By John Moore
Half-empty, or Half-Full. Two common idioms in the English language used to symbolize and connote either skepticism or optimism. While I’m going to try to take the glass half full approach towards my optimism regarding season three, the glass being half full is a perfect metaphor for the failures and successes of this season two by contrast.
Let’s look at the water and pinpoint where Lucha Underground went right. The show was awesome from Episode 1 – “A Much Darker Place’; then the awesomeness ended in Episode 11 – “Bird of War”. Before you complain and say, “Well that’s not 50 percent”. One, it’s a metaphor. Two, think of it as a 12-ounce glass being half full and if episode 11-25 wasn’t more than vapor, it would have filled out maybe an 18 oz glass.
As far as point of view, I would most definitely recommend season two, but rather season two as I strictly define it which is actually episode 1 through 9 (the Aztec Warfare Episode). Episode 11 was where the show stopped being the great show it once was. After Aztec Warfare, I’d say season two ended and we entered “Season 2.5” or “Lucha Underground Gaiden” if you will. To anime fans I would equate this towards being attune to filler arcs. There is some good like “No mas”, “Cage in a Cage”, or whatever Mil Muertes does. The failure is the universe simply got more broken than Matt Hardy.
Let’s review Lucha Underground as a 1-11 micro-season. The amazing story thread that carried this entire season was the Mil Muertes as Lord of the Temple storyline. Check out my reviews for more detailed analysis but I’ll point out the key successes of this story arc. Mil Muertes was not your daddy’s traditional heel, rather he was a badass lord of the temple with a perpetual energy generator in the form of the rock from the earthquake that killed his friends and family. The best part from the performance of Mil within this story arc was how he showed almost Cero Miedo to anyone. He wasn’t chickenshit. He wanted to dominate Prince Puma. He wanted to dominate Pentagon Jr. and was simply drawing joy from being the superior power in the temple in encounters where he is at the handicap. Puma and Pentagon didn’t lose anything because Mil kept them looking strong in the process, but Lucha Underground found this perfect way to allow Mil Muertes to look dominant while not having Pentagon nor Puma lose anything in doing the favors.
Mil was set up as a strong villain. A villain you cared about. He was like Shao Khan, like Lord Freeza, Like Darth Vader. He was on top of the world where the man formerly known as Judas Mesias mostly shined was in his oh so subtle facial reactions and body movements. When put to the task of facing Pentagon Jr, facing Prince Puma, Mil Muertes was a rock-solid god. The moment Fenix walked into his field of vision, Mil Muertes trembled, he showed miedo, he got anxious. Without even laying a single punch, Lucha Underground managed to make Fenix, the man of one thousand lives, look like the most powerful god in the universe.
Fenix is another interesting character portrait. He isn’t as OP as Prince Puma, nor is he concentrated ball of badass charisma that is Pentagon Dark. Fenix is “you”. He’s a man who goes through struggles just like an everyday person does. They set him up with this power of immortality. What’s cool is you can easily parlay the power of the phoenix to the power of determination. The power of never wanting to quit. The power to succeed when all others say you couldn’t. Check out that amazing Fenix vignette they showed of him walking across the Los Angeles River bridge and he exposits this human trek very nicely. Fenix is the projection of the fans inside of the Lucha Underground Universe. When Fenix wins, you win, and you feel that because you feel that he’s going through the struggles that we go through as people every day.
Those struggles weren’t easy for our man the Fenix to overcome. Sometimes life has its roadblocks and Fenix’s first hurdle put in front of him was the bounty hunter King Cuerno. King Cuerno also had some good flushing out of his story and dragged Fenix down by taking the Gift of the Gods title from him and taking away everything that this character has worked so hard to obtain. Fenix never gave up though, he never surrendered. When Fenix did that Tope con Hilo over the ladder, he soared with the grace of a legendary bird and he carried us on his wings every step of the way. Fenix got his Gift of the Gods back and immediately pointed right at the supposed god Mil Muertes and started to make him tremble since Muertes knows that Fenix is the only man on this earth who can and has killed him. The Man of Death sees a man who personifies Death more than he does, and that is the yin to his yang, the man of light. The man of humanity.
That! The Warrior of Light, made us all feel like we were the warrior of light. Fenix has faced this god many times, and in a majority of the encounters he has made him mortal. He made him a man compared to the legend of The Fenix. Tope, huracanranas, kicks, and punches; Fenix adapted, studied, and utilized the power of determination to work his way into being godlike. The best symbolism of Mil Muertes becoming mortal was when Fenix ripped the mask in half to reveal the man we knew as Judas Mesias. He was human just like you and I and it made the Mil character look like a powerful facade. Fenix won the Lucha Underground Championship and we as fans won the championship alongside him, and he showed his humility by standing in the stands with the people that he represents.
This was the overarching storyline of the true season two with the Sexy Star doing a splendid job parallel, telling a similar story but from the point of view of the various female human beings who go through struggles of abuse, bullying, and power struggle. Sexy Star had her payoff a few shows into the Gaiden but that had just as good a payoff as to make Sexy Star represent the struggle of the everyday woman; the everyday woman who has to go out there in a male-dominated society.
I’ll stop right there for now with my glass half full analogy, as after writing that I’m reminded of what made Lucha Underground such an amazing show. However, this was only a single layer to it. We had more with the dichotomy between Pentagon and Puma. Son of Havoc’s journey as an alternative everyman. Texano as a manly man is fun too. This is just part one of my reflection on the season where I looked at the amazing meaningful content.
Now let’s look at the less aqueous portion of the dichotomy, the glass half empty. Talk about losing steam, After episode nine, Lucha Underground went on to attempt to do something shocking. They had to take this new wrestler trying a super-human gimmick for the first time, and they tried to make him strong by having him destroy top wrestlers of the promotion. What’s jarring is they put a halt on many storylines in order to get this one, the Matanza build, over. The problem with that is it was a high risk, low reward investment.
Which storylines were aborted in favor of Matanza? Several, and let’s start with the oddest development. While the Fenix and Mil Muertes was being built, a triple way power struggle between Prince Puma, Mil Muertes, and Pentagon Jr. was brewing with Mil getting the upper hand in most situations. Lucha Underground made it clear in both cinematics and in the temple that they were building up to a Pentagon Jr vs. Mil Muertes storyline. The stylistic cinematic with Pentagon trying to break Catrina’s arm and a succeeding one where Catrina teleported Pentagon to a dark dimension served as prologues for this feud. Feud was initiated in Aztec Warfare with Pentagon being the reason for Mil’s early exit in the title match.
Once the writers decided to go all in on Matanza, they caused an Aborted Arc by trying to put Matanza in the position that Mil Muertes. It was more Mad Libs as opposed to a swerve, by erasing Mil Muertes on the Script with Matanza Cueto. Several other storylines were aborted. Prince Puma was marginalized in general. AeroStar’s search for the gods was put on hold. Jack Evans stopped being a dragon slayer. The biggest halted storyline was the Black Lotus one which looked like it would have attempted to try to pivot towards developing Azteca Junior, but even that story was either marginalized or downright aborted for the time being. The problem with having one risky story abort so many established ones is that it makes time that viewers invest into the show seem like a waste of time. Like nothing they watch was worth anything in the long run.
Speaking of Matanza, this is a major flaw within the writing of the show is that the wrestlers have minimal creative input in their characters. What I mean by this is the writers choose what character performers play, not the characters being built around the performers. Someone like Ricochet who is an extremely versatile performer can overcome this crutch but a lot of wrestlers weren’t able to do such a thing. Let’s go with Jeff Cobb, the performer behind the Matanza character. Awesome athlete and a beast of a man. The guy’s a legit Olympian and he shines in situation where he’s able to be a technical powerhouse (as witnessed through his dark matches).
What Lucha Underground did was saw this mad athlete and wanted to insert him as the monster character. Some things on paper seem better than when the actual execution happens and putting such an inexperienced pro wrestler in a role that he is not accustomed to was a recipe for disaster. Jeff Cobb looked lost and the fact that his look didn’t match the legend didn’t help. The cinematics they were always looking up at Matanza and in person most people tower over the guy. Cobb also seemed lost in the ring trying to execute the monstrous style that Mil Muertes perfected. The guy tries to do shooting star presses and moonsaults whenever he can which shows that he gets more confused out there. The moves are cool, but a beast shouldn’t do them. Brock Lesnar could do shooting stars and moonsaults, but he doesn’t do them because those moves do not fit his character.
Running the “Matanza Experiment” was a risky one and not fruitful by any means. I’ll credit Lucha Underground for pulling back on his failed push, but sadly the damage was already done. What else was damaged? More Aborted Arcs of course. We saw one good conclusion in the Sexy Star vs. Mariposa feud, but the follow up was terrible. It was logical that you would pivot Marty the Moth to Willie Mack and Sexy Star onto bigger and better things. Sexy Star became a footnote on the script for the rest of the season until Gift of the Gods 3 and Willie Mack went MIA until Dario Cueto did a promo in the ring acknowledging the guys that Lucha Underground forgot about. Willie Mack, Son of Havoc, Cage, and Texano’s “4 A Unique Opportunity” promo was a good microcosm of the bigger problem in the show. Another arc that was aborted, was the Drago and AeroStar vs. PJ Black and Jack Evans. We got an amazing establishing cutscene where they all had nunchakus in a bathroom. Then they went MIA for weeks storyline wise until the blowoff match appeared out of nowhere sometime in the post Aztec-Warfare mess. There was a huge chapter of that one extricated from it. Jack and Black couldn’t even get any more heat, and it’s a shame since Jack is so good at developing heat.
Another obvious plot hole involved Pentagon Jr. First of all, having him in Vampiro’s fetish dungeon was weird. Second of all, the obvious storyline hole was Pentagon acknowledging that Chavo somehow supported him. For one, Chavo was in a side story with Cage, and two, we saw all of Pentagon’s injured storylines and it consisted of him being rehabilitated by Vampiro who simply just made Pentagon look pathetic (which thankfully they retconned in Ultima Lucha Dos part 3, that cinematic was all they needed and all the others was “a waste of time”).
Lucha Underground Season 2 seemed like a mess at this point. That’s why I like to separate it into 2 and 2.5/Gaiden. The writers tried to write too much without really thinking things through. The biggest hurt came in the form of the newly introduced characters. Maybe it’s because this is a concentrated version of WWE’s creative team, but a practice of humbling new talents is very hurtful for the long time persistence of that talent. Kobra Moon, Joey Ryan, PJ Black, Daga, and Night Claw were all squandered under parity booking. No one was hurt more than Killshot, who just kept losing once he debuted. Once they retconned, people didn’t forget how bad he was booked. Plus, even the retconned version was put under parity under Marty the Moth (who should have feuded with Mack, see the above paragraphs).
The announcing added to the Lucha Underground Gaiden fire. Matt Striker can be a great announcer, but when he’s unleashed he’s very bad. Striker and Vampiro were probably my top commentary team of 2015 because they balanced each other out. Striker dragged Vamprio up to help him be credible on the headset. Vampiro did a good job keeping Striker in check and shut down a lot of the patronizing parts of Striker’s commentary. Vampiro also had this Booker T esque charm to him, but that’s where Striker came in handy because Striker made sure to make that one of Vampiro’s strengths. Striker in season two was extremely abrasive. When he told viewers Killshot was awesome, just because, it was very hollow. Vampiro on the other hand was more tame than usual and all he had going for him was this strange obsession with hooking the leg. Luckily, this can be cleaned up but it’s not encouraging when you have Striker rambling about “I’m sorry, I love you” moments.
Some of my above paragraphs they may seem all over the place, they may seem random, almost like they are floating around in vapor, but that’s the story about Season 2.5, it’s just a random floating mess. I totally agree with my Dot Net staffer, Will Pruett, about the failures of season two. The lack of payoff. The lack of story consistency. The lack of real entertainment. I’ll give you a little background info on our frustrations. Will and I were, at different points, analysts of TNA during some frustrating times. Lucha Underground is showing some of the same hollow booking that TNA has become famous for. I stuck around with reviewing TNA and thankfully they have gotten better. It’s sad that Lucha Underground fell into being “TNA bad.”
With everything that has a future, there is the hope for optimism. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I won’t go into spoilers, but subjectivity isn’t a spoiler. Ultima Lucha Tres was one of the greatest live pro wrestling shows I’ve attended. Luckily, what I saw in that show was amazing matches, amazing characters, and amazing storytelling. To focus on the storytelling, it wasn’t just amazing, it seemed intelligent, which made season 2’s storytelling seem idiotic.
I’m going to ultimately take the glass half full approach, because I see light at the end of the tunnel. My guard will be up though because it will be a tough task to get back to the greatness that was season one. The light I’ve seen is all inside of The Temple. Let’s pray that Lucha Underground can figure out how to not screw up the cinematic portion of their product. They were doing a good job up to episode 10 with the almost-Shakespearean tale of The Fenix. Of course, I’ll go into my future reviews like I go into every episode, with an open mind. Hell, if TNA was able to finally get good, shouldn’t Lucha Underground have an easier time doing so? God help us though, we have up to 40 more episodes in season 3!