Last night's Monday Night Raw may have spent some time exploring the aftermath of Tables, Ladders, and Chairs, but for the most part it was a show clearly focused on getting pieces into place for Survivor Series. From Kurt Angle announcing a number of Champion vs. Champion matches, to Shane McMahon and much of the SmackDown Live roster showing up at the end of the show to lay waste to the Raw locker room, the episode instantly moved both shows in the direction of Survivor Series. Heading into SmackDown Live, you couldn't help but wonder if Raw would retaliate, and whether or not the show would follow a similar storytelling structure to its Red counterpart.
SmackDown Live does things a bit differently though and that's both a good and bad thing. There are segments peppered throughout the night that feel like repeats of what we saw last night, which may be understandable, but isn't exactly compelling for those of us watching every single show. With that said, there's also plenty of character-based storytelling that captures what's special about SmackDown Live. In other words, much like in previous weeks, the Blue brand is at its best when it's focusing on its main event scene and the teams carrying the tag team division.
The Usos have been great since Day One-ish
As far as the tag teams go, there's no real connection to Survivor Series. Sure, The Usos will face off against Rollins and Ambrose, but the storytelling on SmackDown Live remains focused on what's happening within that show. That allows SmackDown to shift gears from one segment to the next, offering up a nice change in tone and pace as the episode rolls on. So, we may get Shane McMahon being a smug asshole—presented as a babyface that the crowd loves, it should be noted—and the underwhelming, vague segment where he talks about his motivations for attacking the Raw roster, but we also get New Day and The Usos continuing to bring humour and creative passion to the show.
What makes both New Day and The Usos so good right now is that they clearly feel comfortable with what they're doing. Obviously New Day has been in that groove for a long time—here they throw out "Raw" fruit backstage before their match—but it's only in recent months that The Usos have found it as well. They're charismatic and funny on commentary tonight, and I think WWE knows they have some real momentum because you can feel a double turn coming. It seems like The Usos are close to hitting that "so good at what they do" level that we have no choice but to cheer them, and both Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin are starting to display heel tendencies, cheating to win their match against New Day.
Daniel Bryan knows what Shane did wrong
All of this is to say that SmackDown Live is kind of all over the place tonight, but in a really compelling way. You could feel the tension in balancing the need to set up Survivor Series while also moving other stories forward, but it never progressed to the breaking point. Instead, the show leans into the chaos, using fantastic character work to drive nearly every single segment.
The character moments are both big and small this week, but they all add to the overall quality of the show. So, Daniel Bryan informing five of SmackDown Live's women that they’ll be competing for a chance to be the team captain at Survivor Series isn't all that exciting, but when he says, "not you, Lana," it's enough to justify the usually paint-by-numbers segment. Sometimes that's all it takes. You need these small moments, be they jokes or character insights or both, to make the more rote aspects of the show entertaining. It's why New Day are so good at what they do; they consistently find those moment, like when Big E pulls food out of his singlet to try and revive a beaten-down Kofi Kingston.
Sami Zayn, the heel we didn't know we needed
Perhaps it’s the fact that it's new and fresh, or perhaps it's my Canadian bias, but on this week's show nobody is better at finding those smaller moments than Sami Zayn. The whole point of those smaller moments is that they act as insight into a character's thinking, and tell us something larger about them without hammering home the same points over and over again. That's what Sami Zayn is doing. He's adding seemingly innocuous brush strokes in order to paint a goddamn masterpiece of a heel performance.
Just look at the totality of his character work tonight. Everything he does, from the exaggerated dancing during his entrance, to his cadence, facial expressions, and in-ring joking with Randy Orton, tells us something about who he is now. He's a complex guy. Sure, he's smug and arrogant and he dances a little too intensely, but he's also feeling good about his decisions. When Shane McMahon took the SmackDown Live roster to Raw and attacked them unprovoked, it confirmed everything he'd been thinking about the Blue brand and its commissioner. He now feels justified in his decision to help Kevin Owens because Shane has proven himself to be a tyrant, and a man who wants the spotlight. Hell, even Daniel Bryan sees it.
In other words, Sami Zayn has plenty of reasons to dance, and I hope he never stops.
- Obviously "Fashion Fiction" was delightful. You have both Breeze and Fandango wanting to be Mr. Pink—"we are! I'm Tickle Me Pink and you're Hot Pink"—and The Ascension continuing to be a delightful babyface team within this world. When Fandango asks them what they're doing, they reply as they should: "you know, Wasteland stuff." Next week: Strangerer Things. Oh, and this might be a good time to remind you that you can read our interview with both Tyler Breeze and Fandango, just in case you missed it.
- "It's a truce, but I'm not about to buy Booty Os."
- It is real hard to care about anything Baron Corbin and Sin Cara are doing.
- Jinder still only has one promo, but I did enjoy the Singh Brothers doing Paul Heyman's shtick.
- Becky Lynch is your SmackDown Live women's team captain. The match was not nearly as exciting as Raw's, which at least boasts some internal feuds between Alicia Fox, Bayley, and Sasha Banks to add some intrigue.
- You know what's definitely not the cure to the boring Bobby Roode-Dolph Ziggler matches we've seen so far? Having them wrestle a 2 out of 3 Falls match next week.
Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable defeated New Day; Sin Cara defeated Baron Corbin via DQ; AJ Styles defeated Sunil Singh; Becky Lynch defeated Carmella, Charlotte, Naomi, and Tamina; Randy Orton defeated Sami Zayn.
What did you think of SmackDown Live's first week headed towards Survivor Series? Let us know in the comments below!