wrestling / Columns

Modern WWE: Long-Form Storytelling… Or Amnesia?

July 29, 2021 | Posted by Rob Stewart
Alexa Bliss Raw WWE

Back in 2013, Daniel Bryan was perpetually vexed by Triple-H and Stephanie McMahon, the heel Authority of WWE, while trying to become world champion.

This would lead to Bryan having a sustained crowd swell that would inevitably propel him to the main event of WrestleMania, wherein he would defeat Triple-H (with Stephanie in his corner) and Triple-H’s former associates to close the show standing tall as the world champion.

(And yes, I know there is, at best, debate that this was ever the plan. Most people don’t have the faith that WWE ever had Bryan in their WrestleMania 30 main event plans until the fans bullied them into it. I, for one, have no faith that WWE gives a singular god damn shit what fans want, so I don’t buy the idea that Vince thought “Hey maybe I’m wrong” and audibled to Daniel)

Anyway, Daniel ended up having to abdicate the title due to injury, leading to Stephanie McMahon mocking him.

This led to Brie Bella challenging Stephanie in a feud.

Which, in turn, led to Nikki Bella turning on her sister, aligning with The Authority, and telling Brie that Nikki wished she had Cassandra Nova’d her in the womb.

From here we got an angle where Nikki defeated Brie, causing Brie to become her slave for 30 days. During this timeframe, Nikki humiliated and tortured Brie.

On the 30th day of her servitude, Brie assaulted AJ Lee, allowing Nikki to defeat her and win the Divas Title.

And it was all lining up, right? Daniel Bryan’s injury might have messed up whatever they had planned for him (getting squashed by Lesnar), but they had pivoted the story to Steph/Brie and then to Brie/Nikki. Now that Brie had helped Nikki get the title and was free from servitude, it was all on track for Brie to attack her twin and feud over the Divas Title… a championship descendent feud of of Bryan’s momentous win and grudge with The Authority. Long-form storytelling off of an audible (probably two audibles if you have more sense than I do about D-Bry and WrestleMania 30).

Instead… Brie just inexplicably stayed by her sister’s side and they became a loving, if evil heel, unit again.

It made no sense! There was no payoff! What was it all for?

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

Brie Bella vs. Nikki Bella: The Fighting Twins - E! Online - AU
This. I’ve been thinking about this.

Recently, Roman Reigns has turned heel. One of his very first feuds as a newly villainous world champion was with his cousin, Jey Uso. Jey gave some impassioned promos leading up to their title matches (“Which one are you?“), but he ultimately fell to his cousin. In a rematch–an I Quit Hell In A Cell match), Roman would eventually punish Jey into submission by brutalizing Jey’s injured twin brother Jimmy. With no choice left in the face of Roman’s abhorrent tactics, Jey quit.

He was then forced into Roman Reigns’ servitude. And, shortly into this time, he just started… liking it? The guy with the dramatic, effective, babyface breakaway singles story who had to begrudgingly go dark… just welcomed it with no explanation.

But hey, wait, it’s okay! Jimmy Uso eventually returned from injury. And don’t worry; he made sure to remind his brother of how Jey got into the spot he is in and that Jimmy is no one’s bitch! During Roman’s angle with Cesaro, Jimmy did not seem to care about assisting his cousin at all. Jimmy was going to get this whole Conflicted Jey Uso thing back on track!

Except within weeks, Jimmy too would become unapologetically evil as Roman’s minion.

And this is where you can say “Don’t be so harsh, Stew! Let the story play out!”, but… I have questions:

First, why in WWE are twins so willing to go heel for no reason when they had previously hated their family members?

And secondly, what in WWE’s recent history gives me a reason to think they are going any further with this story than they did with Brie and Nikki?

How WWE pulled off Randy Orton vs The Fiend Firefly Inferno match at TLC,  Sports News | wionews.com

The Fiend Bray Wyatt has wrestled one match in 2021. ONE! It’s almost August! He has been on the shelf since December when Randy Orton burned him up real good.

For the first few months of 2020, I lauded WWE’s brilliance for not immediately bringing Bray back. They were letting the storyline marinate, as they clearly–CLEARLY!–had a plan in mind for The Fiend’s return. He sat out the Royal Rumble. He wasn’t at the Elimination Chamber. He only finally appeared to set up his return match at WrestleMania. In the meantime, Alexa Bliss carried on the story in his absence, building her own angle with Orton and constantly alluding to Bray’s return.

Then Alexa turned on Wyatt at ‘Mania! Oh man, why?! Where could this all be going now?!

Nowhere.

It was going nowhere.

With the match over, Bray left again and has not been seen since. Alexa Bliss has, instead, decided she is spooky evil without Bray, but has zero direction or purpose without him. She and a doll scared Shayna Baszler. And they briefly mind controlled some people into slapping other people. That’s her character now.

I gave credit to WWE for having an idea in mind for Bray and using long-form storytelling. I liked that they were milking the tale. But at this point… what are the odds they ever had this all planned out?

I mean, it’s possible. It’s possible they know what they are doing with The Usos and Roman, and they have twists and turns in mind. It’s possible they know what they are doing with The Fiend and just wanted to give him eight months off (more or less) to really maximize his effectiveness (which, to be fair, the stale-ass Fiend character really could use).

After all, there IS precedent.

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Do you remember the 1980’s? WWE told a story with Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth that literally spanned YEARS. They were together through Macho’s abuse, then happy when he went good and became champ. They Hogan came between them, and jealousy drove Savage back to villainy. And the payoff? TWO YEARS LATER, they would reunite in an epic, unforgettable moment!

TWO YEARS!

And that’s after years of build to their separation!

What a great story arc it ended up being for both of them!

And then Randy got bit by a cobra, but even that was great!

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So when Roman and his cousins aren’t immediately progressing their storyline, am I being the worst kind of fan? The one who has no patience for stories that actually develop their own plot? When Bray Wyatt has been MIA for months, and (on the surface level) there does not seem to be any development with what they’ve built, am I the instant gratification seeker?

And it’s not like I worry that things will NEVER pay off. I’m sure The Fiend will re-emerge someday, whereupon WWE will tell some story between him and Alexa. I’m positive (well… mostly positive. WELL… kind of positive) that WWE will do something with Roman and The Usos’ weird family subjugation dynamic. It’s not that I don’t think they are going to pay off the story at all…

It’s that they genuinely seem to be doing things without an actual plan in mind. They figure they’ll find the plot later on. They are doing things just because they are cool at the moment, and they are punting the fallout down the road for someone else to figure out when WWE has hired new writers yet again.

So I think about that, and then I think of Brie Bella and her weird storyline that evolved from an entirely separate storyline a year earlier. And I think of all of the momentum that angle had. And how, just when the story reached its next turning point… WWE developed amnesia and forgot everything they were doing.

So which do you think is more likely? Am I being overly harsh? Could WWE have plans in mind in the scope of Savage and Elizabeth? Or is this more akin to the complete trailing off of the 2014 Bellas angle?

Until next time… take care!