Bunheads (“A Nutcracker in Paradise”)

Season 1, Episode 10
Date of airing: August 20, 2012 (ABC Family)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.504 million viewers, 0.6 rating with Adults 18-49

I was surprised this episode worked as a season finale, maybe even as a series finale, this well. Putting Michelle into a downward spiral to hell was kind of intriguing, especially since it happened so quickly. But it also happened in a predictable way, because everything was way too perfect for everyone involved. Michelle brought Sasha back into the school and into the Nutcracker production; Michelle got a man to smootch around with Godot, and everyone in the Oyster bar was happy to see them make out (like everyone on the TITANIC was happy for Jack and Kate at the very end); Boo got a bit of happiness, when she and Carl finally got together; and in a way, Ginny was on the road of happiness, because now she didn’t have to care much for Charlie any longer, which is probably the best thing that could have happened for anyone that was dealing with Charlie on this show. Also, Fanny was close to happy, before Michelle ruined it. In a way, the entire first half of the episode was filled with happiness and great moral and spirit (well, maybe not all of it, since Ginny and Melanie were on a path of war), and it was only a question of time when it all comes crashing down. You don’t get to write a TV show in which everyone is going to be happy all the time.

Cops and ballet dancers.

I liked the first half of the episode. I also liked that these 44 minutes had the most choreography of all episodes — starting with the somewhat sexy dance with Sasha and all the Wall Street bankers made me realize I could actually get into ballet, when it’s more urban and contemporary. The appearance of the nameless ringer gave me a lot of amusement, especially since I was expecting for Sasha to somehow fall flat before or during the Nutcracker production, just for the ringer to take over. The Boo/Carl dance was wonderful, especially since it was shot in one take, giving it more of a performance feeling (like almost all of the episode was). And even the great understanding between Michelle and Fanny at the Oyster bar gave me a feeling of “everything is perfect and fine in this universe, so don’t ever leave it.” Maybe it’s not such a wrong idea to create a world in television that is populated with people and characters who just want to be happy, even if they have to go through some drama to get there. For ten episodes, Michelle was working hard to get Fanny’s approval, and it took a while for Sasha to be at her happy place in this episode. Even Boo needed to work through some stuff to finally find her very own peace in this episode. In a world willed with nationalist rhetoric and an asshole Orange Hitler Donald Trump in the White House, it’s exactly what I needed. And I’m gonna need that more often.

Which is probably why I saw the downfall of it all as excruciatingly dramatic and horrifying. The pepper spray in Michelle’s zombie bag turned out to be a MacGuffin (and this after Amy Sherman-Palladino has managed to work without making MacGuffins that major in her story), and when the Nutcracker performance started to become a nightmare show for Fanny, a screwed-up show for the audience, and a weird comedic show for all the viewers watching this show (even I needed to laugh when Michelle dragged Sasha into the green room from under the curtain), I almost couldn’t believe that Amy was about to steal the happy place from me. Maybe it was luck that the ringer was still in the episode, taking over for Sasha in a performance that has already dropped all the other dancers. Someone keep an eye out for the ringer, because wherever she turns up, your luck might have run out. She could not only Single White Female you, but also murder you with pieces of glass in your shoes.

There is anger and desperation in this screencap

I also liked the few character arcs in this story. Finally, Ginny has come to realize that nothing was perfect with Charlie, and I loved that Boo got enough courage collected to get on stage and tell Carl that she liked him. It was a cute scene, and one I would have loved to experience in real-life as well (sad me, I will be forever alone). I also loved Fanny’s dream of escaping to Montana with Michael for three months, although the conclusion of that story was a bit disappointing story-wise. As it turned out, Michael was not the guy supposed to be with Fanny, because it looked like he had more relationship issues than his first appearance made it look like. And here I was, thinking that Fanny deserved someone like Michael. But here is Michael, acting out of character by walking away from Fanny after 30 years, because suddenly he was forced into three months being with Fanny. It definitely was a disappointing end to that relationship.

But then there was the final act of the episode. Michelle’s dream was somewhat intriguing, and not just because she had the audition dance dream for the third time in ten episodes. That Hubble was in her dream this time around was great, but the only thing it basically showed was a visual of Fanny’s words, that everything went to crap after she turned up, after Hubble died. It was the dream of Michelle realizing she didn’t belong in Paradise, even if she couldn’t have been more wrong. Which is what the “Oh Captain, my Captain” scene showed at the end, although I have difficulties to realize where that scene actually came from. Is it more a quote or homage of the movie, or does it actually define Michelle and her students? I can understand that Sasha would be fond of Michelle, because she has been the only one close to her since her arrival, but the other dancers? They never had enough interaction with Michelle to make me consider that they thought Michelle was the only teacher they always wanted. As touching as the closing scene was, it did come over a little weird, because it came out of nowhere, and also became a bit weird for a second with the “I don’t watch cable” joke attached.

Michelle’s underlings raise up to defend her.

Best part of the episode: The ringer was such a good dancer. And then she was such a good threat to Sasha, I’m impressed that she really didn’t turn out to be a murderer at the end. What a shame that ABC Family never did Lifetime movies.
Worst part of the episode: And with the beginning of the episode, the story of Sasha and Fanny’s conflict has been dropped like a hot potato. Sasha is back and Fanny is happy and let’s never speak of their past troubles ever again.
Weirdest part of the episode: The final act of the episode was way too serious in tone when compared to the nightmare that was the Nutcracker performance. I’m kind of glad that the show turned out to have serious consequences for Michelle, but damn, the almost satirical tone of the failing Nutcracker performance don’t fit with the dramatic follow-up.
Player of the episode: Boo and Carl can share the award this time around for their pretty love story and their wonderful dance during the fundraiser.

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