Things didn't exactly start off well, with Eugene and his Uncle Eric squaring off together in the ring. Hey, remember when this was supposed to be "injured man vs. injured man," Eugene with his "severely separated shoulder" and Bischoff with his broken foot or whatever? I wonder what happened to all that? I guess there's a repressed mutagenic healing factor floating around in this family's gene pool somewhere. Anyway. Eugene's passed the point of no return now, and I'm not just saying that to be trendy and jump on the Eugene hatewagon. I honestly can't see how they'll be able to pull this one out of the toilet, even with the potential "I'm not really retarded" heel turn somewhere in the near future. The amount of beatings he's taken without giving up the facade, the amount of time he and Regal have supposedly spent together, the number of guys in the back he'd have needed to pull one over on... it's beyond the point of even the most remote believability to turn him, and his face act is belly-up in the midcard. Even Bischoff himself, who's usually one of the brightest characters of a segment, didn't have much of note to say here.
I can see the storyline purpose of Bischoff booking Eugene to face Snitsky, I guess, but why throw the new guy with such blatant wrinkles in his ringwork into a spot like that when there are dozens of heels in the back who could've accomplished the same task without leaving such a stinking dump in the ring? This was every bit as bad as you'd imagine, considering both guys' track records, and while I guess the point of it all was to put Snitsky over as even more of a credible threat to Kane, he didn't do any convincing in the ring. If anything, Snitsky didn't budge and is still the longshot at TT, and Eugene's looking like an incredibly lucky bastard to have kept up with the main eventers for such a long stretch in the early summer. This was bad.
Oh yeah, and Bischoff cleaned up with an after-bell kick to the side of the head that looked really, really weak. For all of his credentials, I don't think I've ever seen anything out of ol' EB in the ring that would lead me to believe his claims of being a legitimate martial artist are any more real than Nick Dinsmore's mental disabilities.
The debate between World Title hopefuls wasn't quite as bad as I'd hoped it would be. For the most part, everybody stuck to their guns and delivered a surprisingly good promo considering the circumstances. Benoit did much better for himself than I'd predicted, (truth be told, I winced just before he spoke) Edge really drove the point home with his heel turn and Shawn Michaels was... well, he was Shawn Michaels. That's exactly the kind of atmosphere in which he's thrived in the past. I liked how they kept mentioning the lack of physicalities, like this could end in any other way, and when the three men finally did come to blows it was done in a way that gave each guy a little more momentum heading into the Triple Threat. My one real complaint with this segment was the not-so-subtle jabs and attempted satire that kept trying to surface towards the upcoming Presidential Election. I hate when Vince & Co. attempt to make a political commentary, since it always feels really cheesy and heavy-handed, and sure enough that's exactly how I felt about those occasional sentiments in this segment.
They really need to get Stacy the hell out of the women's division, because she sticks out like a sore thumb in there. Her lack of any sort of offense was really distracting in this one, even though she spent most of the match on her chest, making bizarre grunts while the various heels worked over her leg. When she did get a rare moment to turn the tables on her tormentors, she... she... waited around awkwardly for a moment, then tried to hit a schoolboy. OK, so she can roll up her opponents and perform the Kevin Nash 'boot choke' in the corner, which shouldn't really count because it's an illegal chokehold in the ropes anyway. I'm crusading. Point of the matter is, Stacy needs to be traded to Smackdown. This match didn't do a thing for me, apart from a few moments of brilliance from Victoria. Her affinity for putting a new twist on old maneuvers reminds me a lot of Chris Kanyon, back when he first ditched the Mortis mask in WCW and was really motivated. Too bad she seems to be headed down the same path of stupid angles, abrupt character changes and constant misuse in the midcard.
That little minute-long backstage faceoff between Snitsky and Lita did more to sell me on his match at Taboo Tuesday than his entire curtain-jerking match with Eugene earlier in the show. He showed me some character here, as did Lita, and the whole thing felt twice as realistic as most of the backstage segments we're treated to on this show.
I enjoyed the tag match we got at the top of the second hour between Evolution and the team of Chris Jericho and Randy Orton. It wasn't a memory I'll take with me to my grave or anything, but it was without question a solid little match, especially for free TV. The opening moments were a bit chaotic and underwhelming, but once Flair got back into the groove and started to really churn, it was a thing of beauty. He was obviously three steps ahead of Orton here, visibly restraining himself on more than one occasion so that Randy could make a short-lived comeback. I've gotta question their motivations, demanding that all the fans go to their computers right away before the end of the match, but I can't discount the workers themselves for that. I liked the finish of this one, as Jericho pulled himself out of unconsciousness just in time to avoid the pinfall, but was then immediately overwhelmed by the pain of the figure four leglock and subsequently tapped out. I've been saying it for a couple weeks running now, but Batista's still steadily improving in the ring. Pity I can't still say the same for Orton.
I really loved the lengthy series of speeches and interruptions that made up Vince McMahon's interaction with 90% of the midcard roster. It's a real rarity to see McMahon himself spreading the love outside of the main event level, let alone doing so in a segment as long and genuinely entertaining as this one, so I'll enjoy it for now and acknowledge that we'll probably never see anything like it again. I don't think there was a moment in this whole segment that didn't maintain my attention, and for the most part I loved the interspersed moments of comedy. Tajiri and Christian were great together, bringing back memories of the hug-fests between Vince, Kurt Angle and Steve Austin, and the constant parade of potential challengers for the IC Title was nice to see. I don't know what else to say, this accomplished everything it needed to accomplish and did so without getting overly wordy or catchphrase-heavy.
The match that followed was equally entertaining, albeit a bit rushed just after the commercial break that divided it. There wasn't an active competitor involved in this one that I wouldn't like to see more of in the near future (note the qualifier "active competitor," effectively eliminating Coach from the equation) and I hope this is a sign of things to come. Just a really nice, if slightly short, elimination style match between RAW's rapidly expanding midcard scene. I dig the slight modification Shelton's made to his exploder suplex, transitioning it completely into a pinning combination at the very end.
Likewise, it was a nice touch to give Shelton the last word after the match, basically throwing McMahon's endorsement back in his face as politely as one can do such a thing, and kissing some serious ass for the crowd. This isn't going to lead to a storyline somewhere down the road where McMahon seeks revenge, it's not going to end with Benjamin surprising us all, turning heel and reforming the Corporation... hell, it probably won't even be mentioned next week... but it's a tiny bit of character definition from a guy who's been sorely needing it. Any good writer can tell you that the best characters are constructed in the details, and that's what they were doing with this. It only took a minute, but it gave Benjamin a superb boost going into the PPV.
Oh man, that Diva Search segment was painful to watch. No, I'm not talking about the emotionless, nigh-psychotic kiss that was shared between Christy and Lillian... I'm talking about the horrid, HORRID promos the former contestants cut on one another in the moments immediately preceding said kiss. If you're looking for a good example of two emotionless, cardboard-cut-out, cookie-cutter-cliched promos... uh, look no further. Think about it, these two are getting PAID for this. Paid HANDILY.
Finally, we wrapped things up with a fresh three-way in the main event, pitting Shawn Michaels against Chris Benoit against Edge. They did a great job of pushing this match as the proving grounds for all three men, like some sort of physical final debate to capture the attention and ballots of all the undecided voters out in WWE land. I thought the match did a great job of balancing the offense between all three guys, so no single athlete took any real decided advantage, and if not for HBK's injury somewhere in the middle of the commercial break this was on pace to really kick some ass on the home stretch. Even with that unfortunate turn of events included, however, it all fell into place and Shawn's obvious problems staying on his feet factored into his absence during the final pinfall. It was a bit sad watching him attempt a kip up, only to crumple back down to the mat halfway through... I guess the mind was willing, but the body wasn't. A well booked face-off between two of the all-time greats and one up-and-comer who's never had a high profile match with either. I'm really interested in seeing where they go with Edge from here.
All things considered, this was a very nice hard sell for the upcoming PPV, and exactly what they needed to showcase the various feuds, angles and storylines. They explored new dimensions with Kane / Snitsky, Jericho / The Entire Midcard, HHH / Benoit, Edge and HBK, and (to an extent) Eugene / Bischoff and Carmella / Christy. I'm far from sold on Taboo Tuesday, but I'm much more optimistic about it after this episode. Thumbs up, but not WAY up.
Overall Score: 6.3