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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business: TLC 2017’s Main Event - The Performance Art Review
By Samuel 'Plan
Oct 23, 2017 - 8:50:39 PM

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Just Business: TLC 2017’s Main Event - The Performance Art Review


If there is a fine line between genius and madness, then the main event of last Sunday’s Monday Night Raw (MNR) exclusive pay-per-view, Tables, Ladders and Chairs (TLC) 2017 is a match that wants us to define where that line is. On a first viewing, I was left rather dumb-struck. It was a bizarre experience. Perhaps that was to be expected, considering the highly unusual circumstances WWE were faced with going in, or perhaps it wasn’t. Either way, between garbage trucks and more murder attempts, awkward table spots and curious wardrobe changes, I don’t think any of us have seen a match of any kind quite as bespoke as the 3 on 5 Handicap Match that headlined last night’s show.

On a first viewing, then, I walked away with the impression that it sat firmly in the camp of madness more-so than genius. That’s why I always watch these shows twice. On a second viewing, I completely fell in love with yet another version of the “storytelling Epic” genre now emerging in WWE. Subplots and subtext were rife amidst what was a misleadingly colourful match design; it is the kind of match that, when watching as performance art, comes into its own.

So packed with story was it that I have decided, this once, to forego the usual design of the Performance Art Review and focus, for now, exclusively on that main event match. My thoughts on the delightful Bálor / Styles encounter, and the better parts of the undercard, will follow on Friday between my Preview Side of the Pond column and, of course, The Right Side of the Pond’s more extensive review of the show as a whole.

For now, I wanted to share just what it was I got from the most unusual edition of arguably WWE’s most unusual mainstay genre match, TLC.

The Big Red Betrayal, and Other Varieties of Villainy

I can’t lie. When I first watched last Sunday’s TLC Match, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth after The Bar embarrassingly seemed to mess up putting Dean Ambrose through a table in the middle of the ring with nothing else going on around them. I was left further frustrated with Kane’s delayed revenge on Braun Strowman following their much earlier showdown; it felt incongruous. I was even left unimpressed by what felt to be a Miz performance that faded easily into the background of events. As a result, by the time the match concluded, I began to contemplate whether the villainous coalition designed to overcome The Shield had ultimately failed, thanks to a handful of talent proving incapable of upping their performance in a big match situation.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. In actual fact, every component member of The A Lister’s “Injustice League” had a perfectly pitched performance, and any holes one might be tempted to try and pick in the manner in which they executed their game plan can be comfortably explained away; assuming they weren’t intentional, which they very well might have been.

Kane’s apparently delayed revenge attack on Braun Strowman, and what catalyses it at the moment it occurs, is perhaps the most glaring possible plot hole, and certainly the one element that had me scratching my head the first time around. In actuality, it’s a rather quite simple moment that leans heavily on an inferred but hardly implausible sense of character: Braun gets in Kane’s way for a second time.

Earlier in the match Seth Rollins, either by design or on instinct, avoids an attack by Kane resulting in the Big Red Machine slamming a chair into the back of the Monster Among Men. Naturally, as he would, the Monster retaliates. Tensions are successfully defused by their team mates. Kane’s later ambush on Strowman in retaliation is no plot contrivance, nor is it random in its timing. Instead, it comes as Strowman intervenes in a Kane / Shield showdown. Though perhaps, ironically, designed to prevent catastrophe for Kane, all Strowman does is incite Kane’s infamously unhinged, unpredictable temper for getting in his business a second time in the span of ten minutes regardless of the reasons why, having already been on the Devil’s Favourite Demon’s radar with the chair shot incident.

The results then speak for themselves, and bring full circle a subplot that is opened much earlier and helps tie the bout’s second act to its first, while providing an understandable, perhaps inevitable explanation for the odds evening slightly more in favour of the two Hounds of Justice. It’s a simple case of timing and implication, rather than of disbelief-shattering artificiality.

Then there’s the Miz’s unassuming performance. What I first read as a failure to raise his game as a performer is actually quite the opposite. Of course Miz would remain largely in the background; the entire story has been about the A Lister escalating a fight he picked into a war everyone else wants to fight. He plays not so much a master planner as an inciter; an incendiary presence, and a suitably incapable one at that, coming unstuck because of his over-reaching and inability to predict the clash of competing agendas and egos. That he is the man with whom the match ends provides a feel good slice of suitable narrative conclusion too, as the orchestrator gets his comeuppance. It’s a rare example of a perfectly judged ending by WWE, that draws to a close an equally perfectly judged performance by the Intercontinental Champion.

The roles of the bad guys in Sunday’s main event were not the weaknesses I initially considered them to be. They were only subplots, driven by three-dimensional characterisation. I have come to love them.

Integrity, Intelligence, Intensity: The Resurrection of the Wrestling Machine

Watching pro wrestling as performance art dismisses authorial intention and focuses only on artistic achievement. Regardless of whether a result was intended, what matters most is that result itself. I don’t know if Kurt Angle’s story in Sunday’s main event was the result of a grand intention or not. All I know is that it revealed itself to me as the story of a resurrection, perfectly in sync with the man’s famous three Is.

Angle’s integrity provides the prologue to his story within the match itself. Put simply, he did what he believed was the right thing to do and stepped up as General Manager to ensure two of his top stars – Ambrose and Rollins – weren’t left facing outrageously impossible odds. Through his backstage segment on the night and his appearance on Raw Talk following the show, it was clear that Angle believed putting himself in the firing line was the right decision, regardless of the potential physical consequences.

Angle’s intelligence then provided the first half of his story within the confines of the bout. In accepting The Shield’s lead and their indoctrination into their ranks, he did the right thing by trying to complement, not contravene, what was always the Hounds’ strongest trait: their team work. From the opening bell through to his decimation at the hands of the Monster Among Men, Angle was sure to follow the lead set by his younger, more energetic comrades in arms. The Shield’s method is incredibly unique; an instinctual approach bred by their innate kinship. It would be nigh impossible, even with more than just two days notice, to try and acclimatise to that. All you can do is try and contribute to it in whatever way you can, and that’s exactly what the restrained, arguably even hesitant Angle did in the bout’s first half, pulling out the best of his old tricks only when Ambrose and Rollins needed to escalate matters and launch themselves through tables to sever the giant arms of their opposition. Otherwise, he hung back so as to not to get in the way of their mastery of war.

But the pay-off of his story was its second and final chapter, in which his intensity fuelled a return to old form and resurrected the frighteningly effective, equal parts clinical and intimidating Wrestling Machine. With the battle taking its toll on a weathered Ambrose and Rollins, an injured, determined and incensed Angle returned to the fray, eliminating the ambushing Bar with apparent ease courtesy of a couple of Angle Slams; the second on Cesaro being almost contemptuously flippant in its intense execution.

With a familiar fiery-eyed stare, Angle launched himself back into the fray with the ferocious capability he was once so famous for. It proves the turning point in the match, and the GM assumes the role Reigns so often provided by giving The Shield their impossible difference maker in the most important hour of the day. In doing so, gone is the smiling Angle who followed The Shield; back is the glowering Wrestling Machine who catapults The Shield to their hard earned victory.

The Resurrection of the Wrestling Machine is the central journey of the match’s tapestry of tales, and even though it wasn’t originally designed to be a part of Sunday’s main event it, nonetheless, was an incredibly impressive accomplishment in storytelling on unprecedented short notice.

If it wasn’t intended to be that? No matter; that’s the way it works for me, regardless.

“If you’re in, you’re all the way in.”

So often Ambrose utters all the best lines, and his sign off opposite Angle in their backstage segment in the middle of TLC 2017 was another great one. “If you’re in, you’re all the way in,” sounded as ominous as it did promising. Spoken by one of two brothers with intentions to die on the hill they picked, it spoke to a powerful underlying facet that has always defined The Shield: more than just partners, but brothers, possessed of a kinship that transforms their shared experiences into a lifestyle; into a philosophy, even.

If you’re going to volunteer yourself to fight with The Shield, and are possessed of the unmitigated temerity to assume that they need your help, then you better damn well be ready to shed your blood with theirs too.

This unyielding loyalty to live and fight, sacrifice and die together is what has fed them victory after victory throughout their tenure and set them apart from all others. When one is beaten beyond recognition, he is refuelled into life upon witnessing the destruction of another. When one can’t possibly ever be in position to save another from the jaws of defeat, he finds a way to be there. When you think they are all down and out, their symbiotic relationship compels them to fight on endure beyond any known human threshold of pain. There’s a reason we, as witnesses, admire, respect and love the Hounds of Justice as much as we do: we’ve seen the journeys of pain, anguish, suffering and impossible successes that they have been through, and always together.

The shift put in by an on form Ambrose and Rollins last night stayed true to that mantra, even in the wake of the absence of their brother Roman Reigns. Amidst the madness and carnage it might be easy to lose sight of the character driven performances the two of them crafted that nonetheless glued together a myriad of subplots and subtext with remarkable capability.

When Rollins is dragged back from the stage to the ring in isolation and Miz and his cohorts apply their finishing touches, Ambrose emerges out of nowhere to have his brother’s back. When the two of them prepare to leap into the maw of certain disaster, watch as they cast one another a look to silently reaffirm their shared bond – to, as Ambrose once said, “burn together” and to no longer die alone. Whether such moments come as they leap from the lofty heights of ladders to slay giants in their own unique ways – a frog splash from Rollins and an elbow from Ambrose – or to launch like missiles from the back of a garbage truck, their kinship never once wavers, never once falters. It is a tandem performance through and through, right down to their homage to their absent brother when they spear Kane through the barricade.

Never, it is clear, has their bond been stronger.

Their joint effort that provides the constant centre of gravity around which so much of the action orbits ensures that, though this was a match to feature the resurrection of Kurt Angle, a clash between Braun Strowman and Kane and more besides, its heart always beats black and blue, sounding out the incomparable story of a Lunatic and an Architect. It is an additional worthy chapter to the expanding library of their story, both alongside and opposite one another.

In Closing

There’s so much packed into this bout’s 35 minute run time that you could spend thousands of column inches unpacking it. I haven’t even touched on the strong sense of continuity bleeding through the action, with references to Rollins’ history with Kane in the Authority and his reputation as the master planner – the Architect – of The Shield, not to mention a brief nod toward his history of knee injuries.

Ultimately, I can totally understand why there might be many a fan that enjoyed last Sunday’s main event in somewhat apologetic terms. Well, I have to say that, after a second watch that revealed the true extent of its depth of character, there’s no need to be apologetic about liking it. While I am not quite confident enough to declare it a masterpiece, its wildly bespoke nature, epic run time and emotive content and multifaceted subtext are enough for me to firmly say, without consternation, that I absolutely loved it.

I’ll be back later in the week with my regular Preview Side of the Pond column where I will share a number of opinions on the rest of TLC 2017’s action; especially the noteworthy Finn Bálor vs. AJ Styles match. Until then, tell me what you thought about the peculiar main event of Sunday’s show in the comments down below, or over on social media!

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 mine and a host of other books and merchandise on offer, all courtesy of LOP’s own!

For more of my thoughts on the rest of the show, and WWE in general, click here to add me on Facebook!

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