Considering how atrocious the build was, Fastlane ended up exceeding expectations by quite a bit. After weeks of SmackDown Live failing to craft a show that was in any way compelling, Sunday's PPV provided some necessary clarification to the feuds heading into WrestleMania. The Bludgeon Brothers made their mark by laying out New Day and The Usos. Asuka showed up to challenge Charlotte for her title at WrestleMania. AJ Styles successfully retained his WWE Championship, and there was finally a moment where Shane McMahon unquestionably screwed both Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn out of the title. Finally, everything was starting to make sense. That left only one question: could the renewed promise provided by Fastlane be sustained on the weekly show, which up until now has struggled to tell anything resembling an interesting story?
The simple and yet convoluted answer: yes and no. Fastlane has certainly given parts of SmackDown Live the necessary boost it needs heading into the grandest stage of them all, but at the same time there's still so many sluggish aspects to this show. The show itself doesn't feel cohesive in the way Raw does. Instead, it feels like a collection of segments and video packages with no sense of structure and pacing. Still, this week's episode isn't nearly the disaster that we've had to sit through in the last few weeks, so, after many reviews of lambasting SmackDown Live for its abysmal effort, let's see if we can find some silver linings. Spoiler: there's no silver lining to be found in the United States Championship feud.
What's left of the tag team division
If SmackDown Live has one thing going for it right now, it's that the tag team division feels truly alive. The show seemed to waste a good opportunity after The Usos and New Day went to war at Hell in the Cell, failing to elevate any other teams as contenders despite a few segments that had numerous teams vying for their spots. Now though, with the Bludgeon Brothers making their mark at Fastlane and laying waste to the two top teams, things are finally shifting.
This week's segment is rather brilliant in its emotion and simplicity. Big E and Jimmy Uso, the two surviving members of Sunday's massacre, team up to try and avenge their fallen brothers. "I will hold down my brothers! I will represent the New Day!" shouts Big E while backstage. That promo sets the stage for the match. From the dueling chairs and hammers, to the eventual beatdown from Harper and Rowan, the whole segment is brimming with heat and emotion. There's admiration and empathy for Big E and Jimmy, and more than a little awe at watching Harper and Rowan dismantle them. SmackDown Live dropped the ball with the tag team division before, but this feels like a promising reset.
A push for Rusev, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn?
I'm also encouraged by the spots Rusev has been getting. While I remain hesitant to say that WWE is ready to pull the trigger on him in any meaningful way, he just wrestled Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles in the span of a few days. Both matches are good (the Nakamura match could be classified as great, even without any stakes), and they show that Rusev belongs in that top spot. Maybe he's not challenging for the WWE Championship right after Mania, but I hope this is a sign that he's destined to be flirting with that top spot for the next little while. He certainly deserves it.
Finally, one last note of positivity before we close out with the bad stuff: Shane McMahon finally gets what he deserves. The "main event" sees Shane come out to the ring and say that while he's likely acted against SmackDown Live's best interest lately, he's hardly to blame. Still, he says he's taking a leave of absence, but that's not good enough for Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. The two Canadians come to the ring and lay a beating on him before taking him backstage and powerbombing him onto a surprisingly sturdy set of cartons. There are many ways that this story can unfold, but for now this feels like the feud moving in the right direction, and it finally feels like the character are at least acting in a way that makes sense.
At least we have Asuka vs. Charlotte
Now, we get to the bad of SmackDown Live. I wish there was more to say about the women's division, but WWE just isn’t giving us much to dig into. Charlotte vs. Asuka is going to be incredible. It's a match that sells itself, and WWE seems to know that. It's one of many matches on the WrestleMania card that essentially pits one babyface against another and asks us to buy into it on pure wrestling ability. What's less interesting is the rest of the women in the division, all of whom seemingly don't have a path to the big show outside of the, ugh, Fabulous Moolah Memorial Battle Royal. Carmella's direction remains the most frustrating aspect of all of this. She's Ms. Money in the Bank, and she should be treated as such. Instead, she's a meaningless piece in a division with no relevant stories.
A U.S. Title feud that nobody cares about
But hey, at least the women's division isn't the United States Championship feud. That thing is a complete mess. Somehow, WWE decided that rather than using its secondary title to prop up some young, up and coming talent, it'd use said title to revisit the feud between Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal, all while adding in the blandness of Bobby Roode. We're seemingly headed for a Triple Threat at Mania, but does anyone really care one way or the other? The crowd is dead for these segments until Orton hits an RKO, which doesn't bode well for fan engagement at Mania.
That's SmackDown Live though. Fastlane helped the show clarify some of its feuds, and a few storylines are starting to move in the right direction, but there's still a long way to go. Unfortunately, no matter what happens in the next few weeks, the destination just might not be all that appealing.
- It's criminal how much Carmella has been neutered since her Money in the Bank win. It'll be incredible if she technically ends Asuka's streak at WrestleMania though.
- Sami blaming Owens. Owens getting mad at Sami. And yet, they work together to beat up Shane. That's what you call working towards the common good.
- Is anybody worried about all the face vs. face matches booked for WrestleMania? I'm not, but I'd be curious to hear some other viewpoints.
- The whole United States Championship feud is built around meaningless matches that end with the outside guy delivering their finisher. Every single time!
AJ Styles defeated Rusev via DQ; The Bludgeon Brothers defeated Big E and Jimmy Uso; Jinder Mahal defeated Bobby Roode; Carmella defeated Naomi.