The Season of the Heel: Kevin Owens and “Orange is the New Black”

Kevin Owens on Raw; Vee Parker on Orange is the New Black: Each was the villainous centerpiece of an entire season of their show’s run. Both came to save the day by injecting much-needed conflict during periods that could have easily been creative lulls for their respective shows. Vee appeared in OitNB at the beginning of the second season, at a point where the show’s ensemble cast of characters had been established, but outside of individual person-to-person drama, lacked purpose and direction as a group. Kevin Owens appeared on Raw in May, during the heart of what is often a post-Wrestlemania, pre-Summerslam build swoon for WWE. Vee and Owens are thematically similar in several key ways, and each was the perfect villain to shake things up and carry their respective narrative from point A to point C.

Both are corrupters of youth. Vee’s pre-prison drug business was built on exploiting young people who lacked means and support and forcing them to take dangerous, criminal risks. Her predatory instincts are best encapsulated in a scene where she has sex with one of her dealers, who sees her as a mother figure, just moments before sending him into a trap in which she knows he will be killed.

Kevin Owens might not be sending kids out to the street corner, but he has repeatedly made it clear that he has disdain for innocence and idealism as embodied by children. In his concurrent feuds with John Cena and Finn Balor, Owens derided each man by telling them with a smirk that his son looked up to them. This statement communicates two equally important messages: that Owens equates his son’s innocence and the values of his son’s heroes with stupidity, and, in a more sinister turn, that Owens has made it part of his mission to drive his own child to the dark side by tearing down his fundamentally decent heroes.

Many were upset to see Owens on Raw participating in the Brock-Taker pull apart and a six-man tag, saying he had been reduced to “just another guy” after his feud with Cena ended, but at least Owens wasn’t killed like Vee. It can be difficult to let go of great characters when their run is over, even evil ones, but it’s important to understand that their impact is not reduced just because they are no longer on top. Owens and Vee both had brief, spectacular runs that were extremely meaningful because they shook the entire universe in which they lived.

Part of what makes wrestling a great storytelling genre is that characters can be pushed up and down the card with relative fluidity as long as there’s an angle explaining the rises and falls. Is Kevin Owens positioned to be at the top of the Summerslam card? No. Could his budding feud with Cesaro produce great TV and help carry WWE through another traditional swoon once they get past Summerslam and into the NFL season? Yes. So don’t write Kevin Owens’ obituary yet.

Set Up For Failure: The Deeply Flawed Structure of the WWE Tag Title Elimination Chamber

The WWE Tag Team Title Elimination Chamber match contained talented wrestlers, including a bona fide top heel team and a bona fide top babyface team, featured good action, and delivered a definitive finish. However, the match fell well short of what it could have been — an assertion of the Tag Team Titles as a featured prize – because of poor structure. Whoever put this match together should not be putting together matches for pay per views.

All matches are reliant on a good start to set the tone for what follows. This match had a hard time getting over because it started with the two least established teams in the ring. The Lucha Dragons are popular, and The Ascension are disliked, but neither is the team that people paid to see. Cesaro and Kidd should have been one of the first teams in the Chamber to give the match and show the hot start it needed.

Of course, when Cesaro and Kidd did enter third, they needed to work harder than they should have to recover from the lull that opened the match. The structure of the match really let The Masters of the Universe Down. If they weren’t going to begin the match, Cesaro and Kidd should’ve been set up to enter to a monster pop, and neither happened because WWE sent out the wrong teams to start the show.

Once they were in the match, Cesaro and Kidd absolutely shone on offense. The crowd popped for their spots, but the realization quickly set in the last three teams were New Day, Los Matadors, and Prime Time Players. With even the most innocent fan subconsciously knowing that the heel champions would be out last, it was apparent that a few minutes of rather inconsequential wrestling would follow. Given the barely-established nature of Lucha Dragons and The Ascension and the barely-credible nature of Los Matadors, the wrestlers were left with only one tool to do to get the crowd invested: stupid spots. Kalisto and El Torito obliged.

Then, momentarily, the match looked poised to turn around and get serious when The Ascension eliminated both the Dragons and Matadors in quick succession, but their immediate loss to the Prime Time Players undid all of that good storytelling and simply reinforced the old WWE trope that established main roster veterans can always beat relative newcomers easily. What followed was a slow-paced, shapeless period of wrestling between two teams who had no storyline heat behind them.

Then, there was Cesaro’s elimination by The Prime Time Players. When there’s one set of over babyfaces in the match and they are not finalists, you will be in trouble with the crowd. Luckily, people are into chanting “New Day sucks,” so the match wasn’t a total loss, but the frustration from the audience was palapable during the match’s final minutes.

There was so much potential in the ring to open the Elimination Chamber show, but the ball was badly dropped due to poor structure.