Flesh And Bone is a soap. There’s no getting past that. It’s trash with a classical music soundtrack, and hopefully it’s been established through these reviews that I don’t see that as a negative or a detriment. One of my favorite quotes, from film critic Pauline Kael, certainly applies, with a bit of tweaking for the medium, to Flesh And Bone: “Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash we have very little reason to be interested in them.” The problem is that Flesh And Bone only half buys into being Great Trash. It’s soapiness allows for a character like Paul to throw baby birds out the window in anger or for a character like Kiira to protect her territor at one moment, while wiping the blood away from her nose at the next.
But Flesh And Bone doesn’t move like great trash. It’s slower and more deliberate, which should work for a character like Claire who needs to be unravelled, but it’s not nearly fast enough to contain a guy like Paul. These soapy characters may be the most ridiculous, but they’re also the most fun to watch. Claire, who was once mysterious and fascinating, has lost a bit her sheen. Now, she’s just wide-eyed and boring, which make it even harder to focus on her when there’s a character like Paul who exists on the sidelines. That’s not to say that every trash character is great. It’s revealed in this episode that Kiira and Ross had more than a fling and Kiira has a history of substance abuse, but I’m not particularly interested in them because it slowed down the show. The momentum and story building that made the first episode feel so compelling to me has dissipated throughout these last few episodes, and while there are still aspects of the show that I think are interesting (we’ll get to those), I find myself wanting this show to lean so much harder into the Great Trash distinction than it could have.
The foray into the strip club scene is Flesh And Bone leaning into its inherent trashiness (and, once again, that word should have positive connotations) , although I’m sure how much I like it. There is an obvious contrast between stripping and ballet. The former is seen as a low form of dance, while the latter is seen as a cultural high point. But there’s some unfavorable comparisons toward ballet in the context of Flesh And Bone. In the show, both types of dance feature sexuality for sale, although in the confines of the club, it becomes on the dancer’s terms, not on the viewer. It is Claire who gets up on stage and decides to strip for an adoring crowd who look at her with astonishment and don’t touch (once again, we see people amazed by a woman I’m not entirely sure we should be amazing by). Yet, at the American Ballet Company, Claire is forced into a sexual situation she in no way wants to be a part of. The dark view of ballet can also be applied to Daphne’s situation. As a ballerina, she’s at the mercy of her father’s checkbook, and any deal she makes with him to get her soloist spot will never be on her terms. At least, Flesh And Bone seems to be saying, each of the women know they are selling their bodies within the context of Sergei’s club, while that is not necessarily the case when it comes to the American Ballet Company.
But even in her strip club scene, Claire feels almost like a disembodied character, motivated by some sort of Kilgravian-mind control (sorry, been watching Jessica Jones) rather than her own sense of self. She is supposedly taking control in this scene, but she’s also ushered off the stage and put into a car as if she can’t take of herself. So, let’s talk Claire: She spends so much time hiding her past that she’s losing out on her present. She’s not a strong enough character to be the center of the show, and I care less and less about her Chosen One status. At this point, she only seems special because we’ve been told she is. Kiira constantly tells her that she needs to walk the walk of a prima to make it in the company. While that may mean drug addiction for Kiira, Claire has taken none of that advice.
There are two big movements within Claire’s life at the company that occur during this episode and Claire is not the most interesting part of either of them. The first is Laurent’s rejection of her and the company due to her refusal to be a sexual pawn, leading to a positively caustic rant by Ben Daniels, who at this exact moment feels like he’s in another show entirely with his level of intensity compared to everyone else’s (ahem, let’s not forget throwing eggs at the grave of the dearly departed Jeffrey), but I can’t fault him for that when he’s the most exciting performing on the show. This leads Claire to the strip club for no discernible reason than the symbolism noted above. Then edgy choreographer Toni Canava (Marina Benedict) is brought into the fold. She’s at the company for Claire’s benefit even though they have absolutely no interaction. Toni is supposed to represent this new kind of ballet that Kiira is not a part of, something different and ground-breaking rooted in emotion. She makes her dancers hug each other and feel something but no actual connection to Claire is made throughout the episode.
The most interesting thing about Claire in this episode was her completely unexpected reaction to her brother’s arrival in New York. If it had not been made clear several times before, Bryan is a threatening figure. If we didn’t get that, the Caribbean nannies of Manhattan are sure to let us know (go nannies go!). When Claire sees Bryan, in the midst of getting a blow job from Mia, she runs, which is the expected response. This guy is clearly not a good guy. But when he catches up with her, she lets him stay. He has great power over her, but the outright danger of the situation seems to be diffused so quickly. While Claire is still very much threatened by Bryan — she clutches her broken glass ballerina until her hand bleeds — he’s still in her house. It’s eerie and scary in a way that Bryan’s previous act of violence — beating up the old man in the bus station — was not. He holds a sway more powerful than anyone else. He controls her by fear. It’s through Bryan that Claire may become a character worthy of the attention paid to her.