Picking up a few minutes after last episode's crazy dark twist, this week's installment finds Michelle standing in the middle of a hurricane as Fanny commences going completely and utterly insane. What begins as a protest against conventional funerals soon snowballs into a 500-person circus gala on the deck of the Intrepid, with her friends -- including Ellen Greene, who is looking positively dynamite -- looking on as she obsesses about sitar players, lilies and the whole rest of it. All with Michelle pointedly left out of the conversation in a sort of mean-girl pact between Fanny and Truly to make Michelle uncomfortable enough that she'll go away and leave them to mourn in peace.
Meanwhile, the ballet girls are demonstrating pretty much every possible pitfall or problem you could ever have with ASP dialogue, leading us into some fucking dire situations of forced quirk, unrealistic-if-funny first-drafty ideas, and all the other stuff that could possibly happen in a show like this to threaten even last week's shitty ratings. It is a tough watch, and it's really nobody's fault but the director's... Who happens to be ASP herself. So maybe this is what her wonderful dialogue sounds like in her head, which is depressing, or more likely she had a million other things going on and wasn't interested in telling everybody how to say her words. Whatever went down, shit is ugly.
Michelle goes on a walk, and an old man asks her to walk his dog, since she's walking anyway. That part was great. She wanders into a bar owned by Mitch Huntzberger, who on this show is wearing some sort of Butterscotch Stallion getup that makes him look disgusting, like he's in disguise, and there's yards more annoying, inorganic, inauthentic, stylized quirk. But before you know it, Michelle's dragged back into the middle of things, and -- after a harsh pep talk from Sasha -- decides to throw a memorial on Fanny's behalf.
In a perennial ASP move, the entire town gets together and decorates the studio with candles and the girls learn a complicated dance to a Tom Waits song, and Fanny gets some kind of closure, and it's super-sweet. But at the end of the day, there is no reason for Michelle to be here, meaning for this show to exist despite its lovely opening credits, so that's when the next hammer drops: Just as Michelle's admitting to Sasha that she has no reason to be on this show, Fanny affectionately introduces her to an old friend of Hubbell's (reliable Tick and Joan Of Arcadia hottie David Burke), who not only validates Hubbell's intense, long-term feelings for Michelle, but also introduces this week's big cliffhanger: He's also their lawyer, and it turns out Hubbell's left everything to Michelle. The land, the house ... the studio... So you can see where that's headed.
All in all, worrisome. Not only because of the shitty ratings, or the fact that Shonda's co-opted the entire conversation about the show because Sasha's not ethnic enough for her, but also: At some point you stop doing what comes naturally and start doing what's expected of you, and I'm afraid that this is a case -- not saying the whole show, just saying this one important episode, this Perfect Storm of bullshitty slapdash compromises -- was a matter more of selling the ASP brand and less about delivering on its promise, which is why another set of eyes (and a director who doesn't manage to make a Kelly Bishop line reading seem insincere, a thing I didn't even think was fucking possible) is always helpful. But hey, working out the kinks. I still love it.
Next Week: "How cocky being land-rich has made you!"
Michelle Simms, a mostly likeable Vegas showgirl and former ballet prodigy, was wined and dined on the worst day of her life by a kindly stalker. She woke up married in a sleepy seaside town, at odds with his dance-instructor mother, and the subject of much local scrutiny. But just as she began to make peace -- with the mother, as well as this strange new life she'd blundered into -- her main reason to be there was tragically killed. It was random, and sad, and pretty devastating.
When they get home, it's silent. Michelle stands in the middle of a house, a life, that is not her own. Not even a guest, just a ghost. Fanny doesn't look at her, doesn't acknowledge her. Just goes about her brittle routine in the dark, turning off the downstairs lights one by one by one. Their choreography is just as practiced as it is brutal, as Michelle realizes she doesn't need to stay out of Fanny's way: She doesn't exist at all.
GYM - FIELD BLEACHERS
Sasha: "I dunno, either path is fraught with peril. If I ask for a car for my birthday I'll get it..."
Sasha: "Walked in on a really weird fight they were having, involving the guy who did our landscaping, and a fondue pot... The minute they saw me they totally clammed up. Which translates to busted, which translates to guilt, which translates to Beemer. However, I know that if I ask them for the car and then I receive said car I'm then indebted to them for the car, which means the next time one of them asks, Does this outfit make me look fat? I'm gonna have to look. [Beat.] How bad is the bus?"
No closer to figuring out the deal with Melanie. Boo's the sad one and Sasha's the awesome mean one, but Melanie and Ginny are just No Boobs and Much Boobs, still. Melanie's kinda dumb, but that's not a personality. Especially on this show, where the one who talks the fastest wins the game.
Melanie, to prove she's listening: "Car, birthday, fondue pot, am I fat, quandary."
A lot of the dialogue set-pieces in this episode don't work, which is weird because the same person that wrote them directed it, but I loved this next exchange, involving Melanie wrangling a newspaper made of actual paper, like in a museum:
Melanie: "I'm going to see my grandpa tonight, and he likes me to read the paper to him... I always pre-read it and circle the articles I think he'll like, because time is an issue at his age and he gets really upset if he falls asleep before I get to Gail Collins."
(The girls are called upon to flash Fanny's PE exemption note, which seems to be something that happens every day but in this particular case is explained using many words.)
Sasha: "Why don't you just use an iPad?"
Melanie: "Tried to. He couldn't grasp the concept of it. He just got angry and thought I was making everything up."