On The Shield, The Authority, and Evolution (or “Et tu, Seth Rollins?!”)

All this while I’ve had the biggest lit-smark crush on The Shield, a crush so giddy I’ve had a hard time writing coherently about it. Roman Reigns is like something out of Lord of the Rings, a rider of Rohan or even Aragorn himself: majestic, strong-armed and beautiful, and perhaps the best hair I’ve ever seen on a professional wrestler. At least top five for hair, that guy. And Dean Ambrose may be my favorite breed of hero yet: the thug hero. The loyal gunman who’s got your back but comes easily unhinged, doesn’t think twice when it comes time to fuck shit up. Ambrose can taunt a heel with schoolyard cruelty – he’s a bully who goes after the bullies and likes to make them cry. He’s a Jayne Cobb, or a Spike with the chip in his head. This for me is the power of The Shield: they don’t thrive on the energy of the audience’s pop, but instead on the energy of a heel’s defeat. That is what feeds them, drives them, makes them stronger, even (perhaps especially) in the face of a sledgehammer. While their unorthodox entrance through the crowd aligns them, ultimately, as populist characters, they succeed because they are a team of lone operatives, renegades, mercenaries. Wasn’t it Foucault who pointed out how everybody loves an outlaw? They are heroes because they are brave enough to scofflaw in the face of the institution that oppresses us all.

So as with every shock heel turn, I was stunned and out of sorts when I heard about Seth Rollins. “Et tu, Seth Rollins!?” I thought to myself, wondering what my boys would do to hold their white hot team together. I did appreciate Seth Rollins. He was of course “The Architect”, and yadda yadda yadda. Plus, I’m an easy mark sometimes — I can never help but pop for a good high flyer. But ultimately, Seth Rollins was eclipsed by the charisma of his fellow hounds of justice. He just wasn’t as solid a character, his persona couldn’t shine as bright as the more mythic flames of Reigns and Ambrose. And what was that blond shock of hair supposed to be about? It was an attempt, I think, at being edgy and hyper-modern atop the bullet-proof police state costume. But in my opinion it didn’t really work. Aren’t the men in black in that black so they can blend into the night as they stalk their prey at the behest of the authority? Perhaps Rollins was a bad fit for The Shield to begin with: maybe a high flyer doesn’t belong in a team of police state thugs gone rogue. High flyers need to be flashy – consider the bright costumes of Rey Mysterio or the wild hair and face paint of Jeff Hardy. The blond hair shock wasn’t enough of a signifier to establish him in the role to which he truly belonged. So maybe it was right for Rollins to turn against his brethren. Perhaps a good heel run is just the antidote, the thing he needs to find a more suitable role for himself. And might I add, it was good for John Cena to fill his slot in The Shield tag team, even if it was a short-lived alliance. Cena’s tween turn truly gratifies this writer, who has had about enough of the black and white dualities that have prevented humanity from evolving all these eons.

And speaking of evolving, I can appreciate that aligning one’s self with The Authority is a rock solid spot to establish a heel run, but I must say I’ve never been thrilled about Evolution, The Authority’s boots on the ground. I appreciate what they represent and all – wrestling in the post-modern era must ever evolve if it is to remain relevant – but what exactly is so evolved about these jokers?

For one thing, Batista has never been interesting to me. I’m not sad that he’s out the door. In fact, I quit watching wrestling for the better part of a decade when he debuted back in the day. I had just moved to a new apartment and I didn’t have cable, and Batista as next-big-thing was so uninteresting I let wrestling slide completely and shifted my screen time to a thorough study of Joss Whedon’s work. Angel, Buffy, Faith, Spike, Mal, Zoe, River and Jayne were far a more satisfying mythic hero fix than the big cranky thug for hire that was Batista back then.

And Triple H, in my opinion, has only devolved over the years. Not that he ever thrilled me, but I did like him okay when he returned for a face run after that godawful knee injury got captured for posterity in the legendary Walls of Jericho on the announce table. They did well with him when they played up his Herculean stature, made him a classic, larger than life Roland Barthesean god as he stood on the apron in the light without shadow and lit up the air with a cloud of mist he sprayed from his water bottle. But he’s just never had the fixating charisma I look for in a hero, and now that he’s a perennial corporate villain I only really groan whenever he gets involved. It’s also a cheap heel, in my opinion, who resorts to a sledgehammer when he can’t beat a team of truly superior opponents. Triple H, I hate to say it, rides on Stephanie’s brilliant coattails. Fair enough, I guess, he is McMahon family, a company man for life, but I’ll certainly not be patronizing his T-shirts.

Randy Orton, on the other hand, has always been godlike in stature to me, even as a prissy heel. The laser beam eyes, the tats, and the chiseled giant physique for me surpass even The Rock in sheer sexy wrestler chemistry. Granted, he had about maxed out his heel run when it culminated in the John Cena feud, though I thought that could have played on for a few more matches. But Evolution has done nothing for Randy Orton; his grandeur is now diminished by the eclipsing drag of Triple H and Batista and the shuffle of alliances that led Seth Rollins back to The Authority. My hope is that Orton is laying low for a while so he doesn’t wear out his welcome with the fans, and that we will see him turn face at some point and really lay the smack down.

Evolution with a small e turns out to be the gist of my notes here today. It all points to a larger issue apparent in the company: much as I’m thrilled with the era of Stephanie, the current product is starting to stagnate. Say what we will about Vince McMahon, but he was a master of wrestling evolution. Is Stephanie McMahon enough to reinvent the company for its next incarnation?

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