Thursday, March 2, 2017

Learning to Live With Smackdown

Some Vipers just wanna watch the world burn
Photo Credit:
This was a really weird episode of Smackdown. I still don't really understand many of the structure or narrative choices that were made. It wasn't the worst two hours of television I've ever sat through, but it was confusing on many levels. So that's mainly what I'm learning to live with this week: all the weirdness.

Weirdness #1 – Tearing Up a Perfectly Good Foundation to Lay a New One 
Last week I said that I wouldn't have had Maryse directly involve herself in Nikki Bella and Natalya's match, and I still stand by that, but I actually did like her getting repeatedly caught in their crossfire. It was a shockingly subtle (by WWE standards) and fluid way to transition to a new feud. This week I expected Maryse and Bella to finally get things started for their rumoured mixed tag match at WrestleMania. That is not what happened. In fact, the previous weeks' worth of build-up weren't mentioned at all. Instead, things were entirely turned over to the Miz and John Cena to make things all about them, with Maryse and Bella only getting involved on their significant others' behalf. Um, what the hell is this? If this was just going to come down to Miz and Cena yelling at each other, what was even the point of throwing a wrench into Bella's match with Natalya last week? Speaking of which, she's just completely fine with having lost what was routinely billed as the most personal feud on the show? We're not going to address that at all?

Miz and Cena obviously have the higher profiles and I can certainly understand wanting to build the conflict around them, but then why begin it with the women if all that groundwork was just going to be thrown straight out the window? I hugely resent switching gears to make this all about the men. There's no reason why all four of them can't have an equal stake and make it into a fun match for everyone. Also the menfolk's little chit chat took over 20 minutes on a show that only featured three matches, so let's keep this shit short and sweet in the future, shall we?

Weirdness #2 – The Third Fall
Commentary kept telling us that Becky Lynch requested her two-out-of-three-falls match against Mickie James, which was weird to start with because why on earth would anyone request a two-out-of-three-falls match? They're the worst. Irritating stipulation aside, the wrestling was still good because of course it was with these two women. James in particular keeps impressing me. They split the first two wins, as expected, and then I settled in to enjoy a lengthy third portion of the match...except then it was over in about a minute with way too many things happening in quick succession. Alexa Bliss came down to the ring, then she distracted the ref while Lynch had James pinned, then James accidentally clocked Bliss, and then Lynch made James tap. I didn't have time to process anything and I felt robbed of what should have been an enjoyable culmination of the match. Again, there were only three matches on this show and two of them prominently featured interference of some sort. That doesn't make for a very satisfying viewing experience.

Weirdness #3 – My Emotions?
“” That's literally what I said after the Luke Harper vs. AJ Styles match ended. It was the best of times; it was the most confusing of times. First, the best: the actual wrestling was fantastic. I wasn't disappointed after weeks of anticipating seeing these two go one-on-one. Harper has this great unexpected quality to his offence, like you're never really sure what he's going to do. And everything he does hits HARD. Harper as this kind of unsettling, suddenly forceful presence was also showcased at the beginning of the show when he loomed behind Styles but didn't attack him, and then briefly but sincerely thanked Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan for the upcoming match. I love that no one really knows what to make of him. Anyway, back to the match. Styles played off Harper well, too, constantly having to adapt and think fast. Harper is huge but also intelligent, and Styles sold what a terrifying opponent that makes him. I also loved that the crowd was still digging Harper. Styles is as universally beloved a performer as you're likely to find, but at times it sounded like the entire audience was chanting for both of them equally. Unlikely People's Champion Luke Harper is the best thing.

And now the confusing: after starting off the show with McMahon and Bryan shrugging off the draw last week and bemoaning the fact that obviously no other angles exist other than the worst one (really, guys?) and agreeing that the ref's decision sticks NO MATTER WHAT, McMahon suddenly decided that actually the ref's decision is always open to question. After Styles won while Harper's foot was clearly on the ropes, McMahon made them restart the match. Really, Shane? Really with this? THAT you were able to see clearly? THIS is the wrong you're going to rectify? Anyway, Styles ended up winning again, and I don't know how I feel.

Obviously Styles vs. Bray Wyatt is a thing I would like to see, but I was so dead set on Harper getting that match I can't help but be disappointed. And now, of course, given the end of the show, the Randy Orton factor has to be taken into account, and who knows how that's going to work? And then adding McMahon to the mix immediately sent my stress levels skyrocketing and they haven't come down since because so much is still up in the air and I cannot emphasize enough how much I DO. NOT. WANT the rumoured Styles vs. McMahon match at WrestleMania. And where does this leave my beloved Luke Harper? Surely they won't just leave him twisting in the wind? Normally, I might enjoy the uncertainty and watching the pieces fall into place, but mostly I'm just anxiously biting my nails and fighting a sense of foreboding.

I don't know. Ultimately this match just made me feel like even when I get nice things I still can't have nice things.

Weirdness #4 – This is Still Happening For Some Reason
On a show that, ONCE AGAIN, only featured three matches (Dean Ambrose's quick disposal of Curt Hawkins not counting) the third involved Apollo Crews and Dolph Ziggler still dutifully treading water. It was a chairs match, which would seem to make sense because chairs have featured so heavily in their altercations thus far...except the chairs have mostly been used by Ziggler, so giving him EVEN MORE CHAIRS to use is really just giving him the upper hand. Good job punishing your shitty employees once again, Daniel Bryan. The match started off on a weird note when Crews attacked Ziggler from behind during his entrance...because Crews is such a good guy? The match was fine, with a lot of bashing with chairs and both men zinging all over the place, if you like that kind of thing. I do like that kind of thing, but it was hard to enjoy it much. Nobody knows who they're supposed to cheer for, Kalisto has apparently vanished, and Ziggler ended up winning, so he still hasn't got his comeuppance for...whatever this is about. I think it's about Dolph Ziggler wanting to protect his spot as King Ruiner of Ruin Mountain? Anyway I'm super glad we had time for this but nothing for the Tag Division.

Weirdness #5 – A Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal
I'm glad I give myself a day to think things over before I write up these reviews because sometimes my opinions drastically change. My initial reaction to Randy Orton setting his allegiance to Bray Wyatt ablaze wasn't that favourable. Now, I LOVE adding melodramatic stuff like that to my wrestling, and I love any glance into the Wyatt Family mythos, and I love someone trying to break Bray Wyatt by severing his connection to Sister Abigail. That's all great. It's just that I really, really don't like Randy Orton, I never have, and I resented him getting to be a part of this cool shit. I can tolerate the guy when he cares enough to put on a good wrestling match, and he's been shockingly clutch since joining the Family, but that doesn't change the fact that his expression and tone of voice have not altered at all as he's moved from fighting Wyatt to joining him to betraying him. Dude has the worst range, and then they handed him this swath of macabre dialogue to deliver. As he droned on and on about graves and death and the old ultraviolence, I just kept thinking about how much more rewarding it would have been if Harper had been the one to deliver this ultimate betrayal. I hated that it was this guy who's only been in the club for like two minutes getting to play the starring role in its downfall.

I was super wrong, though. I mean, I was right about Orton's performance evaluation. He is terrible at acting (though the visual of him posing against the flames was pretty cool), but I was wrong about resenting his place in the narrative. This shows perfectly that Bray Wyatt got too big for his godlike boots. He was too high on thinking that he and he alone had finally tamed Orton. Of course it was obvious to all of us that Orton was never sincere, but Wyatt wanted so badly to believe that he was, to prove that he could manipulate anyone into doing anything, that he ignored all the obvious signs. He ignored Harper's warnings and pushed him away, which only made him cling more dangerously to Orton. It had to be an outsider who would literally tear apart the foundations of the Wyatt Family because that's the most effective way for Wyatt to learn a very bitter lesson in humility. Plus, this still leaves the door open for Harper to be all, “I told you so” and then Wyatt can apologize profusely and then they can get revenge together and then they can build a new clubhouse together and then everything will be all right and nothing will hurt anymore.

Also, A++ work from Bray Wyatt selling the absolute hell out of his anguish and rage. He may be an evil swamp wizard cult leader, but I've never wanted to just give someone a hug more in my life. actually the weirdness of this bit is pretty minimal. It's just the timing that I take issue with. Why reveal Orton's hand now, just two weeks after declaring that he wouldn't fight Wyatt for the title? Why not wait to see what happens at or after WrestleMania? Also the camera work during this whole segment was super weird. During Orton's ominous speechifying we kept cutting to prolonged closeups of the grave like, “Ooooh, do you see all the worms? There are worms in there! Look at all the WORMS in the DIRT, DO YOU SEE THEM?” Yeah, dude, we see them, can you please chill? And then during the fire aftermath they kept doing super quick cuts between Orton and Wyatt's faces to the point that I actually felt dizzy and nothing was allowed to breathe.

And All the Rest...
There were non-weird developments on the show, too, so I'll just make brief note of them.

It looks like Natalya is stepping in to challenge Alexa Bliss for the Women's Championship, and I'm completely fine with that. Also Bliss continued to slay me with her facial expressions and line delivery. I love Naomi, but how am I not supposed to laugh while Bliss faux-tearfully thanks her for having “awful knees and terrible coordination?”

I'm also surprisingly into Dean Ambrose and Baron Corbin's burgeoning rivalry. I feel like Ambrose's irreverence will work really well against Corbin as the guy in your creative writing class who is in deathly earnest about his shitty metaphors. “You're like a SPEEDBUMP in the ROAD...but also a see, they are both things I will RUN OVER!” Oh, honey.