If you haven't seen the third hour of last night's Raw, go watch it now. It was something else.
The General has chimed in with his reactions, and I generally (see what I did there?) agree with them. But from looking at the live blog, it also looks like I'm not alone in having some misgivings. Rather than vomit up some long comment, I decided to try and flesh out my feelings in a post. Will you follow the buzzards and join me, brothers and sisters?
On the one hand:
1) They made marks of us all.
If you were able to watch the last ten minutes of Raw last night without staring slack-jawed at the screen and either saying/typing/thinking "don't do it, Daniel" or going through the range of emotions that Geno went through on Twitter...you're a different kind of fan than I am.
Not to go all "list within a list" on you, but my three favorite things about the Daniel Bryan story this year are: a) more Daniel Bryan matches on my television, b) progressing the (un)Reality Era by making us all debate whether he never got a run at the top because they really think he's a B+ player or because they're working the long con and c) giving us a character and performer that we're all rooting for to climb the mountain, regardless of what we think we know about the inner-workings of the business.
For a second there last night, most of us had a moment of disbelief and disillusionment. Screw a Cena heel turn. We'd all just grin ourselves silly like a bunch of smarks. Even teasing a Bryan turn was upsetting to a large percentage of the fan base.
2) (un)Reality über alles.
CM Punk's pipe bomb may have started it, and Randy Orton, John Cena, Batista and Brock Lesnar (in a HHH production) are going to be the names on the marquee, but Daniel Bryan is the heart and soul of whatever you want to call today's WWE.
Going back to point b...was there a better way to use the goat-faced boy in the center of all the debate from the past year than to lead him into another situation that brings up the same questions and reinforces the arguments of folks on both sides? Is he being shunted off to the side to clear the decks for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship wars? Or is this part of his long and slow but inevitable rise to the top? Or both - are they placating the live and "smart" fans with an interesting program while keeping him in their pocket for another summer main event tease?
I don't know, but it sure is fun asking...and that's the point of the-era-after-the-PG-era.
3) The possibilities are endless.
Did we just see a true heel turn? Will Bryan work undercover within the Family for the good of the Universe, or will his membership lead to their turning anti-hero face as they fight The Authority/Machine? Is this more of Vince McMahon's alleged edict that there be no more heels and faces, leading to Bryan/Wyatts vs. Cena/Shield...cheer for whoever you want?
Of those four options, I'd be thrilled to see them explore the latter two, and probably be quickly bored by either of the former. But as seasoned consumers of pop culture like...pretty much anybody reading an analysis of pro wrestling angle on the internet, it's not that often that we can be truly unsure about where a narrative is leading us. Heading into 2014, that's where the Bryan Wyatt story has us - right in the palm of their hand.
On the other hand:
1) Is there a plan?
From the outset, The Beard vs. The Beards has felt like a "why not?" scenario for Creative. The word came down from on high that Big Show was in and Bryan was out of the main event, so find something else to do with the little guy the live crowds like. Using him to elevate the profile of Bray, Luke Harper and Erick Rowan while helping all three to develop in the ring (not that Harper needs it) was a great idea, but that may have been as far as it went.
Punk was ride or die with Bryan against them...until he wasn't. Bray wanted to recruit Daniel - no, let's kill him - wait, he's recruiting him again. Boy, that Seattle crowd rained on HHH's unification parade - what should we do about that? We need something to do with Cena and Orton in another country, see what you can come up with for those facial hair dudes.
What confidence should we have that last night wasn't the latest seat of the pants booking of Bryan since Hell in a Cell?
2) They are keeping him out of the title scene.
As long as he's getting the closing spot on Raw, this isn't the worst thing in the world. Even in counting it as a negative, you have to acknowledge positive side effects like creating some uncertainty and drama. And while there's nothing wrong with becoming the next Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho or Rey Mysterio - talented guys who are passionately loved that spent most of their careers chasing or in programs completely separate from the main belt -there's a good chance that is where his career is headed.
It may only be temporary, but at least a few folks backstage don't believe in Bryan to draw real money, or he'd be getting a title shot at Royal Rumble instead of Cena or would be in the line of challengers heading into WrestleMania instead of part timers like Lesnar and Batista.
3) We've been down this road before.
The Invasion. The Nexus. Summer of Punk II. Unfortunately, like a lot of creative entities not named Vince Gilligan, WWE is great at beginnings, but tends to suck at endings. There's a lot of promise in last night's final segment, but there's plenty of history that points to them f-ing it up before all is said and done.
Final Analysis: I'm 70% really excited and 30% scared to death.
Please pick apart my arguments on either side, Cagesiders. Will this end up being another step in the rise of Daniel Bryan, or just something else to keep him busy? Can The Wyatt Family angle live up to the high standards it set for itself last night, or are we headed to another pro wrestling disappointment?