Recap and review of Bunheads – Season 1 Episode 13 – I’ll Be Your Meyer Lansky:
Despite how much I genuinely look forward to Bunheads each week (and it’s really among the few shows on TV right now that do that for me), I have no problem admitting that there’s a structural component to the show that is lacking. Or rather, that had been lacking. Bringing Michelle (Sutton Foster) into the fold with Fanny (Kelly Bishop) as partners running the dance studio was the rebar the show needed to uphold its narrative foundation. The series spent more than half of its first season building to this point, so it’s only fitting that, having now reached this point, the series would then stall, at a loss for how Michelle and Fanny can make this business work. It’s a very deliberate story choice to have made, and one that serves the show well, from a practical standpoint. Michelle and Fanny attempting to turn their wealth of land into a money-making venture has all the ear-marks of a solid A-story, propelled forward by the enthusiastic energy to transform the space into an amphitheater. And why not? They have the space for it, and they have an entire Academy full of girls who can perform on the stage, drawing in audiences of parents and curious bystanders for top dollar, in a town where entertainment is hard to come by. However, it’s completely in keeping with the show’s give-and-take nature that this objective would be far more difficult than either Fanny or Michelle would have taken into consideration. “I’ll Be Your Meyer Lansky” can be a bit of a plodding episode, but the story often finds ways to show how comfortably well-established the world of Paradise is, beyond simply the well-rounded development of the main characters who populate it.
What’s enjoyable about this episode is the sheer number of active plots running simultaneously. Michelle and Fanny’s business venture results in some of the episode’s funniest scenes, such as their rapid fire, Laurel and Hardy-esque conversation in the office of their exasperated financial consultant, as are the scenes in which Fanny acknowledges just how exhausting it is to have a conversation with Michelle if your knowledge of pop culture references are limited. The financial troubles of Michelle and Fanny, who close the Academy when they’re having a bad day, having no real sense of how to operate a proper business, are solved by episode’s end, when they begin a partnership with Millie (Liza Weil), Truly’s hated older sister and landlord. Truly (Stacey Oristano) feels betrayed by this development, and warns Michelle that her sister gets rid of anything she doesn’t like, basically equating Michelle and Fanny’s amphitheater plans with a passing fancy that Millie will soon get over. It’s hard not to sympathize with Truly, who’s great as the “can’t catch a break”, Charlie Brown figure of Paradise. It could be sisterly sour grapes, but if anybody knows about what a hard-ass Millie could be, it would be Truly.
A subplot within this main story is Michelle’s discovery that she technically didn’t finish high school, having skipped out with friends to Dollyland instead of attending summer school and finishing the one course she needed to receive her diploma. This leads to Michelle’s encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture becoming broken, as she completely fails at a trivia contest held at the Oyster Bar, resulting in an uncharacteristically harsh moment where Michelle shares a drink with the newly-returned Godot (Nathan Parsons), and toasts to being stupid. Her assumptions about Godot sharing her status as a high school dropout are founded in his profession as a surfer, completely overlooking the fact that Godot has a master’s degree in Oceanography, and is contemplating going for his doctorate. Offended, he blows Michelle off, and I can’t say I blame him. Michelle has been known to make an empty-headed mistake or two, but her assumptions about Godot bespeak a cruelty in Michelle that’s unbecoming, and really uncharacteristic of the goodhearted woman we’ve come to know. Everybody makes a stupid slip here and there, but I always figured Michelle was supposed to have better sense than that. Color me disappointed.
That said, this episode keeps the focus away from Michelle for long enough that the sting of her treatment of Godot doesn’t really linger. It’s an episode that puts the spotlight on one of the show’s most underdeveloped characters, Mel (Emma Dumont). When she witnesses her older brother Charlie (Zak Henri) getting publicly dumped by his girlfriend, she relishes the moment, witnessing her jerk of a sibling getting his comeuppance. But she quickly starts to notice a change in him. He feigns sickness to get out of driving her to dance practice, and even allows her to drive his precious car (despite her being a terrible driver with no license) just so he won’t have to get out of bed. To make matters worse, Charlie doesn’t return any of her insults. It’s like all the fight has gone out of him. So Mel gets to the bottom of things, learning from Charlie’s best friend that he was genuinely in love with his girlfriend, who he treated like gold. The breakup has led to her brother’s depression, leading Mel to feel resentful of the girl for breaking her brother’s heart, in one of the episode’s most poignant developments, even though this poignancy segues directly into Mel shoving the girl down in front of the entire school – and then doing the same to Godot for ditching Michelle. It’s this latter act that leads to Cozette (Jeanine Mason), the mysterious new wunderkind in town, to offer her a spot on a roller derby team, which could make for some awesome TV going forward. As it stands now, the plot goes a long way in defining Mel’s character and rounding her out, so that she’s more than simply the fourth bunhead. I consider it a pretty big success, by that standard alone.
Lastly, there’s the continuing saga of Sasha (Julia Goldani Telles), who still hasn’t decided on which parent she’s going to live with. Sasha, Mel and Ginny (Bailey Buntain) vow not to freak out Boo (Kaitlyn Jenkins) with the news of Sasha’s potential move, but her mother enters the room, orders the other girls to leave, and then forces Sasha to make a decision, once and for all. She again refuses, and so Sasha’s mother leaves her the keys to the house and basically tells her to fend for herself for the remaining few weeks before the house is no longer technically their property. Sasha bawls her eyes out to Michelle, who promises they’ll find a way to work things out, but there’s an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and uncertainty hanging over the duo. As we leave this scene, we transition into an interpretive dance sequence, and I’m not entirely certain whether it’s an actual routine being performed by the Academy, or if it’s merely a symbolic representation of Sasha’s impending departure. However, it’s beautiful nonetheless, with the girls in their billowy, simple gowns, forming a circle around Sasha, who spans the entire breadth of the stage before freezing dead-center, her voluminous hair hanging down over her face, completely obscuring her from the audience. I lean towards these sequences being symbolic, and they’re an absolutely gorgeous way of representing the inner turmoil of the characters. It’s exceptionally well-done.
“I’ll Be Your Meyer Lansky” goes a long way in helping to flesh out Paradise, making it feel like a real place, somehow divorced from the modern world as we know it. The characters are well-rounded and given to honest introspection, which goes a long way in making them identifiable. While the episode become plodding, in places, due to being encumbered with so many different stories that had little or nothing to do with the A-story of Michelle and Fanny’s money woes, the episode contributes to the already formidable catalogue of episodes in the first season of Bunheads.