Monday, October 2, 2017

Reminder: The Shield Never Should've Broken Up

What if these guys had never broken up?
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The most celebrated stable/faction/whatever the fuck Vince McMahon wants to call groups of wrestlers nowadays in WWE history debuted at Survivor Series 2012 and disbanded the night after Payback 2014. The Shield had a monstrous peak in popularity, critical acclaim, match quality, and narrative relevance, and then in the blink of an eye, or more accurately, the swing of a steel chair, it evaporated into the aether. Within a week, two of the three members of the group had changed their aesthetic completely away from it, and the one who clung to it got put through the wringer by his bosses, the fans, and the critical mass.

Of course, many a thinkpiece will tell you that the wrong person turned. It should have been Roman Reigns instead of Seth Rollins, and in a way, it's a correct answer inasmuch that Reigns would have been much better off then as Triple H's corporate goon and now as McMahon's golden goose heir to Hulk Hogan instead of, as the guy who compared Reigns to himself termed it, a "bootleg John Cena." But the best answer wasn't to have Reigns turn. It certainly wasn't Rollins, and the creative staff would've been loons to turn Dean Ambrose. No, the correct answer was to turn none of the three heel and to keep the group intact.

As WWE works towards a reunion of the group — Ambrose and Rollins have already made nice and are RAW Tag Team Champions — it didn't have to break the group up in the first place. While it's true that with the end of the feud with Evolution and the exit from WWE of Dave Batista, the group explored the most of its space with group feuding, it didn't nearly tread enough ground for what a stable could do in WWE, a territory/promotion notorious for its aversion to stables and primacy of the lone wolf paradigm, especially for babyface stars. The ground was fertile for the group to continue as a collective of singles stars providing support to each other as they went on their separate ventures. WWE had and still has relied so much on the iconoclastic singular hero that the law of diminishing returns would dictate that it should try something different to spice things up, right?

Instead, WWE showed that it doesn't ever deviate from its playbook. Those who clamor for New Day to be the thing The Shield wasn't will be in for a big disappointment as that group will probably only produce singles pushes if it itself breaks up. Rumors have it staying together for a long time just so it can push the Dudley Boyz' names out of record books for most tag team title reigns, which is not surprising either, because God forbid Donald Trump supporter and friend McMahon push a Black superstar to the top of his company.

But while the playbook WWE uses has provided some modicum of stability, its fear of deviating from it has cost it desired results. Reigns as a solo star, nakedly apart from the two "indie darlings" in a time when its crowds cheer loudest for them, was a disaster, but him in that same role with those allies at his side could have been different. One could argue that Reigns is a success because crowd reactions are positive regardless of connotation, and I would agree that perhaps his current state is more beneficial to the company for when after McMahon is gone. It certainly wasn't the plan, however, and something positive can be said for keeping traditional alignments alive and reinventing them. Besides, I'm not sure WWE knows how to or can handle playing with shades of gray the way Reigns' reactions dictate.

My overarching point, however, is that WWE probably would be better off in a narrative sense had The Shield never broken up. All three of them would be better off. Rollins never would have had an awful heel run that never quite suited him. Ambrose wouldn't have flirted with irrelevance. Reigns might have healthier reactions. Sure, the reunion pop when Reigns finally joins back up will be nuclear, but will it be worth forgoing treading new ground with a much higher ceiling for growth in every metric? It feels doubtful.