(The following contains spoilers for the first season of the Netflix Original show, The Punisher.)
While fans of MCU and lore-gurus on the Internet would like to connect all the pieces together, enjoying The Punisher (created by Steve Lightfoot, based on the comic book character of the same name) stipulates that those notions be left at the door. How we got here, to this spin-off to the second season of Daredevil, was just a means to an end.
Yes, the story resumes from where we left off, and we follow sullen-faced Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle a.k.a. The Punisher’s story from that point on, but that’s all there is to it.
Kids ought to get out of the pool for this one, it’s a bit of an adult swim.
Post-traumatic stress order, displayed in all shapes and sizes, is a major theme of the show and its characters. It’s all very shockingly real, and not over-played where it doesn’t have to be. Such a mature take on a sensitive topic involving soldiers returning from Obama and W. Bush-era Middle Eastern wars is not what I was expecting, but I was beyond glad to see it.
While the origins of the comic book character were originally based in the Vietnam War-era, and a big part of me would’ve loved to have seen Frank Castle get bloody in the grimy 80s’ streets of NYC, the story told in the show does a beautiful and fair job of representing the solider that lives and dies today.
Shell-shocked soldiers sit in circles expressing their frustrations for a system that gave them a place and purpose, only to leave them unskilled to deal with the domestic world once wars were over. Haunted by what they had to do in name of their country, many now feel a phantom limb in place of what was once their place in the world.
Some feel let down by a conspirator government only interested in them as disposable tools of war, while others have little opinions outside of feeling ill-placed for the modern, existing country that they feel they served to protect.
As a result, a character like Frank Castle is seen in a forgiving, tragic light, but his actions as The Punisher are never justified. In fact, to take a side in a story like this one would be foolish. It’s a series of tragic events happening as a result of actions beyond the control of the daily man.
Frank Castle is humanized, just as any other typical vigilante in a modern story, but empathy does not come with forgiveness. You never feel the need to forgive Frank Castle for his actions, nor condone them, but you do understand the messed up, mental cage he has trapped himself within.
It’s the kind of empathy, even in our real world, we can use more of. On that note, a major side-story focus of the show, that also highlights the dangerous potential outcomes of PTSD, is the plight of the disturbed, out-of-reach Lewis Wilson (played by Daniel Webber); a now-empty shell of a person who only found himself to be truly alive and in love with life in the midst of a war.
His tragic story runs parallel to Frank’s, mirroring the similarities of their situations, and how different men cope with the same kind of demons. The thematical sister-story culminates within the main story as a sort of an intentional fizzle as far as Lewis’s individuality goes.
Throughout his story line, Lewis seems like a desperate man who still has the capacity to listen to reason and perhaps be stopped from escalating to violence. Several missed opportunities later, however, and he unfortunately evaporates into just another domestic terrorist devoid of humanity.
People like Lewis come and go, and that is the tragedy that the show successfully punctuates. To understand where such characters came from and feel a human connection to their plight does not mean you forgive or agree with their actions; their fates are a sad fact of life that the show features to remind its viewers that very few people are born killers, but rather the circumstances of a vulnerable human’s life can facilitate the transformation into one.
There are many other stories in this show’s mix that provide context for how people deal with loss and trauma, but some stand out more than others. The show’s version of Micro is a modern hack-style whistleblower; another tragic figure who has to play the role of a ghost to protect his family; and a character whose relationship with Frank becomes one of the highlights of the show.
Characters like DHS agent Dinah Madani (played by Amber Rose Revah) and the world that follows them around, however, is wholly boring and cartoonishly written. This is unfortunate because the majority of the 13 episodes (too long), are meandering sub-plots regarding her place as one of the good guys in the government. Her story is interesting (in a very basic way), but we didn’t need so many hours of characters talking and essentially telling us how they feel when those feelings would’ve been more powerful if they were simply acted out.
The show doesn’t have that many mandatory-crossover characters from other Netflix MCU shows, aside from Karen Page (played again by Deborah Ann Woll) serving as a major recurring character, and an extended guest role/cameo by Rob Morgan’s Turk which serves as a one-off reference to the events of Daredevil season 2.
Karen Page initially seem shoe-horned in due to a corporate-mandated, contractually-obligated mess that is the MCU, but even though the show has to clumsily add in the apparently only reporter who exists in all of NYC, once her position is set, it’s utilized in a way better than perhaps any other occurrence of this character.
Due to her stance on carrying a gun as a symbol of self-reliance and refusing to back off from the danger of a suicidal domestic terrorist based on her principles, she ends up becoming a stronger female character than ever before.
Having gone through the ringer in both seasons of Daredevil, when Karen Page almost jokingly punctuates a certain sentence with “as a woman”, it rings truer than it might have ever before.
With Karen in place, the show puts its foot down (and through) a well-crafted Second Amendment debate by cutting the talk short, and displaying the hypocrisy of an anti-SA stance in the modern world in which we live by not just blabbing about it, but by enacting the winning side of the debate as a series of actions.
(I’d like to point out though, again, for a show taking place in the MCU, hearing the more real-world arguments in support or against are a bit funny. I dunno, in a world where alien robot things jump out of every street corner, maybe you should be packing some heat, yeah? Again, to enjoy this show, it’s best to pretend the MCU does not exist).
Finally, of course, the show’s primary antagonist, Billy Russo, cuts into it all in an interesting fashion. His angle is played in more of a “I thought you was my friend” trope-y way, but it’s not without its charm and emotional contributions to Frank’s drive.
A betrayal by a war buddy is an easy plot device, but within the context of the show, it’s a good way to visualize just another causality of war. Instead of wallowing in pain, Russo has turned his failings (and agony) from the war into a successful business by existing both inside and outside the corrupt system that the Punisher has waged a personal war against.
If you are a fan of the comics and knew of his fate before watching, anxiously waiting for him to become “Jigsaw” had its payoff, but god damn, I did not expect something that gnarly.
All in all, it has its flaws, but I think The Punisher is as good of a truly thought-provoking, intelligent one can hope for in the comic book movie and show atmosphere prevalent today. It deals with real-world anti-war sentiments by actually dicing into the drawbacks of what the actions of a few can do to the many. Sure, it falls into modern TV-tropes more than I would like, which results in a disjointed experience, but I would rather take away the things that it does right when conveying its certain, emotional themes.
Such a real, mature insight triumphs over anything else put out under the Disney/Marvel label, and as far as I can tell, it won’t happen again. Though, such speculation might not even be needed considering how Disney has possibly pulled the plug on the whole operation anyway.
Even if we were to ignore the possibility of that happening, unfortunately, knowing the target audience for the MCU and the conservative (i.e. the actual word, not the political stance) nature of Disney as a primary overseer, I’m surprised and glad The Punisher was able to accomplish as much as it was.
I really can’t see this show being renewed on its merits. It simply does not belong, and thank God for that.
‘BoJack Horseman’ Season 6 Part 2: Full Dark with Just a Sliver of Hope
The last leg of Bojack Horseman’s final season embraces the darkness the show has come to be known for with just enough hope to squeak by.
Bojack Horseman has never shied away from the darkness. Even in the more screwball satire centric first season, the darkness of addiction and mental illness was hovering just around the periphery. Though the dark seemed to be on a short hiatus last season, with BoJack finally turning over a new leaf, it returns with a vengeance in the second part of season 6.
Though the final arc of Netflix’s best animated show may be too dark by half for some, for those who have fallen in love with the adventures of this grim, goofy world over the years, it offers a satisfying if hard-won, conclusion.
As viewers will recall, the final episode of season 6, part 1 seemed to be teasing a comeuppance that would upset BoJack’s healthy, serene new life. Indeed, the reckoning that is threatened does arrive in season 6, part 2, and boy does it bring a storm of pain and misery with it.
Like waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop, BoJack Horseman‘s final arc gives its titular character just long enough to enjoy the last vestiges of his new, happy life before dropping the hammer on him and smashing his life to bits. Of course it wouldn’t be that easy for BoJack to escape from his demons, and just because he’s turned over a new leaf, that doesn’t erase all of the pain and anguish caused by years of selfish, irresponsible behavior.
Hell, one episode even sees the central cast trying to help BoJack catalog a full list of all of his indiscretions over the years on a blackboard. That blackboard eventually multiplies as the list continues to spill over, filled mostly with events we’ve actually seen in the run of the show. This sobering list of painful and often silly mistakes shows what a damaged person BoJack truly is, and illustrates that for all the wackiness of the show, the central character of BoJack Horseman has caused some very real pain for the people he has crossed paths with over the years.
Sadly, this is the double-edged sword of recovery from addiction. While the addict achieves something resembling personal contentment and a newfound value for life, the destructive path they have carved over the years threatens to undo all of their hard work by tempting them back into the darkness through guilt, sorrow and (often deserved) restitution.
Ultimately, this seems to be the lesson of BoJack Horseman‘s final round of storytelling: that there are no quick fixes or easy solutions for the heaviest and hardest of life’s problems. However, with good friends and some support, even the longest and toughest stretches of darkness can be survived… or at least faced up to.
Though the characteristically silly humor remains intact, it does take something of a hit in this final run of episodes. Amid all of the despair and heartache, there aren’t as many laughs to be had in season 6, part 2. Those that do come still offer some sardonic and cynical cheer, if you can call it cheer, but if there’s any valid criticism to be had for a show firing this hard on all cylinders, it would be that those cylinders can be pretty hard to take without the usual levity.
Most fans who have been with BoJack Horseman this long, though, will see this as sort of par for the course. BoJack Horseman has been this show since season 2, it’s just been leaning a little further into the abyss as the seasons have passed. Luckily though, there are slivers of light that shine through this final batch of episodes.
While the titular character is truly put through the wringer here, the rest of the cast is allowed to find surprisingly happy resolutions for their stories, even if there is some pain to be had along the way. Diane, in particular, struggles as she adjusts to being medicated for depression while trying to finally write her book. Though it doesn’t exactly turn out how she expects, she’s able to grow this season perhaps better than anyone by the end.
Todd too settles things once and for all with his personal demons, though he does so in an unsurprisingly Todd way. Leave it to the show’s silliest character to try and solve his problems with fake kidnapping schemes, Frito pies and character actress Margo Martindale.
Speaking of silly characters, Mr. Peanutbutter’s plan to fix things with Pickles by allowing her to cheat on him with charming idiot Joey Pogo does, of course, blow up in his face. This leads Mr. Peanutbutter as close as he’s ever been to the Sad Dog of his depression campaign from last season, but ultimately, he too is able to grow, recognize his co-dependance and start a road toward self-care and personal growth. A touching phone call between Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane, in which they pore over their relationship, is one of the season’s best moments for both characters.
Finally, Princess Caroline struggles the least this season, but perhaps this is well earned. Few characters have had the stress, heartache and disappointment in their lives that Princess Caroline has. Her relationship with long time loyal subordinate and confidante Judah is paid off wonderfully here, if a bit too quickly, leading her to perhaps the happiest ending of all.
Yes BoJack Horseman has always been a show about mental health, addiction and the darkness inside us all. However, it’s also always had rays of hope peaking through these abject, sinister shadows. This is, in the end, the legacy that the show leaves us with in its final episodes: a journey through darkness with just enough light to guide the way.
Though the final arc of Netflix’s best animated show may be too dark by half for some, for those who have fallen in love with the adventures of this grim, goofy world over the years, it offers a satisfying if hard-won, conclusion.
Kobe Bryant and Greatness
Remembering the Legend, Kobe Bryant
As an obsessive list-maker, much of my free time involves me interviewing myself in my head: “So, Sean, what are your top 10 albums of all time?” “Well, Sean, I’m glad you asked…” Thinking about the things – works of art, people, places – that have impacted me most powerfully and for the longest time is, all at once, an exercise in remembering, appreciating and evaluating. Other list-makers can undoubtedly relate; we are many, as I’ve often found in conversation and to my relief. These lists can be incredibly specific (“Top 10 Italian Neorealist Films” or “Top 10 Poets Born in July”) or much more general. They make up the majority of the files in the Documents folder of my laptop. I research, compile and write these without the intent of publishing them anywhere, though I occasionally send some to my family or partner if I feel like they’ll find them interesting or entertaining. This kind of list is, of course, known all too well in our age of the digital and is appropriately criticized for being what we call “clickbait”, a word so integrated into our culture that Microsoft Word recognizes it as a correct word in correct spelling as I write it (I can guarantee that I never added it to Word’s dictionary). These lists appear in waves at the end of every year (more so this past year, hailing the best-of-the-decade lists) and for anniversaries of things – works of art, people, places – that writers feel like remembering, appreciating and evaluating. I read way too many of these lists every year, and nearly all of them upset me because of how much I disagree with another person’s taste that they try to dress up in objective authority. The best lists are the most personal ones that make no claim to be “definitive” (a word that you’ll find in many titles; this is how you know it’s a bad list and that you shouldn’t bother reading it). When an author really pours their heart into a list, it’s obvious and can be as beautiful as any lyric essay by Zadie Smith or Jonathan Franzen if the author is a strong prose writer.
When I published my first pamphlet (or chapbook in the US) of poetry towards the end of 2018, I found myself struggling to do this list-making – a process that had become so enjoyable and natural to me that I must have been making lists in my dreams – when it came to the acknowledgments section at the end of the pamphlet. How could I possibly have enough room to pay tribute to the list of people who have helped me be a better writer (or even a better person who was simply trying to write)? It was impossible. So, I did the easy thing by name-dropping the people in my life who were physically there for me along the way – family, friends, teachers. A more accurate acknowledgments section would have included the writers who have moved me – who have given me solace in difficult times, who have pushed me to challenge myself by their examples, who are always there with me in spirit when I sit down with my notebook and pencil. I could have written a pamphlet-length thanks just to John Keats.
But when I think about my “Top 10 Influences as a Poet”, few poets actually make that list. That list is populated by people who have taught me something about living that has made my relationship to poetry stronger and more amicable than frustrating (most practicing writers have a turbulent relationship with their craft). A few months ago, #3 on that list died. Harold Bloom had been in ill health for a long time and lived to 89, so his passing was not at all shocking. I mourned for him. He was a notoriously difficult man in the world of literary criticism whom many people disliked for his supposed racism and sexism (both nonsense within the context of his criticism but understandable by the unfortunate and common issue of someone not meeting someone else on their own terms and, instead, choosing to do battle with them in the same way that Twitter uses yell over each other with no interest in thinking of the other person as a human being) and for his elitism (no argument there). Reading and listening to Bloom, though, made me fall madly in love with literature and take it on not as an interest but as a way of life, which inspired the subtitle for his The Anatomy of Influence. Bloom, by his own account, was a freak. You would need to listen to several of the podcasts that are out there in which friends of his are interviewed if you are to be persuaded that the myths about his capacity to read and remember works of literature – he could recite Milton’s Paradise Lost by memory, including someone picking a passage at random for him to continue from – were all true. Bloom could only understand life through the lens of literature and especially the writers he loved most: Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, Samuel Johnson. To hear him talk about these writers or to see and get a sense of his feelings for them in his own written work was awesome in the true sense of that word. While I find it harder and harder to make more meaningful connections with people in my life who don’t read as I get older, I can always be taken into a sort of ecstasy by any kind of passion. I know nothing about cars. I have no desire to learn anything about cars. I purposefully live somewhere I don’t need to own a car. But if your deepest passion in life is cars and you sit me down at the pub to talk about cars with the same fervor that Bloom could talk about a Faulkner novel or a Dickinson poem, I will listen to and love you as much as I would listen to and love anyone else. There is nothing more attractive and intoxicating than passion, because it speaks to a quality in someone that refuses to be idle or passive in life. What greater crime to our nature than to live on a sort of mental autopilot? Bloom was a major representation of this to me. It’s because of him that I’ve been diligent in either cutting down or eliminating the distractions – mostly technological – that lull me into a mode of simply passing the time. His words and recommendations for reading have saved me from many a depressive episode, and I continuously try to honor his influence on me by reading often and widely, which is – by far – the best thing that any poet can do to become a better poet.
Yesterday, #2 on that list died. And if Bloom’s death was anything but shocking, only the exact opposite could be said of the death of Kobe Bryant. I exchanged some messages with Bloom while he was still alive, but I never spoke to Kobe Bryant in any literal way except for cheers of adoration through a television set in my formative years. The ongoing, unspoken conversation that he and I had from ages 8 (when I started playing basketball, when he came into the NBA) to 31 is something I find too challenging to accurately explain, much like that acknowledgments section. In those early years, my experience is one that probably millions of people worldwide share. Unless you were from a city or area that was fortunate enough to have a competitive NBA team, you were probably following the Los Angeles Lakers if you were a fan of basketball. Some individual players from the late 90s and early 2000s might have been as exciting (Allen Iverson and Vince Carter, especially), but no team commanded the media attention as much as the Lakers. We lived in Ventura County, immediately north of Los Angeles County, so the Lakers became the family team by default, but it’s hard to imagine that things would have been any different if we had lived somewhere else (except, maybe, for Boston, whose hatred of the Lakers is the stuff of legends). So electric and audacious was the Kobe-Shaq duo that the Lakers seasons might as well have been one of the early reality shows to come out of the neighboring Hollywood. They were appointment-viewing, as many of us TV critics used to call things like The Wire or Mad Men back when people actually watched TV live.
I’m sure those millions of people could tell you all about what it was like to grow up watching the Lakers. For me, it was one of two things that brought the family together in the evenings (the other was The X-Files when it was in-season). Dad got the fire going in the fireplace during halftime (some nights in southern California are cold, I promise), Mom made us all some cups of non-caffeinated tea (usually echinacea or chamomile; most of these were school nights) and my brother and I stretched out on the sofas or else tried to convince one of the cats to stay put so that we could pet them. To say that Kobe – and it was always Kobe first and ahead of Shaq, who was incredible but prone to bouts of lack of motivation – was part of the family would be literally incorrect but completely genuine in every other way. Lakers flags went up on the cars. Mom threatened to dye her hair purple if they three-peated (they did; she did). It’s said that Lakers fans bleed purple and gold. In retrospect and after following the path of figurative language, I’m inclined to believe it was true.
All the Kobe-specific Lakers memories – the 81-point game, which we watched at home live together; all the championship battles, with and without Shaq; all the fighting through illnesses and injuries to the detriment of his body but for the sake of his team and the game – are things that sportswriters are better equipped to cover. I spent all of last night reading those articles and reliving some of those memories in-between weeping and moments of disbelief, wondering if the date was April 1st and not January 26th. What only I can write about, though, is why he was #2 on my list of people who have influenced me most as a poet.
I could look at it purely aesthetically. David Foster Wallace, one of the greatest American writers of the last few decades and a former tennis prodigy, gave us a look at Roger Federer in a way that elevates the mechanical act of the body in movement into art. This is that capacity for passion: I don’t really care for tennis, but I could happily read and reread Wallace writing about tennis. We never really got the same treatment of Kobe’s artistry on paper. We did, however, get Spike Lee’s permanent documentary, Kobe Doin’ Work, which does the job just as admirably as Wallace. The impossibility of some of Kobe’s shots, his understanding of and connection to the flow of the game that was so frighteningly comprehensive and seamless (if a basketball game could function like a reading of Paradise Lost, I venture you could drop Kobe in at any point and he would pick up and play in a way that, like Bloom, you would just understand that it’s second nature to him in ways that most humans will never experience with anything in their lives). Some of this you can see and feel in Lee’s film. The rest you can catch in analysis and clips widely available, luckily, online. As a poet, I could just sit back and look at Kobe – one of the greatest artists working in his medium of all time – and be vaulted into purpose by inspiration from seeing what the best looks like. Writers learn best from reading the best that has been written (a long-time axiom of Bloom’s). I think that works between disciplines, too. Why might a composer not learn something about their relationship with music by seeing and understanding one of the greatest of chefs at work in the kitchen? A dish is a composition itself, after all; variable components need to be put together to create something transcendent. And watching Kobe play basketball is absolutely that transcendent experience. We marvel at what Steph Curry has done to the game of basketball by seemingly taking proximity to the basket out of the equation; seeing Curry put up three-pointers is, without a doubt, beautiful. But Kobe’s work happened everywhere on the court and for every second he was out there, finding any possible margin of error in the defense. Like great writing, it looks so natural and easy; it is not natural or easy.
My biggest takeaway from Kobe, though, is his approach to the game of basketball, which was also, of course, his approach to life. If you’re going to bother doing something, why give it anything other than your all? Like with Bloom, there were a lot of people who didn’t like Kobe. The opposition had their obvious reasons, but teammates of Kobe’s who showed any signs of laziness or passivity wouldn’t last very long in that state. If you were going to play alongside Kobe Bryant, you damn well better be in the gym first thing in the morning and doing everything you can to achieve the goal: greatness. Basketball players talk about championships as the promised lands, but greatness doesn’t stop in June after the winners have been decided. Not for Kobe, at least. We didn’t really understand just how seriously Kobe took that to heart until after he retired and we started seeing him smile and look happy, no longer burdened by the need to put the pursuit of greatness in basketball above all else. What mattered then was the pursuit of greatness as a father and husband. What better reasons to smile and look happy?
If you talk to other writers about their processes and struggles, you’ll encounter all sorts of challenges to greatness they face; Kobe probably would have called them “excuses”. Writer’s block is a common one. If you take the Kobe approach – the Mamba Mentality – writer’s block doesn’t exist. Imagine Kobe the poet (easy to do, because the man actually wrote poetry and won an Academy Award for the film adaptation of it). These writers – and I have been guilty of this in the past – who could tell you about times when they just couldn’t write or write well or make the time to write alongside everything else going on in their lives would have been those teammates of Kobe’s who would get an earful. Kobe the poet would have been someone who woke up, recited a few of the poems most important to him from memory and went straight to the notebook or document, toiling away for hours until something like the best of Yeats or Ashbery came out, day after day. I’d like to say something like “Kobe’s process with basketball is not easily translatable to a writer trying to write”, but I honestly don’t believe that anymore. I think if a poet genuinely has greatness in mind as their goal, then there are only excuses that get in the way of that. And, recently, I’ve become tired of making excuses for myself and my own writing (or lack of writing), and I’ve certainly become tired of listening to poet friends of mine make their own excuses. The Mamba Mentality has been something that I’ve tried to adapt to my own life. It has caused a lot of arguments, especially having to do with simply not having enough time to write (usually claimed by people who spend hours of their days scrolling through social media, sometimes without even knowing that they’ve done it). I think it has also probably caused diminished friendships. But reading and writing mean so much to me – more than anything else I’ve ever done in life – and I am at my happiest when I can see and hear Kobe as I sit down to do either activity. It can be painful trying to hold yourself to that standard, mentally more than physically. But that is the legacy Kobe Bryant has left to me – to not settle for anything less than greatness, which requires intensive study and practice, and to hold myself accountable for my shortcomings and not fall back on excuses. Kobe played through broken bones; I can write through colds. Kobe could have left the Lakers and got more championships by joining other great players, but he stayed in Los Angeles and played the game the right way; I can keep trying to find my voice by being authentic to myself and not changing my style so that it fits certain molds that might be more publishable or populist. Kobe ruptured his Achilles (an appropriate injury for one of the greatest warriors that ever stepped foot on the basketball court) and came back to the game because he wasn’t done yet; I was one or two more days away from a complete nervous breakdown and needing to be sectioned last year before my family came to my aid, and I am now more ready than I’ve ever been to get back to that obsessive love of literature. Kobe gave me all of that.
These are only the first things that come to mind when I think about Kobe Bryant’s impact on my life. I still have much mourning and contemplation to do, as do so many others. And there are some aspects of the news from yesterday that are just unfathomable. Kobe was a part of the public sphere and, because of that, we feel the right to express our thoughts and feelings towards him because of how deeply he touched so many of us. But to try to consider what it must be like for a mother-wife and a daughter-sister old enough to understand the severity of losing 13-year-old Gianna along with Kobe (and to have to think ahead to when the other two daughter-sisters will be processing these losses later in life) – this is beyond anything else. It is not my place, even as someone who has spent the last eight years trying to manage my own grief. To begin thinking about that is to willingly run into madness. The only solace for us is knowing that the family has so many people around them who knew Kobe and Gianna well as people, because the family is truly beloved. My heart goes out to anyone else who was positively affected by Kobe Bryant in their lifetime, and I encourage those people to tell their own stories – to remember, to appreciate, to evaluate – as privately or as publicly as they are able. It will be some time before things start feeling anything close to normal again for us. That is okay. That speaks to the greatness of Kobe Bryant.
Royal Rumble 2020: The Good, The Bad, and The Tolerable
Saying the Royal Rumble is the hottest of the big four pay-per-views in WWE is not a hot take. Sure, it the first stage of setting the card for WrestleMania. Fans love the actual Royal Rumble match because truly anything can happen in it.
Some of the biggest returns and debuts have happened in that match. Winning it has made wrestlers into superstars. Anyone could win the Royal Rumble and go on to headline WrestleMania. Usually, the person you expect to win does. Sometimes, it’s the person you least expect.
The 2020 edition of the Royal Rumble pay-per-view was the third one to feature two Royal Rumble matches; one for the women and one for the men. Both matches were solid with the right amount of surprises.
Royal Rumble Pre-Show
The two-hour Royal Rumble Pre-Show is filled with video packages and analysis that are somewhat tedious to watch. If it was half an hour, that would be okay. But two hours is a lot to sit through. Fortunately, they usually manage to sneak a couple of matches in.
The returning Sheamus took on Shorty G in an attempt to prove that the SmackDown locker room is weak and lazy. Picking on a guy half your size is always a great way to show people how tough you are. It was a surprisingly competitive and engaging match, with both men getting some good spots in.
Ultimately, Sheamus won but Shorty G still looked good.
The second match was Humberto Carrillo taking on Andrade for the United States Championship. Both men are incredible talents who play very well off each other in the ring. Andrade won but Carrillo is a future champion.
Falls Count Anywhere Match
The feud between King Corbin and Roman Reigns feels like it’s been going on for far too long. It jumped the shark when Corbin and friends broke out the dog food. Hopefully, their match at the Royal Rumble is the wrap-up and the Big Dog can move onto something else.
Reigns and Corbin took a trip around the arena, making use of the Astro’s home field. Naturally, Robert Roode and Dolph Ziggler showed up to interfere. The Usos had their cousin’s back, though.
It came down to Roman beating the King down and pinning him for the victory. The match definitely was solid but nothing special. The audience isn’t super into Corbin so the energy in the arena seemed a little low.
The biggest spot of the match came from one of the Usos, and not the actual competitors.
Women’s Royal Rumble Match
For the third year in a row, the Women’s Royal Rumble match did not disappoint.
NXT was well represented this year. Bianca Belair came in at number two and was a one-woman wrecking crew for a significant portion of the match. She ended up eliminating eight people, as did Shaya Baszler. Combined, they took out 16 of the 30 competitors.
Among the surprise entrants were “Mighty” Molly Holly, Kelly Kelly, Beth Phoenix, and Santina Marella. For those who were confused by that one, Santina Marella is the alter ego of former superstar Santino Marella. She eliminated herself, a funny moment that was lost on a lot of the audience.
That being said, it was a shame that one of the many great current competitors in the division didn’t get Santina’s spot.
It’s worth mentioning how good Molly Holly looked in the ring. She was underrated when she was an active member of the roster so it’s always nice to see her get some respect. There has to be a place for her in the modern era of wrestling.
One of the headlines was the return of Naomi, who has been away for some time. She looked like she didn’t have an ounce of ring rust on her. It remains to be seen if this was a one-night deal or if she’s back for good.
Ultimately, Charlotte Flair won and will go on to headline WrestleMania against one of the women’s champions, probably Becky. Charlotte is a great wrestler, but she was the safest bet for the WWE in the match. It would have been nice to see someone unexpected, but deserving get the shot.
Bayley vs Lacey Evans
The heat on this Royal Rumble bout has been building for weeks. Bayley’s heel turn has made her more relevant than ever. It’s also nice that she has been given a respectably long reign as the SmackDown Women’s Champion. On the other hand, Lacey Evans sudden face turn was a bit surprising, but she wears it well.
A year ago, Bayley would have been the face and Lacey would have been the heel in this match.
Overall, this was a solid women’s title match. Lacey looked good for the most part as did Bayley. The end came at a rather surprising moment with Bayley grabbing a handful of Lacey’s tights for the pinfall to retain the belt.
Daniel Bryan vs “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt
Daniel Bryan’s return to the Yes Movement, plus his new, clean look, has put him back in the title picture. Unfortunately, that title picture features the current Universal Champion, “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt.
After already losing to Wyatt and being repeatedly attacked by him, Bryan felt the smart move was to attach himself to “The Fiend” with a leather strap. Nope.
“The Fiend” made his traditional creepy entrance and proceeded to destroy Bryan. Eventually, Bryan came around and took it to “The Fiend.” The match was as brutal as expected with Wyatt coming out on top and Bryan left the Royal Rumble with some ugly wounds.
But the big story of the match is that it did not happen under only red lights, which was really nice. You could actually see what was happening. With any luck, this is how “The Fiend” will wrestle from now on. That red light thing made it difficult to enjoy his matches.
Becky Lynch vs Asuka
The rivalry between Becky Lynch and Asuka has taken a backseat to other storylines, but it has always been there. Lynch asked for the match so she could settle the score between them and finally move on.
This match was as good as you’d expect from two such accomplished and talented in-ring performers in the company. It was highly competitive with a lot of incredible spots for both competitors. When Lynch and Asuka get in a ring together, they make pure magic.
In the end, Lynch retained her championship, but it was a hard-fought victory. This was arguably the best singles match Asuka has wrestled in the past year. Even though she didn’t win, she looked like the Asuka of old, and on the verge of total domination again.
Men’s Royal Rumble Match
Fans were justifiably concerned when Paul Heyman announced that Brock Lesnar would enter at number one in the Royal Rumble this year. WWE has a bad habit of putting him over in spite of themselves. What does WrestleMania look like if the WWE Champion wins the Royal Rumble?
As luck would have it, no one has to know the answer thanks to Ricochet and Drew McIntyre.
Lesnar tore through the first 13 superstars who came out after him. Number 15 was Ricochet, who was dominated. McIntyre was the next competitor out. Ricochet hit Lesnar with the low blow, then McIntyre hit him with the Claymore Kick straight out of the ring.
Lesnar’s elimination was one of the biggest pops of the night. Drew stared holes through Lesnar until he left the arena. It was a clear indication of who he is going to challenge.
NXT was not as well represented in the Men’s match as it was the Women’s. Only Keith Lee and Matt Riddle made it into the Royal Rumble. Riddle was quickly eliminated, and apparently got into it backstage with Lesnar, but Lee continued his string of great showings.
Lesnar might have eliminated Lee but Lee stepped to him. Brock even looked a little impressed and that doesn’t happen often.
Men’s Royal Rumble Surprises
The Men’s match only had two surprise entrants, but they were great ones. MVP made his return after a long absence. He was quickly eliminated by Lesnar, but still looked great. The second surprise entrant caught everyone off guard when Edge’s music hit.
One of the best in the business was retired by injuries in 2011 and has not wrestled since. He looked amazing, entering at 21, eliminating three people, and making it to the final three. The pop he got when his music started rivaled the one The Hardy Boyz got at WrestleMania 33.
Unfortunately, an odd moment happened with AJ Styles. At one point, the ringside medical staff seemed to be attending to him near the ring apron. He was quickly eliminated by Edge and helped to the back. Hopefully, he is okay.
Excluding the return of MVP, the most valuable player of the evening was Beth Phoenix. She left the announcer’s desk behind to compete in the Royal Rumble again and went on one hell of a run. Beth entered at 21 and hung around until she was taken out by Baszler.
But at some point during the match, Phoenix got a bad laceration on the back of her head. Her hair was soaked in her own blood, yet she continued the match. The injury actually seemed to make her more aggressive. This was the best she has wrestled in years.
Apparently, the angrier Beth Phoenix gets, the stronger she gets.
Royal Rumble Snubs
There were a lot of current superstars who weren’t included from any roster. The only NXT UK star that appeared was Toni Storm, a surprise since Worlds Collide was the night before. Noticeable by her absence was Sasha Banks, whose presence has been minimal over the last few weeks.
Many people were also hoping for returns from the likes of Nia Jax and Ruby Riott. They also did not appear. People were also looking for CM Punk but that is still a long shot at best. It would have been cool if his music hit, though.
It’s also hard to imagine that John Morrison returned to WWE only to get sacrificed to Brock Lesnar in the Royal Rumble. His time in the ring was only a few seconds, a disappointment since he usually puts on a heck of a show.
Fans also might have been surprised to see that Braun Strowman didn’t face Shinsuke Nakamura for the Intercontinental Championship. That match was thought to be a lock but it didn’t even appear on the Pre-Show. Strowman cannot catch a break in his hunt for a singles title.
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