You know, last week's SmackDown Live delivered one hell of a show, thanks in large part to Vince McMahon being the kind of 72-year-old man who doesn't mind getting colour from a shoot headbutt, and Kevin Owens being the kind of guy who thrives on looking like the meanest dude on the roster. It's been fun watching Raw and SmackDown Live push each other these last few weeks.
When Raw ups the ante and starts delivering fire promos from Cena and Reigns, all while Braun Strowman continually lays out Brock Lesnar like no one ever has before, SmackDown hits back with the best McMahon-based segment in years (if you can get past the McMahons being slight babyfaces here, which is difficult at times).
This is the first week in some time though that SmackDown Live hasn't really exceeded expectations. There's some good stuff peppered throughout the two-hour show, but it's missing that feeling of importance and building momentum that defined last week's brilliant outing. Perhaps that's because No Mercy is right around the corner and that means Raw is shining bright. Or perhaps it's because this week's episode doesn't boasts a cohesive throughline acting as an anchor for everything, like the story of Owens did last week.
I think the latter point is relevant. Having Owens kick off and end the show one week ago was integral to keeping SmackDown grounded. When you're telling what's essentially a two-hour story, there's structure to your show, and there's natural ebbs and flows that create real dramatic tension. When Owens and Vince came face-to-face in the ring, the energy in that arena was palpable, and that's because SmackDown spent the entire show building to that moment. It's simple but effective storytelling; build tension, delay the gratification, and then go all out with the moment of catharsis.
You never mess with a McMahon
This week's episode doesn't have anything like that, and that leaves SmackDown feeling rather listless. Consider the first hour or so of the show. There's Shane cutting a decent enough promo about how the McMahons demolish everyone that comes at them; Aiden English losing to Randy Orton because why not lose to Orton after getting a big win over Sami Zayn; Rusev challenging Orton to a surprise match so that he can regain his Bulgarian honour or something; and Jinder Mahal somehow defying all logic and delivering a promo that's even more dull, offensive, and misguided than last week's feces-filled rant.
Again, even these complacent segments contain something promising. Shane's promo, while not exactly doing much to move the story along at this point, does strike the right tone. Shane sounds somber and motivated, like a man on a mission. Orton vs. English sees the latter actually get a good amount of offense in, upping his credibility as a singles wrestler even if there's no obvious direction to take him in at the moment.
Jinder Mahal cuts another middle school promo
Within the Jinder promo there's…well, there's absolutely nothing. It's atrocious. Yes, the promo is trying to suggest that it's the audience that's racist and xenophobic, but it's Jinder saying all the lines. Couple that with the fact that he's cutting the same promos over and over again, and that they seem to drag on forever, and you have yet another reason to stare at your screen and wonder what we did to deserve having Jinder Mahal holding the WWE Championship hostage for months on end. We're sorry we booed Roman Reigns! Stop punishing us!
Jinder doing absolutely nothing of value with the WWE Championship was fine when it was clear that the United States Championship was the true main event title of SmackDown Live. Every paint-by-numbers promo that Mahal cut was worth sitting through because you knew that sometime soon, AJ Styles and Kevin Owens would be doing something great. Now though, the United States Championship is stuck in limbo. The Open Challenge has apparently been reinstated, but that's not really true.
Not having Styles wrestle is certainly a choice
Here, Corbin is set for his championship match with Styles, attacking the champ before the bell rings in order to gain the advantage. But just as he's gearing up to get the real match started, Tye Dillinger comes to the ring and lays out the Lone Wolf, a moment of revenge for previous attacks.
I actually like the storytelling on display here; there's multiple people gathering around the title, and Dillinger going after Corbin continues to build on their history together. It's a good segment when isolated, but on this specific episode, it contributes to SmackDown Live feeling scattered.
Charlotte Flair is back in her rightful spot
With all that said, the show does close out strong. Kevin Owens manages to make an even-tempered "via satellite" promo seem menacing, much like Braun Strowman over on Raw this week, and a match between New Day and the Hype Bros signals a forthcoming heel turn for the neon, Gronk-loving duo. That's narrative movement, and the tag team division, despite New Day and the Usos putting on classic matches, could use it.
Then there's the return of Charlotte Flair, providing the night's lone bit of structured storytelling. SmackDown Live follows through on a simple story, reestablishing the Queen as the dominant force she is, as she lands the #1 Contender spot and a shot at Natalya's title when Hell in a Cell rolls around, all while bringing the other women in the division into the picture. Much like the potential turn of the Hype Bros, this signals a new direction for a division that's been rudderless for some time now. Here's hoping SmackDown Live can keep it up, using every piece they have to continue to tell compelling stories.
- No, I didn't mention Dolph Ziggler above because what's the point? Watching DZ go all DX this week isn't worth digging into, especially when Ziggler's been an HBK knockoff for quite some time now. "CM PUNK" chants echo throughout the arena, and for the first time, I think they're justified. Can we just get to the point where Bobby Roode shuts this nonsense down? Please?
- It's nice to see Rusev back on TV and getting a win, but man, he really doesn't need to be a chickenshit heel. That's not what makes Rusev so compelling. He's not that kind of heel.
- I'm still not used to Baron Corbin's new entrance music.
- "You can't deny that Jinder Mahal is a worthy WWE champion." I used to like you, Graves.
- AJ Styles putting Vince McMahon over is a strange sight indeed.
- See how easy it was to "fix" Lana? She's back to being a manager and everything clicks again. Now just put her back with Rusev and everything will be right with the world.
- Daniel Bryan chastises Natalya for her faux feminism by calling her "Gloria Steinem" and it's the most wonderfully Daniel Bryan thing.
Randy Orton defeated Aiden English; Rusev defeated Randy Orton; New Day defeated the Hype Bros; Charlotte defeated Tamina, Naomi, and Becky Lynch to become the #1 Contender to the SmackDown Live Women's Championship.
What did you think of this week's episode of SmackDown Live? Let us know in the comments below!