Much like Monday Night Raw, SmackDown Live's go-home show seems to be stuck between a rock (not The Rock) and a hard place. The show's strapped with carrying the weight of a go-home show, which necessitates a certain amount of "progression" when it comes to its feuds heading into WrestleMania. At the same time, the matches are set, everyone's excited, and that means SmackDown Live doesn't want to give too much away. We don't want or need to see AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura throw hands. We don't need another interaction between the Bludgeon Brothers, The Usos, and New Day. We don't need a bunch of hype videos for Raw because we literally just watched them. But that leaves SmackDown Live with one pressing question: what else is there to do?
Judging by the show, the answer is a resounding, "nothing, we have nothing to do." Similar to last night's Raw go-home show, this isn't a bad episode by any means, but it's incredibly formulaic. Unlike last night's Raw, there isn't the equivalent of Balor and Rollins' 22-minute classic to point to as something that at least kept this show afloat for a bit. No, this is everything you already know about WWE storytelling in a single episode: a preview of a match on Sunday, a rematch from two weeks ago, some video packages to hype up WrestleMania, and a tag team match where two of Sunday's opponents have to team up to see if they can stay "on the same page" for one night.
Here Comes The Money
The only real change in presentation this week is that Shane McMahon is back. What does that mean? Well, it means that SmackDown Live ignores months and months of Shane and Daniel hating each other in order to facilitate their reconciliation so that they can beat up Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn at WrestleMania. They apologize to each other, and Bryan works the crowd up in order to get the two to hug it out. It's charming in an awkward kind of way, but it's also exactly what's been wrong with this feud since the beginning. By failing to clarify the faces and heels, SmackDown Live had no choice but to just shrug everything off and make Shane and Daniel partners. WWE's shoddy storytelling at its finest.
The fact that a returning Shne McMahon is the freshest thing on SmackDown Live tells you a lot about this episode. There's truly no story left to tell in any of these feuds. Late in the evening Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn show up, and Zayn goes in hard on Brie Bella and the couple's daughter Birdie, which is great and nasty and total tonal shift for the former super babyface NXT Champion, but that's about it when it comes to segments that are compelling. The rest of the show is defined by familiarity.
WrestleMania better be a win for Rusev Day
Take the United States Championship feud for instance. Last week SmackDown Live decided to put Rusev into the WrestleMania match, and that was a smart choice. The feud between Jinder Mahal, Randy Orton, and Bobby Roode was lacking a plethora of things: charisma, intrigue, a likable wrestler to cheer for. Rusev fixed all of that. So, this week he gets put in a match with Jinder Mahal because there's nothing else to do except "preview" Sunday. Rusev gets the win, and it's a half decent match, but then the familiarity creeps in again. As Rusev celebrates, you're just sitting on the couch waiting for Randy Orton to come "outta nowhere" and deliver an RKO, which he does. It's been the same formula for weeks: guest on commentary, match, post-match attack. That's it. That's the whole build.
This looks familiar...
The women's division doesn't bother changing anything either. Charlotte and Natalya have a rematch from two weeks ago, and the beats are all the same. Carmella even teases a cash-in again, and of course she never officially gets that match. Then, Asuka comes out to stare down her competition, the one person who can maybe end her streak at the big show. Charlotte grabs the mic and insists that she's ready for Asuka. It's a cool moment, but diminished by the face-to-face we've already seen.
That's the story of this SmackDown Live. It's a go-home show without the feel of one. It's an episode defined by some of WWE's most rote storytelling qualities. There's nothing else to add. The road was long, but we're here now. Bring on WrestleMania.
- Nashville provided a hot crowd, but you do not pepper Daniel Bryan with WHAT chants.
- I think Nakamura and Styles could have done a lot more with a longer build, but in the time frame they had they really delivered. There's a big fight feel to their match on Sunday.
- Asuka vs. Charlotte needs the clean finish. However, the nuclear heat that would come with Carmella cashing in after the match, and technically ending the streak should Asuka retain, would be incredible.
- There was a single Colon in a match tonight. That is all.
Charlotte defeated Natalya; Rusev defeated Jinder Mahal; Baron Corbin, Mojo Rawley, Primo Colon, and Dolph Ziggler defeated Fandango, Tyler Breeze, Zack Ryder, and Tye Dillinger; AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable.