In many ways, the closing segment of last night's episode of Raw was one of those things WWE excels at. It was tremendously produced, the individual performances were spectacular, and it set up a lot of matches for WrestleMania season. The live crowd in Seattle went nuts for it all.
On the other hand, there were still systemic problems at work. After most of the segment consisting of a very strong John Cena promo on Randy Orton to push their TLC match to unify the world titles this Sunday, the focus shifted away from this Sunday's pay-per-view event. It was on the potential Royal Rumble and WrestleMania matches set up by the brawl that the Cena-Orton pull-apart triggered.
In addition, the performer made to look strongest was not Cena, Orton, Daniel Bryan or CM Punk. It was Triple H, who's no longer an active wrestler. His wife, Stephanie McMahon, was made to look stronger than most non-wrestlers, as she quickly got up from a collision (Daniel Bryan countering the RKO by shoving Orton towards her) that keeps most referees down for several minutes.
Oh, and the segment opened with the fans in Seattle deciding to hijack it by chanting "Daniel Bryan" for two straight minutes. When they settled down and Triple H got to talk, he opened by calling both Bryan and the fans ugly.
Kind of sums up 2013 in WWE, doesn't it?
Overall, the closing segment was a big success. While it wasn't the last word, the hype for Cena vs Orton at TLC was great. It set up Randy Orton vs CM Punk or John Cena vs Daniel Bryan for the Royal Rumble (depending on who is champion) and some form (maybe a tag, maybe two singles matches) of Daniel Bryan and CM Punk vs Shawn Michaels and Triple H for WrestleMania.
As you look closer, the cracks in the foundation become more visible: Daniel Bryan's and CM Punk's feuds with the Wyatt Family and The Shield respectively were made afterthoughts even though they're the co-co-main events this Sunday at TLC. Both are clearly on borrowed time at this point, though it applies more strongly to whoever gets the title shot at the Royal Rumble (probably Punk).
The big closing message at the end of the show was not "witness history this Sunday at TLC." It was "welcome to WrestleMania season!" While much, much better than the complete lack of a hard sell for Survivor Series last month, they still sent mixed signals that aren't necessarily the best direction for a PPV week.
I could be wrong. The chaos and forward-looking ending could have gotten a lot of fans hyped up for the idea that WrestleMania season is starting a month early, but the message I got from the end of Raw was that what happens after TLC is what matters.
The Raw Championship Ascension segment was...
As for Stephanie McMahon and Triple H looking so strong...I hate to be one of those guys, but the way it was done just wasn't necessary. Triple H should start to inch back into having a physical role if he's wrestling at WrestleMania. That's fine, but he shouldn't be the one standing tall at the end of the "parade of finishers" brawl by laying out the WWE Champion.
Stephanie McMahon is, for the purposes of the storyline, something in between a pampered executive and a stay-at-home mom. She should not be getting up quickly from bumps that incapacitate trained, experienced referees for long stretches of time and usually require a substitute to enter the match. Hell, they've had trained female wrestlers sell similar bumps from male wrestlers longer than she sold being tackled by the WWE Champion.
If WWE gets into a funk late in the year, they usually snap out of it for WrestleMania season. They're not quite there yet, but they're getting closer. Still, the focus isn't there and there's enough ostensibly egocentric behavior going on that there's still a lot to worry about.