Michelle and Fanny have a ball putting together a fundraiser and the annual Nutcracker performance, filling Sasha's toe-shoes with a fairly insane nameless ringer and turning the town out in style. But before you know it, Michelle's wrecked things with Fanny's quasi-boyfriend, maced the Bunheads, and managed once again to piss off the entire town with an ill-timed and frankly bewildering Godot kiss.
Melanie and Ginny strike up a momentary truce regarding the Charlie Situation, but it won't last. Sasha meets a jock who turns into some kind of emo concept person, with all the organic realism this show has taught us to expect. Among the many wonderful dance sequences, there's a moment between Carl and Boo that's at least as squirmingly insane as anything else we've seen. And in the end -- and honestly, it's a surprise she hasn't managed this before now -- everybody ends up in the hospital.
...Where Michelle returns to her audition dream we sometimes see parts of, but this time the judge is Hubbell, who tells her she's remarkable and talented and that he brought her to Paradise to crack some nuts and make everybody feel weird and excited, like she did to him. It's a nice premise and all, and certainly a game attempt to make sense of the show on a basic level, but since her "shaking things up" has mostly amounted to being oddly rude to strangers and all the Truly abuse, it feels a little unearned.
What does feel right, though, is the relationships she's forged with the other characters. Sasha pulls out a literal Dead Poets Society "O Captain My Captain" routine as Michelle contemplates disappearing, and Hubbell's kindest ghost-advice involves pointing out that Fanny always wanted a daughter. As loathsome as the dated '90s references tend to be -- especially with straight rip-off, copy-of-a-copy stuff like this -- there's still a bit of an emotional payoff when you see how the characters find new ways to fit together.
For the show this show pretends to be, it would have made for a fine series or season finale. Of course, as it turns out it's neither: The show will be back in January with a couple months' worth of extra episodes. But the sense of completion, or at least of having experienced something beyond random flashes of light and sound, was an unexpected treat. For being such a friendly, cheerful mess -- not unlike Michelle herself -- the show has done the best it can to try and earn its keep, and I guess it's only fair to acknowledge that.
Come January, I suppose we'll be happy enough to see it back again. If only to keep the hope alive that America in 2012 is not yet so bleak that such a weirdly prickly fever dream -- about unhappy women without goals or tasks of any kind, with constantly shifting personality traits, equal parts grace and ungainly destructive flailing -- doesn't get its full due. Somewhere out there, the show is giving some kind of people some kind of satisfaction in some kind of way, and I suppose that deserves to continue at its own rocky, fucked up, bonkers pace. I suppose it's worth watching, after all, and not just in a snarky way: When the show's a trainwreck, it's a brilliant trainwreck. And apparently it now claims the option of being a television show as well. I wonder what that would look like.
It doesn't really matter. You know what's neat, though? If this show had actually died the violent death I've on and off wished it, this episode would be the most perfect series finale. It's sharp and sweet and funny and has a story and characters in it, all the things that were lacking. Lovely dances, a serious moment of grace and redemption for almost everybody, and a feeling at the end that your time was well-spent.
"Such a shame about that finale," we'd say. "You really saw the potential there, at the end." But because there are loads of people smarter than me in this world, we don't have the say that. We can just say, "That's one way to keep me watching." It gets weird in parts and I still don't trust the motherfucker, but I'd rather feel that way than to watch this fairly great episode, and love it, and feel a little bad about all the chances it never should have gotten and all the different bizarre ways I approached writing about it, just to end up with this little truffle at the end.
Fanny's given Michelle the task of choreographing one of the dances in her Nutcracker, and she's about to see it. Michelle is very, very nervous. They are affectionate with each other, tender even, in a way where even the sharpest dialogue sounds like teamwork, like a routine, instead of open warfare.
Fanny: "...I always have an open mind."
Michelle: "Right, but you need to keep an open mind like other people keep an open mind. With a mind that's actually, you know, open."
Fanny: "How many times have I told you my production of The Nutcracker is the highlight of my year?"
Michelle, not exaggerating: "842."
Fanny: "And how many times have I told you that these two weeks of shows make up the bulk of my money for the year?"
Fanny: "I gave you one dance to choreograph."
Michelle: "The Evil Rat Dance, yes."
Fanny: "Mice! Evil mice!"
Michelle: "Anyhow, it's done, and it's great. I just put my own spin on it..."
Fanny: "-- Are they wearing pasties and G-strings?"
No, they are not. It's pretty awesome -- albeit an unfortunately timed mashup of two of the best dance sequences in Step Up Revolution, a cinematic wonder I can't recommend highly enough, without irony -- but the concept (businessmen, because they're rats; Clara on a table narrowly avoiding their little businessman claws; the other Bunheads as authoritarian metermaid ballerinas) is not as much of a possible problem as the Clara.