In the clear

July 30, 2018

Nikki Bella has been breaking up with John Cena for the entire third season of E!’s Total Bellas. Even when they got back together, she was in the process of leaving him, transitioning to a life where she can follow whatever ambition or path she sets for herself. Their reconciliation was more a last grasp at a straw she had realized, on some level, she no longer wanted; her wedding prep was less a march toward the aisle than a hurtle toward a brick wall, and each sacrifice she was asked to make was another straw weighing down the metaphorical camel’s back. And on the Season 3 finale, she finally makes the decision she’s been lurching toward all year long: She ends their relationship.

But anybody looking for the tear-soaked drama of their first split will be disappointed. The final choice happens offscreen, and not only is the episode largely split into “before” and “after,” the first half finds its focus not on Nikki but on Daniel Bryan. The Beard’s grueling road back to the ring concludes at WrestleMania 34, where he has his first match back and gets choked up over a photo of his daughter, Birdie, watching him wrestle. He and Brie Bella can finally breathe a sigh of relief now that their trials have come to an end, and he is able to once again pursue his dreams and do what he loves.

Brie Bella helps Daniel Bryan prepare for his WrestleMania match: Total Bellas, July 29, 2018

Daniel Bryan gets ready for his return to in-ring competition at WrestleMania 34.

For the most part, Nikki isn’t even onscreen during this bit, save for a giddy tour of WrestleMania Axxess and a brief visit to the wedding venue. It’s only when Brie and Bryan are out to dinner for their anniversary that the phone calls start, and we hear that the wedding might be off again. We don’t know what the inciting incident was, or even if there is one, but we don’t really have to: Nikki has been slowly arriving at this decision for a long time. She sacrificed her own desires to be with Cena and, by her own admission, never really told him how heavily the choice to do so weighed on her. They split and she tasted a life that was her own, only to sacrifice that to go back to him. She simply can’t give up anything else anymore, and Cena’s request that she give him a final decision within a few days is more pressure than she’s willing to allow.

Nikki Bella opens up to Brie Bella about her future with John Cena: Total Bellas Preview Clip, July 29, 2018

Brie Bella offers her support when Nikki Bella becomes emotional about her relationship with John Cena.

It’s no accident that Cena has been shrinking from view for all 10 episodes of the season, and it’s no accident that we don’t see him here. He began the season as a constant, then started slowly appearing less and less as he and Nikki grew apart. In the penultimate episode, he was just a voice on the phone; in the finale, he only appears briefly in the beginning, and then he’s gone. He is out of sight and almost out of the picture, so literally distant from Nikki that everything he says reaches us thirdhand, and we don’t even see her break it off with him.

It feels right, somehow. A season that began about them ends with her, sharing a glass of wine on the beach with Brie, both having put an arduous journey behind them and ready to start fresh. And there’s no better way to do that, of course, than spend some time with your girls.

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