Two months into 2013, and changes of heart seem to be the early trend. In 2013, we’ve seen two of the WWE’s most prominent (though floundering) heels give being a good guy a go (of course I’m talking about Alberto Del Rio and The Miz), and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more turns to follow (looking at you Randy Orton and possibly Dolph Ziggler).
Now one of the aforementioned turns is working out better than the other (which fellow TJR writer and fellow Matt, Matt Seagull covered yesterday), but that’s not to say that both don’t have major pitfalls as far as storytelling is concerned. Both turns were sudden and built on shaky foundations (and by shaky I mean no foundation at all). There was little to no storytelling or narrative root for either turn, which despite Del Rio’s immediate success leaves both turns feeling hollow, and me asking why the change of heart?
Nothing quite disappoints me like an empty turn. Turns that occurs with no catalyst, no meaningful inciting incident, or story are the epitome of lazy writing. The story of a turn from evil to good or vice versa are the greatest sources of gripping and compelling storytelling that the WWE (or any story for that matter) has to offer. Today I’m going to deconstruct the babyface turns of The Miz and Alberto Del Rio so as to examine and highlight the weakness of their foundations. I’m also going to suggest simple stories the WWE could have put together to make the turns meaningful to us as viewers. Let’s Do This!
It’s plain to see that The Miz’s attempt to be a hero is crashing and burning right before our eyes. One of the main reasons, as Seagull detailed in his piece, is that he has maintained all the annoying and douchebaggy qualities that made him so detestable as a heel. I get the reasoning behind keeping those traits. No person would just give his or her entire personality a facelift overnight. Having him just completely drop all of his personality traits in an attempt to ingratiate himself with the WWE Universe would seem phony and forced, but to be fair, the entire run has felt phony and forced from Jump Street.
Am I supposed to buy that a series of losses to Kofi Kingston lead to The Miz being humbled? It doesn’t fit The Miz’s personality or M.O. He’s suffered multiple losses to various superstars in his past, most notably John Cena, and none of these losses made him see the error in his ways. None of these losses humbled him. What was so special about the losses to Kofi? What is the motivation behind his change of heart? The fact that both these questions have no answer point to a fundamental misunderstanding of The Miz’s character and basic story structure by WWE Creative.
The fact is that The Miz’s turn has been unsuccessful for two reasons; one being that there was no discernable or believable catalyst for it and the other being that he’s been booked to be a loser ever since the turn. The WWE missed the boat, because I’m willing to bet that if they had turned him by having him join team Teddy at Wrestlemania as Seagull pointed out yesterday and I pointed out in my AMOC article on The Miz, Mike Mizanin would be a more relatable and compelling babyface than he is right now. In the scenario I proposed in the article, the catalyst would be the faith Teddy Long put in him when nobody else would. That faith would have served as the emotional narrative beat that resulted in The Miz having a change of heart, an emotional beat that his current babyface turn is lacking.
Miz at his core is a wrestling fan who got the chance to live his dream, and saw it become a nightmare due to his reality show past. He the dedicated himself to proving everyone wrong so he could rub it in their faces, and as I said in the edition of A Matter of Character about The Miz:
“He called himself the Chick Magnet and the Most Must-See Champion in WWE history, because more than anything, he wants those things to be true. His motivation is to prove to everyone that they were wrong about him, but what he most desires is to be loved. You simply need to get his character to move past the resentment he has for people wrongly judging him upon his arrival, bring his inner fanboy out, and have his motivation become the admiration of the WWE Universe.”
Alberto Del Rio
Let me start by saying that without question, Alberto Del Rio’s babyface turn has been a resounding commercial success. The fans have bought in and are cheering him loudly in the arenas, and I sure as hell am more entertained by babyface Del Rio than I was by the boring, repetitive heel Del Rio. That being said, critically speaking his face turn has been every bit as much of a narrative failure as The Miz’s.
Let’s start at the beginning. Del Rio officially turned babyface at the TLC PPV, when he saved the Spanish Announce Team and Ricardo Rodriguez from 3MB. But why did he do it? Why did in an instant he change from the most conceited, conniving man on the planet, one that wouldn’t hesitate to have Ricardo take a beating on his behalf, one that never showed any affinity or kinship with any other Mexicans or Latinos on WWE’s payroll, turn into Mr. Mexican pride?
Despite his success, as far as character is concerned, Alberto Del Rio’s heel turn actually might make less sense than The Miz’s. Alberto went from cocky, villainous, Mexican aristocrat that believed things should be handed to him because of his wealth, power and destiny, to plucky, friendly Mexican hero, who fights for the everyman. Those two personalities couldn’t be more different. At least The Miz had the decency to essentially keep playing the same character because there was no narrative reason behind him changing his personality. Again, Del Rio plays the role well, but an explanation must have been lost in translation. Why the change of heart?
A few weeks ago, Del Rio gave an impassioned speech on how he’s changed. He told us his new views on things and that his old way of thinking was wrong. It was a nice speech, and really sold you on how he feels now as opposed to before, but again, didn’t explain how he came to this new philosophy. Did he have an epiphany? Did he suffer a traumatic life changing experience? Did the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future visit him during the holidays? Any of these explanations would be better than the one we were given, because we weren’t given one (P.S. WWE, having the superstar come out and explain his new philosophy doesn’t really explain anything).
In the back of my mind, I still don’t “trust” babyface Del Rio because his turn was so emotionally hollow. It all seems like a big trick because it happened so fast. It would be tantamount to The Joker suddenly saving Batman and claiming that he was now a hero. You just wouldn’t trust it because you have no context for why it happened. It’s such a simple problem that the WWE easily could have avoided, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that they have no interest in the most basic, logical and emotional storytelling.
I would have had Del Rio lose all his wealth, which means his cars and employees would all go, except for Ricardo who stays on for free to help his boss whom he’s grown to care for. Alberto goes on feeling sorry for himself and basically stops trying because his wealth was the source of his bravado and brash behavior. Without it, he feels like he is worthless. He becomes an everyman, and comes to understand that they aren’t just peasants and leeches. He comes to really care about Ricardo, which he’ll prove by asking him to please find another job, one that pays, because he can’t be responsible for Ricardo ruining his life.
Ricardo would have become Big Show’s Personal Ring Announcer, and Big Show would be abusive and altogether evil to his new underling, which would enrage Del Rio, who would eventually stick up for and save Ricardo, telling hi afterward that he needs him back, not as his personal ting announcer, but as his amigo. He would then challenge Show for the title and win it, rising from the ashes of everything he lost. That kind of emotional narrative facilitates change a viewer can believe in and change that emotionally resonates, not to mention you get weeks of compelling TV out of it.
The problem is that neither of these characters have arcs. They simply float around until somebody pushes them in a different direction. There has simply been no attention paid to detail, to character motivation or conflict, or to basic story structure. These characters both changed for changes sake and one is working as far as response because he was successful following the turn. I get that it’s a results oriented business, but I am in the business of analyzing both character and story. Neither turn was rooted in story, nor did either turn explain the change in the character even minimally. Therefore objectively both turns get a failing grade from me. But again, what do I know? I’m sure just waking up and deciding to be good for no reason at all resonates emotionally too.
There you have it, but what do you think? Am I being too harsh? Have both turns been failures on a storytelling level? How would you have responded had their turns been how I described in this piece? How would you have transitioned them to babyfaces?
Until next time folks, I’m Matty J. Douglas saying congrats to Toronto’s second Slam Dunk Champion, Terrence Ross. I like our young and very athletic core. Have a great week everybody!