These days, it’s easy to criticize WWE. Financially and critically, the company has had a few down months. On a similar note, it’s hard to praise WWE when they do something right. It often feels like practically every step in the right direction is negated by a regrettable decision. These sentiments make it even more important to give the company its due when something good happens. Though one solid show doesn’t erase months of mediocrity, this week’s SmackDown was a substantial step forward.
At first, the “whodunit” mystery surrounding Roman Reigns seemed like a joke. From the way the forklift incident was filmed (with camera cuts galore,) to the fact that the Big Dog walked away unscathed, the start to this story left a bad taste in many fans’ mouths. A second attack on Reigns suffered similar flaws but it had more redeemable qualities. The hit-and-run humanized Samoa Joe and proved that this drama had layers. From there, WWE gradually made the mystery the most intriguing plot on any of their television shows and the most recent episode of SmackDown made each subsequent progression a must-see.
First, Daniel Bryan defended Rowan and, by association, himself against Buddy Murphy’s accusations. He called Murphy a liar but he sympathized with WWE’s best kept secret; Reigns’ aggressive interrogation coerced Murphy to name Rowan as the perpetrator. Bryan said he’d prove that he and his burly friend were innocent. Sandwiched between other matches and segments, Bryan’s own “investigation” and the aftermath dominated the show.
Bryan was masterful on Tuesday. Backstage, he (and Rowan) pulled up a chair next to Murphy, who just lost a well-received match with Reigns. In just 60 seconds, Bryan played a one-man version of “good cop, bad cop.” He gently told Murphy that they know why he lied. But the Planet’s Champion’s mood quickly devolved into rage as he demanded that Murphy confess he lied. Rowan brutally assaulted the former Cruiserweight Champion while Bryan continued to shout at him. Rowan’s attack made Reigns’ “interrogation” look like a friendly conversation while Bryan continued to scream in Murphy’s face. Murphy eventually cracked; he told Bryan that he lied. Bryan’s hypocrisy is stunning; after he publicly criticized Reigns for violently pressuring Murphy, Bryan ordered Rowan to rough Murphy up while the Planet’s Champion one-upped Reigns’ method of acquiring information.
The Planet’s Champion has struggled to find an emphatic role on SmackDown since he lost the WWE Championship. Consider Tuesday’s performance Bryan’s latest coming out party. In a long-form mystery, the characters’ acting performance can make or break the story. After another impressive showing, it’s safe to say that Bryan might just be its most valuable player.
Like any good thriller, this plot continues to use cliff-hangers to build the suspense. Tuesday’s show closed with the first meeting between Reigns and Bryan (and Rowan) since Murphy’s confession. First, Bryan put on the same calm, arrogant mask he wore at the beginning of his little chat with Murphy. Then, the Planet’s Champion demanded that Reigns apologize for his false accusations. Finally, Bryan smugly looked the Big Dog in the eye and dropped a major teaser for next week.
“We’ve been conducting out own investigation and we found who did it,” said Bryan. “Next week, we’ll bring you the culprit.” With just a few words, Bryan made it impossible for captivated viewers not to watch the next episode. The quality of this scene can’t be understated. At this point, all of the clues in the mystery point to Bryan. We have to assume he’s the guilty party. As a result, Bryan’s actions here (like the eye contact, the calm delivery and the self-righteous look) were marvelous appetizers for what’s likely to come. Sometimes, the obvious play is the right one and anything less than a feud between Reigns and Bryan would be fairly disappointing.
In addition correcting course with the Reigns mystery, WWE also flipped the script on Randy Orton’s position as a legitimate contender for Kofi Kingston’s WWE Championship.
Next page: the Viper is back!