Just in case last week's reunion didn't quite drive the point home, Raw is now The Shield's home. They are the focal point of the Red brand for the foreseeable future, and that's a great feeling. Their presence is not only a boon to the show in general, it's also a way to open up a number of storytelling options. The reunion is already paying off, as this week's show boasts a structure that places The Shield at the center of everything. There are ebbs and flows to tonight's show that aren't usually there, and that's because Raw is using The Shield as a throughline.
In essence, there's a clarity to the storytelling that's rather admirable. By spacing out each of the segments involving The Shield, Raw is able to transition from one segment to the next without feeling like there's no rhyme or reason to what's happening. That not only benefits everything involving Reigns, Ambrose, and Rollins, but also every other feud that's building to a blow-off at TLC on Sunday. Everybody benefits when the show is structured in a way that makes nearly every feud feel important.
An orange demon who isn't Donald Trump
Of course, not everything on Raw can feel important when the show feels obligated to address whatever the latest Bray Wyatt feud is. To be fair to tonight's show, Bray Wyatt is nowhere to be found. Instead, it's Finn Balor addressing Sister Abigail, and if you thought last week's auto-tuned reveal was bad, you might have to rethink the power of that word. Not only does Balor cut basically the same promo as the one leading into his previous match with Wyatt, signaling the presence of The Demon at the next PPV, but this time it's complete with a digital face transformation that's incredibly cheesy. The Demon is supposed to be threatening, but he's out here looking like Tony the Tiger at a warehouse rave getting down to some drum 'n' bass. Actually, that sounds cooler than what we got.
Dare I say though, I think the Balor-Wyatt nonsense is really the only disappointing part of this week's show. Raw hits its mark everywhere else, and that's because it's engaged in storytelling that understands how to treat each feud differently. If you look at every single segment and match tonight, there's at least some semblance of coherent storytelling, but more importantly, there's balance. The Shield feuding with The Miz, The Bar, and Braun Strowman gets the most time; then there's the multiple stories taking place in the women's division; then there's the midcard guys getting their spots, and the cruiserweight division getting two segments that reveal previously unseen layers.
Enzo Amore deserves some serious praise
That structure is kickstarted by a single match stipulation. When The Miz, during his Miz TV segment, starts to add yet another member to his team for Sunday, Kurt Angle comes out to float his own idea. He says that if Braun Strowman wins his main event steel cage match against Roman Reigns, The Miz will get his fifth member. If Strowman loses though, he's cut from the match on Sunday, and it will simply be a 3 vs. 3 match. That stipulation not only adds some stakes to the main event of the go-home show, it also adds plenty of intrigue to the mystery of who that fifth person could be.
Before we get to that unpredictable, strange, fascinating reveal though, there's plenty of other stuff on this show to love. I can't say that TLC has the deepest card, but Raw puts in the work to make a lot of these feuds matter. Any thoughts about the man himself aside, I think there's no denying that Enzo Amore has thrived in his new role. He's lit a fire under the entire cruiserweight division, acting as a storytelling piece like no one before him. It's a shame that Neville never got more of an actual story to tell, but that doesn't take away from what Amore is doing here. He's slowly tweaked his formula to highlight his heel tendencies; his entitlement and arrogance are more prominent than ever, and that means people are gathering around him. He has cronies now, and that means that the whole division feels like a living, breathing entity. Not bad for something that was essentially DOA when Raw first brought the cruiserweights out.
The Club gets into comedy
What's great about Raw right now, and is a direct result of the more coherent structure in recent weeks, is that even the "less important" guys have their spots. Elias, against all odds—let's get a Phil Collins cover, man—has somehow found his spot. He's out here doing comedy bits with The Club, who have plenty of comedic chops as evidenced by Southpaw Regional Wrestling, and getting some good heat while furthering the story of Jason Jordan, Apollo Crews, and Titus O'Neil. Those are all guys that don't typically get much time, but here they're allowed to tell a more substantial story.
Improving the cruiserweights
That's really the case across the board tonight. Cedric Alexander, Jack Gallagher, and Brian Kendrick get a lengthy video package before their match that helps to flesh out their motivations, which should be instantly adopted as commonplace for any cruiserweight match on Raw. Sasha Banks and Alicia Fox get two interconnected segments this week, and that means that, despite Mickie and Alexa leaving something to be desired in their feud, Raw is actually telling three different stories with its women's division. And on top of all that, you have Curtis Axel doing everything he can to prove himself, a story within the story of everything involving The Shield.
Kane returns to Monday Night Raw
Which brings us to the climax of the episode's self-contained story, which is Kane, of all people, showing up during the main event to deliver a chokeslam and tombstone to Roman Reigns before being announced as the fifth member of The Miz's team at TLC on Sunday. I have no idea how this makes any storytelling sense, and I'll admit, it has me kind of bummed out. This smells like WWE inserting a piece into a hot feud just because it can. It's surprising and shocking, and that's always a good thing, but at this point it feels like an unnecessary addition. If you're adding someone to a match or feud, they need to have a purpose. Kane may very well have a purpose come Sunday, but for now, it's a baffling choice heading into a PPV that's clearly built entirely around The Shield.
- Real good tag team match for the titles tonight. Great chemistry between those teams.
- The Shield wearing their old tactical gear, along with the original entrance, had me feeling all sorts of wonderful things.
- So Portland loved Curtis Axel. Who knew?
- Sasha Banks and Alicia Fox both deserve better than the kickoff show, but I guess something is better than nothing.
Jason Jordan, Apollo Crews, and Titus O'Neil defeated Elias and The Club; Cedric Alexander defeated Jack Gallagher; Sasha Banks defeated Alicia Fox; Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins defeated Cesaro and Sheamus (Raw Tag Team Championship match); Bayley and Mickie James defeated Emma and Alexa Bliss; Braun Strowman defeated Roman Reigns (Steel Cage match).
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