Tuesday, March 20, 2018

An Honest Critique of the Ultimate Deletion

The Ultimate Deletion was a fun watch, but it had distinct lack of ambition
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Before anyone writes any words about the Ultimate Deletion, one should note that any criticism of it couched in the belief that Vince McMahon had any resistance to air something as esoteric and cinematic as the Broken Universe does not know Vince McMahon's history of broadcasting wrestling. It's wild that the most successful wrestling promoter of all-time seemingly hates the medium of pro wrestling, but stranger things have happened. McMahon has always fancied himself as an entertainment mogul more than a promoter anyway. He's said so on so many occasions. He's taken great pains to keep the word "wrestling" from being uttered on RAW. I mean, nothing makes me cringe harder than when Michael Cole proclaims WrestleMania to be the biggest event in "entertainment." He produced "Fuji Vice," for crying out loud.

I don't think his lack of understanding of the Broken Universe is the issue either. He certainly got it enough, or at least had sense enough to listen to people in his inner circle who did get it enough to attempt his own knock-off with the ill-fated New Day invasion of the Wyatt Compound in 2016. Again, McMahon has done his share of weird, sometimes baffling stories and segments in the history of televised WWE programming. The Broken Universe is a different kind of weird, for sure, but it's not necessarily out of line with the kind of strange that WWE has done, at least in themes and beats. If McMahon didn't get Matt Hardy's current signature character, it wasn't in trappings, but it was in his insistence that it was another piece of meat to be fed into his homogenizing grinder to be made into Monday Night RAW sausage, that Broken Matt would play well with the same production style he uses for Roman Reigns or even Bray Wyatt.

The reason why the Ultimate Deletion worked was because the Broken Matt character was placed back into its comfortable ecosystem, replete with Jeremy Borash in place to direct it. However, the reason why it didn't work nearly as well as it could have came right before the payoff portion was about to start. Cole, in introducing the match, apologized to the viewers for what they were about to see. It wasn't loose, off-the-cuff Cole who is playing off his broadcast partners to jab or converse; it was serious broadcast journalist Cole giving the straight dope from the script, probably with McMahon or Paul Levesque barking in his ear to make sure to be as contrite for what was about to follow. It's not like the match was bloody beyond what the sponsors would allow. It certainly wasn't as violent as even, say, the Elimination Chamber gimmick match. No one went hard R or dropped a racial slur. WWE's own corporate direction was way more problematic in trying to sneak honoring Fabulous Moolah by the people the week before.

No, McMahon had Cole apologize because he just had to air something that he didn't create and thus didn't really have any interest in owning or embracing. On the surface, the apology was creative's way of amping up the edge factor, even if it probably didn't even come as close to skirting boundaries as House of Horrors. However, one didn't have to read too much further into the subtext to see that Broken Matt Hardy's full actualization was something he put on his program for reasons other than wanting to have it be part of his entertainment company's legacy. It was something those mongrel fans wanted, or a thing he had to do to ensure that he and he alone had monopoly on all the interesting characters in his industry. It would be like if Disney finally got their acquisition of 20th Century Fox assets just so it could keep someone else from making money off those assets and then when it had to make, say, another X-Men movie, putting Uwe Boll in charge of it.

Okay, maybe the Boll comparison is rough and unfair because it's not like the principles in the match let their intended audience down. Hardy, Wyatt, Reby Sky, SeƱor Benjamin, and even the kids were, in a word, wonderful. Hell, it's the first time Wyatt has been entertaining in months, maybe years. He was so natural in that ephemerally eccentric world, and he played off Hardy in ways he couldn't when they were building towards this match on RAW. The match hit all the notes that the first Final Deletion did, but in that way is where the problems with production and direction from above Hardy and Borash came. It felt too much like the Final Deletion in progression and in what beats exactly were utilized.

I don't fault Hardy and Borash for the most part, because they were probably directed from above to recreate the Final Deletion as faithfully as they could, and for good reason. Barely anyone watches TNA anymore, and no matter how many vocal members of the crowd chant DELETE, chances are they may not have ever seen the Final Deletion, or Delete or Decay, or Tag Team Apocalypto. "Delete" may just be a trendy chant for a popular wrestler with buzz among the hardcore fans, so getting down to brass tacks might make sense from the point of view of the auteurs. It's the straightest dope you could possibly provide as an introduction. However, even if the goal was acquainting a new audience to this world, a simple reboot didn't have the ambition that the original Broken Matt character had. It needed something to build upon the original ethos and give it a signature for that one entry into the logbook, for its debut in the WWE Universe.

That part is where McMahon's failings come in. While letting him have creative input on it might have come with disastrous results (or maybe not, since again, he's a fuckin' weird dude who might have fared better inputting on something like the Ultimate Deletion than he has shown to be with actual situations that play off normal human emotions and everyday scenarios), the fact that it felt way too similar to the Final Deletion felt like McMahon didn't have enough of a drive to make it something uniquely WWE. He probably didn't bother to watch the original because he didn't create it. It felt like he just plopped a big rubber stamp on it and then made those feelings known when he had Cole apologize for airing it beforehand, whether or not the apology may have also made narrative sense. It's a shame, because the labor and the direct direction was as good as the Broken bill of goods promised. However, the distinct and palpable lack of ambition in advancing that lore hung in the air like a stale fart. It'd be too easy to blame it all on the performers and on Borash. Besides, isn't it well-known that everything has to filter through McMahon, especially for RAW? Then again, RAW otherwise was still mired in the same sort of shoot bullshit that mainstream wrestling has adopted for over 20 years now. Maybe "good but stagnant" is the ceiling for RAW content nowadays.