After years of teasing and tepid attempts, the Sasha Banks/Bayley storyline we have all been hoping for is here, and it is by far the best slow burn plot on the main card right now. There is a predictable outcome to all of it, with Bayley and Sasha feuding and at each other’s throats, yet WWE has been taking their time with it. It has been extremely captivating despite (or even because of) the slow nature of the plot.
The slow burn nature of the plot can be a turn off for some — a slow methodical plot with a reasonably predictable ending can become grating or boring. However, neither the length of the plot nor the predictability of its ultimate outcome are inherently weaknesses. We, as people, often enjoy rewatching things or watching something for the first time even if we know the ending. UC San Diego actually conducted a study demonstrating this.
The important thing is that we have interesting plot beats and/or characters along the way. Something that keeps people riveted — it’s about the journey, not the destination. This can become an issue with plots, especially in WWE; certain plots and feuds dragging along. Long back burner storylines are great, but that must be kept interesting. You can’t simply repeat the same angle again and again. And this is where the Sasha/Bayley plot has shined.
First a quick review of the plot: Banks first came back after a hiatus in March. Already you can see a slip up as Sasha gets the win but accidentally knocks Bayley when shoving Naomi into the post. Bayley retrieves her belt with some obvious frustration. A perfect small seed for the start of the plot.
Later that month we have Paige making the match for WrestleMania together with Banks in it. So the first real angle we see their friendship being tested in is one where Sasha is not directly competing against Bayley — in fact, at WrestleMania, we see the two working together until Bayley accidentally hits Sasha, followed by Evans quickly pinning Banks.
We’ve seen Bayley refusing to help out Banks before, allowing Sasha to do the dirty work and not defending her. But now Bayley is purely using Sasha as someone to hide behind. Insisting that Tamina doesn’t get a title shot until she beats Banks. Sasha’s stare of disbelief is perfect. Bayley continues to accidentally mess up Sasha’s matches in typical wrestling fashion.
Later in May, Charlotte comes in and tries to get between Sasha and Bayley by just coming out and saying what everyone is thinking: why isn’t Sasha a champion? And why does Bayley think she’s so great when the only reason she has the title is because of Sasha? Sasha feels insecure and asks Bayley to sit out of her next match, further adding one more bit of tension to their friendship.
Perhaps worried about Sasha’s need for a belt, Bayley has them go after the tag titles. However, Bayley now has two titles, which Sasha can’t seem to shake. Instead of going after Bayley, though, Sasha looks toward another title. She’s currently hoping to beat Asuka at Extreme Rules on Sunday.
Most plots in wrestling are simply an escalation of a single thing. Samoa Joe going after AJ Styles’ family was simply Joe finding new ways to be threatening. Dolph Ziggler spent his feud with Kofi regularly yelling “it should have been me”. The plots are usually fairly one dimensional. One angle is beaten into the ground again and again. The rising tension (if you can call it that) is often just a combination of promos or two mixed with a tag match or a match which ends with no decisive winner.
Furthermore, in a fair amount of wrestling plots, the action is driven in large part by the heel. The inciting incident is often the heel deciding they want to attack someone and then the driving plot element is mostly the heel attacking people backstage, saying mean things to someone, or interfering with matches. The face is usually simply reacting to these events.
In the Sasha/Bayley plot, however, we see both characters pushing forward the plot. There has been obvious tension between the two so Charlotte took advantage of that. It then prompts Bayley to push Sasha away more. Realizing this may have been a bad move, the two go after the tag titles. Sasha, wanting to be like her friend, looks for another title she can hold. Both main characters are agents of change in the plot.
There have been two tense moments which the plot builds up to and then takes a step back from. In the possible altercation at the end of the WrestleMania match and Sasha’s announcement of who she is challenging at Extreme Rules, both instances walk up to the brink and then divert. It doesn’t just walk back from the edge, but introduces a new plot point.
The WrestleMania match evolved into a feud between the friends and Lacey Evans. The challenge diverted to Sasha’s quest for a belt that wasn’t Bayley’s. Every time we walk up to the cliff we make sure that we don’t just step back, but also make sure the story leads into its next chapter. This is essential when doing longer slower plots. It’s not necessarily a cliffhanger, but it does ensure the plot never feels idle or dead in the water.
Finally, while the writing for the Sasha/Bayley plot has been amazing, let’s not forget the most important part, Bayley and Sasha themselves. They are both amazing in the ring and on the mic. Both of them are great at those subtle facial expressions showing anger, frustration, jealousy, and it all adds so much to the tension building up around their friendship.
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