The Phenomenally Sympathetic Heel
Smackdown opened this week with a fantastic video package recapping AJ Styles loss to Randy Orton last week and his subsequent confrontation with Shane O’Mac over the result which was covered in last week’s Talking Smack (a show which is almost necessary viewing at this point). The editing and aesthetic of this package was as wonderfully cinematic as WWE video packages typically are and when combined with the excellent camerawork done last week, the frayed and frustrated mental state of Styles was expressed superbly in a few short minutes even if the storytelling intentions here run counterproductive with character’s actions but I will discuss this later.
This eventually led to AJ Styles coming out to the crowd and in a nice touch, he eschewed his normal entrance routine and attire in a way that truly shows how fed up the man is. Styles accepts that he lost his coveted world title at the Royal Rumble to John Cena but asserts the problems began when he never got his one on one rematch. I like this continuity but all this does in the end is point out Smackdown’s rushed title change for the Bray Wyatt program at ‘Mania and how this had to be accomplished at the expense of AJ Styles and John Cena’s title runs. This becomes even more problematic when you realize how agreeable all of Styles points are, and he is supposed to be the heel here. If this is supposed to be an attempt to introduce some moral ambiguity into the storyline, why have the segment later on in the show where Styles attacks Shane and treat AJ like the scum of the Earth on commentary?
Styles continues to make valid points in asserting that despite Randy Orton burning a man’s house down and desecrating a grave, Orton still gets a title shot at WrestleMania and ISN’T being arrested. The crowd laughed at this and so did I but, this line became problematic later on in the night. He goes on to say that despite making SD Live the better of the two shows in 2016, he still doesn’t have a WrestleMania match and that he may not have a career anymore as well as he leaves the ring (foreshadowing). This once again builds sympathy towards Styles and further complicates things.
Styles was fantastic on the mic here and in a vacuum this segment was great, and I will grade it as such for building up AJ as a an individual to be sympathized with, but a lot of what this segment does narratively is shot down by the end of the night in what was the middle segment I will cover.
Overall Score: 8/10
Wrestling Logic Meets Real World Consequences
After the opening segment, AJ Styles was seen waiting in the garage of the venue for McMahon given Daniel Bryan’s words earlier in the night. He is seen waiting in multiple short segments before Renee Young finally comes up to question what AJ Styles intends to do, and AJ responds with the painfully cringe filled:
“Wrestlemania is the ultimate thrill ride, but I don’t have a match at Wrestlemania so I need to get my thrills where I can”
Before the viewer even has a chance to roll their eyes at how terrible this one liner is, the garage door opens and Shane McMahon finally arrives. Styles promptly attacks Shane in a vicious manner and this reaches a climax when Styles tosses Shane’s head through a car window, leaving a (possibly real?) gash in his head. People quickly rush to Shane’s aid as Styles leaves, but not before giving him a solid kick to the head.
This segment was enjoyable if simply viewed as a brutal attack as it was just that, and a highly effective one. The thing is, it runs completely counter productive with what Styles did earlier in the show. WWE are not so stupid that they could think people would not sympathize with Styles, right? Not only that, but it still isn’t completely clear as to why Styles is so exclusively mad at Shane when Shane was the higher-up who supported him going on to ‘Mania in the first place. It is clear that the final destination of Styles vs. Shane is taking precedence over this plot making any sense and that is sad given the potential here for a morally grey Styles taking on a McMahon that isn’t the traditional evil boss character.
Anyways, the segment continues a bit later as Styles is in the locker room getting his things to leave as The Usos and Curt Hawkins chastise him for his actions as if attacking someone backstage is not a daily occurrence in kayfabe and a crime punishable by law.
Speaking of which…
Daniel Bryan stops Styles on the way out and is flanked by police officers and security guards, and he makes it clear that Styles did something REPREHENSIBLE and must be punished for his actions, subsequently firing him and having the men in black escort him out.
Let me get this straight. AJ Styles made sympathetic points at the beginning of the show, subsequently attacked a man backstage as most superstars do at some point in the WWE, and is kayfabe FIRED for it as though he committed a high level crime? What world is this now?
This storyline wrapped up for the night when Shane McMahon stepped out into the entrance ramp at the end of the show (completely overshadowing American Alpha against The Usos) and announced that AJ Styles now had an opponent for ‘Mania (presumably himself).
This was another segment that in theory was a great idea and it was executed incredibly well but it just had some glaring plot holes in it while simultaneously running so against who AJ has been presented as so far.
Overall Score: 6/10
The Backbone of Wrestling is Dead
Before I begin I want to explain that I know the Wyatt/Orton segment was not the closing segment of the night, but the American Alpha/Usos match that was technically the closing segment only really existed to lead to the closure of the Styles/McMahon plot thread for the night and so I will not be counting it.
Anyways, Randy Orton came out to explain his actions against Bray Wyatt further and this essentially just led to him reciting some of the same lines from his promo at the Wyatt compound and asserting that at WrestleMania he needed to finish what he started.
Bray Wyatt quickly interrupts and explains that he is in the ashes of the Wyatt compound which Orton burned down. Wyatt elaborated that Sister Abigail was the spawn of Satan and her powers are now passed onto him, but immediately muddled this by explaining that her heart is still beating. Regardless, Wyatt further added the grandiose statement of “Now I am the lord of lords, omniscient… I’m born again Randy, in her ashes” and subsequently covered himself in dirt.
This segment had some great visual parallels to Orton’s segment from two weeks ago through it’s reversed setup of characters with Orton now in the ring instead of on the titantron and vice versa and Bray’s nearly completely dark setup but like the AJ/Shane story, the character dynamic here is so out of touch with the audience.
Orton was receiving chants from the crowd despite, once again, BURNING A MAN’S HOUSE DOWN and even though Bray Wyatt was clearly being booked as a face and receiving the according reaction after his title win, he is now being booked as a heel who is using the powers of Satan? This storyline gave me such high hopes and it is so frustrating to see this be the result. Orton could infiltrated the Wyatt family for any more interesting reasons from trying to see what makes the Wyatts so powerful, to simply trying to take over the family and the best we get is just Orton getting revenge on Bray Wyatt for what exactly? The weak feud they had leading up to this? What did Bray do to deserve having his house burned down? Are we really just gonna see Orton take the title from Bray at Mania? And if so, what kind of payoff is that? The arson wins?
What I mean by “The Backbone of Wrestling is Dead” is that the heel/face dynamic that elicits responses from the crowd and drives the stories of wrestling is so convoluted here that it’s hard to see what the hell WWE is doing when one of their main feuds heading into their biggest PPV has no clear heel or face despite that the crowd has dictated these roles in a way that could let the feud happen naturally and poetically.
Overall Score: 4/10
Average Total Score: 6/10
Smackdown was a frustrating dud this week. The execution of it’s primary storyline segments were really well done but clash so heavily with both logic and the basic storytelling of pro wrestling that it’s hard not to be sick of the product. What was once the best written of the two main shows has now become a mess of storylines and underutilized talent. A draft can’t come soon enough.
Winner This Week: Monday Night Raw
Raw won this week, no question. Despite amazing execution of ideas, Smackdown is still just far too convoluted compared to the simple and effective storytelling of Raw. It seems Smackdown’s writer are finally working against the show instead of setting it apart and Raw’s writers have seemingly found a groove to work in which makes the show as substantial and important as it is usually treated as.
Til next time,