The second episode of WWE Network’s event series Undertaker: The Last Ride dropped yesterday (May 18). Everything we wrote about the first of its five parts is still true about this one:
- It’s more hagiography than unbiased examination of Mark Calaway, his wrestling character, and his career.
- It’s awesome.
- It’s awesome both because WWE’s production team always does awesome work, and because The Last Ride is giving us never-before-seen looks at a performer who for decades maintained kayfabe to an extent that we just don’t see anymore.
With the “if you’ve ever called yourself a wrestling fan you should go watch it right now” review out of the way, what struck us about part two (spoilers, obviously):
- This episode covers Taker’s reaction to his WrestleMania 33 match with Roman Reigns, the hip surgery & rehabilitation he underwent after it, his decision process and the training he did for his WrestleMania 34 match with John Cena, and his reaction to that appearance.
- That’s the plot, which in service of a few themes. The main thing The Last Ride uses the events of 2017 - 2018 to spotlight are what it posits as the two most important relationships in Calaway’s life... to his wife, Michelle McCool, and to his employer, Vince McMahon.
- Both are wild to see presented, in entirely different ways. With McCool, we see The Phenom just another guy. From the stories of their courtship to the way they roll their eyes at one another about his many retirements, they’re a married couple who love each other, and who are partners in the business of life. She’s his soul mate, and he was attracted to her for her as much for her passion to become a better pro wrestler as he was her “blonde hair, blue eyes, and kickin’ body”. That and the fact she can throw a mean spiral.
- Taker describes Vince as a brother, father, mentor, friend and boss. Their bond is described by Kane, Batista, Big Show, Shawn Michaels, and Bret Hart as being due in large part to the loyalty Calaway showed during the Monday Night War era. Both men describe their relationship in military terms. Undertaker would take a bullet for McMahon (McCool and Calaway also say they’d take bullets for one another). McMahon would want to share a foxhole for Taker. He can’t put into words what Undertaker means to him, and WWE, tearing up and telling the camera to cut when asked.
- This is part of why Undertaker keeps coming back... he can’t say no to Vince. Even more interesting... part of what seems to drive Taker to come back for WrestleMania 34 is the way McMahon seems to agree with him that he might be done. Calaway even wonders if this wasn’t one of those Jedi Mind Tricks Vince is famous for. Even though he knows the boss may have just motivated him with reverse psychology, he allows it to work on him.
- FORESHADOWING, part one. While backstage at Royal Rumble to watch Michelle work the first Women’s Rumble match, Taker expresses regret that he never got to work with AJ Styles, who reminds him of Shawn Michaels.
- That was where Vince first pitched the idea of working Cena in New Orleans (McCool had already predicted Taker would use WrestleMania 34’s location as part of his reason for coming back, since as we saw in chapter one, he doesn’t remember his last match - the end of the streak - at the Superdome).
- Just as they did with Edge, WWE shipped a ring to Texas so Taker could work out and decide if he was ready for a comeback. Once he decided to go for it (after Elimination Chamber), they sent Primo to help him get ready. By the time he gets to N’Awlins, he says he feels as good as he did heading into WrestleMania 25 against HBK.
- If Taker is a company man, Cena is THE company man. The glimpse we get here of the work he put in and how giving he was in this program, and that he seemed to do it for not only Calaway but also for WWE, is quite something.
- FORESHADOWING, part two. After the WrestleMania 34 match, Michaels is seen telling Taker, “Don’t make me comeback watching you.”
- Both McMahon and Calaway are thrilled with how the Cena match went. Taker’s regret is that it wasn’t longer. He says he hasn’t decided yet if he’ll be back for more, but you can tell he has.
Chapter three, which will debut next Sunday (May 24), will cover the Brothers of Destruction vs. D-X match from Crown Jewel. It also seems like we’ll be digging deeper into the one flaw The Last Ride is willing to show of Calaway’s - his inability to walk away; that the quest for a perfect ending is an excuse to never have to say its over.
As McCool says in the teaser after we see Triple H & HBK pan the performance in Saudi Arabia, “which means he has to redeem himself and it’s a vicious cycle.”
That’s what stood out to me from part two of The Last Ride. What were your impressions, Cagesiders?