This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason While Starz is airing each episode on a weekly basis, the whole season went up at once on demand.
Flesh And Bone Had The Feet, But It Didn't Have The Heart
The finale of Starz's 'limited series' reminds Adam Grosswirth why he was excited for this show in the first place...and why it was such a disappointment.
You guys, what happened? I was so excited for this show, and the premiere episode showed promise of something great or at least craptastically fun. Eight hours of TV later, I'm still processing my disappointment, trying to cling to the good parts.
My hope wasn't completely misguided. As my esteemed colleague Mark Blankenship wrote, "There's so obviously a good show buried deep beneath this putrid soil that I can't even enjoy my disdain." I didn't hate it as vigorously as he did, but I generally agree, and I'll extend Mark's metaphor to the breaking point: flowers would occasionally poke through like spring crocuses...only to be stomped on by Romeo, shit on by Eduardo, or chewed like so much scenery by Paul.
Starz's decision to make the entire series available to stream may not have been a great one. My decision to watch six of the eight episodes in one sitting definitely wasn't. Viewed weekly, Flesh And Bone might have been a decent, pulpy diversion. Marathoned, it was somehow both boring (which was the last thing I expected it to be) and aggressively absurd, as the bad elements repeated like one of Paul's rehearsals.
The show was at its best when it was at its realest, and the finale fortunately sends us out with a lot to hold on to:
For once Ben's histrionics are justified. Surely Claire has a clause in her contract about altering her appearance (though her haircut is super-cute). And while his reaction to the broken winch is extreme (things break, dude; shit happens), it's believable. (Why a "track" for a flying set piece would be in the floor is another question, but we're not doing The Pedant's Guide to Flesh And Bone, so moving on....)
I loved Daphne and Ross rehearsing together in her dressing room before she goes on as Kiira's understudy. It felt natural and real, and while it was yet another gratuitous excuse to show someone's boobs, it also showed how comfortable these people can be together when they're not being soap opera dramatic -- how professional these two are even when joking about sex, and how important this is to both of them.
I hated the MS storyline (where's Stockard Channing when you need her?), but Mia's breakdown when it finally got real was lovely. She doesn't know who she is without ballet, and she's spent her entire life training to be something she can no longer be. Her friendship with Pasha, so subtly established early on, pays off in his "snap out of it" pep talk to her: "Five years is lifetime for ballerina....You were never going to be prima. But always you will be smart, and funny. And world class piece of ass."
We get to see Toni's dance in its entirety and it's...fine? I'm no expert on ballet, but it seems neither shocking nor exceptional in the way we've been led to believe it would be. But it's beautifully shot, and it's nice to see a fully realized dance performance on stage after all this nonsense.
Paul is mostly sidelined in this episode, and in his transition to a supporting player finally becomes the John Waters character your humble commentators here always wished he would be. The pep talk he gives the company isn't exactly "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." It's not even "You're going out there a youngster but you've got to come back a star."
But unfortunately, that's only half the episode, and probably less than half of the series as a whole. Why couldn't the show have been about Mia, Daphne, and Ross? Or Pasha, Ivana, Monica? (Hmm, did I just cast the next Friends?) I realize I'm showing my bias, as someone who works in the trenches in the arts, for wanting to see a show about the people who work in the trenches in the arts (justice for Linda!), but mostly, focusing the show on any of these characters would mean the show wasn't about fucking Claire.
Sarah Hay did a lovely job with this mess of a character -- especially for someone who, as I understand it, has never acted outside of a ballet in her life, and I'd love to see her in something else. But writers, don't make anyone say things like, "Ever have one of those days when you wish you'd never been born" to a mentally ill homeless person unless your goal is for me to hate her. Also working against her in the finale is the time jump between Episodes 6 and 7 in lieu of any sort of character development. Oh, she's got her shit together now? Okay. Why? Doesn't matter.
I'll admit I actually gasped when Claire found bits of glass in her shoe, a reveal which was beautifully acted, shot, and edited, and which I didn't see coming (because it's motivated by nothing, but whatever). But then I rolled my eyes when she put it in her mouth, because again with the cartoon masochism? Once again the show was undercutting itself. And then it comes to nothing. Was that earlier mention of a perforated bowel (due to an eating disorder) foreshadowing? Is Claire going to Black Swan? Nah.
And speaking of Claire's psychological issues: the whole time they were playing Claire as a victim of sexual abuse...I guess we don't know that her father didn't abuse her, and I assume having a sexual relationship with one's brother would fuck one up, even if it were consensual and enjoyable, but that red herring just seems weird and disrespectful to actual victims, knowing what we now know.
It's also inconsistent, and only used when narratively convenient. In the finale, Bryan comes to see Claire's opening (phrasing!), at her request, but then freaks out and decides he can't stay. He tells her that every time he sees a little girl on the street, he wonders if she's his: "I gotta hope that all in all we made something good." Claire: "I used to punch my belly to try to kill it." This moment could have been hilarious camp, but instead it's just eye-rollingly stupid. One last bit of V.C. Andrews melodrama to see this arc off. Oh, and then later, Bryan finds her cut-off ponytail in his jacket pocket. Sure?
And then there's Romeo, the cleanest homeless person in the world -- even his shoes are clean...except when close-ups require someone to remember to make him dirty. Romeo somehow follows Bryan (who's said he's going far far away but has only made it as far as the Lower East Side, on foot, apparently forgetting that Manhattan is an island) undetected, despite wearing a coat with a thousand jingly bottlecaps sewn onto it. Romeo informs Bryan that he's the dragon from his stupid book no one cared about because it wasn't a thing until the previous episode, and stabs him in the chest: "You are the darkness. It was you. I need to do the right thing." Then he cuts Bryan's throat as Bryan stares up at him in shock. It's all very Sweeney Todd, except who cares? It's completely unmotivated. Romeo's "prophecy" was the most ridiculous element of the show (a high bar), but it was also parceled out in such small doses as to be meaningless. Now all of a sudden in the final minutes of the series it turns into a Shakespearean tragedy? If it had been one all along I probably would have been on board! Kings with dance? I'm there. Someone make that.
As Bryan lies bleeding beautifully in the East River Amphitheatre (get it they're both on stage at the same time), I'm left thinking about all the questions we'll never get answers to so that we could spend time with these two idiots:
- Why did Kiira leave, after risking permanent injury with that shot? It can't have been because Claire was Just. That. Good. Can it?
- What did the writers of this show have against Pittsburgh, which isn't my favorite city either, but is hardly a "small town" or the backwater they made it out to be. That they have a world-class ballet company was actually a plot point!
- Why doesn't ABC have a Development Director? And what was the deal with that Jessica embezzlement nonsense? Maybe if you were better at budgeting you'd both make a better salary and be less screwed if your husband's check didn't come on time.
- Who was Jeffrey, and why did Paul egg his grave? What a weird thing to never pay off.
- Why did the show deny us a scene between Patrick Page and Tovah Feldshuh and their accents?
- Speaking of which, WTF was up with Paul's accent?
Anyway, Claire and the ballet are a huge hit, of course, and when Paul comes into her dressing room being all creepy, she no longer flinches. "Tell me everything you're feeling," he says.
Would that this show had had the same restraint.