For the third Sunday afternoon in a row, the entertainment highlight of the weekend has dropped in our laps by way of the gift that keeps on giving to us wrestling fans, ‘The Last Ride’.
Truth be told, this episode is quite comfortably the weakest of the three.
Maybe it’s the insanely high standards, maybe it’s familiarity of maybe it’s because we know where this one is going, but whatever it is, this doesn’t quite hit home in the same way as the first two episodes.
This is not a kind 46 minutes to The Undertaker in any way. The programme starts and ends on a pair of professional disappointments and doesn’t stray from that massively during the interim period.
As was hinted in last week’s closing moments, The Undertaker starts this episode in the immediate aftermath of his WrestleMania 34 match against John Cena in an understandably frustrated mood.
Given that the match between these two era-transcending stars is given only three minutes and no official build up was baffling to us fans then and it clearly was to Mark Calaway also.
As has become a narrative thread in this series, Taker spends the time after this match seeking redemption – only this time, it doesn’t really manifest itself.
One highlight is what Calaway believes is his final match at the home of the WWE mythology, Madison Square Garden.
Whilst a six man tag team match with Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman as his partners was clearly fun and fulfilling for Taker, the sight of the whole exterior of the arena bathed in purple light in his honour clearly moved him and was a sight to behold for fans.
From there, we move towards the true narrative juice of the episode, his matches with HHH and Shawn Michaels at showpiece international events.
A recap of their WrestleMania odyssey spanning four editions of ‘The Show Of Shows’ gives us an insight into the part of his career ‘Taker believes to be his personal pinnacle. As a viewer, however, we know how this story ends and it is not pretty.
The match with HHH in Melbourne, Australia at the Super Showdown event in October 2018 seemed like another day at the office for both guys in order to get to the real endgame: The Brothers Of Destruction, Undertaker and Kane facing off with HHH and Shawn Michaels, D-Generation X. A match that would see Shawn Michaels finally break his seemingly unbreakable retirement.
To put it mildly, it was an abomination, as all involved are at pains to admit here. Injuries, wardrobe malfunctions, timing issues, this had it all. Farce would have been too kind a word and it wounds all involved.
We leave this episode here feeling desperately sorry for The Undertaker. He hints at his mind being elsewhere due to ongoing personal issues and you just know this car crash will once again mean he needs to prove himself.
You truly start to get the sense that Calaway is a man that just can’t get out of his own way. At this stage of his career, with years of physical toll on his body, he is equally likely to have a memorable match as he is to have a dreadful one.
Clearly neither situation leaves him able to get the feeling of closure. A great match sees him wanting more. A poor one sees him NEEDING more as he strives to ensure he gets his ‘John Elway ending’ and goes out in glory rather than ignominy.
As this episode ends, we know, as well as he, that another big match is going to be needed for him to reassert his greatness and go out in a blaze of praise and glory.
Which is fine. Except ‘Who’s next?’…
So whilst this episode wasn’t amazing, it does leave us on tenterhooks going into a three week break before chapter 4 arrives on June 14th. Let’s end this review with a couple of random observations from the show:
- Seeing Taker interact with his young daughter was surreal. It humanised him still further in a way we could never have imagined. it was even funnier that she was ticked off he had beaten her favourite, John Cena!
- A small but potentially important snippet saw Calaway musing about how the Undertaker iconography (Caskets, urns, erm, crucifix like symbols) is accepted in different cultures. In other religions and nations, how does this go down with the fans there? We don’t get an answer and are left to assume that if there are any issues, The Undertaker’s popularity transcends them. It’s still an interesting thing to muse on.
- It seems Hornswoggle, Tony Chimel and The Big Show are considered bad luck by Calaway if they appeared in the room during his backstage card games, to the point he would eject them. Imagine that scene!
- Hands down the comedy highlight of the episode was an outtake of ‘Taker & Kane filming a vignette for their match against DX. When Kane sets his ‘brother’ up by growling “You said you had three words for us, are you ready. Well, we have three words for you…”, Taker’s response is not quite what those filming might have expected. We won’t ruin it.
‘The Last Ride’ Chapters 1-3 are available now on the WWE Network.