Much, much better than anyone was led to expect, IMO. I might not have bought it on my own, since the Hell in the Cell was the only match I had any serious interest in, but Hubby went ahead and got the show. We haven't missed a PPV since Judgement Day 2001, anyway, so why break the streak?
Even the women's matches were decent wrestling matches, and all references to the sex part of the Kane/HHH angle had been excised from the recap videos, so I thought (wrongly, OC) that they had dropped it. That heartened me. I was in a good mood throughout, especially after the little Taker-Kane vignette that started the show. Funny!
I've been talking about my gross-out limit today, so the Muta factor in the HITC is relevant. Man, that was great stuff. ;-) Brutal, vicious, relentless--that's the soul of the Cell. It skirted the edge of Too Damn Much when the blood dripped off his nose and ran down over Brock's face, but it didn't cross my line. I don't think Taker meant to juice quite THAT much (the steps probably busted him wider after he bladed) but it helped make the match; the icing on the cake, so to speak. It didn't need an uber-bump or any fancy overbooked interference. It was a classic battle with a little leavening of humor (Paul E. and his necktie) and should go into Taker's toplist without a problem.
This is going to sound a little strange, but IMO one of the most important qualities for a wrestling booker, and indeed for a wrestler, is a sense of poetry. There is ritual poetry in violence (John Woo films, Irish epics, the Iliad) and that's what wrestling taps into, if it's done right. It has to be more than guys in spandex pretending to punch each other. It has to be more than pushing the limits of what you can show on broadcast TV. The great moments of wrestling have nothing to do with workrate or gross-out. They have to do with archetypal conflicts and characters that we know in a deeper way. The basic scenarios occur in all great works of literature and storytelling. They have to be retold for every generation, and wrestling can do that in the most direct way of any medium I know. Sometimes...
Rock vs. Hogan at WM18--the young warrior overcoming the older, but acknowledging his respect for him even as he puts his foot on his neck. The audience wrote that epic for the bookers, and not the other way around--it boiled up from the collective memory of the spectators and completely took over from the intended storyline.
Taker vs. Michaels in the first HITC--the confident, brash man facing a relentless force of darkness that shakes his courage to its foundations. No matter what he does, he can't escape, and he is nearly overcome. His eventual victory comes only because an even more powerful evil destroys his opponent. This was also the initial climax of the "vengeful brother returns" storyline for Taker, of course. A wonderful interweaving of elements.
Taker vs. Mankind in the Boiler Room Brawl--a powerful man is stymied by his opponent's sheer animalistic insanity. He strikes back with all his ability, but how can he avoid defeat when his closest associate turns on him? He is martyred to the forces of chaos. The ending of that match, when he's carried away by the druids, takes my breath away every time I roll the tape. In one sense it's weird and cheesy, in another it's drama of the highest order. That's wrestling in its essence.
It should be obvious that one of the reasons I love Taker is because the man has a genuine sense of dark poetry. His older character is drawing from Baudelaire and Byron and Dante. Sure, sometimes he overreached, such as in the Ministry period, but at least he was going for something deep and resonant. His models overshoot the mark sometimes too, speaking of Byron and Baudelaire. He's not alone in that.
His current character hasn't entirely shed the poetry, believe it or not. The motorcycle is his mount and his talisman--mess with that and you incur his wrath! He still has those glorious tattooed sleeves to remind us where he came from. He has reconciled with his brother after a long conflict, and is weaving a new life from the strands of the old, with the help of a woman. The birth of a child would complete his reformation, but can he keep his family safe from his enemies and their plots?
Or something like that. ;-) I'm not saying that ALL storylines have to be Shakespearean in sweep to be entertaining. Sometimes a little low-brow humor is just the ticket. I like to blow off some steam after a long day and not have to think too hard about its implications. But without that framework of high conflict, there's nothing to hang it on, and wrestling is just another damn TV show.
That's what you refer to as "rambling", is it? You've been into the Joseph Campbell again, haven't you? :-)
I somehow had a hunch that perhaps the HITC might have worked for you. (I'm sooo perceptive sometimes.) I thought it was good stuff too. A little more blood than was necessary, but I also had the impression that it was more than was planned. Going into it, I didn't have a huge amount of confidence in Brock to be able to pull off his side of that intense a match, but that wasn't a problem at all. You made an observation previously about Taker's ability to keep the other guy fully engaged in the match -- I'm thinking there was quite a bit of that going on. Good stuff.
Your "rambling" is a beautiful essay. (And I agree with you completely.) You are quite the clever girl. :-)
I'm bothered by the Stephanie (character's) revelation. After the first viewing, I was pretty much astonished that they'd go there. And particularly on SmackDown, the fun, happy, friendly, 7-9pm wrestling show.