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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Following an abysmal PPV, Smackdown! Live tries to fix its past mistakes

Illustration for article titled Following an abysmal PPV, Smackdown! Live tries to fix its past mistakes
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Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.

  • Results: Big E defeated Jimmy Uso; Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Dolph Ziggler; Kevin Owens defeated Chad Gable (United States Championshop match); Jinder Mahal defeated Luke Harper.
  • Coming off of arguably the worst WWE PPV of the year, Smackdown! Live had some work to do. Not only did Money In The Bank fail to really ignite any feuds or deliver when it comes to solid storytelling, it also ran a complete debacle in the form of the first Women’s Money In The Bank Ladder Match. The controversy surrounding the outcome of that match, which saw James Ellsworth climb the ladder, grab the briefcase, and hand it to Carmella, is the focus of this week’s episode. As the show opens the other competitors from that match are gathered outside Daniel Bryan’s office, each waiting to make their case to the returning GM that Carmella should be stripped of the briefcase and the contract.
  • Unpacking the fallout of the Ellsworth interference is complicated. On the one hand, Carmella does deliver a good promo at the top of the show, talking about how she’s been looked over again and again, so she doesn’t give a damn if Ellsworth helped her win her contract for a title shot. On top of that, she rightly points out that the ladder match is No DQ. There’s no rules, meaning there’s no reason why Ellsworth can’t do what he did. On the other hand, this isn’t about kayfabe stories. There’s a real world context that can’t be ignored, and that context is WWE, and specifically Smackdown! Live in this case, using progressive ideals as a marketing strategy, only to then pull the rug out from under everyone, performers and viewers alike, by having a dude essentially get the win. That context cannot and should not be ignored. WWE shouldn’t throw around terms like “Women’s Revolution” or tout the importance of the first ever Women’s Money In The Bank Ladder Match and think that the words are enough, that they can coast on the idea rather then the follow through. It’s not enough to just gesture at equality, and it’s sinister to exploit the very real accomplishments of the women in this match—remember, WWE aired an uplifting video package about the importance of the match after the entrances in order to underline the moment—only to then toss them to the side within their own story. As if this isn’t muddled enough as it is, Daniel Bryan makes a decision later on that further complicates the feelings surrounding the Ellsworth/Carmella controversy.
  • Of course, there are other things on Smackdown! Live to deal with, like the New Day feeling cheated out of a win—it’s a theme—at Money In The Bank. It would seem that the Blue brand is setting up for at least one more match between the New Day and the Usos, as Big E gets a win over Jimmy Uso tonight after Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston stop the Usos from once again walking away from a match they’re about to lose. I can’t say that New Day need the titles or even a lengthy run by any means, but I’m really enjoying the dynamic between the two teams. The Usos have been running roughshod over the whole division for awhile, hence their confidence and swagger. Now, thanks to something completely out of their control, they’re faced with new, confident foes who just so happen to be the longest reigning tag team champions of all time. This isn’t an underdog story like so many title chases are, but rather two teams at the top of their game fighting it out to assert their dominance. It’s a good angle, so it’s hard to argue with Smackdown! Live giving us more of it.
  • Coming off a loss in front of his cowboy papa and his hometown crowd at Money In The Bank, Randy Orton is here to have a serious sit-down interview with Tom Phillips. Normally these types of interviews don’t reveal much, but to give credit where it’s due there’s some character stuff here that really works. What I mean is that Orton doesn’t chastise the Singh Brothers for once again interfering, or go after Mahal for needing help in retaining the WWE Championship. Instead, he lays the blame at his own feet, saying he “lost control” and made a crucial mistake in focusing on the nonsense outside the ring rather than on beating Mahal and winning his 14th world championship. “I beat myself,” he says, and that honesty is not only refreshing to see on a storytelling level, but also crucial if WWE is going to continue booking Randy Orton as one of the top babyfaces on Smackdown! Live.
  • Sami Zayn and Becky Lynch get a brief moment together backstage, and it’s too much pure babyface goodness for me to handle.
  • I’m glad that New Day talks during those boring still-image recaps WWE still runs in 2017. “That’s us, dejected,” says Big E when the Titantron flashes an image of them after the Usos ran off with the titles on Sunday.
  • So, I guess American Alpha isn’t totally missing? Chad Gable comes out to answer Kevin Owens’ open challenge, one that he specifically issues to “anyone from Dayton, Ohio.” Owens tries to reject the match, but Gable says he just moved to Dayton, and AJ Styles, already in the ring because he wants that title too, says it’s true and tells the ref to ring the bell. It’s all pretty silly, and Gable sounds a little shaky on the mic despite only having a few lines, but the match itself is solid. It’s not long by any means, but it’s a good way to reintroduce Gable. He gets some great offense in before Owens eventually gets the upper hand with a Popup Powerbomb.
  • Jinder Mahal and Randy Orton are also on this show, but it’s hard to care about what they’re doing. Mahal coming closer and closer to losing could be interesting, but Orton’s story just isn’t that compelling. At least Baron Corbin has the Money In The Bank briefcase, bringing some sense of intrigue to a very stale feud.
  • Next week on Smackdown! Live: Naomi is giving Lana a rematch for the Women’s Championship for some reason, and the Hype Bros have a match against the Usos where if they win they’ll be given a shot at the tag team titles.
  • Oh, and there’s one more thing on Smackdown! Live next week: a Women’s Money In The Bank Ladder Match. Yes, you heard right. After mulling over the rulebook and who knows what else, Daniel Bryan announces that Carmella is stripped of the briefcase and the match will be run again next week. Does this decision change the fact that the first ever Women’s Money In The Bank Ladder Match ended with a booking decision completely out of touch with what modern audience are looking for? No, not at all. But it does reveal the larger storytelling factors behind the decision, presuming this all isn’t a last-minute decision based on the post-PPV backlash. At this point we just have to roll with it and see what happens. Seeing Daniel Bryan threaten Ellsworth is fun, and having the chance to redo the ladder match seems like the right call. Still, there’s that bitter taste that just won’t go away, and surely this won’t be the last time WWE hollows out something important and meaningful.