The Jericho / Austin anti-feud seems to be moving along at a very nice pace. This is exactly the kind of thing I was hoping we'd get more of when the rumors of brand-exclusive PPVs were confirmed not so long ago. The entire federation had been moving at such an insanely fast pace that it was getting hard to keep track of things. In addition to that, every time two big names would meet in the ring at a major event, a lot of the excitement was drained away due to the rushed nature of the build itself. Jericho and Austin have been slowly, consistently picking at one another for months now, and I'm willing to bet that relationship will continue for several months more. They're establishing two believable characters who obviously dislike one another, they're giving them plenty of reasons to do so, and they're dabbling away from sheer blacks and whites with the feud itself. Austin is the face, sure, but he's fallible. He's done some bad things without even acknowledging them, and Jericho's been right there to rub his enemy's nose in it every time. It's easy to sit back and say "this means nothing, because Austin can't wrestle," but as a guy who swore he'd never see Shawn Michaels wrestle again I'd say it's going somewhere big. Permanent retirement doesn't mean as much as it used to anymore, and I'm willing to bet this ends in a major match that not only helps Jericho and Austin, but the show as well.
Speaking of straying from the endless formula of blacks and whites, I love where they're going with Shawn Michaels right now. With Flair playing the role of the master manipulator and Michaels receiving mixed signals from every direction, it's easy to sympathize with ol' HBK. He could logically go either way from here, but I'd rather see him play a tweener full time than a dedicated face or heel.
I thought the backstage segments involving Goldberg were a bit over-the-top, but the story itself is headed in the right direction. Big Bill is distancing himself from everyone on the roster, which is actually giving him a notable direction in terms of character development. He plays the role of a paranoid animal very well.
The RVD / Steiner match sounded like it could've had promise, if given a little longer. This is a matchup I hadn't even considered in the past, and I hope it's a sign of things to come in terms of fresh, unexpected pairings on RAW. It still doesn't sound like he's playing the same evil Scott Steiner that dominated WCW several years ago, but he's taking obvious steps in the right direction. I'd really have loved to see him completely knock out Austin with a cheap shot, rather than knock the GM down, stand there like a tool and then take a one-sided beating. But you win some and you lose some, I guess. No comment on the Austin / Stacey situation, because I'm certain it's going somewhere and the announcers were very careful not to endorse what Austin did later in the show. It's a new, not to mention more believable, dimension to a fairly multi-dimensional character.
It sounds like Flair was all over the place last night, which makes me even more unhappy I missed so much of the show. I can't say I'm upset to have missed the Rico / Maven match, as Constantino has yet to perform up to anyone's expectations and Maven remains unprepared for the big time after years of lagging at the bottom of the card. Still, I'll give them credit for devoting some time and attention to new names and faces. Maybe somebody out there finally realized that Flair, Triple H and Austin won't be around forever.
I stepped in my front door just as Goldberg and Michaels were facing off in the ring. This was a great segment, with HBK helping Goldberg through the interview and teasing us with just enough tension going into that big handicap tag match in the main event. I wish they'd built toward next week's match a little more and lingered on last week's match with Mark Henry a little less, but on the whole I'm excited to see how RAW's World Title match next week will be handled. Cross your fingers and pray Triple H doesn't make it two-for-two in "run-ins during televised Michaels title matches."
The eight man tag was much, MUCH better than it had any right to be. Booker looked like a legitimate main eventer, even though it's painfully obvious that this is as high as he'll be allowed to go. He and Jericho and Conway especially had some very nice exchanges with one another, and the finish of the match was simply a great visual. I still prefer the angry, well-dressed, ass-kickin' heel Booker to the more marketable, goofy, catchphrase-spouting face, but this is a reasonable middle ground. With the exception of Spike, everyone looked intelligent, competitive and interesting in this match, and JR was even going out of his way to point out what great potential the heels have, despite his recorded dislike for them. A very nice match, that gives me more hope for RAW's past, present and future mid-card than I've had in quite some time.
The Shane / Kane segment was beyond stupid. On one hand, I liked how it started, (with the celebrating faces still in the ring) because it showed something was still going on in the arena and gave the sense that there are dozens of different scenarios happening at any one time that we aren't always seeing. On the other hand, good GOD... are they trying to run people off with this B-Movie drivel? That whole "interview" was a disorganized mess, from the RTC-esque beeping of Kane's heart monitor to Shane's unprepared ramblings to that solid minute and a half where Shane, the doctor, the nurse, JR and the pulse-rate were all trying to speak at the same time. I don't want to see any more of this...
The women's tag match was below the division's recent standards, but wasn't awful, either. I'm glad as hell they're starting to focus on Victoria again, as I think she made a great improvement in just about every department after debuting last year. From the looks of things, they're planning to investigate her relationship with Steven Richards a little further, too, which gets a big thumbs-up from yours truly. Richards is a great, vastly under-utilized talent, and deserves much better than the "HeAT Hero" role he's been stuck with for so long.
The main event tag did everything it needed to. It still bugs me that Goldberg no-sells those Flair chops, but that's something Nikita Koloff did to the Nature Boy during his day, too, so it's not like Goldberg's destroying years and years of work by acting like an ass in that situation. Mark Henry did the duty he should've done last week, Goldberg managed to pick him up for the jackhammer, (and, in so doing, popped the live crowd every bit as insanely as you'd think such a feat would) and HBK nailed some sweet chin music on the current champion. I find it a little hard to believe that a simple kick could take down a guy who stood up after half a dozen steel chair shots at the hands of the Rock, but if that's the reality they're trying to push then that's what we're going to have to learn to live with. I'm really excited about next week's main event, thanks in large part to the booking of this match. Michaels doesn't know which way he wants to go, Flair is rock-steady in his portrayal of the devil himself, and Goldberg just got all the motivation he needed to come after HBK with everything he's got. All of a sudden I'm enjoying the main event scene.
This was another of those hopeful programs, the episodes that keep popping up from out of nowhere to interrupt the shitstream and prove that there's something still worth watching in WWE. It's a shame that had to be interrupted by a ridiculous Shane / Kane segment and a seemingly needless beatdown of Scott Steiner, but on the whole I liked what I saw here. If five is average, as I've often claimed it is, this was a notch above. Let's see more along these lines.
Overall Score: 6.25