Amazon Prime’s All or Nothing continues its player vignettes through episode four and the early part of episode five, as the game footage becomes meaningless filler. A few new faces grace the screen, and there is an unfortunate emphasis on Nick Foligno that is a useful allegory of an organization not having the nimbleness of mind or the organizational structure to realize they should have cut that bit, even if they did get Mike Foligno and Wendel Clark to film the segment. It calls to mind the Leafs hapless power play, allowed to go on forever as it was because no one had the courage to toss it in the trash.
There are some entertaining bits in lieu of anything like a plot in episode four, with one tale, told with deadpan humour where the coffee snobs on the team have contrived a system to take their extravagances on the road. Morgan Rielly, appearing in his first meaningful scenes, does a great comic turn as the man disgusted by all this excess. Jack Campbell adds just the right note of prissiness as the guy who is fine with Tims.
Joe Thornton does a spontaneous act in game where he makes a mockery of Nik Ehlers and NHL refereeing over the way they call penalties based on reaction of the victim, not action of the perpetrator. He’s relentlessly, cheerfully a total asshole to everyone, in a way only a (former) star can be. Wayne Simmonds in an early episode screams “do something then” repeatedly at complaining refs in another example of veterans privilege.
All of that is a delay of the inevitable, as the stretch drive actually was. Episode five brings the playoffs. Because they fit in one episode, you see, that’s the beauty of a short run.
The finale starts with a charming scene of John Tavares and his family in a park. And then it’s very quickly on to Game One. I want to pause this recounting of a show that tries to recount reality and go back in time to when it was all live in my living room in living colour.
When John Tavares went down, I just sat there hands over my mouth in that strange human signal of profound shock and distress, feeling surrounded by these horrible images. I was stunned, shocked, and, as the scenes of his physical reactions and the stretcher coming out played out in that dreadful silence, I was upset, yes, frightened, and horrified, but not so much that when it came to it I couldn’t write the article the we needed to get up on the site. It was published before the game even ended.
As we learned at the time, Tavares went home from the hospital that night, and he was not as badly injured as his response to the initial brain trauma made it seem. I was aware in advance that the scenes of Tavares’s injury in All or Nothing were more vivid than the original broadcast, and yet, there I was sobbing away watching it all again. I’d felt nothing much watching this entire show until that moment.
This show takes reality, curates which bits of it to reveal, applies narration and retroactive explanations, and presents it to fans who take these bits and make their own narratives about what it all means. Here’s me doing that, and you doing that in response to me, and the whole thing starts to feel dirty in the context of the world we live in where group fictions can bring about insurrections, death and despair.
The second Tavares goes down, the layers of fantasy that overlay reality in sports start to fall away. The game stops, the team identities fracture, and the most moving thing to me at the time and on rewatch is when a voice (I think it’s Nick Foligno) calls out, “Come on, boys,” and it isn’t just Corey Perry who goes to help get the doctors and the stretcher onto the ice, it’s all of the Habs.
Kyle Dubas’s frantic run down the stairs is shown, and he talks over it about being worried about Tavares’s family watching this on TV, and at the time Dubas sitting in the hospital with Ilya Mikheyev in New Jersey, not leaving him alone came to mind, and I felt this deep level of comfort knowing he had this. Dubas annoys me no end in this show, most deeply in scenes yet to come, but when you start peeling away the bullshit, and get down to real humanity, he’s a guy who understands what’s important.
The show must go on, however. The circus world of professional sports has to get stitched back together, so Nick Foligno negotiates a token fight with Corey Perry, who seems as emotionally devastated as any Maple Leaf. They do it, life goes on, and for this one time no one is worried that the Leafs show no ability to overcome adversity as they lose the game.
The show cuts to a feature on Jason Spezza, which is a wise move, but his delightful parents are the last pleasant interlude in what is to come, with the possible exception of John Tavares, training fairly seriously before it’s all over. He really was fine. He obviously is now. It’s still very hard to watch Wayne Simmonds pleading with him to not move while he’s down on the ice.
I remember the playoffs in a way that you can’t put on film in a show like this. The games stretch out in length, with moments you ignore in game 47 of the regular season suddenly having crushing import. A period of Leafiness is ominous and worrying, not something you shrug off, and the game footage in this show becomes false and intrusive. I think this series fails most at that aspect, and with the tarped-over empty seats which show up more from their camera angle, it starts to look like guys hanging out at practice. The circus is absurd in an empty tent.
I’m going to skip the ups and downs and take you right to the heart of the show, the Leafs, the season, all of it. The intermission speech before the overtime in game six where Keefe isn’t stirring. It reads that way, I discovered when I turned off the sound, and used the captions, but in tone he’s begging and pleading with the team to play a game where they put it all on the ice, where they maintain body position, control the puck and pressure offensively. It’s not ”once more unto the breach.” It’s “please, please, please, let me get what I want, this time.” Jason Spezza takes the floor in game seven, and King Henry has finally arrived when Spezza, eyes glowing with the fervour of the old man he is in this world, tells them to go out there and dig in for 20 minutes. I turned up the speed on my treadmill, but King Henry isn’t enough, and it ends the way we knew it would. Then and now.
Back up a little, to before game 7, and there’s a scene with Keefe and the coaching staff, and you see Paul MacLean, the coaching advisor, seemingly at a loss as to what Keefe can say to Matthews and Marner. “They’ve got to help themselves... somehow.” That same sense of powerlessness in the face of whatever ails the Leafs — we’ll never find out on Amazon Prime — pervades the ending of this show. There is no villain in this story, only victims of fate.
Morgan Rielly appears again in the aftermath scenes, and he says, “Time has a way of, you know, passing you by, where you look up at the clock and you’re curious as to where the game went.”
This is where you should stop the show, should you choose to ever watch it. That is the epitaph of so many hockey games and careers and lives, and I guess that’s the thing the young stars don’t understand. That’s the reason MacLean is baffled, Keefe is baffled, and if it isn’t as simple as youth, well that doesn’t bear thinking about.
The show doesn’t end there, and I’m surprised such a melancholy truth ever made it in. The end is Kyle Dubas and Sheldon Keefe reading aloud selections from “Aphorisms of Leadership: Inspirational Messages for a Secular World”. It’s the hollow clang of door closing on an empty room.
We get one last look at the magnet board to remind us the show must go on and the circus will be back next year.
For Morgan Rielly (and the rest of us):