Total Bellas often finds its drama in the big leadup to a tough decision, but this episode focuses more on the “now what?” stemming out of the Bella family’s major life events. The headline-grabber is still Nikki Bella’s life post-John Cena, but with Brie Bella taking her first steps back into the ring and Mama Bella, Kathy, taking a swing at a long-dormant dream, the show widens its gaze beyond the breakup to tell a story of three accomplished career women who find themselves in the unfamiliar position of starting from scratch.
In Nikki’s case, she’s rebooting both her personal and professional life. As far as the former goes, Nikki has decided to kick the can down the road for the time being. She’s so resolved to put the Cena business out of her head until after the Women’s Royal Rumble Match that her famous ex is barely even in this episode, seen only in a few fleeting glimpses backstage at the Royal Rumble. Cena isn’t quite as out of mind as he is out of sight — he leaves a note and flowers for her in their Tampa, Fla., home — but The Fearless One’s singular devotion to the professional hurdle ahead of her is a therapeutic bit of tunnel vision that lends cover to her broken heart.
The in-ring aspect comes down to whether Nikki is physically up to the task, as her neck isn’t completely healed yet and she faces some serious limitations. Given the chaos of a Royal Rumble Match, the risk for re-injury runs very high. Brie, meanwhile, is hesitant and out of sorts in her training sessions with Nikki and Daniel Bryan; it turns out she’s nervous over not being quite as ripped post-baby, worried the fans won’t accept her new “mom bod” and self-conscious about the gear she’s commissioned to conceal her stomach. (It doesn’t help that a lot of the pre-Rumble speculation is focusing on Nikki, leaving Brie to wonder if her own comeback will even register.) Looming over all this is Kathy, who is making a play at her childhood dream of broadcast journalism after she’s hired to do the weather for her alma mater’s TV station, but she’s worried that she’s too old to connect with the college crowd. These situations aren’t identical, of course, but the Bella women are all facing some of the same anxiety concerning their comebacks: They’re scared they’ve become too diminished, in one form or another, to pull it off.
All three women find their way to daylight by supporting each other. Kathy finds the confidence to do the weather after seeing that Nikki, for all her pep and showmanship, isn’t really any better at it than she is. Brie is bolstered by the reaction she gets when her music hits, and she ends the episode by literally leaning on Nikki during a Birdiebee photoshoot with her stomach proudly displayed and an on-the-record promise to stop Photoshopping her stretch marks. (By the way: She still has abs.)
Nikki, meanwhile, finds her strength in both her family and the rest of the Rumble field, but she still stands somewhat alone both literally and figuratively: She ends up in the final two of the Royal Rumble Match with her health in her own hands, and outside the ring, she can’t quite rely on anybody else to solve the still-unanswered questions surrounding Cena. Last week, Nikki made a point of differentiating between Nikki and Nicole, and she finds out here that Nikki can do just fine on her own. She delivers for the fans, and her neck stays in one piece. But it’s clear that Nicole’s leap of faith is still ongoing, and she isn’t sure what she’ll find, or who she’ll be, when she finally reaches the other side.
Total Bellas airs Sundays at 9/8 c on E!.