Previously on Total Divas, seven whole seasons happened! The most recent of those seasons were ably recapped by my predecessors Bill Hanstock and Danielle Matheson, but now it’s my turn to recap the best wrestling show with no wrestling on it. Nikki and Brie Bella got their own spinoff show, but stayed on this one as well. Then the Miz and Maryse got their own show too, and have now left this show behind. Paige joined the cast in Season 3, but left in Season 5. Nia Jax joined in Season 6 alongside her then-best friend Alexa Bliss, but Alexa and that friendship are both out the window now.
But enough living in the past, let’s look at the biggest matchups on the Season 8 premiere of Total Divas:
Paige Versus Nia Jax
I could not be happier to have Paige back on this show. She’s funny and real, and she always makes Total Divas worth watching. She reappears in this episode, after a season off due to injury and her life being a mess for a while, and the first thing she does is get out of a car on the New Orleans street and laugh at the fact that one side of her top has fallen all the way down, leaving half of her bra on display for the world. It’s not actually that scandalous, because the difference between Paige’s black bra and the shirts she wears is really pretty minimal. It’s still funny watching her laugh at herself for being a mess, though. It’s funnier of course because she’s actually much less of a mess than she was for a while, so she can be ridiculous and over-the-top without making us wonder if she’s really okay.
Here’s another thing to love about Paige: She puts her opponents over. Even when she’s in conflict with somebody, she never really makes them seem like a bad guy. In this episode, she’s upset because everybody’s in New Orleans for WrestleMania including her, but she’s already been told she can’t wrestle anymore (and worse, she can’t tell the public yet). Not only is she sad because her career appears to be over, but she has much less to do than everyone else, and feels left out when nobody has time to hang out with her. She gets especially mad at her current bestie, Nia Jax, who’s too busy preparing for her big WrestleMania title match to show up for Paige’s swamp tour and has to turn down her cemetery photoshoot (everything Paige plans is very Paige).
It all comes to a head with Paige accusing Nia of not wanting to be her friend anymore because she can’t wrestle, which leads to Nia chasing a stomping-off Paige out of a hotel and the two of them having a much-needed heart to heart amid the lush Southern greenery about Paige’s feelings on not being able to get in the ring in the city where she made her main roster debut just four years earlier at the Raw after WrestleMania 30. Things get exaggeratedly dramatic when you’re living your life on the E! Network, but it’s obvious that Paige’s pain is real, and it was probably worse here, before she knew how strong her post-wrestling WWE career was going to be. I’m giving her the win though, because the important thing here is that she realizes she has friends around her and that they’re going to help her through this tough transition in her life.
Winner: Paige, by hugging it out.
The Bella Twins Versus Natalya
The Bellas are deep into Birdie Bee business, as their clothing brand booms. In fact, as Daniel Bryan is in the process of returning to wrestling, Brie has stepped up to become the president of Birdie Bee. I admit, watching Brie do her thing in earlier seasons of this show, I didn’t particularly see running a company as a likely part of her future, but good for her. The Bellas continue to be full of surprises.
Speaking of Birdie Bee, WWE is selling their clothes in the WrestleMania Superstore in New Orleans, but since they’re not actually in this WrestleMania, the Bellas aren’t getting into town until later. In the meantime, Natalya promises to help promote the brand, like the friend she is. Unfortunately, the friend she is happens to be Nattie Niedhart, so she gets as extra as possible as fast as she can. Nattie always means well (unless you’re her old enemy Summer Rae, but nobody’s heard from that girl in years). She’s just embarrassing, and she can’t seem to help it. She records a truly awful Birdie Bee promo video for social media, and then precedes to walk around New Orleans pressing the flesh on behalf of the Bella Twins, promising that Brie and Nikki are going to be places and do things that they’re definitely not going to be or do.
So then Nikki and Brie arrive in New Orleans, and basically are immediately mobbed by randos saying things like “You’re going to come to our party, right? Natalya said you would!” at which point they realize they’ve been Nattied. By the way, an important note for viewers: J.J. Bella appears briefly in this scene, and I understand that you might feel a moment of panic. Don’t worry, he goes away quickly. They’re not going to let him ruin this show like he ruined Total Bellas.
The confrontation with Nattie happens in a truly amazing setting. It’s a charity fundraiser held in a venue decorated with Mardi Gras parade floats and ephemera. So in the background of this whole scene are giant tiger heads, suns with smiley faces, Egyptian gods, and all sorts of other wild, colorful stuff. There’s even a statue of the She-Wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, which Brie notes captures the reality of the breastfeeding experience.
This is Season 8 of Total Bellas, and these are three women who’ve been here since Day One-ish, so even the conflicts run smoothly. Nikki’s like, “Nattie, you’re embarrassing!” and Nattie’s like “You’re right, I’m embarrassing. I’m sorry,” and then they celebrate their reconciliation by reenacting the Three of Cups from the Tarot, which Paige would definitely take as a positive omen if she were there.
Winner: The Bella Twins, by telling Nattie to try not to be quite so Nattie.
Paige Versus Naomi
As a spooky goth girl, Paige understandably feels right at home in New Orleans. And given all the aforementioned turmoil in her life, the number one thing she wants to do on this visit is get help from the various conveyers of voodoo, folk magic, and fortune telling. Naomi, who believes in God and Jesus and stays away from everything else, wants no part of it. Paige even tries to prank her by paying a fortune teller to say something ominous, but it doesn’t even work because Naomi is refusing so totally to engage.
Paige is self-conscious that Naomi thinks she’s a weirdo (which is itself weird, because Paige is usually proud of being a weirdo), but Naomi assures her it’s not about that. She just doesn’t want anything to do with voodoo. Paige says she understands, and then immediately brings Naomi along to a voodoo shop to buy a voodoo doll. While Lana accompanies Paige into the shop, Naomi stays in the car and promises to make sure nobody steals their rims.
I suspect there’s an unspoken (at least on E!) racial element to this storyline, based on reactions I’ve seen from some members of the black community to white people flippantly dabbling in voodoo. That’s not my lane (I’m about as pale as Paige) so I’m not going to dwell there. As someone who’s been to New Orleans as a tourist, on the other hand, I just kept thinking “Oh no Paige, how much money are you spending on all this witchcraft?” But she can obviously afford to part with it (especially knowing that her WWE career is more stable than it seems in this episode) and the voodoo ladies have to make a living too (and I’m guessing rich young white women like Paige are probably how they make a lot of it).
The victory for this round clearly goes to Naomi, who ultimately manages to express her support for Paige while still keeping her own soul and wallet safe.
Winner: Naomi, by refusing to get out of the car.
Lower On The Card
Although Ronda Rousey isn’t on this show (aside from some quick WrestleMania glimpses), the girls take a couple of minutes at the very beginning of the episode to talk about how nice and great she is. I’m just going to say, it felt a little forced.
Kayfabe and reality blur as Nia Jax talks about how she used to be best friends with Alexa Bliss, but they don’t get along anymore. I’ve also heard rumors of their real-life split, but it still seemed a lot like they were using this show to put over the company’s top female heel as a heel.
There was a whole mini-conflict in this episode about how Nattie’s husband Tyson “T.J.” Kidd is a producer now, and seems to have more nice things to say about the women whose matches he’s producing than about his wife. There’s certainly room for some middle ground between expecting T.J. to tell every fan at Axxess that his wife will definitely win the Women’s Battle Royal (which is what Nattie expects) and arguing with fans who say she might win (which is what T.J. does). The problem of course is that Nattie is the Most, and at least on this show T.J. is the Least (not the worst, just the least), so finding that middle ground anytime soon seems unlikely.
One of my single favorite moments in the whole episode was during Paige’s swampland tour, when Sonya Deville excitedly points at a giant swamp pig. She actually appears throughout the episode, although without getting the chance to say much. It gives me a little bit of hope that they might add her to the cast for next season, which would make her the first queer cast member since Disaster Bisexual Rosa Mendes left after Season 5. Book it, E!