Previously on Total Divas, everybody arrived in New Orleans for WrestleMania Weekend. Paige was upset because she has to retire from in-ring competition, and she was turning to magic in her time of need, much to Naomi’s chagrin. Meanwhile, Natalya made a bunch of promises on behalf of the Bella’s in her attempt to help market Birdie Bee.
But enough living in the past, let’s look at the biggest matchups on Season 8 Episode 2 of Total Divas:
Paige Versus Retirement
I structured the format of this column around the often petty or exaggerated conflicts that happen between the people on this show, because that’s usually its main mechanism for entertainment, and it’s fun to look for the parallels between reality television and pro wrestling, two strikingly similar storytelling forms that are smushed together like never before by Total Divas. So of course here in the second episode of the season, we got swerved by a storyline that digs a little deeper.
Last week saw Paige creating conflicts with her friends because she was upset about having to retire from the ring. In this episode she’s moved past that, and her conflict here isn’t with any of her fellow wrestlers. It’s not even with the company that won’t let her wrestle anymore, because her recent experiences have shown her that they’re right. Her real conflict is with herself: with how much of her life she’s given to wrestling and how much of her identity is tied up in something she has to leave behind.
She seeks advice from Daniel Bryan, who’s already given the speech she’s about to give (and now finds himself returning from a retirement everyone expected to be permanent). Their conversation might be the best Total Divas Daniel Bryan moment of all time. As likable as Bryan is on the wrestling shows, he can often seem insincere and condescending in a reality TV (or just “hanging out with his wife”) context. Here though, his advice makes sense and his compassion is palpable. Also it’s heartbreaking seeing Brie’s face fall when she hears that Paige has to give a retirement speech.
I was wrong last week when I predicted that this episode would also cover Paige starting her new job on SmackDown. The focus here is entirely on her leaving the wrestling ring behind, and ultimately that makes a lot of sense for the structure of the story. Paige gives her speech, which is that much more emotionally affecting in this context than it was when we first saw it on Raw, and steps into the unknown of her future. For all that this show can be over-the-top and silly (which is usually why I like it), they handled this serious story perfectly. They let it be dramatic without ever veering into anything that rang false or felt disrespectful of Paige.
Winner: Paige, by trusting her friends and focusing on the positive.
Natalya Versus TJ
This was a minor subplot last week that comes to a head in this episode. Natalya’s husband TJ/Tyson Kidd, who also had to retire from wrestling because of a neck injury, is now a producer working on Monday Night Raw, while Natalya appears on SmackDown Live. She’s been feeling unappreciated because he constantly talks up the women who wrestle in Raw, whose matches he works on.
Of everyone on Total Divas, Natalya has always had the conflicts that feel the most exaggerated for reality TV drama, but I kind of buy this one. TJ doesn’t seem like a guy who’s great at showing affection in the first place, and he sees putting over the Raw women’s division as part of his job now. These two have been together basically since they were kids, so you’d think they’d be used to each other’s quirks, but on the other hand maybe they just never had any models for how longterm relationships should look, because they grew up surrounded by pro wrestlers and never dated anybody but each other.
Ultimately Paige and the Bellas have to get involved and tell TJ to do something so that his wife knows he thinks she’s awesome and good at things. Once he understands what’s required, he comes through with flowers and a handwritten card. Then he makes this face…
…and I guess Nattie likes that face, because things are fine after that.
Winner: Natalya, by insisting she deserves respect and affection, but also by having friends who can communicate her needs when she can’t.
Lower on the Card
- Nia Jax has a whole subplot about her nerves going into her big WrestleMania match with Alexa Bliss. There’s not really much to it, though. After all, who wouldn’t be nervous before their first solo match at WrestleMania? The only external source of conflict is her apparently defunct friendship with Alexa, and that’s barely discussed with no voice given to Alexa at all.
- They spend a few more minutes putting over Ronda Rousey on this episode, even though Ronda hasn’t deigned to speak a line on this show. Are they trying to get her on board for next season? It all seems a little embarrassing. Hopefully once we’re past WrestleMania weekend she’ll be less of a presence.
- Brie Bella resolves a lingering bit of conflict from last week by arranging a special lunch for her and Nikki with the fans who were let down by Natalya’s unfulfillable promises on behalf of Birdie Bee. She’s proven herself a capable company president, but ultimately decides to step down in favor of somebody who knows anything about business. What she doesn’t say here, but we know now, is that she also must have been eyeing a return to the ring by this time.
- I was excited to see Sonya Deville on the show last week, and this show featured her even more prominently. She and Paige hung out before WrestleMania, which gave Sonya a chance to talk about her history-making Pride Gear and being the first openly gay woman to wrestle in WWE. Here’s hoping she keeps being a part of Total Divas going forward.
That’s all for now, Total Divas fans, but join me next week when Lana and Rusev take some sexy pictures on the beach, and get scolded by Vice Principal Mark Carrano.