Full disclosure: I’m on the fence about tonight’s Bunheads! While “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit” moved the story forward in basic plotting, the episode as a whole felt like a pivot point for the season. To that end, I am nervous. Because everything that was set up in episodes 11 through 15 now feels slightly irrelevant as we may or may not be adjusting our sails and heading in a different direction.
Mainly, this is to do with Michelle’s arc. “You Wanna See Something?” beautifully executed Michelle’s return to Paradise, and her renewed commitment to the town. The subsequent episodes embedded her in the community, involved her with mentoring, and made her fight for the life she’s building. Wonderful stuff, right? Well, “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit” muddled that clear trajectory for Michelle, and thus I find myself questioning the plotted pace and obstacles for our heroine’s arc.
I have two beefs. One: is this too soon? We’ve gotten five episodes with Michelle seamlessly incorporated into Paradise, involved without qualm or query. She opens her home to Truly, and Sasha, she knows every diner at the Oyster Bar, she makes plans and commitments both logistically and emotionally. Yet, in “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit,” we see a Michelle who’s cowed by the denizens of Paradise in a storyline we’d expect from Bunheads 1.1 - the angle being, “how kooky are these townsfolk?” from an alienated Michelle’s POV. Beyond that, there’s a scripted storyline for Michelle to actually mentor Ginny on her audition, and instead… she shows up late, hijacks the session, and makes it more or less about her insecurities. This retro-Michelle treatment begs the question: is it too soon for Michelle to be retreading on her arc? Is the news that Talia booked “Rock of Ages” enough to scare Michelle back into her aimless, auditioning existence?
I don’t know. Obviously, it’s 100% valid to portray little “bumps in the road.” I actually love the idea that Michelle might always want to be a part of show business again; it’s set up in “You Wanna See Something?” that both Fanny and Michelle are not irrevocably beheld to this town and this life. But that’s just it: it was already set up. So the introduction of this concept leads me to believe it’s going to actually manifest in Michelle trying to skip town on Paradise again… and it feels too soon for me.
There’s also the question of how this suggestion was broached in “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit.” Here we are at Beef the Second: Michelle’s identity crisis was structured very plainly, in black-and-white. While there was no outright opposition between Talia and Milly, the two polarized personalities were brought to the forefront in this episode for the purpose of embodying Michelle’s conflict. There’s Milly, who owns land and wants Michelle to wear a pantsuit and crush her enemies. And then there’s Talia, who has one good lay ten years ago and lands a role in a touring company today.
In essence, everything boils down to the metaphor of that pantsuit. As soon as Michelle found out about Talia’s success, she wanted out of the suit. She literally needed to shed the facade of businesswoman that she was playing dress-up with, presumably because Talia’s news was a reminder of who she really is: an entertainer, a creative person. In the end, she rejected the pantsuit completely and said she wouldn’t need it for whatever she’s doing - again, presumably something creative and artsy. Which... seems a bit too clear-cut in its message, frankly.
Michelle vs. the pantsuit was endearing at first, and I appreciate the fact that someone like Michelle would absolutely not feel comfortable in that skin. But it actually grew on her a little, which I appreciated even more. It was a lovely way to show Michelle growing a bit, without actually losing sense of who she was. A teensy step on Michelle’s arc this season, without making her a completely different person. Except apparently feeling good in a pantsuit was roughly equivalent to a betrayal of Michelle’s real identity, and she rejected the change. And while I don’t think it’s particularly out-of-character for Michelle to say no to business dress, I also wish the episode had left a little shaded in the gray area of a Milly vs. Talia, pantsuit vs. dance conversation. I fear, that for the sake of the metaphor, the nuance of what could be an interesting character exploration, was instead flattened.
Because I ask: is the takeaway that Michelle is always going to have some level of creative unfulfillment while she’s still living in Paradise? Are we meant to brace ourselves for Michelle trying to run out again? While these are certainly interesting topics to explore, they also go against the core sustainability of the show. How much can the writers entice Michelle into leaving Paradise when the show’s entire success rests on that character remaining there as the lynchpin in the whole piece? It’s lovely when Michelle chooses Paradise and her new life, but how often can we recycle that beat before it loses its impact?
In short: I’m conflicted, and nervous about what may come next for Michelle’s arc. I was anticipating, based on setup, that the journey would make steps in Michelle’s dynamic with Truly, and Sasha, and Fanny, as manifestations of her easing into Paradise normalcy. But “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit” redirects (Michelle hardly interacts with any of the aforementioned three) and I’m not sure yet if I like where it’s headed - or if it’s headed anywhere at all. Perhaps this is merely a hiccup. Regardless, the next episodes will surely develop this one way or the other, and we’ll get a clearer picture about what exactly the Bunheads writers are trying to pull here.
The other curious development of “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit” came with the further devolution of the core four dynamics, and Ginny’s continued consternation about that fact. Sasha’s dating Roman now, and he starts sitting with them at lunch, which prompts poor heretofore-rule-abiding Carl to start sitting with them as well, and of course Melanie has her new hobby with her new friend Cozette and it’s all a bit much for poor Ginny. Perhaps in an effort to strike out into something new and only her own, she decides she’s going to audition for a part in the school production of “Bells Are Ringing.” She also asks Michelle to help her audition, and Michelle toughens her up by channeling some of her own harrowing experiences.
There were some lovely things about this storyline. First, Melanie and Ginny’s clipped interactions continue to be the most heartbreaking thing in existence. Especially when Melanie's asking Ginny to come be her cheerleader at her derby game, with a painfully hopeful little face. Ugh, just make up, you dumdums! But I suppose that’s what makes it heartbreaking: the possibility that they’ll never quite be the same anymore. Wah. Second, I love that Ginny’s being scripted a passion outside of dance, just like Melanie is getting roller derby. Sasha was kind of doled a second helping of dance already, so that just leaves Boo for taking on a new interest - which I’m excited for. Of course, that begs the question of the group dynamics possibly changing further... which is good drama even though it makes my heart hurt a bit. Third, this allowed for Sutton Foster to sing on this show and I’m always down for that.
Things that make me nervous: the development between Ginny and Cozette. I'd thought Bunheads might be going the route of innocent puppy for Cozette, based on her screentime thus far, but as soon as Ginny got snippy, Cozette hit back twice as hard. Damn! I guess this is going to come to blows soon? And we now have Cozette standing between Ginny and Frankie as well as Ginny and Melanie, and I fear Ginny may soon blow a gasket. In fact, “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit” more or less escalted the conflict in Cozette-related group dynamics, but at the same time, it doesn’t feel much different. I know it can’t all come to a head too quickly, for the sake of logistics and drama, but I also wish the conflict were evolving a bit instead of staying more or less the same, over and over again. There’s only so much we can watch Ginny go apoplectic over outside threats before she either moves on or plot points exacerbate the situation.
Stray observations: I love that even though Sasha has a boyfriend now, she’s still slightly revolted by public displays of affection. I also love that the girls’ history shines through in anecdotes about Sasha having punched Ginny in the face for asking about a boy. Relatedly, I appreciate Bunheads’ skilled use of Boo as endearingly naive, because so many TV shows have difficulty making that kind of character appealing - and Boo’s earnest “So, is Wilt Chamberlin still alive?” had me both charmed and laughing. I’m also digging the random continuation of Melanie’s interactions with brainless but down-for-makeouts Dez. Although any opportunity for Melanie to be sarcastic and/or threatening is A+ in my book. As is every joke Michelle makes about Talia's aging fiancé, Rick. I laugh at them all. Every single one.
Also, I miss Truly. Surely it's not just me?!
By the end of the hour, “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit” had taken the trajectory of Bunheads 1.2 in a slightly different direction, and I’m left wondering what’s going to happen next. Obviously, this level of engagement is hardly something to complain about, but there’s a level of concern too that the redirection may not be the best direction, considering the previous setup for the characters and their arcs. But I generally trust Palladino & Co., and will happily wait for further developments.
The Report Card:
Joke of the Night: “I got a pantsuit rash.” (The delivery killed me.)
Scene of the Night: Ginny helps Michelle find her suit jacket; asks for help
Episode MVP: Carl. A man who procures french fries against all odds and without complaint is a hero and a godsend