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Raw finds some momentum by leaning on its main event feuds

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WWE Monday Night Raw

"March 20, 2017"

Season 24 , Episode 80

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Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.

  • Results: Samoa Joe defeated Sami Zayn; Charlotte defeated Dana Brooke; Brian Kendrick defeated TJ Perkins; Nia Jax defeated Bayley (No DQ match); Cesaro and Sheamus defeated The Club and Enzo and Cass; Austin Aries defeated Tony Nese; Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman ended when The Undertaker decided to really, truly denounce Smackdown! Live as his home.
  • This week’s Raw is a case of the show starting out really strong and then kind of falling off a cliff. It’s not a bad episode by any means, but the whole thing starts out hot and then trends downward until the cut to black. Overall though, many of the Wrestlemania feuds are in good shape.
  • The strength of the first half of this show is built upon the absolutely electric opening segment. Raw starts with Mick Foley, which is a smart move because you need to immediately capitalize on the sympathy built during last week’s degradation. Last week’s final segment tore the house down, so why not start next week’s show with a continuation of that story? So here’s Foley reading a scripted speech about how he’s taking a leave of absence after his actions involving Mr. Socko, only to then get real heated and rip the cards up. He lambasts Triple H for giving him the script, saying he’s “Mick Freakin’ Foley!” and it’s such a meaningful moment. It’s the overly emotive Foley finally working, and it gets the crowd going. That then leads into the next section, as Steph comes out and fires Foley, only to then have Sami Zayn come out and defend his hero. Zayn kills it, as a beautiful Canadian babyface is wont to do. He runs down Steph for ruining Foley’s legacy and for dividing the locker room. He says he’s not here to do the smart thing but the right thing, and you just want to hug him and hand him the Universal Championship (or a transfer to Smackdown! Live) because he deserves it dammit. This all leads to a Samoa Joe vs. Sami Zayn match that’s wonderfully stiff, and that’s how you craft a multi-layered opening segment. It takes a bunch of storyline threads and weaves them all together beautifully. Now can we get Sami a win?
  • Any chance Randy Orton could rebuild the Wyatt compound, toss the “CM PUNK” chant inside, and then burn it all down again? I don’t have a huge problem with the chant during the Triple H segment—speak truth to power and all that—but during Zayn’s rescue of Foley? Nope. Also, I understand not being into the predictable nonsense of Bayley vs. Nia, but that’s not a reason to make the show about yourself, especially when you seem to sit on your hands during other dull segments.
  • If that opening segment wasn’t enough, Raw pulls out a heartbreaking long take as Mick Foley leaves the building. We see Sami Zayn deliver a genuine “thank you” to the man he calls his hero, and if it didn’t bring tears to your eyes, well, you’re probably a robot. Then Foley heads for the exits and gets more appreciation from Sheamus, Cesaro, and some members of the Cruiserweight division before finding Bayley for a huge hug. It’s legitimately moving...and then there’s Triple H seated in the corner, just waiting to deliver a final goodbye. “Have a nice day!” he says as he laughs in Foley’s face. Raw spends the first 40 minutes of its show focused on a single story (with multiple parts) and it’s no accident that it’s the best part of the show. Paul Thomas Anderson would be proud of this segment.
  • The Stephanie McMahon character really works in the opening stretch of the show, but then she morphs into that person who just punishes the Raw roster—see: Bayley vs. Nia, Cesaro and Sheamus being booked in a handicap match—and it’s so frustrating. There’s no reason for it, and it makes the subsequent matches feel particularly contrived.
  • Getting back to the good segments, Chris Jericho is here to a deliver a Highlight Reel that exposes the “real” Kevin Owens, and it turns out to be a masterful lesson in controlling a crowd and building a feud. Y2J shows a picture of Kevin Owens at 16-years-old wearing a Y2J shirt. Then he shows texts that Owens sent him when he was first signed to WWE, asking for advice. Jericho uses that evidence to create a compelling angle, painting Owens as the fan—”he was marking out, mannnnnn,” he says—who’s intimidated by and in awe of his hero. That adds another layer to this feud, one that’s already compelling based on the last few months of friendship. No Wrestlemania feud has the heat and potential that this one does, and that’s all due to Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho really committing to every single detail of this story, like Owens eating Jericho’s list and then spitting it out.
  • You don’t build a Cruiserwight division around sub-three-minute matches. How many times do we have to say this? Did WWE learn nothing for the Neville-Gallagher match at Fastlane?
  • How is Raw going to give Stephanie McMahon an Authority-angle promo where she makes Bayley vs. Nia Jax a No DQ match, and then have the stipulation have no bearing on the outcome of the match? That’s brutal storytelling.
  • The Triple H in-ring interview starts out well enough with him running down the crowd for always encouraging their idols to do stupid things, but then it goes off the rails. Triple H is good at getting the crowd to see him as the heel, but the lack of Rollins means the segment is missing that spark to really get everyone invested.
  • Please, WWE, just let Cesaro and Sheamus win the title at Wrestlemania and resurrect this DOA division. Joke’s on us, Enzo and Cass are going to win and be unbearable for the next few months.
  • I’m legitimately excited for the Reigns vs. Undertaker match. Don’t get me wrong, Undertaker doesn’t look great and the Royal Rumble appearance was in no way encouraging, but this does seem like a good way to use both guys. Ideally, Reigns goes full heel, retires Taker, and that leads to him being an arrogant, smug, entitled pest in the locker room, always boasting about how he was the one to get rid of the Deadman.