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: Alexa Bliss defeated Becky Lynch (for the vacant SmackDown Women’s Championship); American Alpha defeated Breezango; Natalya defeated Nikki Bella (Falls Count Anywhere); AJ Styles and Luke Harper wrestled to a “draw” (10-man Battle Royal for #1 Contendership to the WWE World Championship)
- Last week, I assumed Naomi’s injury wasn’t severe enough for WWE to actually have to change plans for WrestleMania, and to be fair, it still might not actually be. But this week’s show immediately has her vacate the title and puts Alexa Bliss and Becky Lynch (who have developed a pretty crisp in-ring chemistry with each other) in an instant SmackDown Women’s Championship match. It’s not great to see Naomi have to vacate the title though, and it sadly adds to the list of poor timing when it comes to Naomi and her pushes.
- Natalya’s insults for Nikki Bella sound eerily similar to certain fans’ criticisms of Nikki, to the point where you’ve almost got to think maybe said fans should question their own use of those criticisms. I mean, Natalya isn’t exactly the WWE Superstar you want to be compared to, is she? Unless we’re talking knowledge of ‘90s song lyrics or this.
- The Falls Count Anywhere is hurt by sloppiness and some awkwardness though (see: the spots around the announce table and Natalya’s “THAT’S BECAUSE I’M THE BEST”… after she tosses Nikki into some cases on the side of the stage). But as far as ending the feud, as Nikki now has bigger, lead pipe-wielding fish to fry, it does what it needs to do. Nikki doesn’t win, but she does get the upper hand until Maryse’s interference: the “good job” roundhouse kick to Natalya (Natalya and Nikki are especially loud talkers after that move), smashing Natalya into a mirror, the Fearless Lock at the end. Nikki gets her licks in, it just takes an assault from a pissed off French Canadian to put her down.
- Half of this week’s SmackDown is the women’s division. That’s a big deal, and aside from Daniel Bryan telling Mick Foley to “suck it” on Talking Smack, SmackDown doesn’t make an unnecessarily big deal about it. They acknowledge it after the fact, but I’m assuming unless we get a Women’s Wild Card Finals, the women getting their due is not the entirety of the build-up or the discussion on SmackDown.
- Despite the fact that American Alpha win, their match against Breezango is pleasantly more competitive than expected. But the most important part of the segment is the Usos’ promo, which I can absolutely say I watched with my mouth and y eyes wide open. For those of you who don’t know what that means, that’s what I do when I’m really feeling something in WWE/professional wrestling and can’t believe it’s happening. (It happens for me at live wrestling events too, so there’s plenty of video evidence of this.) The heel Usos had entered a bit of a holding pattern, but as WWE has pulled the trigger with their feud with American Alpha on the Road To WrestleMania, nothing’s being held back now. “It’s not paranoia! It’s The Usos!” is an amazingly cool catchphrase. The Usos are cools again. But again, I have to point out: Alpha need to be allowed to be their goofy selves here. Otherwise it’s just not fair.
- SmackDown is smart in its decision to give the Battle Royal participants (and the champion) some quick promo time to show their states of mind. Not all of the promos land—Dolph Ziggler superkicking his logo is possibly too lame to be a meme, Kalisto saying he’ll main event WrestleMania is sadly laughable, and Apollo Crews somehow recovering from Ziggler’s vicious attack at Elimination Chamber is a whole other problem—but the ones that do hit the nail right on the characters’ heads. AJ Styles’ return to hubris-fueled backstage bully is very much appreciated, and The Miz’s listing of his resume is simply beautiful, to the point you couldn’t have gotten the crowd to boo if you tried. In fact, the crowd’s reaction to his Daniel Bryan spots in the Battle Royal feels like it’s gone far past the ironic level and into genuine investment. So Bryan is becoming the Authority he hated, and The Miz is becoming the stunt double he kicked to the curb.
- Surprisingly—or unsurprisingly, considering he’s really not the center of this title situation—John Cena is the only one who doesn’t get promo time. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that Cena was considered the center of the WWE even when he wasn’t the champion. Cena doesn’t need the promo time… but he never really needs the promo time. He’s the first one to come out for the Battle Royal, and he’s not made out as above the match or the title shot.
- I got weirdly sentimental in seeing Dolph Ziggler and AJ (Styles) take on Cena. If Ziggler and Styles recreate this RAW… Also, despite the weakness of Ziggler’s crusade against the New Era, the match showing his hypocrisy by having him go after Cena pretty early on is the best character touch from Ziggler.
- Styles and Luke Harper end up going one-on-one in this Battle Royal, just like Styles and Bray Wyatt did in the Elimination Chamber, and that’s quite the nice bit of booking from WWE just in terms of the long-term storytelling with Wyatt/Harper (fully intentional on that level or not). Also, the WWE crowd chanting “LUKE” is something special all on its own. At this moment in time, WWE is really doing right by its young big guys (Harper, Baron Corbin, Braun Strowman).
- The finish to the Battle Royal, with Styles and Harper hitting the floor at the “same time,” is proof that by really being on the way to WrestleMania, WWE is going to make more of an attempt to add suspense to the inevitable Bray Wyatt/Luke Harper[/Randy Orton] match. Remember, that suspense was absolutely nonexistent when WWE was “pretending” John Cena/Randy Orton would happen at WrestleMania. The thing about the finish is, it’s not even close (I originally linked to a WWE tweet, but they deleted it) when it comes to whose feet hit the floor first. WWE is trying to say this is Lex Luger and Bret Hart at Royal Rumble 1994 instead of (what it ends up being, because of timing) John Cena and Batista at Royal Rumble 2005. They went forward with the aftermath of the finish, and luckily, SmackDown doesn’t have the overrun RAW does to really make people question why they didn’t just start the match over.
- There’s no better way to kill a wrestling high than to immediately cut to Chrisley Knows Best. On the other hand, the season four episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit beforehand actually got me hyped for this week’s SmackDown.