AEW Dynamite, Season 2, Episode 13 Review
Chris Jericho and Matt Hardy Show Why In-Ring Performance is Only One Half of Professional Wrestling
We’ve all heard the phrase: “The show must go on.” As Covid-19 continues to spread worldwide shutting down everything from non-essential businesses to public gatherings, everything from the Olympics to movie theaters is closing. Everything that is, except for professional wrestling.
During the current coronavirus outbreak, AEW has found a way to continue to film a weekly episode of Dynamite thanks to having access to an empty arena in Jacksonville, Florida. How long they can possibly keep this up given the strict limitations preventing more than ten people gathering in one single space is uncertain— but as of now, AEW is doing their best to provide entertainment for their fans who desperately need an escape from the harsh reality of the pandemic sweeping the globe. And despite several limitations, the professional wrestling association is doing an excellent job thus far.
Following up on last week’s episode of Dynamite which I hailed as a near-masterpiece, this week AEW made the wide decision to radically change the booking that was originally advertised. In doing so, they delayed the Blood & Guts match that would take their two biggest factions and throw them together in a War-Games-style match and replace it with a main event between Sammy Guevara and Kenny Omega, who battled for the AAA Mega Championship.
From a logistics point of view, postponing Blood & Guts was necessary since the match itself would require ten wrestlers in one ring, and that’s not counting the rest of the crew (cameraman, ring announcer, etc.) which would break the current Florida state lockdown rules of no more than ten people in a single setting. Basically, AEW had no choice but to cancel the match and that’s a good thing since the company itself didn’t have the time nor the proper crowd setting to boost the hype and build on the storyline. As it stands, Blood & Guts has been put on the backburner and in its place, AEW has found creative ways to keep the lights on, so to speak.
The most glaring difference between this week’s episode of Dynamite and what we saw last week, is the omission of having several wrestlers standing in for the fans while providing some much need levity to the show. Unfortunately, due to the health restrictions, AEW could not have their talent sitting ringside and took the strict measures in making sure there were no more than ten people at any given time in one area. That said, AEW did show footage of other wrestlers backstage watching the match and cheering on. They also once again continued to use mostly tight shots in order to focus on the matches and not show the empty seats in the arena which could further distract viewers and remind them that there is indeed no crowd. The other huge difference this week was the absence of the commentary team. Whereas last week, Taz, Jim Ross, and Excalibur were all present to commentate on the event, this week only Tony Schiavone was at the desk— although he did have additional support from both Cody Rhodes and Kenny Omega when they weren’t in the ring wrestling.
Unsurprisingly, both Omega and Rhodes did an admirable job narrating the show with Cody dropping various pop culture references such as discussing Star Trek and throwing out callbacks to old-school wrestlers. Meanwhile, Omega took a different approach doing a great job commenting on the actual in-ring action and highlight various technical moves and explaining the impact of each. My only gripe here is that I wish they had they turned the volume up on his mic just a notch, but other than that, I can’t think of anything else to complain about.
Quality Takes a Major Dip This Week
The matches this week were far from terrible but given the level of quality we’ve seen in the past, it was undoubtedly, the weakest bunch yet. Jimmy Havoc who previously was been regulated to performing strictly for AEW Dark matches finally had his Dynamite debut against the American Nightmare Cody Rhodes. Overall, this wasn’t a bad match, but it also didn’t do much in the way of selling me on the talents of Jimmy Havoc, one of my least favourite wrestlers in the AEW locker room.
The Jake Hager vs. Chico Adams might just be my favourite match of the night even if it was the shortest if only because unlike the other matches, it didn’t go on too long and accomplished what it set out to do— which is continue to push Hager has one of the most dominant wrestlers in all of AEW. I especially liked Hager’s methodical approach to taking out his opponent, dropping the Vader bomb before choking him out. Like in the last episode of Dark, it was another quick and effective squash for Hager, who remains the biggest threat to the current champion, Jon Moxley.
Other matches included Darby Allin vs. Kip Sabian and Brodie Lee vs. QT Marshall. Of these two, I preferred the former if only because Allin is one of the most electrifying stars in AEW and despite the two men having a very different style of wrestling, both men seemed to stack up well against each other. I think Sabian is underappreciated and one of the most promising young superstars AEW has. He’s good looking; has a great physique; performs well in the ring, and shares great chemistry with Penelope Ford. If AEW could give him a better entrance and really push him as a heel, Sabian could easily be a major player in the near future. I’d personally love to see him turn his character into a cross between Rick ‘the Model’ Martel and Rick Rude. Finally, I love how Darby Allin has now made the Last Supper (a.k.a. a Gibson Leglock) his secondary finisher. As much as I love the Coffin Drop, it’s good to shake things up every so often— not to mention the Coffin Drop is a highly dangerous move that if used too often, could increase Darby’s chances of being injured.
As for Brodie Lee; the match itself was a solid debut for Brodie, who didn’t show any ring rust, but I’m not a fan of his character nor the Dark Order— and I really hate his ring attire. It also didn’t help that his debut was against Chico Adams, a wrestler I admittedly never heard of.
Sammy Guevara Steals the Show
What I was more excited about was the match between Kenny Omega and Sammy Guevara for the AAA Mega Championship. By no means was this a bad match but it automatically had two things going against it. For starters, nobody expected a title change on a makeshift episode of Dynamite with no fans in the audience. Secondly, Omega went into this match with a broken hand and his injury clearly stopped both performers from putting on a better show. That said, Sammy Guevara did a fantastic job in providing some laughs with his over-the-top antics such as continuously flirting with Brandi Rhodes and making out with the cardboard cutout of her. Seriously, just look at the expression on Brandi’s face!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; Guevara is one of the top talents in AEW and it’s about time they give him a bigger push and have him win a match. I don’t think Guevara has won a singles match since Dynamite debuted last October which is a shame because he’s truly gifted. It’s great that he’s part of Jericho’s entourage since they share such great chemistry but it comes with a price since he’s constantly living in Jericho’s shadow. All in all, this was a pretty good match though, given the circumstances and last-minute booking.
The Promos Keep Getting Better
In past reviews of Dynamite, I’ve mentioned how impressed I was with the quality of promos and this week is no different. Of the bunch, the Jake Roberts promo is easily my favorite, albeit not anywhere as good as what we’ve seen from him in past weeks. Still, the video package showing Jake call out Cody Rhodes and demanding a match between him and Lance Archer was well produced and perfectly scripted. Meanwhile, Darby Allin was given another great vignette prior to his match with Kip Sabian which continued to have highlighted the high-end production values we’ve come to expect from AEW vignettes.
The promo that had everyone talking, however, was the pre-recorded skit featuring Brodie Lee having dinner with two of his minions: Jon Silver and Alex Reynolds. Brodie Lee sitting at a steakhouse, wearing a suit and getting mad at somebody for sneezing was clearly a rib on Vince McMahon, but in retrospect, I’m not entirely sure if I like the idea of having The Dark Order play their promos for comedy. As it stands, I’m not entirely sure how to feel about this faction nor am I sure if they know which direction they want to take it. On one hand, presenting Brodie Lee as an evil corporate megalomaniac businessman might be better than him being a raving lunatic and cult leader. On the other hand, the overt inside jokes and jabs at Vince McMahon will have a very limited shelf life. And if they continue to be silly, The Dark Order will never come across as a threat to any of the other superstars in AEW. Hopefully, this will be resolved sooner than later. Until then, the jury is still out on The Dark Order, with or without Brodie Lee.
Wrestling is Art
Depending on how much you like Broken Matt Hardy, your mileage will vary on the confrontation between him and Chris Jericho— but for my money, this was hands down the best part of Dynamite this week and it proves why in-ring performance is only one slice of the much larger pie that is pro wrestling. The entire segment seemed like an act from a Broadway play or rather, a bizarre bit of performance art where the artists are forced to perform in an arena full of empty seats, with no audience reactions to feed off. Given these limitations, both Jericho and Matt Hardy delivered a brave performance; staying in character no matter how silly the segment got.
The job for professional wrestlers, after all, is to suspend the audience’s disbelief by investing them in a story. Whether that story starts and ends in a makeshift episode of Dynamite or over the course of several months, the concept remains the same. Unfortunately for AEW, Matt Hardy entered the company during a time when there is no audience available to help gauge their performances, making everyone’s jobs harder. That said, Jericho stayed in character the entire time, addressing the silliness of it all while still desperately trying to recruit Matt as a member of the Inner Circle. Meanwhile, Matt Hardy also remained in character, ranting and raving about his Vessel and the essences in the building. The entire confrontation is the most bizarre segment in all of professional wrestling since Andy Kauffman’s rivalry with Jerry ‘the King’ Lawler back in the early ‘80s. The result is equally hilarious as it is a work of art.
Wrestlers need to be able to sell themselves as actors. They have lines, they have physical choreography that they must execute. They have entrances, theme songs and monologues to help them do this. And most importantly, they have an audience that helps guide them through their performance. Taking away the audience would be the equivalent of stripping the soundtrack, sound design and sound effects from your favourite Hollywood blockbuster. And yet, despite these limitations, Matt Hardy and Chris Jericho created something that will go down in history as one of the most unforgettable segments in any wrestling promotion— even with the lack of crowd reactions.
The great thing about art is that its definition is subjective. Some will say this feels like a televised dress rehearsal; others will appreciate the artistic prowl of both men.
All I know is that watching Jericho have a conversation with a drone and threatening to pour the bubbly right in Vanguard’s gas tank is one of the funniest sketches I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to see what they do next week.
Note to AEW: Next time you want Matt Hardy to teleport, make sure nobody else is in the frame in order to get the proper effect when you cut between the shots in post-production.