I’m going to cut right to the chase today: I hated “Monday Night Raw” this week. Hated it, hated it, hated it. While the entire show had issues, there was one segment that absolutely killed my interest in the rest of the night and also may have ruined a character in the span of about fifteen minutes. Today we’re going to look at basic character development and see why it isn’t something you can throw together overnight.
In any form of entertainment, it’s critical that you understand how your characters work. It’s true that you can take your characters and stories in any direction you want, but those stories and directions have to line up with what how your characters have been created. This is where “Monday Night Raw” started (but certainly didn’t finish) falling apart for me.
Let’s take a broader look at this before we get into specifics. Characters in wrestling, or almost anything for that matter, have to go along with how they’ve been established. If you spend time setting up a character, you can’t just run off in the other direction with that character and expect the new story to work without question. Now that’s not to say you can’t change a character, but having it happen overnight can be very jarring.
For example, let’s look at an easy one: Steve Austin. In a word, Austin was a rebel. He fought against authority every chance he could and waged war against Vince McMahon when McMahon tried to get him to conform, setting off one of the hottest feuds in history. You had two characters whose motivations could easily be explained and there was a natural issue between them.
Therefore, it would be a bit jarring if Austin became an English aristocrat and McMahon moved to Alaska to be a deep sea fisherman wouldn’t it? Those are complete departures from their established characters and they just wouldn’t work. When you have characters with established stories and motivations, you can’t just change the whole thing on a whim.
For an example of this actually happening, look at John Bradshaw Layfield. Layfield was introduced to the WWF as Justin Hawk Bradshaw, a pretty generic evil cowboy. This evolved into just Bradshaw, a big, tough Texan, which evolved into half of the Acolytes with Faarooq. Yes the character changed pretty drastically, but it moved from point to point and the transitions made sense without jumping to a completely new character. There were enough similarities to make each new version work.
Then one day Bradshaw was a Wall Street tycoon who was a self made millionaire and basically McMahon in a cowboy hat. Yeah, during all those years that he spent as a cowboy and a bar fighter, he was also putting together one heck of a stock portfolio and making a fortune, which he just never happened to mention whatsoever. This was the kind of jump that made it almost impossible to accept because it was too far of a stretch to accept.
That brings us back to this week’s “Monday Night Raw.” Over the last few weeks, Rusev and Lana have gone from fine to having issues to Lana leaving Rusev for Dolph Ziggler. Now this isn’t the worst story development in the world. It’s not unreasonable for a beautiful woman to leave a brute (WWE’s term) who blamed her for all his failures for someone who she finds attractive and hasn’t treated her so badly.
On the other hand, Rusev going from the monster that made John Cena pass out and was destroying every challenger that ever came his way for nearly a year to crying over Lana leaving him and literally begging her to come back did not work. It went completely against his character and didn’t fit the story established for him. In a word, it was a massive jump in the wrong direction.
Rusev has never shown the slightest emotion outside of anger. He has been stoic and violent in all of his matches, only responding when Lana told him it was time to CRUSH. Now it’s clear that the two of them have a connection and that Rusev listens to her. It’s believable that the two of them had a relationship over the years (ignoring that when Lana debuted in NXT, she seemed to not be familiar with Rusev), but to hear Rusev talk of the dreams they had in Bulgaria and ask to hold her hand was WAY too far. I was expecting him to hold up a boom box playing “In Your Eyes”.
This is part of a larger problem. As I said earlier, you can’t make your characters into something they’re not. To go along with that, you have to understand how your characters work. Look at someone like Cena. There are multiple ways to describe him and he’s not the easiest character to define. He believes in hard work and is fiercely loyal to his internal code, loves the United States, does a lot of charity work for kids and is able to hang in a fight with anyone.
The closest you can get to a general description of Cena is good guy, which is a very broad definition. Cena is the kind of character that can be taken in multiple directions because there are a ton of facets to him. That leaves the door open for a lot of potential development, meaning he can be used in a variety of stories without making a jump from one to another.
However, not all characters are as versatile as Cena. This brings us back to Rusev, who is a far simpler character. He’s a monster, a brute, a trained fighter and someone who exists to bring glory to his home country. That’s really about it for him and he’s been a success since his debut. Once he finally lost and had his undefeated streak snapped, it was clear that things were going to change for him, but it should have been easy to build him back up into a very usable character.
Instead, WWE decided to try to develop him in a way that did not work. While I like the idea of trying to make a character more interesting, this isn’t something you can do in the span of a few weeks. Cena’s character works so well because WWE has spent years establishing the details that allow the character to work. Cena is also a much more humanized character, which is what WWE seems to want to make Rusev.
That’s where the idea falls apart. Rusev shouldn’t be made into a more humanized character because he isn’t meant to be a more humanized character. His role is to be a monster that is built up for a time, only to be defeated by a hero somewhere down the line. Repeat this process over and over until it stops being effective. That’s about the extent of what Rusev should be because it’s how his character is best suited. There is always room to tweak things a bit, but you can’t just jump forward with him almost overnight without running the risk of wasting all the time already put into him.
What it all boils down to is very simple: not all characters are created equally and you can’t treat them all the same. If you try to change a character into something they’re not, the move isn’t going to work. Trying to make Rusev into someone with a broken heart because his verbally abused girlfriend is leaving him goes against everything established about him and is a move that is going to hurt him far more than a loss to Cena. It undercuts his entire character and is a flat out stupid move. Let the characters be what they are instead of trying to change them into whatever you want them to be. It doesn’t work that way.
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