Article posted November 14th. Addendum revised November 30th.
Added paragraph in bold to the original article on December 2nd.
Scroll down to the bottom of the original article for this addendum.
Dakota Kai has been back on WWE NXT television for three weeks. Charlie who brings the character to life has proven over the past five years she can deliver range. From the girl next door face to the angry-miserable-selfish heel to now a broken soul not in her right mind. Whatever happens we’re in for an intriguing ride with Dakota’s haunting new character. A five year tragic tale has led to Dakota's mind and soul being broken. This has all the ingredients for Charlie to deliver a nuanced character. She's been nailing the role. It takes strength to portray this type of character since it can be an emotional challenge.
A culmination of things have led to Dakota coming apart. Before we explore why she has reached this point and where this could go, we should look back at the last few months. After losing an NXT Women’s Championship match to now former champion Raquel Gonzalez at Takeover 36, Dakota vanished from NXT television. She did work some dark matches prior to Smackdown over a few months, perhaps hinting at a call-up to the main roster. Prior to Takeover 36 she even worked as a face versus Aliyah on Main Event. The draft came and went with Dakota Kai not getting brought up to the main roster.
Shortly after the draft we got two vignettes on NXT announcing a figure resembling a Reaper coming to Halloween Havoc. This Reaper said they had to bury their past to start again, told us reflection leads to reincarnation and smashed a mirror. Could the smash have been symbolic? Perhaps the Reaper was ashamed at who they became and needed to bury their past to start a new? At Halloween Havoc, the Reaper removed their hood after whacking Raquel across the back with a shovel, in the process costing her the NXT Women’s Championship to Toxic Attraction’s Mandy Rose. The Reaper was revealed to be Dakota Kai. There was a haunting look in her eyes. Something was there yet wasn’t. From seething hate to a blank, lost stare.
A week later Dakota returned to in-ring action versus Cora Jade. Her modified look and entrance reflected her new character. Before she came to the ring we got perhaps a foreshadow of what is to come. Toxic Attraction bumped into her backstage. Dakota defiantly told Mandy she didn’t do what she did to help her, she did it to end Raquel. Just as defiantly Dakota brushed past Mandy to head out to the ring. Mandy looked like she felt disrespected. It didn’t feel just a threat aimed at Raquel, it felt Dakota was giving a very subtle yet clear warning to Mandy that when she's done with Raquel she is coming for her.
Dakota showed a new ferocity as she made quick, aggressive work of Jade. While she dished out this beating, there were moments where she whispered to herself, looking shaken, maybe even conflicted. One such moment perhaps was after she pushed Jade to the floor shortly after the opening bell. Did she push Jade to hurt her and defend herself ... or to try to spare her from worse? There were flips between ferocity and distress in her eyes even before the match started. The match came to an end after Dakota charged her cornered opponent and struck the Kaio-Kick. After she pinned Jade, Dakota turned frantic whispering to herself. All of a sudden her mood flipped. Dakota violently pulled Jade to the outside by her hair. She took a moment of respite before dragging Jade to the opposite side of the ring.
After furiously planting Jade on the floor, Dakota paused to contemplate pulling out a table from under the ring. Once she decided to do so she placed the table on top of Jade. Dakota gazed aimlessly walking across it like a plank. She thought about crashing down on Jade from the apron. But she couldn’t bring herself to do so. Dakota looked shaken staring at Jade who was unconscious under the table. She whispered something to her. Was she concerned? After she stood up, Dakota grabbed Jade’s skateboard and teased using it. She decided to let Jade be, gently placing the skateboard on her. During all this Dakota twitched a lot, flipping from predatory to unwilling. The demons in her head hard at work. Scary yet a hint of sympathetic because ultimately she spared Jade. That is something I don’t think we’re supposed to forget even if vengeful Jade has ... at least for the moment.
On the most recent NXT episode Raquel called out Dakota. Laughing maniacally she came out and told Raquel it felt so good to hit her with the shovel and watch her lie motionless. There was noticeable twitching from Dakota. Jade attacked Dakota from behind. As the referee squad separated them, Dakota screamed like a banshee ... and reached her hand out to Jade? As Raquel stormed over, Dakota dashed off flashing a manic smile at her.
In the WWE Digital Exclusives, both Raquel and Jade seemed oblivious to the fact Dakota is not in her right mind. I wonder if they’re going with the everyone including Dakota herself is so bent on revenge nobody notices she’s not in her right mind. If so, could this be setting the stage for a necessary intervention from someone from Dakota’s past who does notice? There is someone hanging around backstage on Monday nights who fits that description.
If Dakota was reaching her hand out to Jade, was she trying to strangle her? Was it a cry for help? Is there some connection Dakota feels with Jade? Dakota is not in her right mind so it could be all or none of the above. Unless it’s just random nonsense, could Dakota’s many whispers during the November 2nd episode actually be telling part of her story? The twitches often occur before or after doing or not doing things. Anxiety?
I must admit as excited as I was to see one of my favorites return at Halloween Havoc, I was hoping Dakota would come back as a face. Still, that whack of the shovel to Raquel’s back was a great moment. It’s been clear since July that most of the live audience and many on social media have felt that Dakota should be the face and Raquel the heel. Even going back further, many fans have wanted to rally behind Dakota again. At Takeover 36, Dakota did the Team Kick hand gesture during the introductions. This was the first time she had done that gesture in a long time. Was that her way of – even as a heel – letting fans know she heard and appreciated their support? Dakota’s return at Halloween Havoc as a heel was not greeted with boos. Instead, the crowd chanted her name and welcome back. Putting Dakota in a match against beloved Cora Jade felt like a surefire way to get the audience to boo Dakota. The opposite took place. Some scattered boos aside, the audience was behind Dakota.
Although in canon Dakota betraying Raquel came from a place of jealously there was another point of view that painted her reasoning in a more sympathetic light to many fans. It started when Dakota competed in the 2020 Women’s Wargames match starting the 35 minute grueling battle for her team. Even though Dakota was the MVP of the match, all laud was bestowed upon Raquel for scoring the winning fall. This would begin a long cycle of Dakota fighting her heart out in matches only for everything to be about Raquel. Something that would make Dakota sympathetic to many fans.
The Dakota is just a sidekick thing also did Raquel no favors. Fans refused to buy that Dakota is just a sidekick because they know she isn’t. Even most casual fans know that Dakota Kai is one of the best competitors in the WWE women’s division as a whole. She’s a star, not a sidekick. Much of the audience has decided official alignment doesn’t matter: Dakota Kai is their hero of this story. I don’t think it’s the same as it is with others who get similar treatment because it’s considered cool. I get the sense from discussion groups and social media that a lot of the audience truly wants Dakota to be face again. For the short term it looks like those in charge will press forward with Raquel as face and Dakota as heel. But in the longer term, I think a face turn is where this tragic tale of a broken soul is headed. Perhaps even that NXT Women’s Championship run so many of us have wanted to see her have.
Prior to her heel turn at Wargames 2019, Dakota had a good heart and was loyal to her friends. Until she felt rejected, suddenly looking at her year of recovery from a darker light. I don’t think she is meant to be a rotten egg; there is genuine sadness and hurt beneath all the anger that can help her rediscover her better angels. When Dakota was told that she didn't make the cut, I know I wasn't the only one who felt the sting her character felt. Anyone who was added last to the team because they weren’t picked or outright rejected could feel what her character felt in that moment. Many of us just hope a character we can relate to despite her flaws can find her way back. And now I think this is the start of that journey for her.
I think many have forgotten how good a face Dakota can be because she has been such an excellent heel these past couple years. A face turn for Dakota doesn’t mean losing the evolution of her character to revert back to 2018. A reinvented face Dakota could easily rediscover her better angels while still unleashing her new ferocious hell on opponents.
Dakota these past three weeks has shifted back and forth from malevolent to distressed. Some of her actions violent, yet she's also shown restraint. I feel like we’re getting a battle within our dear lost soul Dakota Kai. Her restraint to do more harm to Jade after their match felt it could be her better angels fighting to break though after being dormant for two years. The broken soul within Dakota has resulted in a broken mind. I think she will continue to be violently haunted until she can bury her past in the form of Raquel. Likely even a bit beyond as I’ll soon explain. Even though she may someday rediscover her good heart, there is no doubt Dakota has presently fallen into the deep and a question that should be posed: Will settling her beef with Raquel bring her back ... or just send her further down the rabbit hole?
Keep in mind there are two years worth of anger and misery built up inside Dakota. Two best friends she betrayed. One was family, a sister she truly loved until she felt betrayed by her. The other more an alliance with benefits. She lost everything and gained nothing from her deceit. Her loss at Takeover 36 was a realistic breaking point for her. It makes sense she’s fallen apart. To be fair, maybe she’ll remain broken, bitter and miserable for the rest of her days. But let us not go there in this article. Dakota has done awful things yet deserves a second chance. Do you really want her to remain a miserable heel forever? Tommaso Ciampa got a couple second chances, it’s time Dakota gets hers. Let us conjure up some speculation with a route to that face turn and championship win.
Team Dakota versus Team Raquel might be a logical choice if there is a Women’s Wargames match this year. It could be the start to the end of their rivalry if not the end. It would make sense for Dakota to have a hard time finding teammates. Enter the faction she unfortunately helped in a huge way. Toxic Attraction agrees to return the favor and team up with Dakota. It would make sense for Dakota to pin Raquel, winning the match for her team. Afterward, Mandy would signal Gigi Dolin and Jacy Jane to attack their partner, putting Dakota’s face turn in motion after she takes a beating from all three. It’s clear Mandy didn’t forget Dakota's defiant attitude toward her on November 2. If Wargames isn’t the end, Dakota at her most unhinged could meet and defeat Raquel in a one on one match in the weeks after.
Her war with Raquel will be over. Unfortunately Dakota’s obsession to end Raquel is the final descent to her lowest point. She desperately needs someone who can help her find her way back. Enter a concerned figure from her past; someone who despite betrayal realizes she still loves the person she considered a sister, her family. Tegan Nox pays NXT a visit. She would best of all people know Dakota’s heart; helping her come out of the increasingly dark place she has gone. It would be a fitting end to heel Dakota to see the two making amends, reuniting Team Fly-Kicks when they need each other the most.
Dakota Kai would now be a full-fledged face, but with her new ferocity and some quirky antics to add some unpredictable chaos to the mix. She would be on course to face Mandy Rose for the NXT Women’s Championship in 2022. Dakota has to destroy the Toxic Queen she helped ascend. A Toxic Queen whose faction has run rampart through NXT. It only makes sense Dakota try to take down this threat with the help of Tegan Nox and a third ally. As strange as it may seem at the moment, perhaps the perfect ally would in fact be Cora Jade. It would be part of the new start for Dakota to be able to mentor and befriend someone she doesn’t end up betraying.
Before Dakota can face Mandy for the championship, a fitting final step would be for a desperate Mandy to call in a favor from her old friend WWE official Sonya Deville. This favor would come in the form of hired gun Shayna Baszler. In order to get to her championship match, Dakota would have to get by the one rival she was never able to stand up to and defeat. She thought she buried her past in some form or the other, yet one lingering thread comes back to haunt. It’s a necessary milestone as Dakota can finally stand up to and defeat Baszler. In the weeks after, Dakota would defeat Mandy for the NXT Women’s Championship.
Dakota Kai winning the NXT Women’s Championship is what many have wanted. Many hoped she would win the championship at Takeover 36. I once agreed with that. But in retrospect her loss there was actually the right call. Dakota would have won the championship as a heel. Yes, the crowd would have still cheered for her. Unfortunately as a heel Dakota likely wouldn’t have been able to embrace the supportive response of the live crowd. Heel Dakota likely can’t engage with the crowd in the same way she could accept their appreciation and show hers in return as a face. Dakota winning the NXT Women’s Championship as a face is the proper way to reward the woman whose been the unsung hero of the NXT women’s division for years.
Those are just some things that could happen. Not how they will if any actually do. My interpretation of the last three weeks might just be that. I still feel optimistic there are seeds planted in the canon story that could turn Dakota face and give her a championship run. She has been an excellent heel, but it’s time for her to embrace the support of the crowd again. Team Kick needs its Captain back and she needs her crew to fully mend her broken soul.
Following the November 16 episode of NXT I still think all the things except one I speculated could happen in the future are realistic. That thing sadly no longer realistic is involvement from Tegan Nox who was released from her WWE contract on November 18. Some of the commentary during the November 16 episode tried to paint Dakota as a rotten person not deserving of any sympathy. Dakota as a heel has done some awful things that have attributed to her current state. For those of us who have suffered from mental illness, her character being alone and lost is something we can sympathize with. I stay hopeful Dakota’s story allows her to overcome and have a chance to redeem herself.
Dakota Kai and Mandy Rose are using each other to remove what Mandy sees as the biggest threat to her reign as NXT Women’s Champion in Raquel Gonzalez. However, twice now Dakota has told Mandy in a subtle way that Dakota is the truest threat. I still see Toxic Attraction betraying Dakota at some point after Wargames. Even if they don't outright turn on her, it seems just a matter of time before Dakota is at war with Toxic Attraction given the subtle yet clear tension between her and them we’ve seen. The way Toxic Attraction treated Dakota during their interaction on the November 23 episode of NXT came across as them being disrespectful toward her: Mandy’s initial repulsed reaction to Dakota approaching them followed by her tone when she addressed her. It came across like they felt Dakota is beneath them and they are just tolerating her since she’s on their Wargames team. In return, Dakota didn’t seem excited to be in their presence briefly, even rolling her eyes at Mandy as she rambled on. What Dakota did seem more interested in was the wreckage Kay Lee Ray caused.
Dakota said she's been lost since Raquel defeated her at Takeover 36. Her mind has been cloudy and she doesn’t know who she is anymore. In her unhinged state of mind she thinks the only way to purge all that is to get rid of her past, which begins with ending Raquel. Dakota has chosen the path of vengeance. This is where I think her ultimately sparing Cora Jade from worse a few weeks ago is important. Even as Dakota seeks vengeance against Raquel, we’ve seen there is still some good in her as she tries to figure out who she is in her current unhinged state of mind. After Dakota hits her lowest point, I think she will reflect on the past two years and start to gradually allow her better angels to guide her again. I can still see Dakota Kai becoming a full-fledged face with her new ferocity in tact and some of the quirky antics (minus the twitching) from her new character remaining to add some unpredictable chaos to the mix. Her allies against Toxic Attraction? Thinking NXT's Suicide Squad consisting of Dakota Kai, Kay Lee Ray and Cora Jade.
Two years of anger, misery and failure on top of a quest for vengeance descend Dakota to her lowest point. She’s the one who is betrayed this time ... by fake friends. This leads her to reflect on her mistakes and reincarnate herself as a face. Dakota embraces the support of the crowd again, fully mending her broken soul. With her crew back at her side, Dakota sets her sights on the NXT Women’s Championship. The banshee’s scream is the omen of demise. Such a scream was heard after Dakota defiantly brushed past Mandy on the November 2 episode of NXT. The demise of Mandy’s reign as NXT Women’s Champion at the hands of Dakota Kai may have already been set in motion.
Will I write a follow-up to The Broken Soul Within Dakota Kai? Let us say: TBC. In the meantime, check out our Project Broken Soul Youtube Channel.