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Total Bellas Total Recaps: Russian To Cohabitation

Previously on Total Bellas: The E! reality show Total Divas provided a new platform for the women of WWE and it was successful enough that it begat a spinoff for the Bella Twins. Said spinoff, Total Bellas, showcased Nikki and Brie’s signature ditziness and John Cena’s bizarre android lifestyle, led to a marriage proposal at WrestleMania, and documented the calling off of that marriage. It’s also told some heavier, more wrestling-related stories, depicting Daniel Bryan and Nikki Bella’s struggles with injury, recovery, and retirement.

Why is With Spandex bringing back Total Bellas recaps now that the Bellas have retired from the ring and the show is beginning its post-wrestling era? Because the Bellas and the fellas have returned to our screens while wrestling TV is mostly on hiatus or in no-audience limbo. Since my dudes over in New Japan have their events canceled through at least mid-April, I’ll be covering the Bellas’s misadventures through this full ten-episode season unless absolutely nobody reads about them.

Was There Anything About Wrestling In This Episode Of Total Bellas?

Since this column was born of the corona-wrestling void, I’ll kick off these recaps by investigating if any of these Total Bellas episodes will give you anything like a normal pro wrestling fix. The answer for season 5, episode 1, “Brave New Bellas,” is basically no. There are some non-specific references to people’s careers, the Bellas mention that they still make appearances for WWE, and at one point a talking head interview with Bryan is interspliced with clips from his September 2019 Smackdown match with Erick Rowan. Overall, there’s probably under two total minutes of direct wrestling-related content in this episode.

Dancing With Moving In Together

If the season premiere and trailer are anything to go by, S5 of Total Bellas is going to focus on the contrasting romances of married couple Brie and Bryan “Daniel Bryan” Danielson and former Dancing With The Stars team Nikki Bella and Artem Chigvintsev. Just like when Nikki was dating Cena, one of these relationships seems much more likely to have been orchestrated for publicity than the other!

The thing that seems most legitimate about the Nikki/Artem pairing is that Nikki wants to bang this dude all the time, so much so that many of her lapses in judgment could be chalked up to her brain being in what the experts call a Sex Fog. (This could also explain a lot of her lapses in judgment with Cena. This is just what Nikki is like in relationships, I guess!)

Nikki and Artem’s “constant fireworks, 24/7” honeymoon phase suddenly ends when Artem is cut from his job at Dancing With The Stars, where he was a dancer, choreographer, and teacher of various celebrities for about ten years. Artem looks completely devastated and like he does not want to be dealing with this on a reality show! But Nikki, being in a Sex Fog, is blind to this. She invites Artem on her and Brie’s podcast and asks him to move in with her, to which Artem replies with the most uncomfortable-looking “sure” I’ve ever heard. But less-than-ideal cohabitation is what Total Bellas is all about (in season one), so maybe this was fate?

If it is, Nikki’s friends and family don’t see it that way, and they outright tell her multiple times that she’s making a bad decision. She manages to push through Brie questioning the wisdom of doing this out of financial convenience rather than love, but finally looks shaken when a friend says she could imagine Nikki yelling at Artem to get out of her house during a fight.

Nikki ultimately decides to have a reasonable conversation with Artem – after stacking the deck in her favor by bringing up the issue right after modeling lingerie for him in a lingerie store. Despite the very reality show setup for this scene, it’s where Artem comes off the most like he’s in a normal relationship that’s just going a little too fast. He says “with Nicole, I have to take things with a sugar spoon” (a grain of salt) because she says things without thinking them through sometimes, but he isn’t condescending about it.

The episode ends with Nikki and Artem looking like they’ve saved their relationship by agreeing not to rush it – but we know that’s not going to last because of real life, where they are now engaged with a baby on the way. Still, the romance of these people drawn together by mutual hotness and training for Dancing With The Stars together for like ten hours a day actually emerges from this episode looking more stable than that of the married couple.

Daniel’s Son

While the Artem/Nikki drama is standard reality show fare, some of the issues between Brie and Bryan seem almost too real and consequential to be on TV. The main story is that they’ve been trying to conceive a second child for eight months, but Brie is uncomfortable with it. It’s a similar to the Nikki/Artem issue in that one partner wants the other to make a major life decision without considering why they might not want to do it and poor communication exacerbating the problem. But the Brie/Bryan situation is way heavier because even if Artem ended up moving in with Nikki and regretting it he could move out, but Brie having a baby she doesn’t really want and sacrificing her career for it can’t be solved with a U-Haul.

Even during the earlier, cuter scenes where Bryan and Brie talk about getting pregnant, Brie’s language sets off alarm bells, with her saying “I promised Bryan I would give him a second child” and both of them acknowledging the reason for having kid number two is because Bryan wants a boy to carry on the Danielson name. The way Bryan talks about this desire reads as almost archaically old school, but if they were both on board with it, it wouldn’t be an issue. But since one of them is not on board and that one is the one who has to carry and give birth to the child and raise it on her own most of the time, this is now a potentially marriage-destroying conflict.

Brie uses pretty stereotypical trying-to-have-it-all language to describe her conflict at times (“I’m a hands-on mom, but I’m also a career woman”), but she’s coming from a reasonable place. Though Brie’s career could be written off as not a real job, the Bellas have obviously worked hard to build their brand over the years. And even if she was completely fine giving her work or scaling it back more to become a stay at home mom, she’d be doing it mostly on her own since wrestling for WWE means Bryan is out of town five days a week. When Brie finally talks about this with Bryan he angrily responds with “Why the f*ck do we have a 3,000 square foot house if we’re just going to have one kid?”, but he’s almost never in the house.

What makes this drama really meaty is that it isn’t just presented as Bryan Bad, Brie Good. The setting of the climactic scene, with Brie telling Bryan she doesn’t want another kid just as Bryan’s about to leave for work shortly after their dog Josie has died, feels contrived and its editing feels the clunkiest of the episode, but it still depicts what looks like raw emotion from Bryan.

In our main event (Bryan is back home and ready to respond to Brie’s revelation), he apologizes for reacting so aggressively and agrees that it’s “more practical” not to have a second child right now, but his underlying issues clearly can’t be wrapped up at the end of the hour. He talks about how Josie used to make him feel less lonely when he was retired and depressed, how he still feels lonely sometimes and wants more love.

Both he and Brie say they want more honest, emotional communication, but it looks like there’s a block between them and it’s honestly really sad to see. It raises questions about if the barrier between them comes from Brie not being emotionally supportive enough, from Bryan being unable to open up to someone who might oppose some of his opinions rather than giving him the same type of love as a dog or a baby, or some combination of the two. The root issue could be Bryan’s depression that doesn’t look like it evaporated when he could wrestle again. And on a meta-level, not playing out all their lives’ major events on a reality show might help too!

As goofy as the Total franchise is and parts of this episode are, it makes it seem like the plot point of Nikki and Brie getting pregnant at the same time could actually ruin people’s real lives and relationships rather than just be a gimmicky coincidence. I think I’m excited for next week’s episode?

Bella Lines Of The Week

  • Nikki describes the dynamic of her relationship with Artem as “He’s an introvert. I’m an outro-vert.”
  • Nikki claims to have never farted in front of Artem, but Brie says she knows that’s a lie because “you called me about it.” Nikki protests, “I tooted, and I did it one time!”
  • “I just need to be the coyote, not the roadrunner,” Nikki tells Artem about their romance. She wants to be the one running into the walls with tunnels painted on them; she doesn’t want to do the painting!

John Cena Dig Of The Week

I don’t know if this will be a weekly staple of the season five, but amid her delirious happiness about her new relationship, Nikki does sneak in a put-down of Big Match John. When the Bellas go out for Russian tea with friends, Nikki and her friend Danielle, who is also dating a Russian man, agree that “Russians are better in bed than Americans.” “Very manly in the bedroom.” “They’ve got the moves.” Are we meant to infer John Cena does not have the moves? Is this a workrate vs. Five Moves of Doom situation? Brie quickly defends her husband and the men of America by interjecting that “Bryan is very manly in the bedroom.” So that’s out there now. This is important knowledge that we all have together.