About halfway through Monday’s episode of RAW I thought to myself, well I guess tonight is going to be one of those shows.
It wasn’t exactly a criticism; I was enjoying the episode relatively speaking, it just seemed to lack the sense of urgency I had been anticipating earlier in the day. Including Monday’s offering RAW had 21 hours of prime time television to set up its side of the of WrestleMania 33 card, nine of which would air prior to the Fastlane event taking place in three weeks. It stood to reason that the fat would begin to be trimmed from WWE’s flagship show as we enter the most important period of the promotion’s creative calendar.
Instead, however, it appeared we were in store for a heavy dose of the exact opposite. With the exception of Roman Reigns’ encounter with Braun Strowman and Samoa Joe’s sneak attack of Sami Zayn, the show was curiously light-hearted; an extended comedy segment involving New Day and Bo Dallas; a playful backstage scene involving Cesaro, Sheamus, Bayley, Enzo and Big Cass, one cruiserweight segment highlighting the tomfoolery of Jack Gallagher and another setting up a quirky story between Brian Kendrick and Akira Tozawa. And lest we forget the Emmalina segment specifically designed to troll the audience.
All of that and we hadn’t even gotten to the comedic highlight of the evening, The Festival of Friendship; the WrestleMania of comradery teased by Chris Jericho one week ago to celebrate his extraordinary friendship with Universal Champion, Kevin Owens.
Well, they’re in Las Vegas, I said to myself. What’s the harm in just having some fun? After all, three weeks of television before a Network special feels like an eternity anymore. There’s plenty of time to set the table. And just like that, they got me. Like Robb Stark listening to Walder Frey proclaim, ‘My honored guests, be welcome within my walls and at my table. I extend to you my hospitality and protection in the light of the Seven,’ my guard was officially left down; something I, like Stark, should have known better than to trust.
As Jericho strutted about the entrance ramp, his bedazzled sports coat and matching hat allowing him to blend in with the line of iconic Vegas showgirls also on stage, the festival was officially underway. Owens was not nearly as enthusiastic about the proceedings; choosing instead to keep his distance from the pomp and circumstance – surely a continuation of the dynamic chemistry between the two talented performers as they played off one another to enhance the comedic value of the bit.
Having already been adequately primed for some good old fashioned Vince McMahon-produced fun I was ready for something truly hilarious as the proceedings moved inside the ring. This was going to be one of those iconic RAW segments, the kind that made it into highlight reels for years. Mankind’s ‘This is Your Life’ segment with The Rock; DX’s parody of the Nation of Domination; any one of the outlandish encounters between Steve Austin and Mr. McMahon. I’d be right about the first part anyway.
As Jericho bestowed a series of ridiculous and awkwardly homoerotic gifts to his partner (in crime if not life) my high expectations for the segment appeared to be affirmed. A golden statue of intertwined lovers; a Creation of Adam painting altered to include the likeness of the best friends; an uninspiring performance from Friendship the Magician; even an appearance from Gillberg himself-solidifying the nostalgic link to the Attitude Era for good measure. Owens was not nearly as amused as I was. The Festival of Friendship was supposed to be a carefully laid trap to lure the real Goldberg out for a pre-Fastlane attack. Or so Owens thought anyway.
Upset at his best friend’s disappointment Jericho subtly transformed into a sad clown before shedding the pretense of fiction that shrouded the skit. He spoke from the heart and thanked Owens for allowing him to enjoy an extended run in his career he hadn’t thought possible; a sentiment echoed by most WWE fans. Suddenly an outlandish and over the top comedic skit had turned into a sentimental blend of work and shoot. Sure, Jericho was a heel, but as fans we learn to compartmentalize the actions of a character and the talent of a performer when the two are functioning at their best. Jericho’s most recent reincarnation of himself has been brilliant; one of the few bright spots in a watered-down main event narrative on more than one occasion.
As he’s done more than once before Owens backtracked from his angry outburst and reassured Jericho that he too was thankful for their friendship. Just like that the segment was lassoed back into the realm of fiction for what would likely be the cherry on top; a gift from Owens to show his appreciation for Jericho’s loyal friendship. Perhaps another funny scarf or maybe a Canadian-themed souvenir.
What a great segment, I thought. I hadn’t laughed that hard watching WWE since, well since Reigns came out as No. 30 at the Royal Rumble last month… but it’s been awhile since I laughed that hard at something I was supposed to think was funny. Sure, it’ll be a little anticlimactic when Jericho costs Owens the title and the two ultimately wrestle at WrestleMania, but so what. Pro wrestling storytelling is more about the journey than it is the final outcome anyway. I’m glad they decided to wait until Fastlane instead of doing it at Survivor Series, or Roadblock, or Royal Rumble or any other time in between. Oh, look at that, it’s a new List of Jericho. That’s hilarious.
Until it wasn’t.
As Jericho gradually revealed the gift, we in the audience knew before he did. The fun and games came to a screeching halt and a crippling sense of impending doom all but sucked the air from the arena; a tangible calamity that penetrated the television screen and landed smack dab in the middle of our living rooms. The morose chords of The Winds of Castamere might as well have been playing in the background; in mere moments The Festival of Friendship had transformed into The Red Wedding – a shocking, violent and pre-planned attack with serious consequences.
In an instant Owens reverted back to the bloodthirsty prize fighter we came to know and fear both in NXT and during his initial debut on the main roster; his rage more furious with each thunderous blow. How could we have forgotten such venom was ran through the heel’s veins? As Jericho was sent crashing through the TV screen in the middle of the ring The Festival of Friendship logo was shattered to pieces; the remnants of an amusing and memorable friendship shattered along with them. What began as good-natured fun had ended in devastation and destruction.
Having been allowed to experience Jericho the man, even if just briefly, as he spoke genuinely about his career and his time with Owens, our minds were not capable of separating the fictional character from the real person so quickly. The fictional ambiguity of the scene added another layer of sympathy; a moment in time somewhere between Shawn Michaels’ Barber Shop heel turn and the epic explosion of the Mega Powers so many years ago.
What a massacre. What a beautiful massacre.