Last week, I returned home from vacation and posted a piece outlining my problems with the hot pile of garbage that the WWE had been presenting us with for several weeks during Monday Night Raw. A commenter took issue with my claim that the WWE lacks inspired storytelling and compelling characters, citing the love triangle angle between Punk, Bryan, and AJ. He’s half right; AJ and Daniel Bryan’s relationship has been a bright spot for the WWE from its beginning in late 2011 to tonight’s impending nuptials. It’s boosted AJ and Daniel Bryan and allowed them to develop into great characters. However, the recent saga in their relationship with Punk, while better than most of what WWE has to offer, was the weakest stretch in the narrative.
That being said, the build up to Daniel and AJ’s wedding has been mostly good, and this week, I’d like to take a look back and analyze their journey together, and get to the bottom of how Danny came to Love AJ.
The simple setup for the long running storyline between Daniel Bryan and AJ began in late 2011. It’s a setup we’ve seen in countless romantic comedies over the years. AJ was the cute, geeky girl next door, who took a liking to the equally geeky and reserved Daniel Bryan (who also happened to be Smackdown’s Mr. Money in the Bank). It didn’t take long for the two to develop obvious romantic chemistry, but with both being socially awkward “geeks”, it took a while for either to make a definite move and seal the deal. Everyone has seen this before in the movies, on TV, or in real life. It’s a tried and true trope that will almost always garner a reaction from a viewer. You find yourself rooting for these pairs to figure it out and get together, which is what the WWE Universe did for Daniel and AJ.
Eventually Daniel Bryan (who’s confidence may or may not have been boosted by a girl as cute as AJ showering him with attention) cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase and became the new World Heavyweight Champion, as well as officially made AJ his girlfriend. This period was probably the high point for this storyline and these characters, because it’s here that their characters changed and grew the most.
The formerly meek and acquiescent Daniel Bryan was brimming with confidence and bravado as a result of becoming World Champ, and having one of the prettiest girls in all of the WWE on his arm. It didn’t take long for that confidence to (understandably) turn into arrogance. He went from geek to chic so to speak (rhyme unintentional), and got caught up in his own hype. He began to neglect and treat AJ poorly, as well as use her to help him retain his World Heavyweight Champion. AJ was either oblivious or chose to overlook what Daniel had become, and was happy to have a boyfriend. She began to shut out her friends and their advice, and became determined to keep her man happy. The story was relevant and relatable, which coupled with the two great performers, often made for wonderful TV.
At Wrestlemania 28, Bryan lost his championship to Sheamus in record setting fashion, and subsequently dumped AJ in the middle of the ring, blaming her in no uncertain terms for his quick loss at Wrestlemania. He then dedicated himself to recapturing his World Heavyweight Championship, and took delight in shutting down any attempt at reconciliation with AJ.
AJ’s unsuccessful attempts at mending her relationship with Bryan sent her into a depression that would develop into rage, which she took out on her best friend Kaitlyn. AJ slapped Kaitlyn when Kaitlyn tried to console her after the break-up, and ruthlessly assaulted Kaitlyn in a match, seemingly irrevocably damaging the friendship. AJ was alone, an emotional wreck, and appeared to be slipping into a state of mental instability brought on by the rejection of Daniel Bryan. This was a fantastic character development for both characters involved. Daniel Bryan had lost his status as top dog, and was looking to deflect blame from himself (a natural, human response). Daniel blamed AJ’s good luck kiss and sent her packing, thinking that without the distraction he could reclaim his gold. Meanwhile, AJ had lost the love of her life (and possible first real boyfriend as far as the storyline is concerned). She had become so attached and co-dependent, that she didn’t know how to function without Bryan, and ended up alienating people that care about her and becoming a crazy chick.
AJ would eventually turn her attention and affection toward WWE Champion CM Punk, who Daniel Bryan was feuding with over the WWE Championship. This seemed to make Daniel Bryan jealous, his response to which was to make AJ’s life more difficult and punish and vanquish CM Punk. After failing to do so at Over The Limit, Kane entered the melee as a contender for the WWE Championship and AJ’s heart. AJ spent the next several weeks confusing Punk, seducing Kane, and cultivating jealousy from Bryan, through her bizarre and unpredictable actions. At this point things had been going so well for so long, I knew it was just a matter of time before at least a slight misstep.
To call the past month of this very long and very good storyline bad would be a bit unfair, but it definitely wasn’t as good as the material we were privy to leading up to it. After CM Punk defeated Bryan and Kane to retain his WWE Title at No Way Out, and Kane withdrew himself from the race for AJ’s heart, AJ focused all of her attention, on procuring CM Punk’s affections. The announcement that she would be the special guest referee for the WWE Title Match at Money in the Bank between Punk and Bryan, prompted Daniel to attempt to reconcile with his ex, hoping that she would help him win the WWE Championship. AJ would toy with Punk and Bryan, kissing and putting them in harms way week after week leading to the PPV.
Each week with AJ was unpredictable, but I personally felt that the WWE had lost the grasp of what the story they were telling was really about. You have a girl who doesn’t want to be alone and desperately wants to be loved. She’s using CM Punk to make Daniel Bryan jealous, but CM Punk didn’t seem interested in her all that much to begin with. I simply never understood why it took CM Punk weeks and multiple make-out sessions to say that he wasn’t interested. It became unpredictability for the sake of unpredictability, and a bit uninspired. A lot of people mistook the great performances by these three stellar performers as inspired storytelling and character development. In actuality, it really wasn’t.
I’m on record saying that the suspense for the match at Money in the Bank shouldn’t have derived from the question “Who Will She Choose?” but rather “Will She Do The Right Thing?” Punk should have made it clear after the first kiss attempt that he wasn’t interested in her that way, and that his feeling for her are strictly platonic. Then when the stipulation is put in place, and Bryan changes his tune, AJ should have fallen back into his arms, plotting with him against her friend CM Punk. During the match at Money in the Bank, she would come to realize that Daniel Bryan hasn’t changed, and eventually do the right thing and call the match fairly, which would result in Punk’s victory.
Alas, Money in the Bank was about whom she would favor (which turned out to be neither), CM Punk’s involvement in this narrative seemed arbitrary and weak, and cherry on top of everything, Daniel Bryan had a sudden change of heart, and proposed marriage to AJ the night following Money in the Bank. If it sounds like I hate this, I don’t. All things considered, this is pretty good; it’s just that it could have been laid out better. Conversely, knowing the WWE, it could have been much worse, so I’ll definitely take pretty good.
My only issue is that they are rushing the wedding, in an attempt to include it on the already packed Raw 1000 show. When AJ said yes, I thought of so many developments and segments that you could have had during their engagement on WWE programming. Bryan choosing his groomsmen and making them compete in a match to see who his Best Man would be, AJ attempting to re-connect with Kaitlyn so that she can be her Maid of Honor, The Bachelor and Bachelorette parties, even meeting each other’s parents (with AJ’s not being supportive of Daniel from what they’ve seen on TV). I was disappointed to find out that the wedding would be in one week’s time.
Overall Grade: B+
This story has been better than anything that the WWE has done post Wrestlemania. The development of these two characters and their relationship has been mostly great, with few hiccups along the way (which are understandable). The seemingly pointless involvement of Punk (seeing as it did nothing for his character) hurts its grade, as well as the fact that they are rushing toward the wedding. With Raw going three hours, I believe it is a bit irresponsible to leave so many potential segments on the table, especially ones that could be very fun. Hopefully the wedding tonight delivers more than either of them revealing that they were playing the other one. There will be a lot of eyes on Raw tonight, hopefully they take advantage and unleash a certain “Secret Weapon”.
There you have it, but what do you think of this angle? Do you think it’s been handled as well as I do (for the most part)? Do you think that CM Punk’s involvement seems like a waste of his character? Are they rushing things just a little bit?
I’d also like to announce that I’ll be covering the NBA over on TJRSports, and will have my inaugural column up tomorrow afternoon. Be sure to check it out!
Until next time folks, I’m Matty J. Douglas saying Happy 1000, Monday Night Raw! Have a great week everybody.