Season 3 of Total Bellas has been largely a story of expectations vs. reality for Nikki Bella. She walked away from a relationship when she saw it wasn’t going where she wanted, then got back into it when she felt she’d undergone enough personal growth to get her life where she wanted it to be. But there’s nothing to take away your empowerment quite as ruthlessly as wedding planning, and this week’s episode keeps chipping away at her in the same way the last one did.
To Nikki, putting the ceremony together is like staring the rest of her life in the face, which is very daunting considering she wasn’t even sure she still wanted this life only a few weeks ago. She’s also doing this without John Cena (he’s away for work and unseen this week), which bums her out because she always thought she’d be planning her wedding with her husband. Brie Bella is still suspicious that Nikki’s harboring some hesitation about the wedding that she’s keeping to herself, but she’s a constant supportive presence in solving the episode’s central problem — Nikki has generously if overzealously invited all of her girlfriends to be bridesmaids — and trying to guide her sister through the existential thicket so she can get to the altar in one piece. (The wedding dress shopping is a big pick-me-up, and the prep’s only unmitigated success.) Brie inevitably takes a firmer hand, but she realizes her role here is a supporting one, and her interaction with Nikki is a nice reminder of how well the Bellas work together in times of need.
It’s also a reminder that Brie can’t help but yearn for the finer things in life the way Nikki often does. Much like Nikki is trying to navigate a life that didn’t quite turn out how she expected, Brie finds herself wistful for her days as a New York art patron and amateur painter. Feeling like she’s strayed too far from that path, Brie decides to splurge on some antiques and artwork, culminating in a sizable purchase from a local painter that leaves Daniel Bryan gob-smacked. He’d prefer she make something herself or at least spend a little more wisely, and Brie can’t argue too heavily with that.
Speaking of Bryan, the episode touches on his own expectation-vs.-reality struggles, as he’s very close to getting cleared to get back in the ring, though it’s only briefly mentioned. But his main action this week is a delightful side jaunt with mother-in-law Kathy. Mama Bella’s anxiety is starting to make car rides with son JJ and husband John Laurinaitis somewhat insufferable, which they respond to by installing a driver’s-ed style brake in the passenger side that they slam on constantly to try to convey the sensation of having her in the car. Bryan, who’s a bit more sympathetic, divulges his own struggles with anxiety to Kathy, and they take on a mutually shared fear of heights by going to an indoor skydiving class.
The whole take-the-leap metaphor might be a little on-the-nose given what’s going on with Nikki, but the car is an oddly apt one. She still feels like she’s along for the ride as the wedding approaches, and it takes a nudge from Brie to help her get control: After asking Nikki to tell her exactly what she wants from her wedding, Brie somewhat indelicately forces a conversation between Nikki and her friends where The Fearless One reveals she won’t be having bridesmaids. The ladies are all fine with it, but they’re wondering why she didn’t just come out and say that in the first place.
Of course, it isn’t quite that easy for Nikki. Having felt like a passenger for so long, she is clearly still coming to terms with the idea of being in control of her own destiny. For all her growth and confidence, she hasn’t quite realized the implications of her independence. She could turn the car wherever she so chooses. She could even stop it altogether.