This week, Total Divas dives into an exploration of gender roles in contemporary society, a topic WWE is uniquely qualified to address due to the company’s role as a societal standard-bearer for progressive post-feminist thought and conscious self-examination in this area.
I’ll wait while you stop laughing.
The head-scratching question at hand: Should Natalya, who has been married to TJ “Tyson Kidd” Wilson for three years, change her last name from Neidhart to Wilson?
I know what you’re thinking: This is 2016, isn’t it? Why is this a question open for discussion by anyone but the woman herself? In fact, why is it a matter in which anyone has an opinion on anyone else’s behalf at all? Why, after more than 30 years of living as Natalie Neidhart, should a grown-ass woman have to justify her attachment to her name to any single individual who is not Natalie Neidhart?
Why, for example, should the Bella Twins, women who have succeeded in a traditionally male field, feel entitled to express shock and dismay at Nattie’s reluctance to abandon her legendary last name just because they couldn’t/can’t wait to shake off their cumbersome hyphenated maiden names? Why should every person in the episode, from WWE corporate Nazgûl Mark Carrano to drive-by cameo star Titus O’Neil, be offered an opportunity to weigh in on the question?
“You’ve thought about it; you don’t want to do it,” Nikki says to Nattie in an accusatory tone. You would think, if everyone has figured out that Nattie isn’t interested in changing her name, that they would STFU since it’s none of their business, but people minding their business doesn’t make for great reality TV.
Lest you think WWE is populated by a bunch of narrow-minded traditionalists, rest assured that diverging opinions do present themselves; Paige suggests TJ change his last name instead of pressuring Nattie to do so.
“He should feel privileged to be a Neidhart,” she points out. “You’re more famous than he is.” And, as Nattie points out later, TJ did originally debut as part of the Hart Dynasty. It’s not like people don’t already think of him as a Hart.
(Yeah, I sort of buried the lede there. Longstanding Total Divas bright spot and professional victim of Vince McMahon’s ego Titus O’Neil does, indeed, pass through this episode, just long enough to serve up his opinion on the Neidhart-Wilson matter: “Well, they do call him ‘Nattie’s Husband.'”)
TJ, who has expressed to Nattie his belief that she should fall into line and become a Wilson, does not take kindly to Paige’s suggestion when Nattie brings it up in front of her parents:
“If you don’t want to change your last name, then why the hell would I want to change mine?” Nattie asks him when they’re alone. “All I’m saying is that the world is changing, and who cares if you get your name changed, I get my name changed—”
“The difference is that my balls would be in your purse,” TJ interrupts.
OK, so the man almost died and his career is probably over, so let’s try to be sympathetic here, but I’ll be honest: If you didn’t like TJ in his prior petulant appearances on Total Divas, this isn’t going to be the episode that wins you over.
Nattie’s resolve is further strengthened by her return to the ring in a full-throttle match against Naomi, after which she proclaims: “I am a Neidhart, and I’m damn proud of it.”
And then she lands on her solution, inspired by Kim Kardashian West.
“I’m gonna keep the Neidhart, and then I’m gonna add on Wilson,” she explains to TJ. “It shows how much I care about you, and then how much I still care about myself.”
Later, to the camera, she adds: “TJ can be my little Kanye.”
So there’s that image for you to treasure.
Meanwhile, despite her insistence that Nattie be traditionally feminine and sacrifice her last name, Brie — excuse me, Mrs. Bryan Danielson — is struggling with the realization that in her marriage, she is far less interested in romance than is Mr. Danielson. When Daniel/Bryan describes her as “the man” in their relationship, Brie insists that she’s romantic where it counts: “In the bedroom.”
Not so much, according to the actual man in their relationship.
“I’m always the one who lights the candles; you’re just ready to get right to it,” Bryan says.
To help a sister out, Nikki sets up a romantic evening out for Brie and Bryan. Of course, a romantic night out for Nikki Bella and John Cena is a very different animal from a romantic night out for the Braniels, so awkward hilarity ensues as we watch Daniel Bryan Danielson do things like dress up in a suit; hold a champagne glass in a stretch Escalade; and eat dinner at a fancy restaurant, where he orders… lettuce.
“I am a romance failure,” Brie says.
Take heart, Braniel fans! This is reality television, and a solution presents itself by minute 57 of the broadcast, when Brie surprises Bryan with a rented Tesla, an outing to a crunchy lunch spot, and a koala figurine. This is romance Braniel-style.
Also, Rosa Mendes, who is still pregnant, wants to do something at work besides hang around backstage and look pretty, so she asks Carrano for the chance to try her hand at backstage interviews a la Renee Young. He puts the kibosh on the plan because “We can’t have you in a situation where you get physically injured.” It’s hard to tell whether he realizes that the fights that break out during these segments are prearranged. Later, they reach a compromise wherein Rosa gets to be a “social media correspondent,” which means doing violence-free stand-ups during which she talks about people talking about SmackDown on Twitter.
If you can’t remember Rosa ever having cut a solo promo, I think we just found out why. She is not good at it. Bless her heart.
There’s also a plotline involving Paige and her former fiancé/current boyfriend, still apparently named Kevin, who visits her at work to provide her an opportunity to complain to Alicia Fox that things aren’t great and their sex life has taken a nose dive. (Paige and Kevin’s, not Paige and Foxy’s.) Later, Kevin texts Paige to complain that she’s cold and unavailable, and then things are awkward the next time she goes home. This somehow culminates in Paige and Foxy hitting one another with flowers at work, which makes sense in the context of their relationship, I guess?
Ultimately the question of Paige and Kevin’s relationship status remains unresolved, which is turning out to be one of the season’s themes, and hints to me that maybe their relationship in real life is just as uninteresting as it is on TV.