After seemingly getting our setup last week, tonight’s episode sees Michelle (Sutton Foster) getting that much closer to teaching at the dance studio, now that Fanny (Kelly Bishop) is taking a little sabbatical and has left Michelle in charge. It’s Michelle’s birthday, and her friend Talia is coming to visit from out of town. No matter, as Michelle, Talia, and a tag-along Truly(a terrific Stacey Oristano) decide to put on preposterously tight dresses and even tighter-fitting shoes and hit the town to see what Paradise has to offer.
As it turns out, it doesn’t offer much of anything. Everything closes early, apparently, and so the trio winds up at the same movie truck (planted squarely in the center of a town fair), as our four bunheads. Sasha (Julia Goldani Telles) went through a ton of trouble to plan this night out, and her parents’ domestic squabbles aren’t about to ruin it for her, and so the quartet sneak out in their best finery, meeting up at the fair with Melanie’s brother Charlie, who seriously overreacts to how her lateness costs him and his friend a decent seat at the R-rated movie they’re all sneaking into. This is more or less what passes for exciting entertainment in Paradise, sneaking into an R-rated monster/slasher flick in lieu of staying home, which both parties consider before heading out. We don’t really learn anything new about either set of women, except that Truly isn’t nearly the goodie two-shoes she appears to be, first coming up with the plan to sneak into the movie and then providing a bottle of liquor for the full adult viewing experience. Of course, she never actually swallows any of the alcohol, instead spitting it back into the bottle, which rightfully grosses the other women out. It’s hardly anything substantive, as far as concerns what we learn about Truly, but it’s interesting regardless. In fact, this entire episode is a great little character study.
We get to see the dynamics at play in these disparate, but vaguely similar groups. Truly, not unlike Boo (Kaitlyn Jenkins), is an awkward, shy outsider struggling to fit into a group of practiced femininity. Truly is every bit as awkward in heels as Boo is with makeup, and as unsure of her place in the trio as Boo is around Charlie (the object of her affections). However, both ladies find their footing as the night progresses. Michelle and Talia grow to genuinely appreciate and enjoy Truly’s company, while Sasha eventually finds herself comfortable enough to confide in Boo about her strained relationship with her parents.
As great an episode as this was for Stacey Oristano as Truly, this really was the breakout episode for Julia Goldani Telles as Sasha. The subtle ways she utilizes her wonderfully expressive face to communicate the anger, the fear, and the resentment of a child who is set to watching her parents’ marriage implode as they take turns ignoring her is exceptional, to say nothing of her dancing, though we’ll get to that in a bit. The gradual evolution of Sasha’s character reveals the layers behind a girl who could have been utilized as little more than a mean girl/queen bee foil for the sympathetic Boo. But we’ve learned that Sasha is essentially wounded, her exterior a defense mechanism, her way of projecting her frustration with her parents out onto the world. Perhaps dance is another way through which she deals with that exasperation, as we see in that wonderful closing dance segment. Sasha, decked out in black leotard and dark eyeshadow, manifests her issues through dance, moving like a shadow to “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” by They Might Be Giants. It’s a great setpiece sequence, and a fitting cap to an episode that didn’t see significant plot developments, but doubled-down and building character for the rest of the journey going forward.
As for Michelle, she’s gradually coming to realize how much she misses the promise of her life with Hubbell. No, she didn’t know him all that well. But the idea of being married to someone who sincerely, unconditionally loved her and was willing to make a real life with her is more appealing now than it initially had been when she actually was married, brief as it was. As it is now, Michelle is merely married to her own lack of fulfillment, finding Paradise to be a pleasant enough place, but ultimately unfulfilling. Perhaps Michelle will find that sense of satisfaction in teaching dance?
Off-topic somewhat, but one last bit bothered me: Seriously, how fresh could ATM Cupcakes possibly be? Sure, it’s a great idea, in concept, but it’d probably be pretty gross in execution.
But back to the show, as the season seems to be winding down, meaning we’re getting to the real meat of the story. I can’t wait to see what that entails, if tonight’s strong character work is any indication. Bunheads deserves a second season, so hopefully we’ll have word of a renewal at some point, since the ratings are strong for what ABC Family usually airs. This is a show that can only get better, after all; and it’s already quite good.