Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Don't Find A Star; Tell Me a Story

This betrayal shouldn't be permanent, but that would require better storytelling from WWE
Photo Credit: WWE.com
For a minute there, I lost myself in the idea that WWE realized it made a mistake splitting Big Cass from Enzo Amore last night and was going to dabble in unconventional storytelling. In reality, Amore had been holding Cass back, most glaringly with his attempts at cucking Rusev. No way in Hell was courting Lana with the hulking, irascible Bulgarian Brute in the background going to end up well for any party involved. Cass seeing that and acting to knock sense in to his friend would've been a refreshingly different angle, as, any good friend, not an enabler but a true friend, would have pulled Amore aside and smacked him upside his head in real life. Last week's apparent breakup as tough love would have been such a refreshing bit of character development for both members of the now fractured team. Amore could have learned a lesson, and Cass could have acted as a true good guy through the violent lens of pro wrestling customs and mores. Why talk things out when you can make the reconciliation happen through a wrestling match? When people like myself talk about the infinite possibilities of pro wrestling, this kind of situation is what the hubbub is all about.

Unfortunately, Cass confirmed his turn towards dickishness when he waited until reaching the top of the stage before ragdolling Amore once more for effect. Aside from the fact WWE has already used that mechanism to break up a friendship twice in NXT in the last two years, it presents a core flaw with WWE's approach to wrestling, and thus, with the person whose filter every story on the main roster runs through. WWE's attempts at presenting wrestling are more focused capitalistically instead of artistically. Who can make Vince McMahon the most money is the first question asked, not what is the best story to tell. Obviously, this philosophy isn't hard and fast, or more accurately, sometimes, the two focuses line up, like with Batista's chase of Triple H's World Heavyweight Championship into WrestleMania 21 or the accidental coronation of Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXX. However, McMahon will push a wrestler he thinks has a great look using either no story touch or a rote, uncreative one like breaking up a physically mismatched tag team where one guy has "it" according to McMahon and the other doesn't.

Which isn't to say that a clean-cut breakup angle isn't good in some situations. For example, Tommaso Ciampa turning on Johnny Gargano made plenty of sense, a ton of history, and extra emotional depth laid up to the last second, when Johnny Wrestling took a ladder to the jaw that was meant for his partner. But that was in service to a longer narrative, one that started when they first teamed and was set in motion during their tilt at the Cruiserweight Classic. In that instance, the basic story worked because it was laid richly in advance, and it doesn't appear that either one so transparently is going to have a furthered career in the service of being a draw. It also helps that it happened on NXT between two guys whose current ceilings without any further advocacy from Triple H is 205 Live.

The scenario is different with Cass and Amore, not that they haven't laid clues to their breakup. I mean, the narrative has always been that Enzo Amore is the weak link with a loud mouth. An actual, tangible breakup hasn't been readily apparent, unless one is ready to give McMahon and the WWE Writers' Room credit for subtlety which, uh, yeah, I'm not. The consequences don't favor Cass either in this case, because now, he's a big tall villain on a RAW roster chock full of them. At best, he's fourth on the depth chart behind Braun Strowman, Bray Wyatt, and Samoa Joe, not necessarily in that order. Add in Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns, whose alignments aren't as defined by traditional writing, and Cass suddenly comes up short. One could say that he'd be a good antagonist for the lower card, but sacrificing an incredibly entertaining, incredibly valuable tag team act to get to Point B is a foolhardy venture.

Cass doesn't even provide something that all those ahead of him on the card do, or that his now current peers can give. He's a decent talker, but his work has always depended on being the response to Amore's call. He's not a strong worker either, and his presence outside of being tall and muscly leaves much to be desired. So, if looking at it from WWE's "I WANT A STAR" perspective fails, then what value does Cass breaking from Amore have? The better question is, what value as a story does it have?

If the story is just providing a "smart," swervy way to break up a team and give someone a fresh start, then it fails, because it feels like breaking up the band for the sake of breaking it up, tearing out the hearts of fans invested in a team that still had a lot of growing to do but was sustainably entertaining. Step out of the bubble for a second and listen to the people who sing along with their shtick, or at least now who used to. But if this is the beginning of a greater story about reconciliation and family and the value of friendship, then I'm listening. WWE rarely dabbles in building narratives more complex than "good vs. evil," or more accurately "loner the company tells you is cool vs. an array of interesting characters who rely on dorky things like friendship or smarts or not having White skin." However, a story where Cass strikes out while trying to make it without Amore could examine interpersonal relationships, show the dangers of hubris, or set up a story payoff that doesn't involve a title belt. Thinking outside the box is how one makes a true variety show.

I don't have hopes that this thing is going to end with a smartly constructed reunion. If Amore and Cass get back together, it'll be because Cass' singles run flopped and his heat needs to be salvaged. Frankly, that mode of thinking is bullshit and not becoming of the true potential of a wrestling company. Even worse, Vince McMahon doesn't consider his outfit a "wrestling company," but an "entertainment brand." If that's the case, then this fundamental lack of understanding more than one or two modes of crafting a narrative is even more embarrassing.