Monday, February 23, 2015

Instant Feedback: Bryan Used Helping Hand

It's not the dynamic WWE deserves, but it's the dynamic that WWE needs
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WWE has had a habit of pushing Daniel Bryan into unnatural directions, especially as a hero. Of course, the company's best good guys can be punishing dicks, and tomes have been written about its abandonment of the babyface ethic as known to traditional fans. However, the dickery around Bryan's character development has always felt wronger because of what he represented and how WWE decided to ram his square body into the round, Austin-shaped hole. He was always too beautiful to be a rebellious antihero, and when given the same mantel as Steve Austin or The Rock, that beauty warped into a plasticine caricature, every bit as puerile and self-entitled as a spoiled toddler.

Bryan's sweet spot has always been as a ragtag underdog, embracing qualities such as honesty and earnestness. He may not have had looked the part of an A-plus player, but every opponent who tried to disprove his pedigree was met with a hyperextended arm or a knee-sized welt in the face. That ethos never had much of a chance to bubble to the surface, because as soon as Bryan was chosen for duty as the main foil of the Authority's chosen scion Randy Orton, he was placed in verbal tete-a-tete with Stephanie McMahon, and when casual misogyny is passed off as legitimate narrative commentary, then no one wins, especially not the one spewing it.

Funny how things work out, however, as Bryan finally was able to unleash his inner '69 Mets, and it was as a burnt offering to the Altar of Reigns. At Fast Lane, he laid down the Solid Knee Plus, as Roman Reigns was the first wrestler I can think of to kick out of the move that even put down John goddamn Cena. Tonight, he threw his words on the fire, which I'm sure rankled a good bit of the people already sick of the perceived overpush to the statuesque heir apparent to the throne. But it worked to a point. Pairing Bryan and Reigns together may not be the worst idea, even if the endgame isn't a knife in the back from one to the other (most logically, Bryan is the one stabbing in this scenario).

Friendship should be one of the most good guy things out there. In WWE parlance, that has almost never been the case, but fans seem bored, almost at the brink of revolt against what "has worked" in WWE historically. They may not be receptive to the idea of Mega Powers 2K15 right now, but the thing about Bryan isn't so much that he's an overnight sensation as he's a product of a long journey. He didn't end up in the main event of WrestleMania XXX because the his base just found out about him as the new hotness and demanded change.

His most ardent fans were there from the moment he was on Memphis television, feuding with William Regal. Each stop he made along the way let on new fans. Ring of Honor. Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. Japan. England. When he got to NXT, he was arguably the only guy other than Wade Barrett who was over despite being given the shittiest draw, and even when he was enhancing Sin Cara on a week to week basis, his train kept swelling with new passengers. Everything about his career has been about patience, so what's a month to let him be Reigns' hype man and get him ready for Mania?

Bryan's antagonism and uneasy friendship has been a humanizing quality for Reigns, and the more the former is able to convey his feelings, the more the latter will benefit from it, even if he continues to vacillate between two facial expressions that are the same in essence. In the same vein, Reigns, the emotionless slab of granite he is, was able to bring out a sense of earnestness and honesty from Bryan. When he described the boos and the haters and how much he was with them before Fast Lane, Bryan was almost imbued with the spirit of the Holy Dust. If Reigns' true value in the WWE narrative is to bring out the Best Possible Bryan, then he should have a roster spot for life.

But will bringing out the best in another wrestler be enough for him to be able to headline WrestleMania? When left to spar with Paul Heyman alone, Reigns acquitted himself remarkably well for someone who was taking Vince McMahon-written fractured fairy tales and turning them into even ranker compost only two months prior. Hope exists on that front, but is it too little, too late? The next five weeks are going to be long, because WrestleMania season always feels like the most arduous journey between special events.

But at least Reigns should have an able sherpa by his side. It's not the role that many want for Bryan right now, but it's the role that WWE needs for him if McMahon's tunnel vision can't be overcome by anyone else in his inner circle. While a results-oriented point of view may be disappointed this Mania season, at least the artistic-oriented POV can have some satisfaction if things play out the way they did tonight.