On the Subject of Daniel Bryan’s Heel Turn
This past Monday we witnessed Daniel Bryan’s initiation into The Wyatt Family after he lamented the corporate machine holding him down despite audiences’ widespread adoration for the bearded technician. I’m sure a lot of people reacted to this with snide remarks of, “Oh, I bet Trips came up with this because he was upset over fans cheering for Daniel Bryan over the main event segment a couple weeks ago,” which, admittedly, I did. Several times, in fact. Loudly. And in public places.
First let me say that I do share in the frustration toward the WWE for not putting their full support behind a guy who gets arguably the best face reactions in the company and, just by how often I see his shirts in audience, probably is a solid merchandise seller. However, I don’t think the turn, if a turn there is outright, will be so decisive as changing his gimmick to match The Wyatt Family, partly because Daniel Bryan is already an established character. So don’t expect him to don a fedora or pull on a jumpsuit just yet.
It was also noticeable that although he lamented that the fan’s support wasn’t enough to win him much favor with administrative, he didn’t outright blame or otherwise deride the fans. That simply could be because the WWE wants to take the slow burn approach to his turn like they’ve favored for so many other turns in recent memory, such as CM Punk’s 2012 heel turn. However, I also think it could be that the goal might not be to turn Daniel Bryan at all, but rather give him a program in which he’s subservient to Bray Wyatt while still wrestling with some of the moral choices that association entails.
Think Shawn Michaels’ program with JBL, forgettable as it was firstly because it was meh, but more because it was promptly overshadowed by the buildup to HBK’s first WrestleMania encounter with The Undertaker. Throughout the storyline, Shawn Michaels entered an employment contract with JBL, who then proceeded to abuse the relationship in an attempt to reach his own nefarious ends. However, even though Michaels was assisting a heel, he wasn’t considered a heel himself any more than The Big Show was when Triple H frequently forced him to KO other Superstars.
Daniel Bryan’s relationship with Bray Wyatt diverges from these other programs, however, because the choice was made by his own volition rather than necessity or manipulation. Bryan’s choice was at least made from a sympathetic place though, as it should be clear to anyone how he’s been held down both in kayfabe (his program with The Authority and Randy Orton) and, according to some rumors, by backstage politics. This sympathy could be used to craft a story where even though he wants the direction and advantages a partnership with The Wyatt Family could offer, he still struggles to fully commit to their ways, struggles to fully cross that threshold between face and heel. In essence, Bryan could operate more as a tweener throughout this program, with the final resolution returning him to facedom after facing down some of the emotional turmoil that prompted the turn in the first place.
Some might say I’m giving the WWE too much credit to assume they could plan a story with this much complexity (and I’m sure I share everyone’s bafflement over some of the company's creative decisions), but I thought his program with Kane and then Randy Orton where he was grappling with the belief that everyone doubted him showed the WWE could plan a story around a guy who’s in a moral grey area, neither decisively heel nor face, and ultimately use the struggle to solidify his status as either one or the other. We've seen before that Daniel Bryan is a character of insecurity, one who occasionally succumbs to personal struggles, but can overcome them to arrive at a better place. He's not Cena who can play off anything with a wiener joke or, at worst, an angry face followed by a brawl.
In any case, I definitely don’t think it’s in Bryan’s or the company’s long-term interests for him to be heel for long, nor even possible considering the WWE’s previous failed attempts at turning certain faces (like Steve Austin) who were then promptly turned back due to audience demand. This could just be something to tide both him and Bray Wyatt over until they start building a different feud for him going into WrestleMania, while still accomplishing a few goals: for one, it gives Bryan the chance to tackle and, as I’ve discussed, possibly overcome an emotional conflict that we have every reason to believe his character would in fact be suffering; and it also legitimizes Bray Wyatt as a cult leader. Many of his promos have indicated that he wants to turn people toward his beliefs, so it makes sense that he would do just that eventually, and it certainly adds credibility to that claim and legitimacy to his stable to ensnare such a high-profile name.
For now, I’m confident this program will be something to keep your eye on. I’m not certain which direction it will go, but like I mentioned earlier, Daniel Bryan’s too much of an established character to be completely immersed in Wyatt Family gimmicking. I sincerely doubt he’ll be a fully realized Wyatt Family member like Harper or Rowan in manner or appearance. Although I wouldn’t mind if he broke out that badass olive drab, red and black gear with the anarchist-style ‘DB’ logo from Money in the Bank 2012. Although not perfectly matching Wyatt aesthetic, that get-up was pretty darn rad.
Nicholas LeVack is a double major in English creative writing and journalism whose interests include writing, wrestling, video games and occasional outdoorsy things. You can follow him on Twitter, email him at email@example.com and take part in his first venture into video game journalism at doublejump.co.