By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
It’s the age-old question that shapes legacies in most every form of entertainment: Do you know when to quit?
Think of all the television shows that stuck around for a few too many seasons. The sweet spot, in my eyes, is anywhere from three to five years. Anything shorter than that, and the story isn’t fully told. Anything longer than that, and the ego, greed and indulgence are on full display. HBO just offered up two endings to series that went about as long as they should have gone when Succession and Barry bid adieu after four seasons each. For my money, they stuck the landing, but I’m also willing to hear otherwise, should anyone feel like those shows said goodbye too soon. Either way, they didn’t overstay their welcome and in a few different ways, they left the audience (or at least me) wanting more.
Naturally, this leads me to the Bloodline. I’m not on The Social Media, but I have come across an idea on a few websites that appear to be similar (and remembering what The Social Media is like, if The Websites are spending video segments and/or think pieces on it, then I gotta think The Social Media has chopped it up and spit it out ad nauseam). That idea? Roman Reigns doesn’t need any title to continue telling the Bloodline story and thus, he should have dropped the Undisputed WWE Universal belt at WrestleMania.
To which I say … maybe?
It feels like the further we get from the beginning of April, the more passionate the argument becomes. After Cody Rhodes heard the third count echo through Los Angeles as his shoulders were on the mat, skeptics murmured that perhaps WWE didn’t strike when the iron was hot and the company made a mistake not allowing Cody to win. Those murmurs have now grown into full-on opinions and official positions on the matter. And it feels like, as Roman continues his reign, that line of thinking will only become more and more prominent among Those Who Think About Wrestling.
The thing is, there’s some truth in that. WWE had an embarrassment of riches for the first half of 2023 in that the company played home to two babyfaces who the fans adored and weren’t even interested in turning their backs on as they pursued Reigns and his Undisputed title. It’s the second part of that sentence that’s a rarity – rarely does the pro wrestling consensus rally around a top Good Guy in WWE and sustain it for months on end. But that’s what happened with Sami Zayn and Cody Rhodes. The people loved those dudes – and probably still do. Never did it feel like WWE was pushing someone down the fans’ collective throat as Zayn and Rhodes rose to the top of the babyface pile. The admiration was organic and because of as much, both guys embodied (and maybe still embody?) what it’s like to be over in the WWE.
Perhaps something that flew under the radar as both guys challenged Reigns in the first part of 2023 was the reality that despite what we all thought we knew was going to happen … well, we didn’t actually know and few of us considered what might happen if Roman Reigns were to walk out of his programs with those guys as WWE’s biggest champion. Part of Zayn’s failure to dethrone the Tribal Chief was softened by the belief that his loss meant Cody’s win was all but promised at this year’s WrestleMania. Except it wasn’t.
So watching Cody lay down in the middle of the ring on the biggest night of the wrestling year didn’t just deflate a lot of people who were rooting for Cody to be The Man; it served as a double whammy of losses. The disappointment that was shelved when Zayn came up short rushed back to a section of the fan base as Cody not winning felt like the frustration of both losses overflowed in that moment. In turn, the notion that Reigns didn’t actually need to be a champion to continue his saga of a story didn’t just become louder; it became damn near gospel.
This is why there’s weight to the argument that Reigns should have lost at WrestleMania and the story from then on out would be the Bloodline imploding as a result of Reigns losing his mind at the thought of losing his cherished belt. Betray wrestling fans once, shame on you. Betray wrestling fans twice … yeah, we can’t even continue that cliche because that’s just not how it works in this entertainment space. There’s fickle and then there’s “We thought you should take a title off [insert wrestler] three years ago, but you didn’t, so I hate you, but I love you, but I hate you!” And that’s where at least some of the pro wrestling discourse resides these days. So Zayn coming up short was an accepted disappointment while Cody’s loss was taking things just a bit too far.
And maybe that’s not wrong. It felt like it took WWE light years to put something together that was universally lauded by fans and critics alike, and when you break through into an artistic place you haven’t resided in for years, it becomes increasingly hard to fully stick the landing. Right now, it feels like there are some people who think the company should have told and should still tell the simpler, more obvious tale of the Bloodline falling apart as a result of Reigns losing his coveted title. WWE has other plans. Maybe those plans will ultimately turn out to be the precise way to wrap the story up; maybe in five years, we’ll all look back on April 2023 as The Time Roman Should Have Actually Lost because whatever the creative forces have in mind just isn’t going to be worth it to the viewer.
That, of course, brings me to the reality of Right Now. Or, well, at least my opinion of the Reality of Right Now, and that opinion is simple: We have moved past the line of demarcation in the Bloodline story and after Friday’s Smackdown developments, WWE’s most beloved family drama officially moved into “OK, we’re getting just a couple more seasons than we need” territory. It’s like the American version of “The Office,” when Steve Carell bailed and viewers stuck around out of respect for the first five seasons of the series. Sure, it was a half-hour of NBC primetime television that didn’t suck, but was it really necessary after season seven, when Carell left and a very James Spader came in to James Spader all over the series as Bobby California?
That’s kind of where we are with the Bloodline. The problem isn’t that Roman didn’t lose the title; the problem is that the story is losing steam. Anyone with half a perceptive mind has been watching this thing unfold through the last few years, knowing it was going to ultimately implode. There have been teases and there have been different roles for different characters, but until Night of Champions, when Jimmy Uso landed The Superkick Heard Around The World on Reigns, we’ve merely been waiting for that moment to commence. Now that it did … well, can we speed things up a little?
I concede that my general impatient disposition isn’t necessarily one of my better traits as a human being, but knowing that the Bloodline’s house of cards is now finally succumbing to a stiff breeze means that I’m not so sure there’s a need to spend the next six months dealing with the fallout of Jimmy’s kick. I understand that Reigns is an attraction, so we’re not going to see him on TV every week – which, at this point, is another reason to be wary of how slow this whole thing might continue to move – but if we’re going to be cursed with a fate of seeing little more than Jey’s best conflicted face and Paul Heyman’s oversized cellphone for the next three months of TV, I can’t promise I’m going to be as invested in the saga as much I was, say, half a year ago.
And be honest. Can you?
Part of the problem is the reality of Reigns’s character. Yes, so much has been said about the character’s ego, disrespect, and abusive nature to his family members, but what rarely goes noticed is the fact that those kinds of characters can also become real annoying, real quick. Enter the fabled notion of “go away heat,” and Reigns isn’t not moving in that direction. We can love to hate the guy, hate to love the guy, or even hate to hate the guy, but at some point, the whole one-dimensional Demigod thing gets burdensome from a viewer’s standpoint. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We acknowledge you. It was fun the first 500 times you asked us to. Can we … I don’t know … do something else?
Such is why I don’t really care about Reigns still holding the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship. Without the title, how do they have a 1,000-day celebration? And without the 1,000-day celebration, how do we see Solo Sikoa pledge his allegiance to Reigns over his brothers? If what The Internet says is true, WWE kind of backed into Reigns holding both the Raw and Smackdown titles at the same time when all this started, and if that led to those belts being unified into one physical belt, which we saw for the first time last Friday, it probably makes the most sense that Reigns is the one to unveil that belt, no? (As an aside, I detest the notion of a “Raw” and “Smackdown” title – give me the Undisputed Universal Champion and the World Heavyweight Champion eight days a week over belts named after TV shows, but I digress).
It all adds up to the conclusion that not only are we seeing cracks in the Bloodline saga on television, but we’re also seeing those cracks in real life, as viewers viewing something that was once compelling TV and now is increasingly becoming less so. Can Roman Reigns and his cousins bring it back around and stick the landing? As we sit here in the beginning of June 2023, only time can answer that, but if they do, they’ll be defying the odds. Because for most fans of any dramatic medium, once you begin wondering if the story has gone on for just a beat too long (like, to be fair, most of my columns), your interest in the story at large begins to wane. Once the bottom of Jimmy Uso’s foot met Roman Reigns’s face, the countdown to those thoughts in my head sped up. Then, when Solo Sikoa’s taped-to-hell thumb connected with Jimmy Uso’s throat on SmackDown last week, that countdown landed at zero for this viewer.
That’s not to say whatever the Bloodline has in store won’t be objectively good moving forward, and it’s also not to say that I could be lured back in as that world turns; it’s just to say that for now, I can’t be the only one who’s doubly worried the conclusion to this years-long saga might ultimately taint how we view such a rich story as we reflect on it in a decade with the benefit of hindsight. Knowing exactly when to quit is mostly as hard as figuring out how to start. The Bloodline perfected the latter. It’s the former that’s in doubt now more than ever.