THE RAW REVIEW
I’ve long-awaited the return of Brock Lesnar.
The past several months of WWE programming have been defined by muddy narrative waters and downright obnoxious characters whose personalities and perspectives are as schizophrenic as the quality of the company’s flagship series.
I’d hoped, perhaps naively, that a returning Brock Lesnar might somehow fix all of that.
While I genuinely popped as Lesnar stormed out from behind the curtain and slowly walked toward the ring where a cowering Seth Rollins stood, WWE’s reliable potpourri of missed opportunity, inconsistent characterizations, and inconsistent storytelling inevitably affected whatever joy I might have grasped as a result of Lesnar’s appearance.
The last time we saw Lesnar he was F5ing cameramen, hunting Seth Rollins like a rabid animal, and inspiring Stephanie McMahon to scream in a rage that she “Owned that son of a bitch”.
An emotional fire blazed around Brock Lesnar.
The Authority hated Brock Lesnar.
Seth Rollins feared Brock Lesnar, but he enjoyed toying with Brock Lesnar. He took pride in outsmarting Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. Seth Rollins was good at toying with Brock Lesnar.
Brock Lesnar was suspended by The Authority as a result of his viciousness.
Brock Lesnar was an animal on the loose that The Authority feared, that The Authority wanted off their PG-rated television show because Lesnar was, as Paul Heyman eloquently put it, "The most non-PG superstar of the PG-era".
The conflict was clear.
The conflict was simple.
The conflict was powerful.
Brock Lesnar wanted to get his title back from a sniveling Seth Rollins who’d stolen that title at WrestleMania. Brock Lesnar wanted his title back so badly that he had no interest in “playing nice” with The Authority. The Authority became Brock Lesnar's enemy on The Monday Night Raw after WrestleMania, a rule-obsessed entity getting in the way of his bloody satisfaction.
Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, and Seth Rollins w/J&J Security were a villanous unit with a very clear perspective on Brock Lesnar and Brock Lesnar, as a result of those very clearly defined parameters, transformed, organically, into a transcendent, top babyface the likes of which we haven’t seen in fifteen years - a beast with a goal that the entire WWE fandom could rally behind.
Brock Lesnar seemed destined to become the demise of The Authority - a fitting, ironic twist, an old narrative trope where the villains who unleash a beast inevitably find themselves in the clutches of that beast.
When Brock Lesnar returned it would be on his terms and it would be against The Authority's wishes.
Brock Lesnar naturally would've been watching Seth Rollins slither his way through these past several months. Brock Lesnar would've seen that The Authority was going to start choosing Seth Rollins opponents for him, and then Brock Lesnar would have emerged from out of the crowd or behind the curtain to disrupt that heinous system, a system that goes against everything Brock Lesnar represents in the competitive sports world.
That was the story.
And it was a good story.
Now the story is that Paul Heyman, using his swagger and charm, managed to calm Brock down, managed to calm The Authority down, and cut a deal to get Brock Lesnar’s suspension lifted so that he could get his rightful rematch against Seth Rollins.
And, remember, that is but one facet of this increasingly convoluted story.
The story is also that Seth Rollins has alienated everyone around him, even the villains of the WWE, and the villains, somewhat annoyed with Seth Rollins’ pomposity, derive joy from torturing Seth Rollins (that seems to be Stephanie’s motivation) while simultaneously wanting to put Seth Rollins to the test so that he might evolve into a stronger champion (that’s Triple H’s motivation).
The story of Seth Rollins continues to be - “Can Seth Rollins win a match all by himself?”
Therein is supposed to exist the drama.
The story is not "Brock Lesnar has returned to wreak havoc and Seth Rollins and The Authority must pay for their sins."
The story is "Did The Authority make a good investment? Can Seth Rollins be crushed into a diamond?"
I ask you, dear reader, do you find that to be a compelling story? Is that the story that capitalizes on everyone's talent and positions everyone in a bankable place? Do you want to pay your hard-earned $9.99/month to find out if The Authority made a good investment in Seth Rollins or do you want to pay your $9.99/month to watch Brock Lesnar murder everyone on the face of the earth?
At Money in the Bank, Triple H seemed entirely happy with Seth Rollins, satisfied that he’d defeated Dean Ambrose. Proud even.
On Monday Night Raw, Triple H seemed slightly irritated with Seth Rollins, wanting to put him through the test of Brock Lesnar so as to discover whether or not the investment in Seth Rollins is worthwhile.
All of this makes everyone look inept.
All of this renders the past several months since Brock Lesnar's departure moot, as well as the explosive events that transpired on the RAW after WrestleMania.
Brock Lesnar has been sapped of his defiance as a result of this creative choice.
I'm not suggesting that this particular story is entirely illogical or that it won't become something interesting. It's not hard to "get" the story. It's simply yet another narrative populated by passive characters who are all bad at their job (save Paul Heyman) and only manage to advance through their fictional lives as a result of random chance or the whims of a higher power.
Despite his Suplex City tee-shirt and his naturally imposing aura, given that The Authority has accepted him back and given that they regard him as a test for Seth Rollins, the appeal of a rebellious Lesnar is completely abandoned in favor of making The Authority the only seemingly powerful entity in the story. The draw of an angry warrior set loose on the system is traded for litigation.
It makes sense that Heyman would try to mend bridges and broker a deal. Lesnar’s side of the story makes narrative sense. But it’s not nearly as compelling as it could have been. Lesnar’s primal appeal now has The Authority stank on it once more. He’s less active. It wasn’t his decision to come back, it was The Authority’s decision to bring Brock back so as to test Rollins.
The Authority is hurt by this story too because The Authority appears unsure of themselves. They continue to question who they choose as WWE World Heavyweight Champion. They've been doing that for years. When their champion is a heel they feel a need to constantly search for a better champion and when the champion is a face they continually fail to outwit that champion.
They’re not confident in their investment in Seth Rollins. They’re also not confident in their decision to suspend Brock Lesnar.
The Authority becomes a body of reneged decisions, backtracking, constantly, on every single plot point, on every single choice that once moved a story forward.
And Seth Rollins, very obviously, is hurt by these narrative decisions most of all, reduced to a cowering fool who no one likes, an insignificant flavor of the month whose legitimate victories are negated almost as soon as they occur, a character who doesn’t believe in himself and who no one else believes in.
That’s the reality of the WWE’s A-story.
Beneath the fun of seeing Brock Lesnar exist, we’re still just watching something that appears to search for the best way to negate the agency of every character and sap the narrative of all organic intensity.
Certainly, in the next five weeks, this could all change.
Certainly, the WWE could get this narrative under control, fix what they’ve broken with regard to The Authority stable and the Seth Rollins character, and simplify everything.
It’s clear that Triple H is Seth Rollins’ mentor.
That’s the story on-screen and (apparently) off.
That’s an interesting story.
A Seth Rollins chosen by Triple H, mentored by Triple H, a Triple H who's confident in that decision, and a Seth Rollins who takes the Cerebral Assassin baton and elevates it with his excellence, going up against a Brock Lesnar whose been chosen by the people to dismantle the WWE’s PG-infrastructure is an interesting story.
It’s a simple story and a thematically rich story - the past fighting the future, the future fighting the past. It's a balanced, good old-fashoinied story of manager versus manager (or COO versus Advocate) and brains versus brawn. There is balance in this kind of story, obvious opposing forces resulting in exciting, relatable conflicts.
The story, as it currently sits, squanders everyone’s potential and hurts the company. Recognizalbe motivations and relatable characterizations are traded for convoluted situations where everyone is inept, where The Authority is kind of irritated with Seth Rollins so they want to test Seth Rollins and they also kind of sort of want to torture Seth Rollins by cutting a deal with Brock Lesnar while Brock Lesnar lets people make decisions for him, thus becoming an Authority stooge again so that he can get his revenge despite the Authority previously preventing him from getting his revenge a few months ago...
End The Authority as it is, WWE.
This is one continuity-break I encourage.
Ignore its existence and move on.
The Authority, in its current form, is hurting careers.
Let a heel Triple H and a heel Seth Rollins become a foil to a babyface Brock Lesnar and a babyface Paul Heyman.
You will still have your “Corporation” versus “The People’s Chosen Hero” narrative that you love so much, only it will make sense and it will permit talents to shine.
This dynamic is inherently entertaining.
Triple H, once an anti-establishment hooligan has transformed into the establishment. His grasp on the company stronger than ever, the best way for him to secure his legacy is to become the man who chooses those talents he deems worthy of the mountaintop.
Seth Rollins, having been selected for the mountaintop, is aware of how he benefits from Triple H’s villainy and hubris, using it to further his career in the process. And so two active characters with nefarious deeds in mind set themselves on a path of oppression, dominating the world, boosting their egos, erecting a massive corporation in their own image.
And then along comes a beast.
A forsaken fighter who was once The Authority’s chosen champion.
A man who cannot be controlled.
A man who cannot be chosen. A vicious animal who rejects all structure, save a primal, self-imposed edict - hunt and kill.
This beast, Brock Lesnar, is accompanied by The Devil himself, a charlatan who also operates outside the parameters of rules and regulations all the while making you believe the opposite.
This duo unexpectedly becomes a beacon of hope for the people who are fed up with the corporate structure telling the same old story over and over again, a corporate structure that clogs up this world of wrestling entertainment with technicalities and convoluted stipulations.
It’s time the WWE’s world come crashing down.
And a defiant Brock Lesnar is the man for the job.
Feel free to comment below with your thoughts.
Next week on The Work of Wrestling podcast I will be discussing the rest of Monday Night Raw that I didn't cover here (specifically Kevin Owens). So subscribe to THE WORK OF WRESTLING PODCAST in iTunes now!
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