If there’s anything positive to say about this week’s episode of Total Divas, I guess it’s that it does a really effective job of summing up the ways in which the series has gone wrong this season.
Also, Bryan “Daniel Bryan” Danielson laughs really hard at a very obvious wiener dog joke. So there’s that.
Here’s my beef with Season Five of Total Divas: I’m just having a hard time caring. There are a few reasons for this. One is that the show seems incredibly out of touch with what’s happening right now in the professional lives of its stars. As this season of the reality show has aired, both Brie Bella and Daniel Bryan’s wrestling careers have ended. Nikki Bella’s is likely in decline (at the very least, it seems the Rack Attack is dead and she’s unlikely to ever again be a full-time in-ring performer). John Cena has taken giant leaps toward a Dwayne Johnson-esque movie career. The Divas Revolution has come and, to some extent, gone, leaving a refreshed roster of talented sports entertainers and a brand-new Women’s Championship in its wake (and if this week’s Raw is any indication, maybe some hope that Natalya will finally get some time to wrestle actual wrestlers on actual TV). And of course, most recently, the term “Diva” has been officially retired.
And what do we get on Total Divas? Extended storylines about Rosa Mendes, who hasn’t wrestled in a year, and Mandy Rose, who is the show’s biggest “who cares?” since JoJo.
Practically every week we’re asked to care about a new character whom we have never met and who we will likely never see again: Rosa’s baby daddy’s dad, a random fan, Mandy’s entire family. This week is no different, as substantial time is invested in the family drama surrounding Alicia Fox.
While the Fox family drama is never completely explained, it seems clear that Alicia and her mom have some serious communication issues. Foxy summons the rest of the Foxes (her mom, sister Christina and brother-in-law Manny) to Florida to talk about the fact that Pritchy, who is another character we’ve never met and probably will never see again but are supposed to care about, is in ill health. Fox believes that her mother has been avoiding the issue and does not realize how sick Pritchy is. It also turns out that she’s harboring some anger toward Mama Fox, who apparently no-showed on a planned trip to Houston to travel together between shows.
“My mom has a history of bailing on me,” Foxy explains.
Of course, in literary terms, Alicia Fox is what one might refer to as an “unreliable narrator,” and it soon becomes clear that there are issues on both sides. When Pritchy shows up at a family meal and it is immediately obvious that Foxy’s mom is fully aware of his health issues, Alicia is outraged that her mother knew about it and hadn’t said anything to her. Which, if you’re following, is exactly what Alicia was doing on her own end. Then she unloads on her mother, who in turn is angry about being unloaded on.
“My mom loves to play the victim,” Fox says. “So now my mom’s upset with me for being upset with her.”
The likelihood that this kind of scenario is commonplace in the Fox family is underscored by Manny and Christina’s faces during the emotional argument. They look as though they’ve seen this movie a thousand times. There are multiple on-camera breakdowns and many tears. Although we do learn one tidbit that sheds some light on Foxy’s upbringing:
“You remember when our neighbor bust my headlights out cause we egged her house?” Mama Fox reminisces at one point. “I can’t believe I did that.” Tree, meet apple.
The utter failure of Foxy’s family reunion is made even fail-ier by the fact that she skipped out on Rosa Mendes’ Los Angeles baby shower to stage it, prompting various Rosa meltdowns. Also planning to skip Rosa’s shower is Paige, who plans the shower, flies in to LA and then reveals that she will have to miss the party because she’s been asked to appear as a guest on an MTV show that I have never heard of and am probably 20 years too old to be watching.
“I invited every single Diva in that locker room,” Rosa wails, complaining that no one will be at her baby shower. “You do realize that you have the option to say no, right?” she asks Paige.
Technically, Paige could have said no to the public appearance. But there’s more going on, and it’s heavy enough that the many minutes wasted on Fox’s never-before-seen family seem extra pointless. As it turns out, not long before Paige moved to the U.S. for WWE, she got pregnant. And she miscarried. And then, after moving to the U.S., she had surgery to remove a cyst that may have left her unable to ever carry a child.
So, you know, if you ever wanted a glimpse at what makes Paige act the way she acts… well, there you go.
It’s all terribly sad (for real, I cried, although it’s worth remembering that I’m just as pregnant and hormonal as Rosa) even before you consider that she’s been spending who knows how long having to hear about and plan for Rosa’s impending baby.*
“So this is why, like, the whole baby shower has been super tough on me, because it just made me think about that … like maybe I can’t have this one day,” Paige explains in a talking head intercut with scenes of her breaking down at work and being comforted by Big Show. “I don’t know, it’s all very overwhelming and I just want to go home.”
But surprise! Because she’s such a good friend, Paige wraps up the taping as quickly as she can and hightails it back to Rosa’s shower, where she makes everyone play a game called Suck the Nipple that involves chugging apple juice from a baby bottle, which makes Lilian Garcia choke.
“Oh, Lilian,” Paige scolds. “Don’t pretend you haven’t sucked something before.”
If you could make it through the Foxy family slog and the very sad story of Paige, there was a piece of this episode that was neither pointless nor heartbreaking, and it naturally involved Daniel Bryan making fun of Nikki Bella, which is what Total Divas is really all about.
Long story short, the Braniels want to buy some property and build a house in Port Townsend, Washington, about a two and a half-hour drive from Bryan’s hometown of Aberdeen, and they drag Nikki and brother JJ along on a trip to check out some land. (Fun fact: My friend Courtney was Port Townsend’s 1997 Rhododendron Queen. That’s the kind of adorable town we’re talking about.) Nikki is apparently only interested in the town’s wine bar, and this prompts Bryan to ponder whether living in coastal Washington would turn Nikki into a “more sane,” less high-maintenance person.
“I don’t like beer, so I don’t want to go to a pub,” Nikki says. “If I have an alcoholic beverage, it’s wine. That doesn’t make me high-maintenance.”
“Actually, that is the definition of making you high-maintenance,” her brother-in-law counters. “‘I have this very specific thing that I want, so that is what we are going to do.’ That is what high-maintenance is.”
Keep in mind that this is a man who spent most of last week’s episode insisting that his friends use a weekend getaway to go on his personal vegan vision quest and then pouted when they wanted to drink and relax instead of getting their chakras realigned over bowls of chia seeds.
After Bryan gives Nikki a hard time about her boots (which she insists are “camping boots” despite the fact that they have platforms and five-inch heels, after which she tells him that “tents are done now” anyway), she sets out to prove to him that she can be a rugged outdoorswoman and a low-key Northwesterner who doesn’t mind “eating out of a paper box” (or, as you or I might call it, a takeout container).
“I’m gonna prove to Bryan that I will camp with him overnight, just to show him that I can live in this world,” Nikki declares after Bryan bets her $50 she won’t sleep outside overnight. Brie and JJ watch through the windows of their rental cabin as Nikki wrestles vainly with a tent.
“She is nowhere near being wilderness woman,” Brie sighs.
She finally gets it set up, only to be informed by Bryan that she will also need to pee outside for the campout to count; apparently this is where Nikki draws the line, and she forfeits the money.
“I’m just not gonna put my girl parts on the line tonight,” she explains.
The next day, though, she jumps right back in, chopping wood, drinking beer and going fly fishing with JJ while Brie and Bryan opt to shop in town and ogle tiny baby hiking boots.
“This reminds me (0f) when I spent time in Alaska,” Nikki says, embracing the great outdoors. (Note to Nikki: I live in Alaska. We have wine bars here, too. Come on up and I’ll show you around.)
“Who has taken over her body? What alien?” Brie wonders. “This does not make sense. This is not my sister.”
The truth ultimately comes out over dinner: Nikki doesn’t want Brie and Bryan to move far away because she will be lonely without them, and she doesn’t want them to think she can’t roll with their woodsy, soybean lifestyle. It finally dawns on Brie that being the companion of John Cena, Suddenly A Movie Star, has long stretches of alone time, and Nikki likes to spend that time with her family.
“You don’t want me to be the third wheel,” Nikki says.
“Nicole, we love when you’re the third wheel,” Brie says. “Bryan, you love having Nicole around.” (It’s a directive, not a question.)
“Me? Yeah, I do,” Bryan admits. “We love that you’re our third wheel … This is just how I am. You know that.”
Then everyone makes fun of how Brie pronounces “family” and everything is OK again.
Now if only this episode had subbed out the Fox family and yet another Rosa-is-pregnant storyline for an extended cut of Jon Fatu’s backstage narration of a Team Bella match, which comprises just a cruelly short few seconds. Maybe if they’re forced to rebrand the show as Total Superstars…
*For real, though, who actually knows? The timeline this season is incredibly fucked up. Episode 10 definitely took place in November and December and had its own reality-vs-“reality” timeline issues; in this week’s episode, which ostensibly should have taken place later than that, it’s clear that at least some of the action was filmed in October since every workplace scene is thick with pink “Rise Above Cancer” T-shirts.