Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic

When the insipid “Jesse and Festus” vignettes first starting airing on Friday nights, the down home duo seemed to be just another couple of redneck yokels – an old McMahon stand-by. Some of WWE’s other “classic” southern hicks have included H.O.G. and P.I.G. Godwinn, Hillbilly Jim, Uncle Elmer, and Jimmy Jack Funk. Not to mention all the other offensive, one-dimensional stereotypes in WWE/F’s sordid history, such as the Evil Foreigner (mad because he’s not American?), the Evil Minority (mad because he isn’t white?), and the Evil Fat Guy (mad because he doesn’t get the chicks?). Let’s face it, subtlety is NOT Vinnie Mac’s strong suit. But just when I was ready to write off this new team, something interesting happened…

TODAY’S ISSUE: What changes when the bell rings?

Reminiscent of Lennie in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Festus is a simple, gentle giant whose elevator clearly doesn’t reach the penthouse. Although he’s a mountain of a man and extremely powerful, his disposition is such that you can actually believe he wouldn’t hurt a fly. At least until the bell sounds to signal the start of a wrestling match.

The moment that bell rings, Festus transforms into a seething behemoth, anxious to tear his opponents apart and wreak havoc in the ring. The sudden change is startling, and a little scary to be honest. His lifeless eyes light up with fire, he snarls and growls like a jungle predator, and he hones in on somebody to mangle.

Yet in an unexpected twist from WWE’s creative department, Festus’ change doesn’t make him a raging lunatic or a berserker as you might expect. Even while in hyper-aggressive mode, he wrestles wisely. Festus participates in double-team maneuvers, waits on the apron for a tag while not the legal man, and leaves the ring to allow Jesse to attempt a pinfall for the win. He never attacks anyone other than his two opponents as a crazed madman might, and he remains quite aware of his immediate situation, effectively channeling his rage and focusing his volatile force.

Either this character has been given a lot of thought by the writers, or Drew Hankinson (the “actor” who plays the unique powerhouse) is adding little touches of his own. Whichever it is, Festus is developing into quite the compelling persona, much to my surprise.

Festus wrestled the first singles match I’ve ever seen him in this past Friday, facing one half of the WWE tag team champions, the Miz. Although Miz used sound strategy, trying to chop Festus down by taking out his legs, the one-of-a-kind giant was not to be denied as he mauled his much smaller opponent. For every sharp attack Mix utilized, Festus absorbed the punishment and countered with his brute strength and determination, plowing through the pain and mashing the Miz into the mat. In another example of his ring-awareness and focus, Festus even took out his opponent’s partner John Morrison, preventing the other tag champ from inserting himself into the one-on-one match.

Festus scored the victory with his modified F-5 finisher (not sure what they’re calling it just yet), and during this contest he seemed pretty damned difficult to stop. Then true to form, the moment the final bell sounded Festus returned to his docile, imbecilic self, seemingly unaware of the fact that he had just pwn’d a world tag team champion and likely secured a title match for his team. This has been Festus’ modus operandi the entire time – when the bell rings, he becomes something more than what he was. He wrestles the match, and when the closing bell rings he returns to his calmer self, apparently none the wiser.

So what’s the story? Why does this simple man turn into a raging warrior when he hears the ring bell, and why is he so capable of harnessing his aggression and keeping his wits about him? Is this the only glimpse of the character’s true self, as if his external serenity is a psychological mask he wears to keep his inner rage in check? Is he a modern re-imaging of the Incredible Hulk?

I dread the eventual answers to those questions. Remember, WWE’s creative department (with McMahon’s final approval) are the same folks who gave us such gems as Kane’s convoluted and disjointed past, Hornswoggle McMahon, Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio’s battle for “their” son Dominic, Billy and Chuck, and the most badly botched storyline in wrestling history, the WCW/ECW InVasion of the WWF.

Who knows what nonsense they’ll write to explain Festus’ abnormal psyche and completely ruin his appeal in the process? I can just imagine the writers putting their nigh-empty heads together to concoct some Mankind-like back-story for Festus. Did you know Mankind was once a piano prodigy, but his parents locked him in the basement? Or something like that. Only Foley himself was able to morph that weak tale into the most interesting character of his time, retconning Mankind’s personality to the deepest, darkest side of Foley himself, rather than what Vince and Company had originally come up with for the former Cactus Jack. It seems Hankinson is taking the bull by the horns as well, subtly working some complexity into his less-than-desirable first assignment in WWE’s major leagues – good for you, Festus old buddy!

Still, I can’t help but doubt Creative intended for the character to be as intricate as he is. I’d bet they just told Hankinson and Gordy to be the next version of the Godwinns, and everything else the duo managed to pull out of the gimmick has been their own doing. I feel bad for old Festus (or more accurately, his portrayer), but the way things work on SmackDown!, I’d guess Jesse and Festus will hold tag team gold before WrestleMania next spring. In my estimation it won’t be long after that when the “truth” about Festus and his reaction to the sound of a ringing bell will come out. But until that time, I’ll remain pleasantly surprised by the subtle, complex development of his character, and wait for WWE to ruin it as they have so many other storylines, characters, and performers.

Good luck, Mr. Hankinson. Once they give you a heavy bag of nonsense to carry with you, it might be difficult to take “Festus” any further. But until then, kudos to you!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.” – Samuel Johnson

Before you go, check out our roundtable for WWE’s Armageddon and compare our picks to Paul Marshall’s live coverage, then look at our results below to see how we fared.

IP Staff Roundtable Results for Armageddon

Jake Mulligan Roundtable Champion!
WWE Armageddon (16 Dec 07): 7-1
Total: 7-1

Mark Allen
WWE Armageddon (16 Dec 07): 6-2
Total: 58-24

Matthew Michaels
WWE Armageddon (16 Dec 07): 6-2
Total: 93-85

Andrew Wheeler
WWE Armageddon (16 Dec 07): 6-2
Total: 58-25

Paul Marshall
WWE Armageddon (16 Dec 07): 5-3
Total: 27-16

Vinny Truncellito
WWE Armageddon (16 Dec 07): 5-3
Total: 167-110

Danny Wallace
WWE Armageddon (16 Dec 07): 5-3
Total: 40-18

Danny Cox
WWE Armageddon (16 Dec 07): 3-5
Total: 111-96


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