Usually, during a Bunheads episode, I've come to expect a prolonged, even wandering, setup - knowing that a really great emotional payoff will come by episode's end. But "Take the Vicuna" didn't quite live up to that expectation. The hour wasn't nearly as developed in its conflicts and consequences as it usually is, and so the whole thing was a bit underwhelming by comparison.
"Take the Vicuna" started off strong; the opening sequence featured an intricately-choreographed dance of dialogue, conflict, and, well... dance. All in one take, no less! I feel like I can't overlook just how difficult that must have been to rehearse and perform to perfection - on both sides of the camera - juggling all the variables in one two-minute take. Plus, it picked up where we left off with Melanie and Ginny's falling out, and Ginny's issues with Cozette. The number swung all the girls into each others' orbits, and allowed for all sorts of bickering. I genuinely laughed when poor peace-loving Boo returned to the partnership of RayRay and sighed, "I missed you."
But then the episode dropped any real development on the Ginny/Melanie conflict, and I think it may have been the worse for it. Why not give them a storyline where they're forced to work together and air their grievances, as it were? Or, if Ginny needs more time, then use that as fodder for an in-episode arc where she realizes how much she misses Melanie at the end of it. Ginny's issue with Cozette threatening the group's friendship is compelling material, in that it makes her incredibly relatable. Who doesn't not like change? It's understandable that Ginny would feel that way. But she's got to confront it sometime, and I would like to see a mini-arc, from her POV, that allows that for Ginny. As is, she's just coming off as a snippy teen who holds a grudge against her best friend and harbors irrational anger towards outsiders. (The latter can be funny; don't get me wrong. But we should probably work through it a little bit, especially when it's cramping a fixed relationship on the show.)
Regardless of what specific content might have been potentially given to Melanie and Ginny, I think it's clear that "Take the Vicuna" could have used the extra bulk. There were only three main storylines in the episode, which might ordinarily be enough for Bunheads... but these three weren't all that hefty. The only emotional payoff of the hour came with Michelle's encounter with her mother, and that was purposefully left obfuscated for the point of demonstrating their disconnect. The little coda with Michelle and Sasha was a nice addition, but doesn't quite count as meatier emotional weight.
The main chunk of the hour was devoted to the logical progression in Fanny and Michelle's amphitheatre project: working with Milly as they begin construction. This storyline was inevitable, considering Milly's status as a supporting character comedy mine, and the natural conflicts that arise when you put a hardcore businesswoman opposite Fanny or Michelle. But I think that's what left this arc a bit lackluster: it was entirely expected. Nothing in it surprised me at all, and weirdly, very little of it made me laugh. Fanny put forth several excellent arguments about the role of financial backers on creative projects, but ultimately the plotting was plain and the resolution weak. Milly just wants to be seen as a purveyor of the arts, and so Fanny crowing about it is enough to satisfy that? Oh. The episode also glossed over the fact that Fanny was pretty much taking advantage of Milly's loose wallet, and expected us to be on her side when Milly provided too much input. Sure, Milly's input was ridiculous and over-the-top, but still - it was perhaps comeuppance for Fanny manipulating the situation.
I also felt Truly's absence was undue in this storyline. At the end of "I'll Be Your Meyer Lansky," Truly expressed concern over Fanny and Michelle going into business with Milly at the possible expense of their relationships. It seemed so strange to give over so much screentime to what appears to be a guest star over an established recurring character - especially given the narrative circumstances. Why not add Truly predicting what Milly's next step will be at each turn, with each prophecy coming exactly true? Maybe with Truly's feelings and brand of neurotic in the mix, it could have added some zest to the obvious progression of this plotline. But now that Fanny and Milly have gotten their extreme Type A and Type B personality conflict out of the way, hopefully we can find some more fun material waiting in this multi-episode arc.
The other portion of the hour was devoted to Sasha's skyrocket into adulthood. This storyline kept me waiting for the shoe to drop. I was expecting Sasha to fall apart at some point, because she is a 16-year-old living as a twenty-something. How could the weight of that not possibly be a struggle to handle, especially considering her tearful stoop realization in "I'll Be Your Meyer Lansky?" But all of Sasha's scenes had her tackling even the most difficult aspects of being a grown-up with implausible ease. With no shoe drop! There's some Sasha-loving smug part of me that delights in the fact that Bunheads scripted her to be preternaturally competent at life management, but at the same time... where's the narrative fun in that? I'm torn.
I think I would have preferred a slightly different route on Sasha's storyline. I loved that moment when everyone left her party and Sasha was faced with an empty apartment, suddenly alone. I almost wish that we could have seen that moment sink in a bit. That sense of what now? instantly taking over the second you've sat down to rest. The writers aren't skimping on Michelle-Sasha parallels, and this was maybe a good place to write that in. After all, isn't Sasha starting a new life just like Michelle? A lost soul making a new home for herself? I don't think that element was quite present for Sasha in "Take the Vicuna," and I wish it were. It's much stronger than a fairly superficial plot progression with Roman. Sure, that part was cute, but I think it could have been sacrificed or rearranged for a better narrative angle on Sasha's portion of the hour.
Speaking of Sasha and Michelle... I confess, their moments in "Take the Vicuna" have caused me to worry a little bit. We all know I love the Sasha-Michelle of it all. Their scenes are almost always a high point of an episode, whether comedic or dramatic, and there's a lot of material to mine there. But "Take the Vicuna" did a few things that made me question where exactly the writers are taking this. Mainly, it was Scotty's acknowledgement of Michelle's "mini-me" and his observation that it's cute but possibly dangerous. I know we're not supposed to take Scotty's word as the end-all, be-all here, but in an episode where Michelle is confronted with her own bad mother-daughter experience and the idea that she's inadvertently picked up a devoted daughter-type... I worry. I hope it's all for naught. I hope we stick with the idea that Sasha and Michelle are both lost soul loner types who can commiserate on mommy issues and lean on each other - and veer away from Michelle potentially stomping self-deprecating mommy issues on the little baby bird following her around.
Regardless, the ending with Michelle and Sasha sleeping parallel in frame was pretty adorable, especially with Michelle simply staring at Sasha on her couch and Sasha replying, "We'll sleep at my place tomorrow." Cuties. Keep up the narrative parallels and the scripted healthy interactions, Bunheads, and I will be a happy little bee.
The closest thing we got to an emotional punch in "Take the Vicuna" came from Michelle's sudden reunion with her mother, as facilitated by Scotty. This storyline confused me a bit - it didn't seem like Scotty wanted Michelle to see that he was meeting with their mom, but her mom made it seem like she'd wanted to see Michelle and asked Scotty to set it up? Either way, we didn't see anything of Scotty and Michelle's brother-sister tradition outing, and that confused me as well. Did they go? Did Scotty not actually plan anything? I guess it doesn't matter. But it seemed strange to not get a scene from it, especially after the incident at the diner. And I have a hard time believing that Michelle and Scotty's mom successfully gaslighted them into believing they'd been on wonderful family road trips just by letting them sleep in their moving car and telling exaggerated stories when they woke up.
But I suppose the point of the Simms family exploration is that we're intended to find out a little at a time, all the while asking questions about what kind of childhood these two had, particularly Michelle. She hasn't seen or talked to her mom in 12 years, so obviously that's begging for some screentime. I'm not sure I necessarily want Michelle to reconcile with her mom, though, unless it's in a kind of healing way that benefits her progress. As is, it's damn hard to argue with her rant about newfound family in "The Astronaut and the Ballerina," and I think I will be just fine if Bunheads sticks to the notion that Michelle and her mother are never going to have a happy functional relationship. We'll see if they actually try. My heart broke the tiniest bit when Michelle's mom told her she just wanted to see her face, as she silently walked out the door. I'm curious to see where this goes, especially in conjunction to the arc that Bunheads has outlined so beautifully for Michelle in the first four episodes of Season 1.2.
Unfortunately, "Take the Vicuna" skimped on a few storylines, leaving them a little too uncooked and basic. Hopefully next week will pick up with developing the Cozette storyline, the Melanie-Ginny conflict, making heads or tails of Sasha's weirdly not-weird-but-still-weird adult life, and moving forward on the amphitheatre arc with fresh problems and an involved Truly. The first four episodes of Bunheads 1.2 have spoiled me, and this episode just wasn't quite up to snuff.
The Report Card:
Joke of the Night: Ginny reintroducing herself to her lab partner
Scene of the Night: the opening one-take dance argument
Episode MVP: Sasha