Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Instant Feedback: The Shrieks

Believe in the heroes
Photo Credit: WWE.com
The Shield and Brooklyn were already intimately tied together before tonight's RAW. Their first match as a unit took place at the Barclays Center at TLC '12, a show where they were granted instant credibility and showed the world a taste of what they would provide as a three-man unit for the next 16 months. Their coming-out party, so to speak, happened in front of WWE's modern New York City home, and in a way, they represented a paradigm shift in the company.

Group-play has never been a consistent strength in WWE's history. For every Hart Foundation v. 2.0 or Evolution, it presented long droughts without any strong stable. While NWA and WCW always had a group of gangs battling for turf to fall back upon (which is why War Games as Atlanta/Carolina's signature match made so much sense), WWE's identity as a battleground of icons and iconoclasts suited it just fine (which is why the Rumble being its signature match was perfect).

But when The Shield came along, they redefined what being a group in WWE meant. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose weren't just three existing singles wrestlers coming together for a temporary goal. They debuted as a unit, and outside of a hiccup in the summer or that awful tease of breaking up before the current galvanization took hold, they have stayed the course and forced WWE to become a company that accepted units just the same as it did the solo warriors, a long way from what I thought the purpose of the group would be at least. Admittedly, I didn't believe in The Shield at first, and I thought Reigns was just a throw-in on the way to introducing Rollins and Ambrose.

Anyway, regardless of how they got to this point, The Shield finds itself in a new role. For as much as they have redefined what being a group in WWE means, they have only done half the job. When the longest lasting and most effective group of babyfaces to band together happened to top out at two and only be served as a set up implosion for WrestleMania V, then WWE might rightly be diagnosed with having a crop of heroes with major trust issues.

The black hats don't need The Hounds of Justice anymore. They have the Wyatts to have and hold and call George, and boy, are they doing a wonderfully creepy job at ruling the roost. If I didn't fall in love with the sight of the lamb mask, the sight of John Cena hung up in the ropes wearing Erick Rowan's favorite plaything might have given me nightmares. But the Wyatts, though they've executed on the template in their own way, were given rise to by The Shield. One could argue if they were the first marauders to band together and invade the main hunting grounds that they might have been just as successful.

Regardless, The Shield is now needed to catch lightning in a bottle a second time. They have to innovate the face stable, and from the looks of their beginning, they are off to just as swimming a start as they were as rudos. Reigns broke out first because WWE crowds tend to be attracted to handsome, statuesque brutes who look like they may not know this whole thing is a work. I've seen enough Reigns' spears to question whether he holds back enough on impact. Rollins followed by taking the Jeff Hardy-bump-and-highspot formula and putting a distinct punk rock spin on the whole thing.

The lynchpin is and always has been Ambrose, a man who made his bones in the indies as the kind of guy who'd make Heath Ledger's Joker look balanced and stable. He is one of two people who haven't headlined Mania yet on WWE's roster whom I think can do it as a heel (the other being Damien Sandow, and boy don't get me started on how the company's fucking him up right now), but when he channels that manic energy into playing the crowd to be on his side, it's surreal. Tonight, he showed that he can morph from Piper or the Ledger Joker into something cool, mysterious. He showed that his upside is that he can be WWE's James Dean.

The way he flicked the sweat out of his hair and jawed as he bailed from the ring to meet the Real Americans on the ramp was perhaps the coolest thing I've seen in WWE in a long while. Not cool as in "Holy crap, that was awesome," but cool in the classic, Arthur Fonzarelli sense. Then he followed it up by being the best Ricky Morton he could be in the ring. He found the niche that he could occupy, evolve, and embrace.

Their reward for this evolution has been almost immediate. In the same building where they threw down the gauntlet and shouted "THIS IS OUR YARD, MOTHERFUCKERS," they were rewarded with the raucous, arena-thundering cheers that the most hotly-anticipated wrestlers get. Of course, Brooklyn gets the rep as one of those cities, where crowds often embrace the superstars contrary to what WWE wants them to embrace. But the most telling aspect of their reception was the number of shrieks that they received.

The shrieks come from the women, not all the women (I don't wanna stereotype), but the casual fan women who come to shows for whatever reason and tend to cheer for John Cena. The Shield got those people to cheer for them on top of the jackasses like you and me who were supporting them long before it was cool. When a reaction is so overarching that it can be discerned in a crowd that often gives false positives vis a vis the rest of the WWE Universe, then you know that it represents a shift in direction.

WWE has to see that writing on the wall in order to evolve its narrative. I still have the sinking suspicion that this new reenergization of the group is only setting up for a swerve where one of them - namely Ambrose - turns. However, all three proved that they are up for the task of innovating yet another area of WWE match and character structure. They are ready to chart the uncharted once more. When a company has an act that special, it needs to realize that it can't break it up for cheap pops. The Shield is something to be evolved and tweaked over the years. They've earned the shrieks. They're golden.