Roman Reigns is a man of his word. I said last week that he hasn’t changed in the same way that others have after facing The Fiend, and I stand by that. But I didn’t say he hadn’t changed at all.
When Paul Heyman opened SmackDown talking about Jey Uso, he acknowledged his skill while praising the family’s bloodline. He called it an honour and a privilege to introduce him, making sure to emphasize the closeness between the cousins. As Special Counsel, he is aware that these are priorities to his boss. Yes, I said “boss”, and so would Heyman just a short while later when deflecting Jey’s gratitude at being given an opportunity. “I- Jey, I- I- I would never be so presumptive as to interrupt you, but sir, you- you don’t owe me any thanks, the actual... the appreciation sh- should go to your cousin. When- when Big E was taken out, this is not something that I brainstormed; this was... his idea. I just implemented and executed a command from... my boss.” For those unaware: over the past several years, Paul Heyman has made his living as an orator, speaking most recently on behalf of Brock Lesnar. Significantly, he always referred to Brock as a “client”, not his “boss”, and he never stammered. Why now?
Roman didn’t give us time to wonder, doubling down on the family narrative. He gave Jey all the credit he felt he was due and made it clear that he is looking out for him, but also that he’ll only go so far. “You don’t have to thank me. We’re blood. Years we’ve thought about this. Family, man. Proud of you. Our whole family’s proud of you. You’ve earned this. Did nobody give you this, you earned this. You ‘bout to be in the main event of Clash of Champions. You’re about to take a huge payday home to your family, man. This is your moment! You don’t have to thank me. This is your moment. At Clash of Champions... that’s not gonna be your moment. Don’t look at this [title] right now; look at me. That’s not gonna be your moment. Like when we were kids, I’m gonna whoop your ass. This has to stay on my shoulder, for our family to stay where it is, you understand?” Worth noting that while Jey seemed taken aback, he didn’t exactly argue. However, all of this was set aside when Corbin and Sheamus invaded the ring. Jey cleaned house while Roman watched, then challenged the pair to face them in a tag match. Jey was clearly very enthusiastic; Roman, not so much. That might explain why he showed up after the bell, casually tagged Jey, and speared Sheamus for the win. Wreck Everyone & Leave, indeed! Now Jey did seem affronted, but Roman appeared pleased with his cousin, pulling him to his feet and giving him a pat on the back before heading up the ramp. At least, he was pleased until Jey decided to raise his hand. Victory gesture? Hardly. Jey’s eyes were once again on the title, and Roman knew it.
Some people say that Jey doesn’t see the changes in his cousin. I disagree. I think the optimism we see is him trying to deny them. Maybe he’s uncomfortable with Roman’s opinion of his ceiling. Maybe he feels guilty for not being there for whatever brought this change about. Jey can tell that something is different, and he’s not the only one.
It is important to remember that Roman stripped the Universal Title from The Fiend. Even if Roman has put him out of mind, Bray Wyatt and all of the entities associated with him have not done the same. Bray mentioned that he was sad the title was gone, but a closer examination leaves us with more to unpack. First, Pasquale the Persevering Parrot. Up until now, Bray’s puppets have all been manifestations of his past, with the exception of The Boss—who of course mirrors Vince McMahon. So who was Pasquale meant to represent? Take a closer look at what Bray said when introducing him: “He has overcome so much in his life to make it this far.” Remind you of someone else’s old slogan? Fight, Overcome, Believe? I wouldn’t blame you for finding this a reach, so let me take this a little further. After Bray revealed that he’d inadvertently killed Pasquale, The Boss appeared and said something that should likewise sound familiar: “You clearly can’t handle the responsibility of the Firefly Funhouse on your own.” The night Roman won back the title, he told The Fiend that he was just a freak in a mask. “You can’t handle the responsibility.” The Boss’ solution was to bring a new, special advisor to the Firefly Funhouse: Wobbly Walrus, a clear parody of Paul Heyman. The episode ended as to be continued, with Bray clearly distressed.
Was Pasquale meant to represent Roman? If so, I don’t think that Bray is trying to take credit for the changes in him. Rather, the choice of a parrot may be significant. For years, Roman was the face of WWE, representing the image they wanted to project. Roman’s not that person any longer. He’s come back with his own priorities, and he’s not parroting any lines from the company. Assuming that I’m correct, the threat Wobbly Walrus represents to Bray is mirrored in Paul Heyman. Maybe the reason the Tribal Chief’s “Special Counsel” appears to sometimes be afraid of his boss is because he knows what lies beneath that calm exterior, what emotions are driving the Big Dog’s actions. Maybe Jey Uso should be afraid, too.