Back in late August, Kevin Owens won the WWE Universal Championship. In spite of the aimless, amnesiac nature of Raw’s storytelling over the past few months, readers might recall that Owens had a little help from Triple H in achieving that accolade.
In a four-man elimination match, Roman Reigns was laid out by the returning “Cerebral Assassin.” No surprise there. Then, in a shock twist, he also laid out his longtime bosom buddy and chosen one Seth Rollins, leaving him unconscious, and to be covered by Keven Owens for the 1-2-3.
It was one of the most exciting cliffhangers that we’ve seen on Raw since the brand extension, and while many fans were deeply disappointed that Triple H didn’t appear to explain his actions the following week, it was a praiseworthy bit of good judgement to keep him out of the picture for a while. It led to some compelling tensions between Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley, it gave Seth Rollins carte blanche to play the betrayed chosen one, venting his frustration at having been ditched by the sociopathic authority figures who chewed him up and spat him out. It also meant that fans didn’t have to endure a return to the pre-New Era tradition of every single show revolving around The Authority, being topped and tailed by ceaseless promos, and driven by the old-hat “underdog overcoming the odds” narrative that has been pretty well done to death since 1998.
But being sparing with plot elements and completely failing to sustain them and subsequently abandoning them are two very different things. After a couple of weeks, Seth Rollins’ intense anger and the Raw authority figures has been largely forgotten, and occasionally rears its head in a brief backstage exchange.
Kevin Owens doesn’t even make much of the fact that he is the chosen one anymore.
Hell, Rollins and Owens have taken complete breaks from each other while the latter randomly decided to go after the Tag Team Championship.
Sure, Rollins gave the distraction that ended the match, but these two competitors are just in each others’ peripheral vision at this stage. There’s nothing wrong with Jericho and Owens going after the Tag Team Championship, but the whole affair was only a predictable setup for Rollins to stick his oar in, and Raw’s tag team division (hell, their whole mid-card) is floundering so much from incoherence that it is doing the talents no favors by making perfunctory appearances in the main event picture just to keep the damn thing rolling.
This whole rivalry has been like two people shouting at each other in the ring, and frantically improvising more lines of dialogue because Triple H has missed his cue to appear, but instead of missing his cue by a minute, he’s missed it by a month. With Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley now back on good speaking terms as though the whole Triple H farrago never even took place, all of the tension has been lost.
With Owens not continuing to own his privileged position as the management darling, and Rollins increasingly becoming an undeserving, repeated No. 1 contender for the WWE Universal Championship, the entire element that caused the two to be at each others’ throats has been forgotten. Indeed, much like we saw with the endless back and forth between Roman Reigns and Rusev, and The New Day and The Club, we are reaching the stage where seeing them continue their program on Raw leads us to ask why they are still fighting. Even worse, the dilution of the personal grievance that the pair have with them hasn’t been compensated for with any notion that this is supposed to be about the top championship on the Raw brand.
It’s not to say that Triple H should have returned immediately. Fans who remember how long the “who ran over Stone Cold?” storyline of 2000 went on for will remember that it was kept fresh, with just enough interplay going on backstage and in the ring to keep the underlying cause of animosities on the roster alive. That isn’t happening here; the germ of intrigue that is supposed to be holding this thing together, Triple H, is no longer a looming mystery, but a forgotten plot point.