“Scorched Earth” had fewer lines of dialogue than any other episode in Flesh And Bone’s eight episode run, not just because of those dance sequences but because there was room to breathe within the scenes. There could be silence because there was no need to skip ahead to the next scene and the next plot point. “Scorched Earth,” largely without words, conveyed more about about what the show was trying to say about Claire and her journey and dance and being a woman than any of the previous seven episodes combined. But, like in previous episode have shown, the strengths of Flesh And Bone make the show itself all the more frustrating. Flesh And Bone could have been good if not great. But it wasn’t.
So let’s start with the good: The direction in this episode was exquisite. Alik Sakharov was a cinematographer before moving on to directing television and it shows. Filming dance well is incredibly difficult. On one hand, the camera can give the viewer angles and close ups that are impossible for a stationary audience member. On the other hand, the dancers onscreen are doing such incredible things with their bodies that extra camera movement detracts from why they’re being filmed in the first place. Sakharov and cinematographers Adam Arkapaw and Terry Stacey largely keep the camera still, creating motion and finding those obscure angles through cuts, rather than, say, through a tracking shot. They’re also smart enough to let the dance speak for itself when it needs to, going into wide angles so that Ross can leap across the floor or the full breadth of what Claire is creating can be seen. It was a lovely centerpiece for the episode. The comparatively little dialogue also allowed for other technical aspects to show how much the atmosphere can create drama that is so much richer than the onslaught of plot points that were hurtled at us throughout this short season. The music, the lighting, and the staging created a higher sense of drama than histrionic screaming matches.
And there were so many plot points hurtled at us. If the finale did one thing, it was prove how entirely inconsequential most of them ended up being either because of the way they played out or because there was simply not enough for any of them to be fully realized. The final scene, in which Claire refuses to let Paul leach off the performative high she’s feeling, is to meant to show her final act of liberation. Her dragon — Bryan — has been slayed by her hero — Romeo. She is free of Bryan, or really of the confines of home and Pittsburgh and her past — even if she did not really want to be. Bryan was such an oddly drawn character. A monster who does not want to be monster. Whether Claire is complicit in their sexual relationship, or if she has been coerced by a more powerful force is never really made clear. The problem with Bryan is that he’s not ambiguously moral, he’s just not well-drawn.
Claire’s true end game is to get in touch with the raw emotional side of her work, and to do that she needed to be rid of the “chains” that tied her to Bryan. But in doing so, she is able to cast off another dragon, Paul, as well. Claire’s triumph on the stage was her own version of the bottle cap suit of armor and knife to the jugular. She’s finally real — in her own Velveteen Rabbit parlance — without Bryan’s help. After her performance, she walks out into the snow for the great metaphorical cleansing. You can see Claire’s self actualizations in this series of shots.
First Paul stands behind her in this predatory way
But, as the camera zooms in on her, look at Claire’s face. She’s aged up. She doesn’t have the traditional ballerina bun. Her make-up is stark and fierce. She’s no longer the angel that Paul could manipulate and control. She’s the warrior who eats glass. She’s the one with the lights in her eyes.
It was a really lovely sequence, and the message that writer/creator Moira Beckett-Walley is trying to get across is clear and firm. But man, I wish there hasn’t been so many other characters and storylines to cloud this transformation. In the end, Kiira, Daphne, Mia and even Sergei meant little. And don’t even get me started on Jessica, who took up more screen time than was close to necessary. The ends of their stories meant little to me because there was so much going on that there wasn’t enough time to explore them at all. Kiira gets a scant few seconds to wrap up her fall from the peak of her career. Claire maybe liberated by Kiira is trapped in a home life she does not want. Same for Mia who is trapped by this idea of greatness — her lack of it and her inability to ever achieve it. Daphne is trapped by money, both from her father and from Sergei, whose newly public patronage means her life at the club and her life at work are now mingling together in ways she hoped they never would. Her dragon has not yet been slayed.
But when there’s so much going on, my empathy and attention for each character was spread way too thin. There were so many diversion that never added up into anything. Claire’s strip club boyfriend, for one, was a dead end. It’s hard to care about everything when there are too many things to care about.
I found a lot of promise in the pilot of Flesh And Bone, and I saw promise in this episode. There were interesting ideas at the heart of Flesh And Bone but they could never fully coalesce. It wasn’t a success, but it wasn’t a failure either. And while it never quite worked, there was always the nugget of something truly interesting hiding inside soap operatics. Here’s hoping Beckett-Walley refined her talents as a creator on Flesh And Bone, and the greatness she has already shown she has can be repeated again.