One of my mentors, Roger Ebert, once drew criticism in 2008 for writing an entire review about a film he saw about eight minutes of. The film, Tru Loved, was an indie drama about a girl who moves to suburbia with her lesbian parents, and Ebert, having watched and reviewed thousands of films, many of which probably warranted leaving the theater, absolutely savaged it. It wasn’t fair, so he wrote a second, one star review of the film accompanied by the original, as well as an essay about the process by which his review was approved for publication in the first place. It’s a fascinating read if you’re into the dorkier aspects of media journalism and criticism, but it’s stuck with me for 12 years not because of the controversy, which is now in the distant past, but because of a quote he drops in the first paragraph, from critic Robert Warshow. It goes as follows:
“A man goes to the movies. The critic must be honest enough to admit that he is a man.”
In a broad sense, what the quote has meant to me over the course of some 14 years spent writing and engaging with culture as a critic, poet, and performer is this: I am not above anybody else watching what I’m watching, and the thoughts, feelings, experiences, and emotions of the day follow me into the block of time I set aside to watch and evaluate wrestling. I feel like I don’t have to say this—my tastes are obvious, and I approach this sport, this art form, from the perspective of a transgender woman, an activist, and a dozen other adjectives that are as important to me as the one that’s allowing me to write these words right now. So, a woman goes to the matches. The critic must be honest enough to admit that she is a woman.
There could not be a worse time to run a wrestling show than November 4, the day after ballots were cast in the most consequential consequential election in recent United States history, if not the history of the nation as a whole. The abyss we’re circling, the glimmers of hope we’re clinging to, the uncertainty of what happens when the election is finally called—I did not want to watch this week’s episode of AEW Dynamite. I could have gone my whole life without knowing the outcome of Cody Rhodes and the Gunn Club against Dark Order, missed out on Kingston and Moxley continuing to build to their I Quit match without regret, and, given his whole “I’m not a political person” tweet about the elections not being decided (and his donation to the Trump candidacy), been quite happy to skip an evening of “Judas” and Chris Jericho’s voice.
I won’t quote Anton Ego from Ratatouille about the critic’s job being an easy one—it’s not. You have to be smart about things that are better enjoyed casually, you have to be willing to make mistakes in public, and you have to accept that there will often be consequences for whatever it is you have to say. But you also have to admit when you’re not in the mood for something, especially when the very idea of it negatively affects your mood. I’m not saying any of this because I only watched eight minutes of Dynamite—I watched the whole thing. But it’s okay, I think, to admit to not being the right person for the job sometimes, or to say that your feelings about an arena beyond the one you’re covering may permeate the whole piece, when work like this feels more like obligation than pleasure. Still, the thing is made, and it is the last show AEW’s got before their last PPV of the year, which will presumably layout a path, however tenuous, through the next few months. So let’s get to the show and see how it panned out.
Promo: Before we hit the ring, special guest commentator Chris Jericho wants to congratulate his pal, undefeated MMA legend Jake Hager, on wining his fight over the weekend. He’s interrupted by MJF, who notes the tension between the two of them during last week’s town hall, but he’s glad Jericho will be calling his match so that he can see what Max has to offer the Inner Circle. Jericho says that he thinks MJF is soft, and Max goes “JUST WATCH.”
MJF & Wardlow def. Sammy Guevara & Ortiz
Part of being taken out of the flow of a wrestling show by current events is noticing when someone says something as bullheaded as “there will be close to 1,000 fans in attendance, which is all legal.” As if legality is the issue with having people at a wrestling show/with having a wrestling show. Lots of crowd cutaways during the “Judas” chorus revealed fans wearing masks below their nose or pulling them off entirely to sing along, so pardon me if I doubt very much that having 1,000 people in any space for anything in this country is a good idea. THAT SAID, neither Sammy nor Ortiz want MJF in the Inner Circle, and Max kind of proves Jericho’s point about his softness early on, relying on Wardlow to do the damage before coming in to pick the bones. The centerpiece of this match is the confrontation between MJF and Guevara, two guys anointed as the future of the company very early in AEW history, and while Guevara is frequently a spectacular wrestler, I’m a lot colder on him now than I used to be. The other story here is how much work Wardlow is doing on MJF’s behalf, as he pretty much dominates the bulk of the match. Matt Hardy, disguised as Serpentico, throws a chair at Sammy, allowing MJF to pick off Ortiz with the Salt of the Earth. After the match, while celebrating, MJF charged Jericho, tackling him over the commentary desk to prove that he is as crazy as Jericho says he needs to be in order to win.
Grade: Fine, but outside of how both wrestlers have vaguely similar characters, nothing about this angle has really justified why MJF wants to be in the Inner Circle, or why Jericho would want him in. This did nothing to address that.
Promo: Kenny Omega and Tony Schiavone are pre-taped from an AirBnB in Jacksonville, where Kenny says that he’s been sporting throughout the Eliminator tournament, fighting replacements when in any other sport he’d be given a bye. He doesn’t think it was obvious that Page was going to be his opponent, points out that he’s won every major tournament he’s ever been in, and asks Tony who he’d put his money on. When Tony says Kenny, he puts the same question to the crowd, saying he’s destined to win the tournament and the title. Good promo—Omega honestly has not been this engaging to me since he initially joined the Bullet Club, and while he’s leaning into that a little, this feels like a genuinely new direction for his character, which is nice to see from one of AEW’s EVPs.
Miro def. Trent
I don’t understand the whole professional gamer aspect of Miro’s character, but in the ring at least it seems that AEW gets what made him a special talent where WWE did not. He’s a big, mobile guy who is acutely aware of his size, and this was a showcase of that. This wasn’t a squash—Trent got a lot of offense in, one of the underlying things here being his attempt to pull off a tornado DDT—but this was a statement that Miro will be a player in AEW, virtually wherever he likes. This being the go home show for Full Gear, a lot of ancillary stuff happened to further various issues, including the Dark Order attacking Orange Cassidy. It’s cool, I guess, given that John Silver and Cassidy are wrestling at the show, but it’s also one of those things where AEW kind of gets lost in the lights sometimes, realizes they’ve got two hours left to build a PPV with, and books every match to end like the end of an episode of WCW Monday Nitro.
Grade: Not as immediately good as the Best Friends/Santana & Ortiz angle, but this is about an arcade machine and not someone’s mom. Now that Trent’s mom is coming up? Miro’s gonna end up under the wheels of Sue’s van.
Promo: Hangman Adam Page and Jim Ross are pre-taped from a hotel bar that looks like it would have been a fun place to do cocaine during the disco era. Page says that he feels great, very confident about his match with Omega, but Ross notes that Page is drinking, says that he’s lying, and asks if he’s nervous. Hangman admits that he is, his voice even cracking a bit. He says that he’s probably the only person willing to admit to that nervousness, and that it stems from him being the only person who believed he could win the AEW Championship and everybody else being right. If he loses, all he’s got is his glass of whiskey. One more for the most relatable man in pro wrestling.
Video Packages: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that AEW continues to do its usual great job of putting together video packages that hype up the biggest matches on their PPV cards. This show featured two, one for the Young Bucks vs. FTR, and another for Omega vs. Page. The Bucks/FTR one had a ton of experts weighing in on the match. The Omega/Page one featured Cinderella’s “Don’t Know What You Got Til’ It’s Gone,” like a late-00s wrestler MV on YouTube. Choice stuff, even if I’m really only looking forward to one of the two matches.
Promo: Taz is still waiting on Will Hobbs, but he’s out here to talk about what he spent three hours of his Wednesday doing. Watching election results? Nah. He stood outside Tony Khan’s office for three hours, only to be informed by a PA that AEW’s owner was only meeting with talent booked for Full Gear. Which leads him to his question: Why isn’t Team Taz booked for Full Gear? Both of his men have great records, both of them are ready, and neither of them get how their records are so good when their opportunities are so scant. There will be a Team Taz presence at Full Gear.
The Young Bucks def. Private Party
By now, everybody knows that Matt Jackson is reportedly wrestling with a legitimately hurt leg, which is why FTR have focused their attack on it. The Bucks have worked through injury before and have adjusted fine, but I frankly do not envy them the task of wrestling a match they’ve hyped and built for literal years. With Matt’s MCL partially torn and ACL thinned, there’s almost no way this will be the dream match that fans of the two have been anticipating, which was obvious when they started working an injury angle into the storyline a few weeks ago. So here, against Private Party, you have what you expect: A reliably good match between two good teams, the younger of which has upset the other in the past, where the story is whether or not it’s smart for Matt to be wrestling at all. It is not, obviously, as Matt’s the weak link throughout, hurting his legs on dives, allowing Private Party to capitalize at a couple of points on his inability to plant one leg, and so on. They finish the match with the BTE Trigger, which makes storyline sense since FTR is going after the ankle/tibia/fibula, but probably isn’t great for the legitimately injured knee. After the match, FTR and Tully come down to hurt Matt some more, Tully in his Sketchers wielding a chair. They’re warded off by Hangman Page, who is shortly joined thereafter by Kenny Omega. Dueling staredowns! The Omega/Page one is more captivating, as Page has an empty glass and it’s worth wondering if he’s gonna smash it over Omega’s head. He doesn’t, though, as he’s a good person.
Jon Moxley and Eddie Kingston, Face to Face
Eddie Kingston is a poet. He can take phrases like “You think this is a game?” and “This is real” and make them burn. He promises that he’s going to take Mox’s title, and that it’s not just about having the championship. When he’s the champ, he’ll take the AEW Championship to his mother, give it to her, and explain that it’s the reason why she doesn’t have grandchildren or a daughter-in-law. In the face of that, Mox cuts maybe the best promo of his AEW career. He goes into his thing about how he was happy for Kingston when he signed, and when King says that he doesn’t care about that, Mox goes into their history, including the fact that he’s been to Kingston’s house, said grace with his mother. That’s … man. Ah. Once you go “I’ve prayed with your mother, that’s how close I was to you,” I want two solid hours of that drama. King has to turn away to keep himself from getting violent, but Mox continues to lay into him, saying that he made a promise to his mother that he’ll be unable to keep and that he’ll find out that he’s not the man he thinks he is. Utterly fantastic stuff. Like, legitimately great, pull you out of a funk and draw you to the screen stuff from both men who are, I hope, about to have the kind of match that promos like the ones they’ve done promise to deliver, as it’s legitimately difficult to build anticipation for a wrestling match in 2020 and they went out and did it.
Promo: When King got his friends together to form a new stable, he asked Fenix and Penta where their little English friend was. The answer? Seven months in isolation with nobody to talk to, getting ripped and spooky like Pac does. Fancy filmwork that shows Pac alone in his apartment, accompanied by various versions of himself, lonely trees, training. Everything everybody promised to do during quarantine but did not. Maybe he wrote his King Lear, too. He’ll be back soon.
Promo: The Natural Nightmares are set to face Butcher and the Blade next week. Bunny appears, telling QT that his credit cards are maxed out, and her men assault QT and Dustin.
Nyla Rose def. Red Velvet
Incase you forgot who Nyla Rose is, she’s here to crush Red Velvet ahead of her match against Hikaru Shida at Full Gear. Velvet, who has been impressive on Dark and is presumably a track jacket away from joining the Nightmare Family, gets to show off a little, but she gets caught on a top rope rana, eats the Beast Bomb, then eats Shida’s finish for good measure, and that’s it. After the match, Vickie Guerrero insults Velvet and Brandi a little, then gives Shida, sitting ringside, what for. Shida grabs Vickie by the throat, Rose rescues her manager, the two brawl a little, and that’s it, y’all. That’s your build.
Grade: I’ve said this a thousand times, but seven minute squash segments on Dynamite is not how the women’s division is going to get over as a television product. This is the most consistently disappointing aspect of AEW’s game, and I say that as someone who genuinely, earnestly likes the roster and appreciates the potential it represents. It’s just frustrating that this is the plan for it.
Video Package: Darby Allin is here with another extreme stunt, this time dressing up like Cody so that he can get hit by a car that’s painted to look like Darby that has the words “The Face of TNT” airbrushed on it. As much as I love airbrushing, I’m not really into this aspect of Darby’s character anymore, especially since it rarely goes anywhere.
Cody Rhodes & The Gunn Club def. John Silver, 10, & Colt Cabana
This type of main event suggests that AEW knew what they were up against last night. Like, no shade on anybody, but stacked up against all of AEW Dynamite’s main events, this one offered the least on paper, and, given the time remaining on the clock when it went on, wasn’t meant to be anything special. Mr. Ass and “Please, my dad’s name is Mr. Ass, call me” Austin Gunn are the newest members of the Nightmare Family, which is one of the most strangely assembled stables in wrestling history, one third executives, one third wrestling school, and one third road agent. Mr. Ass continues to demonstrate just how tall and muscular the WWE was during its late 1990s peak, being taller and more muscular than most everybody on the roster, catching Colt Cabana on a Flying Apple and transitioning into a back suplex. This is fine, guys. Darby Allin is sitting by himself in the crowd like Sting were he denied the rafters necessary to be a sad rafter clown. All three members of the Dark Order and Austin Gunn get some shine, though I don’t think pinning 10 is nearly the boon to his career that commentary did. The Dark Order come out to run a distraction while John Silver sneaks up behind everybody with a chair, Orange Cassidy appears to avenge the attack earlier and wipes him out with a superkick, and the day is saved.
Grade: Always love an excuse to type the words “Mr. Ass.”
Promo: After the match, Cody says that he doesn’t like it when people tell stories that aren’t true, and asks Darby Allin to stop lying. TNT would, in fact, love to have him as the face of the network, and if Cody weren’t the champ himself, he’d love to see it too. That’s why Cody recruited him. That’s why he gave him a showcase. The TNT Championship is the ace’s belt, which is disputable. Darby wants the ace’s belt? That’s too bad, he’s not the ace. Cody Rhodes: 1/100. See y’all at Full Gear.