“Good vs. Great” is the title of this week's Young Rock episode, and we return to Dwayne Johnson's days at the University of Miami, where he hopes to push forward in his quest to play in the NFL. Unfortunately for Johnson, he is facing off against future NFL greats Warren Sapp and Ray Lewis for a place in the starting line-up and fears his insane work ethic and will won't be enough to better the lives of himself and his family. More so than any other episode, “Good vs. Great” forces you to feel a great deal of sympathy for Dwayne Johnson, as he endures the hard realities of life in a fascinating, emotional, and inspiring episode of Young Rock.
The episode returns with the familiar opening of a sit-down interview between Randall Park and Presidential candidate Johnson. It's yet another strong opening featuring the charismatic duo, but more importantly, it sets up the superstar taking us back to his days on the gridiron as he discusses his all-in mentality. The episode quickly establishes that young Johnson has now found the blood and sweat level work ethic that he proudly showcases to the world to this day, but also, the story quickly explains, partly thanks to Johnson's narration, how this is still not enough to break into the starting line-up. It's this internal and external battle that young Johnson faces throughout this entire episode, and Uli Latukefu beautifully showcases this through another brilliant performance as the young Miami swagger fuelled Johnson.
Out of all three young Rocks, Latukefu has arguably the most challenging task as he portrays the version of Johnson where fans expect to see more of the present-day Johnson presentation, both in terms of his physique and personality. The great training montages add a wonderful motivational quality to the episode, and Latukefu's impressive physique makes it feel like we are watching a young DJ “clanging and banging.” Equally, the actor's charisma in the trash talk department is spot on, and even more than embodying the key characteristics of The Rock, Latukefu brings that little bit extra… emotion. In the middle of the training and locker room talk, Johnson is hit with set back after set back, and through incredible facials, such as when Johnson is dismissed by a high-profile sports agent, Latukefu makes your heart break. He shows a vulnerability fans rarely see from the former WWE Champion. It's a beautiful performance that makes you understand why Johnson chose this young man to portray his younger self.
The constant emotional struggle we see Johnson endure in this episode is still accompanied by wonderful comedic moments. This is perfectly highlighted in the show-stealing scene that shows Lia Maivia giving “Dewey” a pep talk as they watch Rocky Johnson train aspiring wrestlers. Before and after audiences see Lia and Johnson's heart-warming and powerful conversation, we witness ‘The Soulman's' hilarious interactions with a trainee that's clearly in over his head about being a wrestler. However, minutes later, we're caught up in an emotionally gripping talk that sees Lia beautifully compare Johnson to his grandfather, and hit home the series' most impactful line yet: “Life is tough, but you must be tougher.” In addition to the wonderful balance of heart and humour, the scene's setting symbolically foreshadows Johnson's action-packed future.
“Good vs. Great's” playbook is almost flawless, but it does play with one or two ideas that don't quite come off as well as the creative team may have hoped, such as the use of Johnson's real football footage. Although one can see why the team went with the idea to mix real-life footage of Johnson's University of Miami games with the show's recreation, the clear discrepancy between the real-life and fictional footage, unfortunately, makes it distracting as opposed to engaging. However, this is a small blip in an otherwise brilliant episode.
Episode 10 of Young Rock works on almost every level, but perhaps more than anything, it allows audiences to see that even when we put our all into something in life, sometimes we still fall short. Seeing that lesson through the life of someone like Johnson makes the message even more impactful, and it ultimately humanises the Hollywood star even more to his “millions and millions” of fans. Plus, if that was not enough, this week's tale introduces us to the famous “Know your role and shut your mouth” catchphrase. Young Rock episode 10 could have easily been a fitting season finale, but it's not, so here's hoping next week's episode brings the season to a close in “electrifying” fashion.
Young Rock is created by Dwayne ‘The Rock' Johnson and Nahnatchka Khan, and it airs on Tuesdays on NBC.