Imagine, for a moment, that Bryan Danielson planned a vacation for Dean Ambrose.
Let me be very clear: I am not talking about Daniel Bryan, former heavyweight champion, leader of the Yes! Movement, occupier of Raw, goatfaced high-flying underdog of the WWE. I am talking about compost-toilet-owning, wood-reclaiming, materialism-judging, waste-eschewing, non-drinking vegan Bryan Danielson of Phoenix, Arizona.
Close your eyes and picture the trip Bryan might plan for the Lunatic Fringe. Would there be a strange desert vision quest ceremony? A private chef whipping up quinoa bowls and raw vegetables? A spiritual encounter with a Buddhist monk?
Now open your eyes and receive the good news the universe has prepared for you: Thanks to the E! Network and the magic of Total Divas, you don’t have to imagine at all. For Bryan Danielson did plan such a vacation, and Dean Ambrose did tag along, and they did have all those items on the agenda, and you do get to watch Ambrose react to each new hippy-dippy revelation with exactly the reactions you would hope and expect him to have.
“We’re actually meeting up with a reincarnated Buddha,” Bryan gushes. “And we’re going to a teepee temple, and then we’re going to like a stupa, which is like a sacred place. This is all about reawakening, healing…”
“We also need to squeeze in some lunch,” Brie points out.
Bryan and Dean are not alone; this is Total Divas, after all, not a reboot of The Odd Couple, and there is a Diva in attendance — Brie Bella Danielson — along with Renee Young and Brie’s brother and sister-in-law. Bryan, who has planned the whole trip (to Sedona, Arizona), rented an incredible house in the desert and engaged the private chef, keeps using words like “detox” and “decompress” to talk about his objectives for the week. Everyone else, meanwhile, is more interested in enjoying a de-rink, and Bryan doesn’t bother to contain his disgust as the first round of skinny margaritas is poured:
“Your idea of reawakening and rebirthing is just, like, drinking.”
Everyone else does a much better job of trying to pretend to take seriously the next day’s activity: a spiritual experience in a teepee full of prayer flags, led by a gong-ringing, horn-blowing aging white man (described only as a “ceremony leader”) who calls on the “spirit of Sedona” to cleanse the group. It’s a veritable Where’s Waldo scene of cultural appropriation, but at least Dean, Renee and the Bella in-laws are chill enough to wait until Bryan and Brie’s eyes are closed in reverence before they start to melt down in laughter.
Bryan, meanwhile, is on a mission to unequivocally demonstrate his own progressiveness and openmindedness. For example, when Brie points out a dome house to the group and says Bryan wants to live in one, but she’s concerned about walls and privacy, especially after they have kids.
“We need to dispel the notion that kids can’t be around while we have sex,” Bryan counters. “You know what? I think you guys are all squares. How ’bout that?”
Things go downhill as the group — Brie included — begins to opt for hanging out at the house (where the swimming pool and alcohol are) instead of tagging along on Bryan’s itinerary of Deeply Spiritual Experiences.
“Sounds can soothe your soul and meditate you,” Dean Ambrose says at dinner, stirring the ice in his cocktail, as Bryan waxes on and on about rejuvenation.
And Bryan, for his part, gets increasingly petulant about the fact that no one wants to be forced to participate in his various meditative adventures. In fact, he gets so pouty about this that you start to forget that his sister-in-law has missed the trip due to her neck injury and think the show’s titular Total Diva this week is Bryan himself.
That’s right. Bryan Danielson is the granola Nikki Bella. Let that sink in.
“Drinking is not healing,” Bryan protests at dinner (after complaining that the menu isn’t healthy enough). “It’s a crutch for all you modern people who are weak.”
After some legitimate objection from Brie (like, alcohol isn’t exactly a modern invention), Dean Ambrose weighs in again:
“I feel like one should experience all the joys of life and know when to say when,” he proclaims, raising his glass.
Everyone cheers except Bryan, who announces, “I’m not participating.”
On the final night of the trip, Bryan hides in his room while everyone else frolics in the pool. Brie, fed up with Bryan’s reclusiveness, finally drags him out and forces him to have fun. Which he seems to actually do. The end!
In a secondary storyline about how inspirational Paige is to her fans, Paige and Alicia Fox accompany a fan to his parents’ house to help him come out. Supposedly his parents are super conservative, and Natalya, Renee Young and Summer Rae (collectively “The Blond Squad,” per Foxy) freak Paige out by suggesting it could get nasty and she should think about canceling or bringing a bodyguard, but in the end the family is totally supportive.
Meanwhile, there’s Mandy.
Who? you may be asking. You and everyone else, including a fan who approaches Eva Marie in a restaurant but totally ignores Mandy.
“I’m like, ‘Do you know who I am?'” Mandy asks Eva, sulking, after the fan leaves. No, Mandy. She does not. You’ve been here for five minutes and even people who are ostensibly your coworkers have no idea who you are. Case in point:
“Who is Mandy?” Tyson “TJ” Kidd asks Natalya at one point. “I don’t even know her.”
Mandy appears in two storylines this week: one in which Nattie accidentally ends up inviting Mandy’s entire family on a Neidhart family vacation (a mixup the fallout from which we won’t see until next week) and another centering around Eva Marie, her rebirth as someone who’s actually trying to be a wrestler, and her NXT title match against Bayley (which, for those keeping track, puts this episode around the end of November 2015).
Eva and Mandy have been talking about a Red and Gold tag team since Mandy first popped up on Total Divas. This week, pushed by Corporate Plot Device Mark Carrano, Mandy starts trying to give that idea some definition. One of her suggestions is that Eva go blond so they match. If you watched the first season of Total Divas, you may recall that our first exposure to Eva involved dying her hair red despite a corporate dictate to go blond, so the makeover is a no-go. Later, R-Truth shows up and gets involved, suggesting the team tap Mandy’s dance background for a gimmick.
“Imagine if y’all was in some, like, hip-hop gear,” Truth posits. “They’ve never had two girls come out, like, dancing, incorporate some of the dance moves in the ring.”
Um… OK. Somebody call Truth’s momma.
Later, while training at NXT, Eva and Mandy seek counsel from coach Sara Del Rey, who makes the point that now that Eva actually has started to build a character, it would make more sense for Mandy to try to come up with something that complements Eva the heel. Mandy objects to being Eva’s “sidekick,” and in a one-on-one conversation afterward, Sara asks Eva if she’s really “married” to the idea of tagging with Mandy, considering all the work she has put into actually learning how to wrestle.
“Your experience level is now here, and it’s gonna have to drop you down back there. Know what I mean?” Sara asks, holding her hands apart to indicate Eva’s progress compared to Mandy’s.
But it’s long-suffering Nattie, the smiling workhorse of the company, who gives Eva the push she needs to just say no to Red and Gold.
“It’s a lot on you to have to carry somebody that’s brand new when you’re still learning too,” Nattie says to Eva over lunch at Tribute to the Troops. “Now that you’re building this character that has real heat, it’s time for you to showcase that. And that was actually one of my biggest mistakes, is that I said yes to everything. Take care of you first.”
Thus emboldened (and additionally so by a pre-match pep talk from Michael Hayes, who tells Eva that he didn’t used to think she had it in her to be a real wrestler, but she’s changed his mind), Eva exits the ring after losing her title match to Bayley and lets Mandy know that Red and Gold might happen someday, but in the meantime, she needs to just focus on being Eva Marie.
“Timing is everything, and right now for us, the timing of red and gold is just premature,” Eva says.
Speaking of timing: Tribute to the Troops was scheduled for Dec. 8, about two weeks after Eva and Bayley’s title match, so it seems that in real time Nattie’s pep talk came well after Eva Marie has supposedly put Red and Gold on hold. Who says kayfabe is dead?