There's really no way to talk about Monday Night Raw without talking about the Survivor Series PPV that's just three weeks away because it's influencing every single storytelling decision on the show. That, of course, isn't exactly a profound statement. "Weekly shows roll out stories that build to the PPV" is some seriously obvious analysis and literally WWE's template for everything that it does. And yet, Survivor Series feels different, and this year's build feels much different than in years past. Perhaps it's the brand split, or perhaps it's the fact that WWE can't seem to get away from the idea of Shane McMahon being involved in every single thing that SmackDown Live does, but this year's build is doing some serious damage to the shows that have been otherwise succeeding in recent weeks and months.
So, what do I mean by stating that the Survivor Series build is hindering any potential storyline progress that's been hinted at in previous weeks? Well, let me put it to you this way. If you were trying to think about how to move to Survivor Series with a roster that's split between brands, how might you do it? There are certainly a lot of options given how deep WWE's roster is, and that's not even including potential NXT storylines. So what would you do? Maybe focus on your biggest, brightest, up and coming talent? Maybe have Team Balor face off against Team AJ Styles, especially after their incredible match at Tables, Ladders, and Chairs. Or maybe you have a bunch of talent battle it out to be on the team, having all the non-champions engage in friendly competition in the name of getting a big spot at Survivor Series, thereby adding necessary stakes and actively leaning on the "battle for brand supremacy" thing that WWE loves so much.
Why can't Kane stick to politics?
No matter what you're dreaming up, the point is that there's plenty of options for WWE. And what do they do? They make Kane the centerpiece of everything. Kane, the man who debuted 20 years ago, is driving the narrative leading into Survivor Series, handily beating nearly every single person integral to Raw's success in the last few weeks and months in the process. It's a maddening development. For a second I thought that last week's win over Finn Balor might be a one-off deal, with Kane establishing himself as a roster piece again before kind of slipping into the mix of Raw's Survivor Series team. Instead, he's the focal point, and it not only derails this week's Raw, but also signals that Survivor Series is going to be one hell of a mess.
Look, normally I try to break down the show into multiple segments and dig into how they form some sort of coherent storytelling whole. I try to be positive in my analysis without skewing into willful blindness because, for the most part, I enjoy WWE television, flaws and all. There's often storytelling on display that's engaging and exciting, even if the three hours leaves plenty of room for error. In essence, I can usually see the ideas behind certain segments even if I'm chastising them for their execution. Look no further than Alexa Bliss and Mickie James battling over the last few weeks, a story that I've criticized for being immature, and yet one I still enjoy once those two are in the ring.
A show with no stakes, and some Stephanie McMahon
What I'm trying to say is that on almost any other Raw, I would be ecstatic to see nine matches total, with two of them being title defenses. On paper, that's exciting stuff. In execution though, it’s a complete mess. Admittedly, Raw delivers one hell of a final segment, but that's mostly because there's two superstars who can currently do no wrong. Leading up to that, Raw can't find any sense of momentum, and it can't seem to imbue Survivor Series with any stakes. Raw certainly tries at the top of the show, with Stephanie McMahon coming back to yell at Kurt Angle about how weak and incompetent he is—nice to see that nothing's changed—but it's not nearly enough to justify all the nonsense we've seen. Filtering Survivor Series through the lens of The Authority in all of its forms—I'm including GMs and Commissioners in this statement, not just McMahons—just doesn't leave a whole lot of room to care about the performers who are actually competing week in and week out, and who will carry the load once the PPV rolls around.
There's simply no structure to tonight's show, no sense that we should be invested in the inter-brand story WWE is trying to tell. Sure, there are moments that rise above the nonsensical chaos. Daniel Bryan once again trying to be the voice of reason is great. Braun Strowman murdering The Miztourage, and specifically Curtis Axel, at the end of the show is great. Samoa Joe coming back to ruin anyone that stands in his way is great. But those are isolated moments that don't amount to much on this show.
At least we have Braun Strowman
The lone bit of hope is, of course, Braun Strowman. He's the babyface monster we didn't know we needed, and he proves it tonight. While Kane is not the guy I need him facing off against, I won't argue if it serves to move Strowman even further into babyface territory. He needs to be at the top of the card for the next few months, leading to some sort of game-changing showing at WrestleMania. Tonight's final segment is a start. It's Strowman once again reaffirming that he's an incredible talent that's ready to carry Raw for the foreseeable future. Now we just have to get past Survivor Series and its ridiculous build to find out just how high Strowman can climb.
- I can't believe this crowd starts WHATing Kurt Angle two minutes into the show. For shame.
- Angle announcing that Miz will defend his Intercontinental Championship against an unnamed opponent? A+. That opponent being Matt Hardy? C-. I need a Matt Hardy singles match in 2017 about as much as I need a Kane singles match in 2017.
- A list of the people Kane lays out this week: Daniel Bryan, Finn Balor, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins.
- "We all know about Bayley and Nia's rivalry throughout much of this year..." Do we, Cole?
- I love the way Samoa Joe just stalks around the ring. So glad to have him back.
- Kurt Angle tells Alexa Bliss that she's "done running" from Mickie James, like she didn't just beat her clean on a PPV.
- Elias and Jason Jordan do a thing tonight. It's exactly what you'd expect.
- Asuka gets her squash tonight. Are you happy now, IWC?
- Drew Gulak is really making the most of his opportunity to be by Enzo's side. What a delight that guy is.
- I've longed for Tex Ferguson and Chad 2 Badd to show up on Raw. But to quote The Matrix: "Not like this. Not like this."
- The Miz sells the hell out of Strowman returning in the back of a garbage truck, once again confirming that he is this year's top performer.
Nia Jax defeated Bayley; Samoa Joe defeated Apollo Crews; The Miz (c) defeated Matt Hardy (Intercontinental Championship match); Asuka defeated Stacie Cullen; Finn Balor defeated Cesaro; Kane defeated Seth Rollins; Rhyno and Heath Slater defeated Gallows and Anderson (Trick or Street Fight); Kalisto defeated Drew Gulak; Alexa Bliss (c) defeated Mickie James (Raw Women's Championship match).
How do you feel Raw has been headed towards Survivor Series? Let us know in the comments below!