Believe it or not, you have to be in the right headspace to recap an unscripted dramedy about the offscreen exploits of the world’s most famous woman wrestlers, and sometimes that means when you have visiting family camped out in your living room there’s not enough wine in the state of Wisconsin to get you relaxed enough to enjoy watching and writing about such a show, and you put it off for a week because you feel like Natalya at the beginning of last week’s episode of Total Divas, so panicked before her TLC ladder match that she doesn’t know whether to hyperventilate or take a dogface-filter selfie with Official Onscreen Corporate Hack Mark Carrano, who tells her to be calm and breathe.
“You know that’s hard for a Neidhart to do,” Nattie replies.
If you recall, episode one of this season left us perched on a cliff over which dangled a 14-foot ladder with the future of the WWE Women’s Division hanging in the balance, and Nattie was the most terrified at the prospect of (a) screwing up this opportunity for future generations of women wrestlers to come and (b) doing it while tumbling from a steel ladder far above the arena floor.
“If I fall off this ladder, then so be it,” Nattie says, being as Nattie as Nattily possible. “But I’m gonna go out there and do the best job I know how to do.”
You probably know the real-life outcome of the match: They didn’t f**k it up, although there’s a strong argument to be made that the ending of the first-ever women’s Money in the Bank ladder match was really just business as usual when it comes to WWE and opportunities for women (I know they rematched on SmackDown, but for real, why bother letting the women have good matches if you’re just going to end it by having a shady male valet sneak up and steal it for the winner? Get woke, Vince). BUT it provides a perfect segue for Total Divas to introduce another new cast member: Laker Girl turned wrestler Carmella. (More on her later)
Also freaking out before TLC: Lana, who for some reason has been given a title match against Naomi. She loses, obviously, but she leaves the ring more fired up than ever to succeed as a wrestler. Lana is the first to admit that she has “a lot of room to improve,” but she perhaps isn’t quite prepared for the unvarnished feedback she gets later while working out with Nia Jax, who asks a fair question: Why would Lana even want to get into the ring? She’s recognizable, she’s good on the mic, she gets heat, and she doesn’t have to put her body on the line.
“You don’t need to wrestle,” Nia says.
Speaking of creating heat, it appears Nia’s role on the show is to speak truth to drama. I like it.
Lana is unmoved (she reasonably points out that it’s a wrestling promotion and ultimately, “all conflict has to resolve in the ring”), but she’s also hurt by Nia’s feedback. Later she seeks input from Nikki Bella, who is rapidly becoming Lana’s personal Yoda (and why not? Is there a better example of on-the-job training in the WWE?). Nikki says she needs to learn to let it roll off because she’s going to get more criticism if she wants to wrestle. Then she pushes Lana to a squat PR (165, in case you’re wondering).
There’s bad news for Lana back at work, though, where Carrano informs her that her storyline with Naomi is going to end, that she will no longer be sent back and forth to NXT to train, and that she will not be wrestling at all. Ever. “I can’t be more clear with you, can I? It’s over. Done.” Lana FaceTimes Nikki, who channels John Cena and directs Lana to not give up.
As an aside: If I were WWE, I’d be starting to get nervous about the recurring Total Divas theme of “here is a woman who has been elevated to the biggest stage in a business in which she is dangerously inexperienced just because she’s pretty; let’s watch her try and fail to do her job while surrounded by significantly more qualified coworkers.” (See also: JoJo, Ariane, Eva Marie.) You can talk about the Divas Revolution all you want, but when you’re also publicly documenting the fact that you’re putting swimsuit models with limited training into the ring with professionals who trained in the Hart Dungeon or worked the indie circuit, it’s sort of a giveaway that there’s still some opportunity for growth in the leadership’s approach to the Women’s Division.
What else? Oh, supported by Carrano, Maryse tries to give Alexa Bliss a makeover to get her dressing like a champion. Alexa, for the record, won’t even buy nice leggings: “Why spend so much money on something you’re gonna sweat in?” After an awkward interaction in a Tokyo boutique, Nia gets upset on Alexa’s behalf, which is how we learn that Alexa was hospitalized for anorexia when she was a teenager, and criticism of her appearance is a trigger for her. After an emotional interview about her eating disorder on Lillian Garcia’s podcast, Alexa tells Maryse she doesn’t want to be changed, and Maryse, to her credit, drops the whole thing and tells Alexa that fashion is all about what makes you comfortable (by which she obviously doesn’t mean physically comfortable, judging from the shoes Maryse wears).
Also, Trinity and Nattie babysit Birdie Joe Danielson, which means Trinity does all the work and Nattie tries to Instagram Brie’s dogs. When Trinity calls her on her uselessness afterward (and after Nattie has inexplicably volunteered them to babysit again), her incoherent response is “I just feel like we have to take it one day at a time. ‘Cause everybody loves to overanalyze, but sometimes less is more.”
“What?” Trinity responds for all of us.
Later Nattie has a panic attack when Brie talks about how to unswaddle (UNswaddle! As in remove a blanket!) the baby, and it turns out that despite all her maternal instincts in the locker room she never wanted to have a baby but now maybe she does but she’s also afraid she’d be bad at it.
On to episode three, where we get to spend some quality time with Carmella and her boyfriend of four years, Big Cass. If you’re wondering whether Carmella is in fact quiet and reserved and will protect the privacy of her relationship, the answer is that she immediately talks about the size of his penis by imitating a klaxon horn:
“The first time I bedded him, I was like, ‘AWOOOGA!'”
Carmella wants to move to LA (pretty sure we’ve had this storyline before, but sure, I’ll go on this adventure again), so she plans a visit. Due to a miscommunication, Maryse believes the Cassmellas will be staying at Chateau Marmiz during their visit, so she brings home balloons, books a taco truck, and orders a custom mattress for Big Cass because “he’s a giant.”
“He’s not a giant,” The Miz objects. “He’s seven foot tall.”
“Well,” Maryse considers, “that’s pretty big.” (It turns out Cass usually sleeps in a California king and yes, his feet hang off the end a little.)
When Carmella and Cass show up, Carmella has to figure out how to gently tell Maryse that they have a hotel room and will not be sleeping in a giant custom bed next to the Mizanins’ swimming pool (because it was too big to fit inside their house). Maryse doesn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to sleep next to her pool on a giant bed surrounded by balloons and tacos, but The Miz gets it.
“This is the key to overwhelming over here,” he says, indicating his wife. “She made it weird. You’re scaring people, all right?”
Meanwhile, Trinity wants her championship title to light up as part of her Feel The Glow entrance, but she also knows how long it takes things to get approved by the top brass at WWE (two years, in the case of the glow concept, believe it or not). So she finds a company that will customize the title, sneaks it out of the arena, and FedExes it off to be modified against the advice of husband Jon Fatu/Uso, who does not thing it’s such a great idea to just, like, drop a WWE title in the mail.
When the title comes back outfitted with color-changing LEDs (“like a damn Christmas tree,” Jon observes), she debuts it at a house show, thinking she’ll get away with trying it out at a live show with no bigwigs present. Surprise! In this timeline, social media exists, and UNBELIEVABLY, fans take and post photos of the title when she WEARS IT TO THE RING IN FRONT OF THOUSANDS OF FANS. WWE producers are not thrilled.
“I don’t want to say I told you so, but I told you so,” Jon says. “I mean, the worst that could happen is you lose your championship.”
She doesn’t, though, because obviously the light-up title is “awesome,” as even Carrano is forced to admit as he admonishes Trinity to get approval next time and “help the machine help you.”
Trinity debuts the title at her rematch against Lana, who has Tweeted at Daniel Bryan with a photo of Naomi failing to fully pin her during the count out at their TLC match. Carrano makes it clear when he tells Lana she’s getting the match that she “got lucky” when the company decided to spin her social media disobedience into a match instead of a pink slip.
“This is a business. Don’t go rogue on us,” he scolds as for the second time in the episode he rewards the risk-taking and willfulness that also clearly keeps him up at night, slowly eating away at the lining of his stomach as the anxiety gradually chews itself into an ulcer that will almost certainly send him to the hospital at some point if it hasn’t already.
Nattie, who cautioned Lana not to “look like you’re going into business for yourself” by posting the photo, is beyond done with Lana’s nonsense.
“Everybody is just acting psychotic,” Nattie complains. “I need to start breaking the rules more.”
Finally, the Bella Twins take a road trip from Phoenix to San Diego with the baby, which has some lesson about sisterhood or something but mostly we just learn that Brie likes to play I Spy and Nikki doesn’t (“This game sucks”). We’ll see how Breezy feels about I Spy in four years when Birdie Bee wants to play it on every single car trip, to the grocery store, to Target, to gymnastics, while Mama is trying to change lanes on I-43 during rush hour… just wait, Brie. This game does, indeed, suck.