart-breaking. But it's rousing as well because the entire stadium erupts into chants for Mike. It's a wonderful moment. And yet, it still barely gets any kind of reaction out of Mike.

Mike's not preparing to say goodbye to anyone. No one from the team expects him to leave. They all see it as outrageous rumors. But it is true. Ginny and Blip see that over time because their interactions with him have changed. Mike isn't being a mentor to Ginny and is already seeing Blip as the leader of this team. Mike is preparing for a future without him in it for the Padres. The team will survive without him. But will Mike survive without the team? It's clear that he needs people in his life to care about. And yet, he realizes that too late. He doesn't catch Blip in team to go get a beer together. So, the duty instead falls onto Ginny. She leaves her date for Mike. That's a big deal for her to do. That closing moment between them may be his way of saying goodbye as well. She's the only person who he wants to be close to during this uncertain time. He almost kisses her as a way to avoid having any regrets. But then, the call comes in saying the deal has fallen apart. It's not a surprising outcome. Mike wouldn't actually leave the show. And yet, that never took away from the power and uncertainty of this story. Yes, the show still has a precarious question left to answer about the future of Mike and Ginny. It won't be able to just ignore this moment between them. But should the show go all in on them as a couple? Or should it back away saying that right now they are just too broke and damaged as individuals to make it work right now?

Some more thoughts:
  • "Scratched" was written by Tanner Bean & Katrina Mathewson and directed by Zetna Fuentes.
  • This is the first episode of the series that doesn't have flashbacks. That framing device has gotten so annoying over the course of the season. It's absence here is noticeable but it also helps the other stories have the time to reach their full potential.
  • Evelyn and Will are seriously going into business together and have already made a lot of progress. Ginny is supportive while Amelia is not. But by the end of the episode, Evelyn is already worried about her investment because Will seems to be doing his own thing without telling her about it. He just may be too reckless to take seriously.
  • Amelia doesn't like to apologize because it accomplishes nothing from a business perspective. And yet, she listens to Elliot's advice. Plus, it probably worked because Evelyn reaches out in the end because of her doubts about Will.
  • Oscar's secret relationship with Al's daughter is already revealed. That story is a little clunky. But she does get the two of them to talk again about their shared problems. They both respect each other and just need her to remind them. Of course, she's also leaving the country. So ultimately, both of them are bummed about that.
  • Al and Buck want Mike to stay because he's a good influence on the entire team. He has proven to be a great mentor to both Ginny and Livan. Without him, the Padres may have a serious problem with how cocky Livan really is.
  • The sexual chemistry between Mike and Ginny has always been apparent. Plus, their witty banter together is just great. Ginny teasing Mike while he's warming up is a great scene. So is their conversation at the bar on how annoying each other is.