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Raw doesn’t have any momentum heading into Payback

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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: Matt Hardy defeated Sheamus; Jack Gallagher and Austin Aries defeated Neville and TJ Perkins; Dana Brooke defeated Alicia Fox; Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and Big Cass defeated Samoa Joe, Gallows, and Anderson; Sasha Banks defeated Alexa Bliss via countout; Apollo Crews defeated Curt Hawkins.
  • Normally Raw’s opening video recaps of last week’s episode aren’t all that inspiring, but this week’s, which is focused on Braun Strowman, is a thing of beauty. It’s a compelling bit of mythmaking, establishing Strowman as an untouchable force within WWE. The black and white filter, with the red ropes as a contrast, is a nice touch.
  • For a go-home show, this sure is a middling Raw. There’s hardly any momentum heading into the big matches on Sunday, and Raw wastes three hours cycling through the usual “guys facing each other on Sunday are in a tag team match” storytelling. It’s lazy and complacent. A go-home show should have a unique energy about it, not just more of the same tired booking.
  • The first segment is an example of getting your go-home show off on the wrong foot. While it’s good to see Y2J and Dean Ambrose acknowledging their troubled history, followed by Jericho being hesitant to open a gift because of what happened last time he was given a surprise present, the segment takes up nearly 25 minutes. That’s not how you get your crowd going for the final show before a PPV. Promos and lengthier talking segments obviously have their place within wrestling’s storytelling structure, but it’s hard for a three-hour the show to get out from under a rambling, albeit occasionally entertaining, opening segment.
  • It doesn’t get much better from there, as Raw dives into its first of many matches between superstars who will be facing each other at Payback. This one sees Matt Hardy take on Sheamus because last week Jeff Hardy wrestled Cesaro. Just like last week the Hardy gets the win, there’s some brief tension—maybe a little more this time around—and then there’s a handshake. Creative literally took last week’s match and post-match interaction and ran it again. It’s fine to build a feud around mutual respect, but you have to find a way to inject some stakes into the match other than “it’s for the titles.” That’s just window dressing, not real, compelling stakes.
  • TJ Perkins is in a weird place right now. On the one hand, being the perpetual suck-up to The King Of The Cruiserweights is a great role for him on paper. His face is just so punchable, and having him hide that mug behind Neville is a great way to garner heat. On the other hand, Perkins isn’t doing much different now that he’s a heel. He still has the videogame music, he stills dabs like it’s a cool thing to do, and his in-ring work still follows the same patterns. There’s potential here, but Perkins needs to shift the gimmick a little and play around with what it means to be a meaningful heel alongside Neville.
  • Let’s talk about Braun Strowman. This week he has a Dumpster Match with Kalisto, and it’s pretty fun for what it is. Kalisto gets in some offense, Braun eventually gets the upper hand, and then Kalisto gets a sneaky win off of a surprise move. It’s aggressively fine, and the fun comes after the match. Braun, as he’s wont to do, goes nuclear on Kalisto, taking a page out of the New Age Outlaws playbook and locking him in the dumpster before pushing it off the stage. The reason this works is not just because of the violence and the cool visual, but the fact that it’s also a moment for the Braun Strowman character to refocus. His loss to Kalisto is the result of complacency and overconfidence. That sudden loss gives him a jolt, and brings back The Monster.
  • Let’s just leave the Braun analysis at that, because all signs point to WWE booking Roman Reigns as the triumphant babyface at Payback, which is either laughable, infuriating, or some combination of both.
  • On the topic of Roman Reigns and WWE continually trying to garner sympathy for a character that needs to be heel: it’s beyond reprehensible to use the death of Matt Anoaʻi, better known in-ring as Rosey, to sell Roman being down and out emotionally and physically. To quote the “quote” that appeared on screen: “I’ve never experience a loss this close since it’s my only blood brother, but I’ve also never experienced a beatdown like Braun Strowman gave me.” To me, drawing a connection between those two events is pretty gross.
  • Dana Brooke barely made it through a two-minute match, but at least WWE is teasing a reunion with Emma.
  • It’s cool to see Balor in the ring with Gallows and Anderson, as their opponent this time around, but the match is kind of a throwaway. The Rollins-Joe feud had some good momentum last week, but this six-man tag match does little to keep that going. WWE, from Raw through Smackdown! Live, is in a weird holding pattern right now, waiting for the results of the Wrestlemania rematch-heavy Payback before moving on with new stories.
  • Alexa Bliss absolutely dismantling Bayley’s wide-eyed enthusiasm is that character at its best. Bliss is so good at being dismissive and confident, with the promo chops to back it all up.
  • The best segment of the night goes to Dean Ambrose and Y2J. They keep on with the continuity as Ambrose tries to get removed from The List Of Jericho before their match. It’s funny, quick-witted, and rooted in real character moments. It’s also one of the loosest segments of the night, one of the few that doesn’t feel stilted and overwritten.
  • The main event is meant to be Y2J and Ambrose vs. Miz and a partner of his choosing, but when his mystery partner doesn’t show up he’s forced to go it alone. It doesn’t really matter because it’s all a smokescreen for Wyatt showing up and laying waste to everyone. In isolation, it’s a good way to build Wyatt back up. Unfortunately, you can’t look at Wyatt in isolation anymore. The losses, the dreadful Wrestlemania match, the lack of follow-through on all the creepy vignettes, and the fact that his Payback opponent is over on Smackdown! Live all contribute to Wyatt still feeling rather directionless.