Previously on Total Bellas: Brie and Bryan tried to convince Nikki to buy a $30,000 pool fence and Brie took Artem to look at $500,000 diamond rings.
Was There Anything About Wrestling On This Week’s Episode Of Total Bellas?
No, but there was a lot of Daniel Bryan, so let’s just jump into that part of the show!
Just in time for the fast-approaching proposal-and-double-pregnancy season finale, Bryan and Brie make a breakthrough with their marriage. They’ve been trying to stop growing apart and wondering what will happen to their relationship if they can’t all season, and they made so little meaningful progress at this it seemed like the reality TV version of the Danielson-Bella marriage might be too far gone. However, it turns out this wasn’t because their love was lost, but because they hadn’t consulted any shamans yet.
Brie and Bryan start their path to healing when they head off on a trip to “a place from their past,” the “wellness resort” in Sedona, Arizona, where they got married (in the season two finale of Total Divas.) So many of their interactions this season have been tense, but from the time they start heading to the resort, they seem like a sweet, granola-y couple and you’re reminded that these people genuinely like spending time together.
They visit “a Native American healer” (the first of two people in this episode the show introduces with the job title “shaman”), and with the “wellness” thing and Brie saying that Bryan “loves the Native American culture” (which one?), it seemed like this segment might take things from granola to Goop. It has some questionable, “mystical” production aspects, but the heavy meditation Brie and Bryan do with Shaman #1 gets intense and effective results.
Bryan starts crying and voicing dark thoughts that are largely bleeped out because of swearing, Brie comforts him, and the healer has him do some breathing exercises to recover. In a talking head, Bryan explains that he was in a deep trance and felt like he was observing his behavior from outside his body. I’m not sure what exactly happened here because it’s so heavily edited, but it leads to a much clearer discussion about both Bryan and Brie’s marriage and Bryan’s long struggle with depression.
At this point, I think I need to mention the other discussion about wrestling, reality TV, and mental health that’s been going on since last week as part of the fallout of Hana Kimura‘s suicide. Basically, though there are some topical similarities, there’s not much to compare. Her death brought up issues, to different degrees, with mental illness, cyberbullying, reality TV production, misogyny, racism, and celebrity culture, but only she knows why she committed suicide. As you’ll hear from people trained in suicide prevention, suicide isn’t a way to make others understand your pain and no one can control how it impacts the people who knew you. With Kimura, there is clear evidence of the harassment she was facing, but the public has almost no clues as to why she reacted to it in such a permanent way. Mental health wasn’t addressed as such on Terrace House and Hana didn’t talk about it as a public figure.
Total Bellas is much less slickly produced than Terrace House and much worse at making anything that happens on it seem real, but it’s weirdly one of the few examples of a humane depiction of mental illness in a medium known for allowing viewers to voyeuristically revel in the breakdowns of others. Daniel Bryan’s struggles with his physical and mental health on Total Bellas have sometimes been so uncomfortable because they seemed so real and so serious that they shouldn’t be watched, but they’re also not treated as a reason to grab some popcorn.
It brings to mind how Bryan’s real-life problems have been used to enhance his WWE storylines. Maybe it’s in bad taste, but the whole art form is in bad taste. And while reality TV and WWE are also both known for exploiting performers, Bryan seems to manage to escape that enough to be a part of personal stories that are actually meaningful and beneficial. (To make the Kimura connection again, she clearly did not have the ability to do that on Terrace House and she didn’t have it in a lot of ways in Stardom, if the episode of The Wrestlers about the company is anything to go by.)
Storylines about Bryan’s health create some of the best dramatic TV that Total Bellas can do, and they stand out as something clearly based in a reality in a very fake world. When Brie and Bryan turn the emotional breakdown into a marriage breakthrough, they’re talking to Shaman #2, a white lady you can tell definitely has crystals charging at home who seems to really just be a marriage counselor who does her sessions outside. It’s a setting made for TV and this specific couple, but the conversation gets into some stuff that just feels like people trying to deal with problems as they go through life. It’s also the first time this season you can tell that the Total Bellas version of this couple is also a fictionalized version of the couple that brought about the moving “Fight for your dreams, and your dreams will fight for you” part of Bryan’s return-to-the-ring speech.
Bryan is reluctant to open up to Brie about his depression because “You have enough on your plate already” (“That’s the first thing I want on my plate,” she replies.) He has a history of doing this; he brings up when three years earlier he had a “mental breakdown” and just left for Washington state for three months. There are apologies, resolutions, and reminders of what Brie and Bryan love about each other (Brie tells Bryan she loves that “You are the same to every single person”), and they go home having experienced healing in their relationship. It seems like Bryan opening up about what he’s going through finally removes that block they’ve had when they’ve tried to talk about other issues with their family and lifestyle this season.
Though it’s a happy ending to this one of this episode’s plots and one of this season’s subplots, it’s the type of ending that shows the characters ready to face more difficulties together, rather than an end to difficulty. Despite all the heavy editing and scripting that makes much of Total Bellas feel so artificial, Bryan’s mental illness is presented in a way that feels true to life and not like a conflict that should be solved at some point on the show. It’s shockingly responsible and a much weirder phenomenon in reality TV history than John Cena’s house rules.
From Russia With Love
The lighter storyline this week focused on those two crazy thirty-somethings in love, Artem and Nikki, as they make long strides down the path to marriage. The Bellas and Artem are going to France for a wine-related business trip and Artem reveals that his parents will come over from Russia to meet them. For Nikki, this kicks off an attempt to learn a little more about the Russian language and culture. She is not good at any of it, but Artem thinks all her failures are super endearing, so it still basically works out. (I am concerned that it seems like she’s given up on pronouncing her future in-laws’ last name though.)
Meanwhile, Brie and Kathy, the more observant women in the family, immediately clock that Artem inviting his parents means a proposal is imminent. I think Brie not realizing that Artem was planning to propose soon when it seemed like she was encouraging him to do that exact thing last week and even TOOK HIM TO A RING STORE is a continuity error, but she and Kathy not being sure how Nikki will react makes sense. If I didn’t know from real life she said yes, I would be unsure too because we’ve seen her flip flop so much on major life decisions this season.
Artem, who also got a choreography gig this week and generally seems very happy and confident, eventually confesses to Brie that he bought one of those rings and he did invite his parents to France because he’s going to propose. This and all the other Artem/Nikki scenes don’t make up much of a subplot this week, but they do set up next week’s proposal in France to be romantic and maybe a little suspenseful, but mostly romantic.
Bella Lines Of The Week
- Brie describing Artem in the ring store to her mom: “He was sweating balls. He was like ‘I can’t afford this shit.'” I don’t think he said those exact words?
- Nikki and Artem babysit Birdie, which puts Nikki in a positive headspace about raising kids with Artem in the future. Then she asks Birdie if she thinks she would be a good mom, and the angelic toddler replies, “Um, you would be an alright mom.”