Retroactive Worst: The first 10 minutes of last week’s show
Last week was the busiest week I’ve had at work in a long time, and our busiest of the year. Dealing with screaming children and screaming parents unfortunately left no room for screaming wrestlers. At this point you can pretty much guess how I felt about a show without Joseph Park, and a show where Hulk Hogan shows up, ignores canonically established stipulations, and puts Sting into a title match despite everything that happened at Slammiversary. Spoiler alert: it was not favourable. Despite all of that, the thing I took issue with the most was the opening of last week’s show.
The segment starts off innocently enough. Bully Ray appears confused as to how they could have let Aces & Eights win, and goes down the dwindling line of club members one by one trying to figure it out. Just when you think solidarity and friendship-based wrestling will prevail, NOPE. Bully Ray takes the easy heat and blames his brother, saying that he’s always been a disappointment. Devon has always been his co-star and sidekick, and…oh. Oh, that is not whaazzzzzzup.
Okay. Here’s where I admit something I never thought I would say: I don’t want to see Aces & Eights break up yet. Whoa, I know, right? Where did this come from?
For all of its stalling and convoluted twists and turns and shouting and more shouting and even more shouting, some really good things have come from Aces & Eights. The January 17th wedding episode, which, sadly, will be remembered more for Brooke Hogan’s tits falling out than it being one of the best episodes of television TNA has ever produced. There was a chance to inject some humour into the bit players: the relationship between DOC and uhh, Knuxxy, as I guess we’re calling him now. The smarmy sh-ttiness of Brischoff. Reuniting Devon and Bully Ray was a mark moment pure and simple, and that’s the only reason what Bully Ray is doing now works on the crowd. All of this could have elevated Aces & Eights to greatness. Bully Ray had moments of honest vulnerability, and as I’ve said before, in those moments he’s the best he’s ever been. Like with anything TNA ever attempts, the potential is through the roof, but whether it’s fear or just downright stupidity, it’s nipped in the bud and relegated to yet another reason people deride TNA.
Shouty delivery aside, it’s because of these glimpses of potential that what Bully Ray is doing right now works. It sucks and I don’t care about Tito Ortiz, but he’s getting a reaction. People love the Dudley Boys, and seeing them together touched that nostalgic part of our heart that makes us want to see the things we love come together and be the things we love again. Insulting him and going against everything we have been led to believe about their relationship makes us throw that away and turn on him, because how dare he play us for the fool for loving and believing in them both for so long.
Bully Ray is a man so consumed by his title and position that he’s become delusional, turning against his club and his own purported flesh and blood for a guy who looks and sounds like an animate potato and a lady who can only keep her finger out of her goddamned mouth long enough to creepily refer to him as “daddy.” Giving Snore-tiz his own cut (Devon’s old one, to add insult to injury) and bypassing the rigorous hammer-wielding, Kurt Angle-assaulting, stripper gauntlet patching-in process AND without consulting the rest of the club first firmly sets the stage for his ousting. He can point the finger of blame at everyone else, yet his refusal to live up to his bad bad reputation and do anything about AJ Styles before he reached the ring to assist MEM, and his blatant inaction during the entirety of the match, is just as much, if not more to blame than Knuxxicles or whoever. It can be believed that he’s using the MMA-fed machismo of Tito Ortiz, and the painted-on overt sexualization of Brooke Tessmacher to compensate for his impotence as a leader, and, given their recent losses, the heel stable overall.
Obviously the most hilarious and ironic aspect of this mutinous fury is the fact that Mr. Anderson is the most vocal against the flippant introduction of Tito to the club, yet he did the least to be able to join. He was offered the position, wooed with women and libations, and took their invitation mostly because he just likes being an asshole, and until MEM, Aces & Eights were realistically the loosest asshole on the show. Now, here’s where we can infer that the trials and tribulations of the club are what kept Anderson around; what started as a lark turned into genuine camaraderie. He learned the Christmas Miracle meaning of brotherhood and friendship in a weird, leather-clad, ride-or-die spirit. But this is just an inference. It could also be said that it’s all a front, and this is a Machiavellian power play to put himself in charge, but again, this is just an inference. We’re given enough scraps to make any of this plausible, but really, the only thing we get are his wonky angry faces and the sad missed opportunity in a later backstage segment to point out that “this is not a democracy, it’s a beerocracy.”
When you look at their entire run as a whole, the execution of most of what has happened has been wretched. When you think about the core storytelling that has happened, though, it’s actually kind of brilliant. In retrospect, on paper, everything works. Missed opportunities to further develop club dynamics aside, this embodies the most frustrating thing about TNA (well….okay, one of the top ones). The intent is there, and there’s potential underneath it all, but it never gets there. It’s the Sisyphus of wrestling shows: they push a person or an idea up and up and up, and just when you start to believe they’re finally going to reach the top and have a successful breakthrough, we have to watch it plummet back down to the very bottom. But yet here we are, week in and week out, waiting for that boulder to go back up the mountain, believing that this time, this time, they’re really gonna make it.
But no. Bully Ray shouts stuff and is just going through the motions again. Hulk Hogan has done the best work of his 300 year career during this story, but has gone from near-Shakespearean levels of pathos to going the familiar Hulk Hogan charicature of himself, just BROTHER-ing and shouting stuff. Even Tazz has had standout moments. On commentary throughout this segment, he’s trying his best to back up Bully Ray’s decision and support his club president, but the sudden shock and sadness in his voice when he points out that it’s Devon’s vest being given to Ortiz? Tazz showing emotional depth and giving me a legitimate pang of sympathy is like trotting out a real life unicorn. And yet….overall it’s still somehow not good enough. We’re still just going through the motions to get to the inevitable.
As much as we’ve trudged through the depths of Wes Brisco wrestling, beer bottle hand jobs, nonsensical plot holes, and as much baby oil as they could possibly rub into DOC’s skin, we’ve seen greatness shine through. We’ve been so close. I, for one, want to reach the top of that mountain (before Jeff Jarrett does, natch), and that desire and belief that we might one day get there is what will always let me down in the end. That’s why this gets a worst. That’s why “perfectly adequate” and “Magnus” just aren’t f-cking good enough. I can accept the inevitability of things going awry and the warm embrace of assured disappointment, or I can keep pushing forward in the very definition of insanity and say no, I’m sorry, it’s not good enough, you can do better. We all know they can do better.
So why doesn’t TNA?
I want more like this!
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