To re-purpose the words of TS Eliot in order to capture the atmosphere of WWE's weekly programming as of late, Monday Night Raw concluded its build to Survivor Series by going out not with a bang, but a whimper. Braun Strowman, the year's breakout star who should have the company seeing dollar signs for years to come, lifted his opponent, the aging, inexplicably still present Kane, and powerslammed him through the ring. The two hulking men went straight through the mat and disappeared beneath the ring. The camera lingered on the hole they created. We waited, expecting a hand, or perhaps an emerging Strowman once again asserting his dominance and letting out that guttural ROAR that's able to send chills down everyone's spine.
But no, Raw ended on that lingering shot. The copyright notice popped up in the bottom right corner of the screen, and Raw's Survivor Series go-home show ended with absence. No tension, no intrigue, and no final triumphant moment for a man who should beat near-50-year-old demons easily. SmackDown Live's go-home show undoubtedly ends on a much more exciting, if predictable, note. Raw, led by The Shield, start their own siege, laying waste to the SmackDown roster—minus Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn because they are smart, honorable men—and getting the last laugh over Shane McMahon.
Chad Gable isn't worth The Usos' time
Before that main event craziness though, this is a SmackDown Live that's pretty much exactly like its Red counterpart. It's an often-tedious retread of everything that's been going on for the last few weeks, peppered with matches that, mostly, don't mean a damn thing. There's no doubt that SmackDown is trying to keep its individual stories moving while the focus largely remains on being angry at Raw for silly reasons, but it's nearly impossible to do so with said focus dominating so much of the show.
Take the feud between The Usos and Benjamin and Gable. After the "Uce Truce" with New Day, it looked like Gable and Benjamin would get their shot at The Usos and, more importantly, that SmackDown could finally give some shine to other tag teams on the show. While the story has been there in bits and pieces, with Gable and Benjamin slowly turning heel, there's a lack of momentum because of everything that's going on with Survivor Series. When The Usos come out for Jimmy's singles match against Gable, they don't even bother cutting a promo on the tag team that's gunning for their titles, instead going after Cesaro and Sheamus. SmackDown Live needs to balance the storytelling needs of each matchup so Cesaro and Sheamus can't go unacknowledged, but the balance feels off. Too much focus on Raw and not enough on what's happening on, you know, SmackDown Live, the show we're actually watching at the moment.
The lone bit of storytelling that actually works is Charlotte winning the championship from Natalya because there's no need to tie it to Survivor Series. Sure, a match with Alexa Bliss is mentioned, but this is more about Charlotte ascending to her rightful spot on SmackDown Live than anything else. Not only does she do it in front of a hometown crowd, which is a rarity for WWE these days, she also gets to celebrate with her father. If your eyes were dry in that moment, you're missing something in your heart. The bottom line though is that the match proves you need not tell a convoluted story to get to Survivor Series. Letting these characters be themselves will do the trick.
Sacrificing storytelling for "Moments"
Look, the problem is that the build to Survivor Series asks you to not care about things like character motivation, logic, and the nature of storytelling. When the brands are going to war, WWE asks you to forget about everything you know about these characters and just live in the moment, and for the moments. For some, that's not a problem, and I'm not here to tell you that you're watching the show wrong. Everybody gets something different out of the product which is why pro wrestling is so wonderful. But, for me, the shrugging off of consequential details drives me up the wall.
It's not that I can't enjoy The Shield beating up Shane McMahon because watching that maniacal, egotistical boss get triple powerbombed twice was delightful. It's not that I can't enjoy Daniel Bryan acting as a hype man for AJ Styles because the genuine affection between them sells the segment. Rather, it's that certain inconsistencies pop up that shouldn't. At the top of the show, Shane delivers what's meant to be a motivational speech to his locker room, telling them that no matter what, they have to be united for the night because Raw could attack. He's saying that at the beginning of the show, right before sending a bunch of superstars out there to have matches with each other. How does that make any sense?
A go-home show with Baron Corbin and Sin Cara facing off...
I mean, commentary is talking about how we've been seeing the bad blood between Baron Corbin and Sin Cara boil over in the last few weeks, and yet at the top of the show they're standing nearly side by side chanting "SmackDown Rocks!" Again, there's no denying that SmackDown Live has to balance building animosity towards Raw and continuing with its own isolated storylines, but the balance is off. Small tweaks can make all the difference, like not having Corbin and Sin Cara backstage for that speech, or not having The Usos address Sheamus and Cesaro when commentary has just told us how badly Jimmy Uso wants to get his hands on Chad Gable.
What's a shame about the entire build to Survivor Series is that some small tweaks have been made in order to address the conflicted feelings inherent in brand warfare. For instance, when The Usos storm the ring to help out New Day, they stop when they come face-to-face with Roman Reigns. It's an acknowledgment of their blood connection, and it makes character sense. That's a smart storytelling choice. Or take Owens and Zayn, who don't stand with New Day and instead back away from a fight with The Shield. That's exactly what those characters would do in that moment, and it adds welcome nuance to the Survivor Series story. More often than not though, both SmackDown Live and Raw have failed to pay attention to those smaller details, instead hoping that we'll just remain willfully ignorant in exchange for a Triple H pop and a few nostalgia spots.
- Daniel Bryan is a great promo, but I'm not sure he's a great advocate. I still enjoyed that segment though because it's Daniel Bryan.
- AJ Styles just silently walking away from Jinder Mahal is all of us after Jinder lost last week. We have no interest in seeing him near that title.
- "The A show, the B show, who cares?" Kevin Owens gets me.
- New Day brags they have to have around 27 titles reigns between the three of them, but admit that "most of them are Kofi."
- Despite the lackluster build, there's a lot to look forward to at Survivor Series. Personally, I'm most looking forward to the men's traditional Survivor Series match, New Day vs. The Shield, and Charlotte vs. Alexa Bliss.
Baron Corbin (c) defeated Sin Cara (United States Championship match); Charlotte defeated Natalya (c) (SmackDown Live Women's Championship match); Jimmy Uso defeated Chad Gable; New Day vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn ended in a Shield-induced No Contest.