One problem with wrestling is the desire to do hot takes on plots which haven’t completely finished, and I admit, I’m as guilty as the next person. But this week, I want to be a bit more prudent and look at a plot which has actually reached its conclusion. I want to take a moment to look back on Becky Lynch’s attempted heel turn in 2018 and see what we can learn from it.
To understand why Becky’s heel turn didn’t work, we need to quickly look back on her career on the main roster. Leading up to the heel turn in 2018, Becky showed herself time and time again to be tough, dedicated, and driven. She also proved herself to be hardworking, loyal and frustrated with cheaters. It also seemed like at times Becky was being screwed over, not just in kayfabe, but by creative as well.
Take for example Money in the Bank 2017, Where Becky had her hand on the briefcase in the first-ever women’s Money in the Bank ladder match, before James Ellsworth interfered, knocking her over and grabbing the briefcase for Carmella. On the following episode of SmackDown, Becky cut a promo spelling out exactly who she was, that she worked so hard and was always undercut by people weaseling in. It was true in kayfabe as well as what appeared to fans as a complete cheap ending. The next week they redid the match with Carmella winning again, which just seemed like a “why even bother” moment.
She was, as all faces usually are, at the receiving end of multiple betrayals and cheap shots screwing her out of titles, from Charlotte betraying her in early 2016 to Ric Flair cheating and stopping her from winning the title match which followed; from the aforementioned Ellsworth incident to Mickie James interfering.
This is all underscored by the fact that Becky is amazing on the mic and her fun, bubbly personality never went too far to become annoying. And she could cut promos that were about how she worked hard and was truly earnest about earning that championship. Yes, this is the usual promo that most people cut but dammit, Becky’s mic skills made everyone believe it. Her promos don’t just sound like filler that creative had copy pasted from elsewhere, even though they easily could have.
All this lead up to Becky’s heel turn at SummerSlam, where Charlotte was able to find herself a way into Becky’s title match, making it a triple threat, and won. Becky backstabbed her and came out the next SmackDown to cut a promo where she essentially laid out what we had been watching for years. That she had earned this, she deserved this, and that this was her time. She was going to take what she deserved. Having watched her for years and seen all the injustice against her, the crowd exploded. And how could they not? If it hadn’t been for the parts where she insulted the crowd, it would have been hard to tell if this was supposed to be a heel turn.
This is where WWE’s creative’s problem was. They, for the most part, see wrestlers in black and white; heel and face. So if someone is saying something selfish, that must mean they are heel, right? Yes, creative saw Becky’s past as a reason for her hitting Charlotte with a chair, but instead of this being just another layer thrown on the character that was Becky, they just declared “Becky bad now” with the traditional “insult the crowd” shtick.
This is not to say that WWE cannot write tweeners (although the list of legitimate tweeners throughout WWE history is small) but WWE seemingly doesn’t understand how character progression works. They see character change as simply going from one moral extreme to the other. Sure, that change can come about through character traits and a wrestler’s past as we saw with Becky. They did a good job figuring out why Becky would betray Charlotte. But they didn’t do a good job with what that would mean for Becky’s character as a whole, insisting that she was a bad guy now because they couldn’t see past that black and white view.
Even with someone like Bayley (which to give credit where it is due, had a well executed plot), she went from one extreme to another. She had a brief tweener period but it was simply a pit stop on the way to going full heel. It was a fun heel turn but still, it was a full heel turn. Why didn’t WWE just leave Bayley at the “aggressively insistent she is a role model” character for a while? Why did they push the heel turn so quickly afterwards, or even at all? Creative lives in a morally black and white world.
And this is why I think Becky’s “heel turn” can teach us something. Perhaps we as an audience, and more importantly creative, shouldn’t focus on face and heel turns. Creative should not solely obsess about faces and heels. They should also look to layer on character traits and slowly tweak those character traits, letting the fans decide who they want to boo and cheer. Granted, there are challenges within this framework of character writing within wrestling; however, the simplicity of the morality of WWE wrestlers is a problem in and of itself, leading to bland faces and boring heels. Becky has proved that additional approaches to character writing need to be present even if they bring with them some additional challenges.
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