Last night the Wyatts came back, and for a few minutes, I was swept up in the drama of the moment. Here was the eerie cult leader, returning to his acolytes with a new vision for the future.
Then the New Day's intro hit, and for the next couple of minutes, I was outraged as they chortled about the size of their opponents' butts. The tone felt all wrong; the Wyatts came out to weave a spell of danger and mystery, and New Day laughed about it, breaking the tension like popping a soap bubble.
And then I whiplashed back into the drama of the moment, when Xavier Woods sold a mesmerized expression with his eyes and began to walk toward the Wyatts, only to be snapped out of it by his pals and brought back into the usual hip-gyrating silliness. But the creepy feeling lingered as Kingston and E continued their routine and Woods just stared at Wyatt.
I think the reason this interaction inspired big reactions - both positive and negative - is because it juxtaposed an emotionally vulnerable group (the Wyatts) with an emotionally guarded group (the New Day), and the tension was to see which tone would dominate.
The New Day are a lot of things - they're loud, they're silly, they're creative, and they're always having fun. But nothing really gets to them. There was some farcical drama about their first trombone being destroyed, but it was never a display of real human emotion. We were meant to laugh at Xavier's emotional investment, not to feel it with him. Whatever New Day is feeling inside is safe behind their mask of laughter. We haven't gone on an emotional journey with them, because that requires vulnerability, and that's not what they offer.
The Wyatts, however cool their demeanor, are emotionally vulnerable because their power depends on you taking them seriously. Bray comes out to the ramp staring you down, tells you what he values in life and what he believes is his destiny, and then fights to make his vision happen. He cannot abide being laughed at. The moment John Cena throws a photoshopped Wyatt image onto the Titantron, the moment we are invited to laugh at the family, the spell is broken. Their mysterious power is gone.
When an opponent mocks the New Day for wearing unicorn horns and dancing, you don't cringe in embarrassment for them; you already know it doesn't bother them. If they can't get you laughing with them, they'll laugh at you for being too serious - either way, they were always in control of the situation. But when the Wyatts need you to lean in and listen to Bray's whisper, when they need you to invest in metaphor and creepy tension, it only works if you take them seriously. If you laugh at them, you can destroy them.
A group that needs you to take them seriously is far more fragile than a group that can laugh everything off. That's why New Day v. Wyatts has the potential to build a unique story as they head into their feud.
There are viewers who will want to see New Day win and leave the feud on a note of irreverent laughter. It would be a feud that ends on a release of tension, a monster-in-the-woods campfire story that builds and builds, but then someone yells, "Boo!" and everyone dissolves into laughter. The fear is immediately forgotten because everyone laughs it away, and then they feel safe again. The threat was never real.
There are also viewers who will want to see the Wyatts win and leave the feud on a note of dread. If the feud slowly builds the creepy feeling and then shows us that the New Day can't just laugh off the threat, it could create a peak of emotional intensity that then sends a scary Wyatt family back off into WWE afterward. New Day would not have to be forever altered by their encounter with the Wyatts; they would not have to permanently turn serious and vulnerable. But if they sold seriousness during the feud - the way they did when Xavier fell under the spell and no one laughed it off - they could generate some real emotion in this story. New Day could always return to their lightheartedness after the blowoff, as they move to their next opponent.
For some viewers, the serious feuds are the only ones that work; laughter ruins the mood because it signals that we shouldn't be serious, and it ruins the illusion. (This has been my experience with Dean Ambrose; I enjoy taking him seriously, and it's a speedbump for me when he's doing prop comedy and I'm meant to laugh.) For others, a wacky comedy feud can be very enjoyable, as long as the tone is right. (I enjoy Breezdango v. Golden Truth because there are no real emotions on either side; everyone is being as silly as possible in hopes of earning a chuckle, and it doesn't matter - emotionally speaking - how it all plays out.) In some cases - though it is more rare - comedy and drama blend together just right to allow the viewer to appreciate the real emotion inside of a silly story. (I took it seriously and really felt something when Mizdow turned on the Miz, even though their characters were very light and mostly there for laughs.)
New Day vs. the Wyatt Family could go in a number of directions, but the biggest deciding factor will be what tone will dominate. Will New Day end up laughing at the Wyatts? Will their smiles be wiped away for the first time? or will they gain some unexpected character depth as they go up against a group that resists their usual routine?
Running a broad comedy act up against a darkly dramatic act is a unique opportunity, and hopefully it will lead to an engaging and satisfying feud.