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'Undertaker: The Last Ride' final episode a good end to a worthy trip

While the big reveal (?) of “Undertaker: The Last Ride” has been discussed since it aired last Sunday, there has been considerably less talk about the entirety of the fifth and final episode (“Revelation”) which was a proper end to one of WWE’s best documentary efforts to date.

Yes, Mark Calaway said that he’s done. Kind of. But the totality of the nearly five hours of the series was a fascinating look at one of the game’s most reclusive stars. Following this series and his seemingly endless stream of media appearances, that reclusiveness is gone and he’s one of us mere mortals. Kind of.

The fifth episode starts by bringing us back to Madison Square Garden, a special place for Calaway and one that he didn’t think he would return to. A picture of him is now framed below a picture of Elvis in a hallway, meaningful for Calaway if you’ve heard his story about seeing the Elvis and Muhammed Ali pictures there earlier in his career.

While in a locker room, a request for someone behind the camera to get makeup remover turns into a good story. His dad, who was a big supporter of his son's career despite being disappointed he didn’t follow through on a basketball scholarship, just shook his head backstage at a Houston Raw early in Calaway's career as he was putting on his eye makeup.

“I miss him,” Calaway says, giving insight into his past which we hadn't seen in the series to this point. The fifth episode gives a little bit about his pre-wrestling past, but not as much as I found myself hoping for. Looking back over the five hours, insight on his upbringing, his first marriage, his decision to not take the scholarship and some of those other personal details were the only thing really missing that would have helped round out the story.

Although Calaway seems at ease if he never wrestles again, the series-long foreshadowing of a match with AJ Styles comes to fruition as a mutual friend of Styles’ family and Calaway’s helps connect the two after Calaway alludes to wanting to go out on his own terms during a Steve Austin podcast, interesting Styles greatly.

Before he accepts, he takes a trip down to the Performance Center to work with some of the big guys and to gauge how he’s feeling when working with younger talent. To no surprise, he feels "much better than expected" and the match is on, even after an off-screen, poorly executed rib on Styles perpetuated by Vince McMahon that Calaway wants to work with someone else. There’s a lot of Styles/Undertaker build and background in episode five, so if you’re not really into that aspect, this episode probably didn’t work for you. 

Then, the ‘rona hit and we launch into the strength of episode five: the planning and execution of the boneyard match. While I’m not the biggest fan of the cinematic style, I found this to be fascinating. The initial "this?" of the location, how they were able to come up with and execute their vision, the nearly disastrous broken car window spot five minutes into shooting, and Calaway’s admission that it was physically taxing because of how the shoot didn’t exactly line up with his adrenaline bursts.

We also learn that on the day they were to begin shooting, Calaway got a call from his niece that his brother had died of a heart attack. To make matters worse, he was the one that had to tell the news to his mother and his brothers. He moves ahead with the match regardless, a nod toward the wrestler mentality of how work comes first. If there's one thing we learn about this guy, it's that he really does give a shit.

After wrapping at 5 AM and riding off into the darkness, Calaway said a lot of thoughts were going through his head and that it felt like a fitting end to the ride.

We jump ahead two months later and a few things have changed. McCool’s nephew passing away after a car accident and Kobe Bryant’s death were a shock to Calaway's system, reinforcing his need to be present in the moment for his family. He was satisfied with the boneyard match and that, “If there ever was a perfect ending to a career, it’s that.”

Then, we arrive at the moment that has been built up since the series started. Is he done? He says “never say never” when openly questioning if he would come back if McMahon was to call him in a bind, referring to himself as a "Break glass in case of emergency" option. While never saying the magic word, he does say that, "It’s time the cowboy really rides away” and that he can finally accept that he can do more good outside the ring than inside it.

We all know this is pro wrestling and no really ever retires. As we’ve learned through 'Last Ride', Mark Calaway's worst enemy with this decision has been himself. If he indeed holds true to his word, this series is a great capper and fun inside look at the decision making that goes into the end of an unbelievable run.

But, there’s a line he says during the episode that is sticking in my head:

“When I start feeling good, I make bad decisions.”

See you at Mania, Mark.

Notes & Final Thoughts

  • There was another good section somewhat shoehorned in Calaway's decision making process into revamping the character for the American Bad Ass era. For those who lived and breathed the Attitude Era, this is your oxygen.
  • When tossing some wrist tape away while talking, Calaway casually throws in a “Kobe” when it goes into the trash can which was pretty hilarious.
  • This episode made me wonder how his decision to retire or not retire would have gone had the Saudi Arabia deal never happened.
  • I still am curious why Bill Goldberg wasn’t interviewed about the Saudi debacle. Did he refuse, was he not asked, or was it just a bad interview? 
  • In a podcast I did with Jason Powell of ProWrestling.net a few weeks ago, I brought up the idea of an Undertaker-Steve Austin boneyard match as a way to give closure to Austin’s career. I don’t know how they would get there, but I think that would be huge. That would truly be the end of an era.
  • My episode ranking: 1, 2, 4, 5, 3. I stand by my early assertion that the series could air on ESPN or FS1 and get some good numbers if there’s some promotion around it. He did so much already though that perhaps it would lose the effect. Still, there’s a legion of lapsed Attitude Era fans that aren't Network subscribers that would eat this up.