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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business: Don’t Call it a “Babyface Turn” – Why the Story of Seth Rollins is Special
By Samuel 'Plan
Jul 20, 2017 - 7:45:20 PM

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Just Business: Don’t Call it a “Babyface Turn” – Why the Story of Seth Rollins is Special

I am loving the Seth Rollins arc right now. His segment with Dean Ambrose on Monday Night Raw was incredible, and exactly the kind of WWE product I love, and so often champion as proof of what pro wrestling can achieve when taking itself seriously as a work of fiction and a profession of performance art. It was an exchange imbued with character and totally committed to the fictional universe those two characters inhabited. Lines between reality and fiction weren’t blurred, real life issues weren’t dragged into it; it was a scene from the four-year old story of the evolving relationship between Rollins and Ambrose. More importantly, it was a scene from the four-year old evolving character arc of Seth Rollins.

When Seth Rollins was betrayed by Triple H in August 2016, it wasn’t long before fans across the internet, in typically cynical fashion, began voicing their disappointment in the latest Rollins developments. “I have no reason to cheer him,” was perhaps to most recurrent cry among the dissatisfied fans, many of whom had labelled Rollins’ “babyface run” as a failure as early as only a few weeks after the infamous crowning of Kevin Owens as Universal Champion.

The truth is that those fans were right. They were right in saying they had no reason to cheer for Seth Rollins, because, honestly, they didn’t. How could they? How can you instantaneously extinguish two years of shenanigans that did nothing but example how vacuous a human being Rollins became under Triple H’s guiding hands? You don’t just forget what Rollins did to Dean Ambrose. You don’t just forget what Rollins threatened to do in order to get The Authority reinstated. You don’t just forget the Heist of the Century, and the endless heists that followed thereafter. Nor is it easy to suddenly be endeared by a man who had proven time and again to be cowardly, cheap and narcissistic, nor respect anybody who so eagerly sold their soul to satiate their unending, ever increasing addiction to success.

But of course, the other truth is that those fans were wrong. They were wrong because the “babyface turn” was not a failure; in fact, it was not even a thing. If I might paraphrase The Matrix, there was no turn.

Let us ask what exactly made his “babyface turn” just that? Was it simply because he was betrayed by a man known to be a betrayer? Many thought as much. You can’t blame them for that either. After all, it carried all the hallmarks of what sports entertainment philosophy would call a “babyface turn.” Seth Rollins’ personality shifted, with the cut-throat determination that underpinned him during his time in The Shield re-emerging to once again displace the lethargy and narcissism that underpinned him during his time in The Authority. His quest for revenge naturally positioned him alongside another hero on Monday Night Raw in the form of Roman Reigns, while squarely planting him opposite outright villains in the form of Kevin and Owens and Chris Jericho. So of course it was a “babyface turn,” and the fact it didn’t set the world alight proves it was a failure! Right?!


All it proved to be was yet another of many examples as to why the sports entertainment philosophy – which I again remind everyone was invented to suit the world as it was thirty years ago - no longer functions in this online, post Digital Revolution society of ours, and instead only ever fosters unending disappointment. It is limited, full of unnecessarily self-imposed restrictions and completely unsuitable for any reality where the fourth wall no longer exists.

Approach those same events from the perspective of performance art instead, which encourages you to interpret pro wrestling exclusively as a fiction rather than as some strange, non-committal hybrid pretending to be a sport it isn’t, and what you find is that Triple H’s betrayal never amounted to a Seth Rollins “babyface turn” in the first place. How could it? We’ve already discussed, and I’ve already agreed, that no reason was given to cheer Seth Rollins; hardly a way to turn a man into a hero.

So if not a turn, what was it? Well, put simply, Triple H’s betrayal of Seth Rollins was just that; Triple H betraying Seth Rollins. That’s all it needed to be, and it’s all it should be seen as. Two characters interacted to propel a fiction forward. That fiction began what I find to be a spell-binding journey even now: the redemption of Seth Rollins; a story I like to call “Redesigning, Rebuilding, Reclaiming a Soul” and which I wrote at length about, specifically regarding the Triple H feud, in this well-received column: Redesiging, Rebuilding, Reclaiming a Soul. Reading that will give you a grasp of where I’m coming from.

Since WrestleMania, of course, conversation surrounding Seth Rollins’ “failure as a babyface” has continued, but all the while I have come to realise, and busied myself watching, something entirely different; frankly, something much less sterile and far more engaging. While sports entertainment has conditioned fans to now think of the Triple H feud as being over, approaching WWE as performance art will see you arrive at an alternative conclusion. To once again paraphrase The Matrix, there was no Triple H feud; there is only the evolving story of Seth Rollins.

It is a story of, quite frankly, near-Shakespearian design; of a man possessed of the potential for greatness dragged down by his inherent flaw: in Rollins’ case, an unquenchable thirst to succeed. Indeed, Rollins’ thirst for success is for him what indecision was for Hamlet: arguably both his worst and most endearing trait. So don’t call it a “babyface turn;” just call it character development.

This is why Monday Night Raw’s opening segment so effortlessly induced goosebumps, because it was the next emotive step in Rollins seeking to earn his way back into the trust and affections of people he betrayed in the most heinous fashion. Rollins doesn’t expect you to cheer for him overnight. He doesn’t expect you to consider him a hero because he was wronged or because he was manipulated into walking down a path of self-destruction that he himself described to Triple H in person: “I gave up everything to stand next to you; every friendship I ever had, everything that made me who I was….”

For it takes more than one match to reclaim so drastic a thing lost. It takes more than one segment to make up for two years of betrayals and shortcuts and maleficent behaviour of the most deplorable sort. It even takes more than one apology. The destruction of The Shield might have been two years ago, but scars so often last a lifetime; especially the ones people can’t see. It is simply magnificent, then, that there is no apparent desire to rush to an emotional climax here; at least, not yet. I love that Seth Rollins, the character, has been afforded the opportunity to have a journey rather than a “turn,” and that we get to witness his arduous trek back towards virtue step by gruelling step.

Redesiging, Rebuilding, Reclaiming a Soul isn’t just a title I chose because I thought it played on the famous catchphrase. It represents the journey we’re watching unfold, I think, just right, for it is exactly what Seth Rollins is attempting to do: rebuild himself. The first chapter of the story saw him pursue his aggressor(s) to a conclusion. It was the banishing of his demons. It was an important, an even necessary first step, needed so as to open the gate so that the rest of the journey could occur. When he defeated Triple H, and when he then survived Samoa Joe, Seth Rollins did just that: open the gate.

He then encountered Bray Wyatt while celebrating a success he had attained without the dependency Triple H had designed for him, as he graced the cover of the newest WWE video game. It attracted the attention of a self-proclaimed god, and a lesson in the power of the humility found in defeat. If the banishing of Triple H and Samoa Joe was a necessary first step, the defeat at the hands of Bray Wyatt was an even more important, even more necessary lesson in the virtues of humility and self-respect – both of which had become strangers to Seth Rollins during his time in The Authority.

And now, he finds himself rubbing shoulders with the man who felt most keenly of all the betrayal that began Seth Rollins’ self-destruction, and perhaps the man who held Seth Rollins in the greatest affection: Dean Ambrose. Their fates have always been intertwined. Their story has always been emotionally gut-wrenching. I have always interpreted the Dean Ambrose character as a man who desperately still loves his brother, but is torn apart by the resentment he feels obligated to harbour toward his betrayer. That came to life in their incredible, captivating segment at the beginning of Monday Night Raw, as Seth Rollins, fresh off his lesson in humility, turned his back to his brother and willingly invited reciprocation of the most painful moment in both men’s lives (there’s that force of will to succeed again). Dean Ambrose, wanting to believe his brother’s proclamations of changes but feeling it necessary to ignore them, pulled the steel chair back and, with the conflict written across his face, every millimetre of it two years of anguish…threw the weapon aside.

Was it a moment of forgiveness? Or was it a final victory, in which Dean Ambrose showed Seth Rollins he would never stoop to the level Seth did, even when invited?

Many hope it was the instigation of a plan, and that now is the time in the story for Dean Ambrose to turn on Seth Rollins. I couldn’t disagree more. Don’t think of this as a pending feud, or as a sports entertainment storyline. Think of it as the next chapter in the third act of the story of Seth Rollins. With his demons banished, with humility learned, now comes the time for apologies. Moreover, now comes the time for reparations. Having Ambrose betray Seth Rollins like-for-like is one kind of reparation; an obvious, sports entertainment kind of reparation if I might be so bold. But having the two slowly redevelop a relationship? That’s got performance art written all over it, and I believe would be a captivating story.

Put a bomb under the table of two men talking and the last thing any good storyteller would do is explode the bomb. I learned that from the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, but it applies in this instance. There is life yet in the story of The Shield, and plenty of time to come in which Ambrose can betray his former brethren. Now is the time for Seth Rollins to earn his redemption the hard way; if you want a reason to cheer Seth Rollins, then Seth Rollins needs to continue on down his long, hard road to redemption. In short, he has to do what many have obsessively complained wasn't done from the very beginning: earn your cheers.

Many believe the best part of that would be the outcome; that the thing to hope for is a more universally adored Seth Rollins. I don't. I firmly believe the far more interesting part is the journey; the earning back of the respect, or the trust, or even the affection (should we dare to dream) of those he has wronged. His brother Dean Ambrose, the perfect example of those wrongs, is the perfect next step.

Too often in pro wrestling we fans mistake the need for patience to be indicative of outright creative failure. This, I feel, is one of those instances. Turn off the critical part of your mind that thinks in terms of sports entertainment. Turn on the interpretive part that can come to think in terms of fiction; in terms of character; in terms of performance art. What you might come to uncover isn’t a “failed babyface turn” at all, but a spell-binding story of one man’s journey back to being the best version of himself.

Don’t forget to pick up your copy of my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, from the LOP Store today! Simply click here to find a mine and a host of other books and merchandise on offer, all courtesy of LOP’s own!

Click here to add me on Facebook!

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