By former Lords of Pain 205 Live reviewer, “205 Clive”.
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Another creative direction from WWE out with the norm, and another fan backlash is the result. Such a reaction is all but guaranteed these days. Even when, strangely, a common criticism thrown at the company is that of stagnancy. Of “same old same old”, with no perceived desire to evolve. Whether through story, character arc, or tired wrestling tropes. Examples such as the introduction of Shane McMahon’s Raw Underground, or billing a wrestling match as the greatest ever, bring out the triggered among the online arena.
The Retribution angle is no different. It’s maybe even the most incendiary, as it pertains to how passionate fans have been with their vitriol for it. Height of those in the first assaults. Hyperactive camera work of said assaults. The seemingly lacklustre presentation on Raw compared to Smackdown. All above and more has been under intense scrutiny. Where I fall on the matter is the uncertainty over the angle’s long term goal. Or, based on the lack of progression until at least last week, if there even was one. We’ve seen it all too often in WWE. The Hacker. Emmalina. Nexus before our current invaders. Something that could provide a wealth of content fizzles out to nothing.
Alas, my theory on that has at least taken a dent, what with Retribution’s balaclavas coming off, names being given, and intentions being made known. Of course, like clockwork, it’s baying time.
Personally, the aesthetics of the group phase me very little. We are now watching a product with an arena called the Thunderdome, and another where bare knuckle fights are encouraged. WWE is clearly leaning into an apocalyptic theme no doubt influenced by a difficult 2020. Mad Max or Bane style masks fit that theme well. The monikers given to these people? Silly, yes. But, again, how many names have we heard over the years that sound ridiculous, only for them to roll off the tongue a few short weeks later? Add to that the omission of either wrestlers’ first or last names, too. Besides, are we really going to get on our collective high horse over stupid sounding names while guffawing like frat boys over something as equally cringe inducing as “Le Sex Gods”?
As for the intent of Retribution, this is where the waters begin to muddy for me. Not so much the decision for WWE to offer Retribution contracts, as it would cost less to do so than continuously pay for damages. Not even that WWE would allow such a unit into its ring when the group’s intentions are still to destroy the company from within. Rather, it is the dueling personalities of Retribution as an entity, and the mixed messages that come from it.
First of all, I was immediately won over in Retribution’s early days by the aesthetics. Seeing a closed set in the Performance Centre being ripped apart by way of baseball bats, graffiti, and chainsaws was jarring to say the least. Especially when the atmosphere provided by the PC had been one of stability for so many months leading up to it. Clearly, destruction of WWE property is something Retribution gets a kick out of. Why then, when the state of the art Thunderdome has been introduced, would Retribution not use its already acknowledged technological savvy to hijack some screens? Front and centre of the hard cam for maximum effect? Why not even some static or a cracked screen, perhaps, with the masked troop emerging from behind one?
The WWE Thunderdome was already going to garner more eyes, such was the novelty and innovation of the idea. Personally, it was a missed opportunity not to have the hell bent Retribution add WWE’s shiny new toy to its growing list of damaged goods. It would have made as much of a statement than the original invasion on that now infamous Smackdown episode, if not more so.
An even bigger statement could have been made at Summerslam. What better stage to sabotage than that of one of WWE’s Big Four? The Retribution story was picking up steam on television leading up to the event, only for viewers to have to wait for the subsequent Monday to pick up where all was left off. Not just Summerslam, but Payback and now Clash of Champions have been sans Retribution. Furthermore, this group’s gripes focus on how WWE has left it out in the cold. Technically speaking, that is true. But those opportunities apparently kept from the members all took place under Triple H’s watch. Not Vince McMahon’s, or whoever else in charge of the two more flagship brands. Why, then, does Retribution not also include NXT in its chaos?
Not only has an NXT Takeover been and gone without any influence from the anarchists,but Wednesday nights’ lack of retribution reinforces that old and stubborn mindset that NXT is separate from Raw and Smackdown. Additionally, it could have been a welcome injection into the product, to be honest. For NXT has struggled to reach the exciting heights it once did throughout most of this “empty arena” era that wrestling currently finds itself in. In short, while Retribution’s appearances on TV have made an impact, it could have been better served – or at least better spread – elsewhere.
Onto the subject of how the stable is actually presented on television. Okay. Viewers may perceive and absorb threat in different ways (let’s not forget that kids will be watching this). We could be here all day discussing how edgy or not this group is. At the end of the day, though, its message is that it intends on bringing WWE to its knees. To quote System of a Down’s Serj Tankian, you have to enter a room to destroy it. However, such a message doesn’t marry up with the personas its members have adopted on social media.
I get it. It’s a cheap pop. Whose eyebrows don’t rise in shocked delight when TBar belittles, among others, Messrs Bischoff, Alvarez, and Punk? But these three men are not the only one who has crucified WWE online for how this angle has played out. By bringing those many haters for haters’ sake to task, isn’t Retribution voicing the opinion that some within WWE’s corridors may feel? In turn, is it not, in effect, coming to bat for the company it so wishes to destroy?
Like the awful Twitter back and forth between Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey in 2019, this is an extreme disconnect from what is presented on WWE television. Especially when presented as untouchable on Twitter, but unbelievable on Raw.
As a big fan of them in NXT, I want nothing but good to come both Dominik Dijakovic and Mia Yim’s way. My main and immature gripe with TBar is that I won’t get to Feast My Eyes on the Croat as he was in Full Sail anymore. Aside from that, I can deal with the bizarre names, hokey masks, and all that come with them. All I ask is that the above flaws, ones I feel many fans aren’t paying the right attention to, are addressed in coming weeks. Retribution as an idea can work. We’ve seen literally dozens of wacky ideas from WWE become par for the course over the years. But, for Retribution to have any sort of shelf life, you have to dot those Is and cross those Ts. Then – and only then – will I consider Retribution as something more than yet another WWE wasted opportunity.
Read my previous Brand Extension columns here.
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