It’s felt like an age but The Last Ride is here to start the last lap of this remarkable documentary series.
Whilst the previous episode was a very marginal let-down, this instalment is back to form with a real focus on Taker contemplating ‘the end’ far more seriously than he has previously.
The theme of this series is clearly Undertaker grappling with his own mortality, if you will excuse the pun. By now it is clear that retirement may be Taker’s biggest rival.
Throughout the series we have seen him go through the cycle of wanting to go out on a high, having a great match, being so pleased with it that he goes for one more, only for that to be a letdown and him needing to repeat the cycle again.
As a viewer and a fan its been almost tragic to see. Certainly seeing such an icon be gripped by such anxiety in his final legacy has made The Deadman look more vulnerable than he ever has in the ring.
This episode actually starts with a wonderful sequence looking back at how Mark Calaway has allowed the character of The Undertaker to engulf him over the years. It’s truly fascinating to hear guys such as Bray Wyatt and Mick Foley talk about how he is ‘always on’. Foley even admits he knows Mark Calaway the man far less than he knew him 20 years ago. And he likes it that way!
This segment also gives us some wonderful behind-the-scenes footage of the filming of classic Taker vignettes, such as those done to hype up his Survivor Series 1992 match with Kamala. It is incredibly fun to see the outtakes of ‘Taker screwing up lines and laughing or goofing around in character. From anyone else, these outtakes would be mildly amusing. From Undertaker, they’re priceless.
After this we go into the chronology of Taker’s most recent run. We firstly go to WrestleMania in 35 to see Undertaker backstage without the pressure to be on the card for the first time. The highlight of this section is absolutely the gentle ribbing he gets for not bringing his gear with him. Rookie mistake!
Of course, when Vince requests he appear on Raw the next night, instead of saying it isn’t possible, he opts for an overnight roundtrip to Texas just to grab his stuff. Remarkable.
Also watch out for McMahon jokingly suggesting he has lined up ‘The son of Giant Gonzalez’ for Undertaker to slay. Nice try Vinnie. Bet that one will go down well….
After this we get taken to Saudi Arabia for the infamous match with Goldberg. It’s abundantly clear that this match affects Undertaker like no other, both mentally and physically to the point that for the first time we see him contemplate that the fact that maybe he simply doesn’t have it anymore. Those who have followed this series will realise the gravitas of the situation if he is considering giving it all up on a bum note like this.
As we, the viewer know, this doesn’t happen and before you know it we are in Philadelphia for Extreme Rules 2019 to see ‘Taker tag with Roman Reigns to take on Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre.
After a fun match, Taker veers completely the other way: still suggesting he will hang it up but this time in satisfaction rather than disappointment.
But then, we get it. We always get it. The suggestion that maybe he has one or two matches left in him. At this point it becomes clear, if it wasn’t before: Mark Calaway is addicted to being The Undertaker.
It’s not loyalty to McMahon, the company or the fans. It’s not the money. It is simply an addiction to being the biggest character WWE has ever seen.
And as Shawn Michaels pops up to say in this episode: “No addiction is good, even if it’s the healthy stuff”.
This episode ends with Undertaker deep in conversation with a certain AJ Styles. What are they discussing? I’m sure you can work it out…
This is another fascinating look behind the scenes at the all time greatest character in WWE and probably the most fascinating performer to boot.
As the weeks unfold, the feeling has gone from one of awe at what we are seeing to instead, allowing the viewer to buy in to the narrative of whether Calaway will allow himself to walk away while still healthy.
We know he deserves it yet we know that he won’t. We know that up to this point, there is still one last (Boneyard) match left.
It will be fascinating to see how the final episode plays out. Will they address the disappointment in having a more traditional setting for their WrestleMania 36 match taken away? Will we see the creative process behind the Boneyard match?
More importantly, will we see a revelation and an exclamation point to end this documentary with a real sense of finality and a moment of history? After this episode, it feels more and more like we might.
‘The Last Ride’ is available to watch now on the WWE Network.
Remember, to coincide with the release of the last episode on Sunday 21st June, the Hooked On Wrestling website will celebrate Undertaker Weekend. See the details at this link.