The Entire Show
Everything on Monday's show served a purpose. It was a very focused three hours of wrestling in which everything that happened meant something, whether it be the advancement of top angles or an occurrence that directly affected the night's main event.
The sole exception being the match between Santino and Fandango, which meant nothing and existed only to get both guys on television.
WWE has always been at its best when it was focused on a specific goal and crafted a very coherent show to get there.
That was the case with this week's episode.
Main Event Angle Booking
Raw's main angle, involving Triple H and Stephanie McMahon's abuse of power and the manner in which they handled a revolting locker room, was a thing of beauty.
At the top of the show, the COO and his wife thanked the Superstars for standing up to authority last week, then questioned whether those 10 men were really fighting on behalf of Bryan. When Rob Van Dam confirmed that they were, Triple H demonstrated why he earned the nickname "the Cerebral Assassin" all those years ago.
He began planting seeds of dissension among the group of Superstars, questioning why they are fighting for Bryan when they should be fighting for the WWE title. He asked Dolph Ziggler if he is okay with Bryan getting another title shot while he watches from the sidelines again.
R-Truth was asked about the last time he had a title shot, while Zack Ryder was asked why he is not the face of WWE right now.
It was excellent foreshadowing to something that may come a little further down the line, when one of those Superstars supporting Bryan now suddenly realizes he has a lot to gain by siding with Triple H and doing what is best for him at the expense of everyone else.
From there, Triple H announced an 11-on-3 Elimination Handicap match featuring the babyfaces against The Shield. Rollins, Reigns and Ambrose seemed a bit taken aback by the announcement, while the COO advertised it as a way for the frustrated workers at the top of the stage to get revenge on the trio for weeks and months of beatings.
While it initially looked as though The Game had put his henchmen in an unfavorable position, it took only a few moments to figure out that the good guys may not have that large of an advantage after all.
Throughout of the night, Triple H booked the majority of the Superstars in other matches, making sure they were worn down, beaten, battered and bruised heading into the night's main event.
Kofi Kingston, Rob Van Dam and the Prime Time Players are all Superstars who had been beaten up prior to the handicap match and, consequently, they were all ultimately eliminated from that match.
The main event would accomplish several things, the most important being the continued growth and evolution of Bryan. He starred, tearing through Roman Reigns en route to a top-rope splash by the Usos to eliminate him.
Ziggler got a measure of revenge on United States champion Dean Ambrose, whom he pinned following the Zigzag.
The final fall would come when Bryan delivered the running knee to the face of Seth Rollins for the win.
Bryan celebrated the win in front of a very enthusiastic Chicago crowd, who relished in the opportunity to repeatedly point to the sky and chant "yes."
From the very beginning of the night, when the match was booked, through the matches involving the babyfaces scheduled to compete in the main event suffering injuries or beatdowns to the main event itself, the major angle in today's WWE was advanced brilliantly with logic and intelligence.
Most importantly, Bryan took another major step in proving himself as a legitimate headline star for a company seriously in need of one.
The Prodigal Son Comes Home
The pop for CM Punk as he entered the site of his five-star classic against John Cena at Money in the Bank two years ago was as loud as any in recent history. The Best in the World stood in the center of the ring, wearing his Chicago Blackhawks jersey in honor of the Stanley Cup champions, and he seemed legitimately happy.
He expressed how sorry and embarrassed he was for losing to Paul Heyman, then launched into a hockey comparison that only those who watch the sport and/or live north of the border could understand.
This brought out Heyman, complete with a motorized wheelchair that looked strangely familiar (Big Johnny on line one). Heyman called Chicago by its nickname, the Second City, before running it down as a second-class town with second-rate citizens and second-place teams.
Punk eventually made a beeline for Heyman but was jumped by Ryback and intercontinental champion Curtis Axel. Punk put up a valiant fight but soon found himself on the receiving end of a two-on-one assault.
The segment allowed Heyman, Ryback and Axel to get more heat on themselves in front of Punk's hometown, all the while fueling the fires for an eventual moment in which the hero vanquishes all of the villains.
It also begs the question of whether Punk will be able to go it on his own or if he will have to recruit help.
Real-life friend Kingston would be an excellent choice.
A Word on Stephanie McMahon...
It would be a major mistake to not mention just how awesome Stephanie McMahon has been in recent weeks.
Triple H has been the focus of the abuse of power storyline since the beginning, and it seems as though the delightfully evil, vindictive and manipulative Stephanie's outstanding performances every week have gone underappreciated.
Formerly the whiny, spoiled little brat would oftentimes border on annoying. She was the type of character fans wanted to see get shut up. She was phenomenal as that character, especially during the McMahon-Helmsley regime angle that dominated the first half of 2000.
That character, however, had a shelf life on it, and as the Billion Dollar Princess got older and began assuming more power behind the scenes, it was only a matter of time before her on-screen character underwent change.
She became the SmackDown general manager, but it became more and more clear that she thrived in situations where she was the villain. She left television for quite some time, giving fans a break from McMahon family drama, making occasional appearances when necessary.
She devoted her time to being a mother and serving as head of WWE creative.
Over the past three months, however, she has returned with a vengeance, as evil as ever. She has been so great, in fact, that she has made all of the wrongdoings Triple H has been guilty of seem like mere child's play.
Stephanie has brought a giant to tears, forced said giant to do her dirty work, perpetrated the assault of Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes and was brutally honest in her disparaging remarks toward The Miz on Monday night.
Eventually, the good guys will overcome the power-hungry Stephanie and Triple H, but hopefully, that is only after fans are treated to more of Stephanie's matured, evolved and awesomely despicable character.