21 Thunder: Fixed

I knew, prior to 21 Thunder‘s debut, there would be a lot of action on the soccer pitch as well as off. I envisioned the sexy times between players and girlfriends (and perhaps fans), a little painkiller addiction and coaching scuffles thrown in for good measure.

But 21 Thunder has been so much more than that. It’s a complex interweaving of stories where some are kind of what I expected. Others have been a total shock, like Guy, the thrice-mortgaged referee who, at the beginning of Monday’s new episode “Fixed,” opened his front door to reveal an envelope full of cash on his stoop. The story, involving Thunder’s team intern Lara Yun, was a total departure from my expectations for 21 Thunder. I watch a lot of television, and I didn’t see the angle coming.

I chuckled when I tuned to the debut episode and was presented with Nolan’s gang member past. At the time it seemed cheesy and over-the-top, an unnecessary character trait added to a guy that seemed engaging enough. I was wrong about that too; that backstory was integral to what’s quickly turned out to be one hell of a back and forth between Nolan and Declan. Colm Feore is a damned national treasure and can do nothing wrong in my book, but RJ Fetherstonhaugh has been a revelation in the scenes he shares with Feore as son and father attempt to outwit the other in their prison visits.

This week’s scene at the prison between Declan and Nolan was particularly good. With Emma there to meet Declan, Nolan’s papa took the time to reminisce on his son’s childhood, connecting her with the elder Gallard and infuriating the younger one because of the guilt he feels over his mother’s death.

The drama hasn’t strayed too far from the pitch, however. “Fixed,” featured the Thunder matched up against the worst team in the league. Coach Rocas explained that meant the Vancouver team would be playing loose and with nothing to lose: a dangerous combination. Adding to the tension? The first-team coach was in attendance looking to poach talent. The match didn’t start out well; it appeared Guy was living up to the bribe when he nailed goalie Alex on a little-known—and almost never called—penalty. That, of course, lead to a Vancouver goal and a 3-0 hole by halftime. After Rocas and Nolan were tossed, it left Davey Gunn running the show. And, with some major help from Christy and Junior Lolo, it seemed the Thunder would win. Until that is, Guy blew the whistle ending game play just as Junior was closing in for this game-tying goal. Lara may have said this was a one and done game, but having $75,000 sitting in front of you is a sufficient enticement to keep the payoffs coming, especially with a desperate K pulling Declan into the whole mess.

The loss didn’t sit well with Christy, and she was going over game tape when a drunk Davey showed up at her home. He was looking for a roll in the hay but Christy’s mom had other plans: whiskey. Christy appreciated Davey tossing back booze and talking soccer with her mom; her mouth may have told him their night together was a one-time thing but her eyes were saying something else. (I wish more time was spent showing Davey and Mom getting drunk.) Christy followed up with Ana, expressing her concerns about Guy’s refereeing. Ana dismissed the allegations and doled out some advice: Christy needed to be more “active with the brand on social media.”

Finally, we got a little more insight into Junior’s brother, Gregoire. According to Mr. Bamba, he is “a very bad man.” At least, that’s what he told Fatima when she confronted Bamba and accused him of defrauding Junior of the $10,000. Turns out Bamba did find Gregoire and was the worse for it. He handed back the remaining $500 of that cash and told Fatima he was washing his hands of the whole thing.

I said off the top how pleasantly surprised I’ve been with 21 Thunder‘s first season. The writing is taut and the characters are anything but cookie-cutter; 21 Thunder has turned into my sleeper hit of the summer.

21 Thunder airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.