wrestling / TV Reports

Dark Side of the Ring Season 2.09 Review: The Final Days of Owen Hart

May 19, 2020 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Dark Side of the Ring - Owen Hart
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Dark Side of the Ring Season 2.09 Review: The Final Days of Owen Hart  

Author’s Note: This is a review of the Dark Side of the Ring Season 2 finale based on a screener provided to 411mania by VICE TV.

Season 2 of Dark Side of the Ring has been absolutely exceptional and has far surpassed the already impressive first season. The season began with an extended, two-part look at the Chris Benoit tragedy. The Chris Benoit tragedy was one of the darkest moments in the history of the industry. As such, it seems rather appropriate for the second season of the docuseries to end on what is also considered to be one of the darkest, most tragic moments in wrestling history, the loss of former WWE Superstar and wrestling legend, Owen Hart.

On May 23, 1999 at the WWF Over the Edge pay-per-view in Kansas City, Missouri, Owen Hart died while preparing for his entrance for his scheduled match against The Godfather. Hart was meant to ascend from the rafters on a cable for his entrance, but he fell and hit the ring. The show continued on. Later in the evening, announcer Jim Ross solemnly announced that Owen Hart had died from the tragic accident. The Season 2 finale for Dark Side of the Ring, “The Final Days of Owen Hart,” is really the first comprehensive motion picture look that examines not only Owen Hart’s career, his accident and its aftermath, but also his life as a loving father, husband and family man.

It’s hard for me to quantify and put into words how I feel about this episode. It’s difficult for me to call this “great,” since it covers such tragic, rough and bleak subject matter. With all the emotions and tragedy surrounding what happened with the Chris Benoit tragedy, it was a tough experience to get through. I didn’t think it would be harder to watch a wrestling-themed documentary than one about Chris Benoit. After seeing this one, I may very well have been wrong. However, much like with the two-part season opener on the Chris Benoit tragedy, creators Evan Husney and Jason Eisener handle the subject matter with class, dignity, respect and professionalism worthy of a subject such as Owen Hart and his tragic passing.

Obviously, what’s most notable about this episode is the brand-new candid interview footage with Owen Hart’s widow, Doctor Martha Hart, as well as their two children, son Oje and daughter Athena. While Martha Hart did write a book about Owen in the early aughts, she and her immediate family have largely stayed silent and out of the public eye for the last 21 years since the tragedy. I think it speaks to this show’s exceptional quality that producer Evan Husney and director Jason Eisener were able to bring in Hart’s widow and children for this episode to finally bring their side of the story to the forefront.

Over the course of the last 21 years, there really hasn’t been any type of legitimate documentary about Owen Hart, his career, or even what happened on May 23, 1999. That makes this episode pretty unique, along with the presence of Owen’s family. Thankfully, Husney and Eisener do provide a nice, if somewhat abbreviated overview, on Owen Hart’s wrestling career. Owen was the youngest sibling of the Hart family. His brother Bret Hart became a pro wrestling legend and one of the biggest stars in the world. However, Owen was arguably the most gifted and talented of all the Hart family in the ring.

While Owen was quite possibly one of the best and most talented workers in the ring, he appeared to have a very pragmatic view about wrestling. Despite being so naturally talented, gifted, athletic and acrobatic inside the ring, Owen seemed to view wrestling and his job in WWE, then WWF, as just that. It was a way for him to work and provide for his family. There is a sense from this documentary that Owen was not as consumed by the business as some of his family members. Case in point, Owen Hart did not join Bret Hart in leaving WWF following the infamous Montreal Screwjob, which was covered in the first season of the docuseries, but their in-laws, British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith and Jim The Anvil Neidhart, did leave with Bret to go to WCW. Owen Hart remained. At one point in the finale, Martha Hart does provide some insight on how Owen tried to calm Bret down in the immediate aftermath of the Montreal Screwjob, which I found fascinating.

The days leading up to Over the Edge are depicted as rather ominous. There is almost the sense that something wasn’t quite right, or Owen Hart was scared about something. The way I interpreted it was that in his Blue Blazer gimmick where he would do the cable stunts and descend from the rafters, Owen was not a fan of said stunts and likely feared one could go wrong. Erroneous or not, the picture is painted that while Owen was scared to take part in these stunts, he didn’t want to hurt his position or standing with his employers at WWF.

Hearing the firsthand accounts of that night from the perspectives of Martha and Oje was absolutely heartbreaking. It’s the most gut-wrenching part of this whole episode. Even today, I will go onto wrestling forums and see classless, tasteless comments about Martha Hart. People might claim to be fans of Owen Hart, but all those comments simply come from a selfish place. It’s like these so-called fans did not stop and think for one second that this person’s husband, the father of her children, died. He left to go and do his job and never came back. Not to mention, I cannot for one second blame Martha Hart for her feelings about wrestling and WWE in the aftermath of this tragedy. The episode does very much address these topics.

I think the weakest part of the episode is there are certain aspects of the tragedy that could have gone into greater detail. The Chris Benoit event being a two-part episode definitely helped dive deeper into that subject matter. At times, “The Final Days of Owen Hart” seems to merely gloss over the names and details surrounding the stunt leading to Hart’s death. At one point, Martha Hart does mention the name of Bobby Talbert, the rigger who designed the Over the Edge cable stunt and purchased the equipment. Based on the episode, what took place was gross corporate negligence with multiple parties at fault that could’ve been explored further. Additionally, I think there could’ve been clarification from Martha Hart’s side shown in the documentary on why she opted to settle the lawsuit with WWE.

“The Final Days of Owen Hart” does provide a sense that WWE likely cut corners in order to redesign the cable stunt for Owen Hart to make it look more aesthetically pleasing [from WWE’s perspective] for TV and so he could quickly detach himself from the cable for the entrance. I think had the episode had a second half, it could’ve really more substantially delved further into the details of Joe Branam, a more qualified stunt rigger who previously worked with WWF and did not have his services retained for the night of Over the Edge; Steve Taylor, the former WWE Vice President of Event Operations; and of course, Bobby Talbert, who is only briefly mentioned during the episode. David Bixenspan wrote a tremendous, comprehensive overview of the situation for Fanbyte.com that does fill in a lot of blanks left from the finale.

A piece of the Vince McMahon press conference following Over the Edge is shown where he aggressively replies to a reporter asking about the lack of safety precautions from Owen Hart’s stunt where he says, “I resent your tone.” I’m not here to pass judgement on Vince McMahon and WWE regarding this tragedy, but it’s definitely not one of Vince McMahon’s finest moments. Not to mention, other elements in the aftermath of Owen Hart’s passing, along with WWE filing a countersuit against Martha Hart to try and get the wrongful death lawsuit moved to Connecticut, do not provide the WWE with much in the way of a defensible position with regards to this event.

Interview subjects for the episode include The Godfather, Charles Wright, who Owen was scheduled to wrestle at Over the Edge; announcer Jim Ross, who was sitting ringside and managed to see a glimpse of Owen as he was falling; and referee Jimmy Korderas, who was sweeping debris out of the ring as Owen was falling. Korderas was not seriously hurt by the impact as Owen was brushing past him during the fall. These accounts are very detailed and also chilling to hear. D’Lo Brown and Chris Jericho, who once again serves as the narrator for this episode as well, talk about the influence of Owen Hart as a wrestler in the ring and also their careers.

More than anything, besides the unprecedented access Owen’s family gave Evan Husney and Jason Eisener, I’m grateful for the family footage that was given to the production and shown for the finale. The footage shows a genuine, loving and gentle side of Owen Hart and how much he loved and cared for his family. It’s both beautiful and saddening to see how great of a family man he was, but it makes the events surrounding his tragic passing that much more heartbreaking.

If anything, this episode of Dark Side of the Ring feels like a strong cautionary tale about a career in wrestling. If wrestlers do not feel comfortable or safe in performing a certain type of stunt their bosses want them to do, they should have the opportunity to speak up and refuse to do so without punishment. No matter what side you fall on in the aftermath of this tragedy, this is a documentary that every person who watches wrestling or has heard of Owen Hart needs to see at some point.

Flaws and nitpicks aside, hats off to Evan Husney and Jason Eisener for a tremendous season and an exceptional finale for Dark Side of the Ring.

9.0
The final score: review Amazing
The 411
"The Final Days of Owen Hart" is a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching look at Owen Hart's passing and the ensuing aftermath. It is easily one of pro wrestling's darkest days and most tragic moments. Getting through this episode was a difficult experience, but I think it's one that defines this show's exceptional quality and work. This has really been an outstanding season for the docuseries. While I think this story was worthy of another two-parter, it's important to note this is the first time that Owen Hart's immediate family was a part of this type of production, which makes it very significant. It's hard to call this a high-note ending for the season, but it's definitely a story that every fan should listen to and watch at least once.
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