Missy Schwartz
April 16, 2010 AT 11:50 AM EDT

Last night, we learned who would be competing at Bryant Park in the third slot. Notice I said competing, not showing. A deliberate choice of words that I alone seem to be capable of making. To wit: At the top of the hour, before she sent the four finalists back home with 9 grand in their pockets and at least 10 grand worth of big dreams in their heads, Heidi said to Jay and Mila, “Only one of you will be showing at Fashion Week.” False, Frau Klum, false! As the world now knows, 10 designers showed at Bryant Park, including Jay, but only three competed for the season seven crown. The bald-faced lie inaccurate phrasing started last week and irked me all throughout tonight’s episode, as every single person who referenced the Jay vs. Mila showdown followed suit. The sleight-of-tongue might not have bothered me so much if I didn’t get the sense that all the Runway players had been instructed to do so by shadowy producers desperate to cover up the fact that they’d already diminished the importance of showing at Bryant Park by parading 10 collections, most of them utterly forgettable, up and down the catwalk in February. I mean, for cripes’ sake, Janeane got to show there!

Okay. Now that I’ve vented a little, let’s get on to the rest of the episode, which turned out to be pretty damn entertaining, if only because we got to see how much everyone’s hair grows in four months. Oh, healthy follicles! Bonus points to Heidi for a double presto-change-o: longer hair and a newly flat, post-baby tummy.

Dressed in a leather jacket and black turtleneck worthy of Bullit, Tim began his round of home visits chez Seth Aaron in Washington state, where the guy already had 15 looks ready to rocket. 15 looks! When he only needed 10! And his goal was to take 20 to New York! Dude works at a frenetically prolific pace. Tim was taken aback by the sheer volume of his output and expressed approval for a number of pieces. But then he busted out the honesty: SA could not win with this collection because it lacked surprise and he needed to “re-conceptualize the whole thing.” Ouch. SA looked deeply humbled. Close to tears, even. That kind of cold-shower advice is hard on the ego, not to mention the wallet: He’d already spent half his money. But by the time Tim played Pictionary with SA’s wife and kids (“Fallopian tube!”) and we got to see pictures of the erstwhile “boy next door” with blond hair and a shaved head, the designer seemed to have recovered. And oh, dear Tim Gunn. On the trampoline. “Papa Gunn’s on the tramp!”

Next up was Emilio in New York. Tim met Emilio’s brothers Nicolas and Felipe, who talked about how tough it was growing up in the Bronx in the ’70s and ’80s. I’m sure it was. But the grainy, stock footage of the South Bronx that the show’s producers pulled out of who knows what drawer (a shelved Lifetime M.O.W. about a woman who can’t stop disco-dancing on the 4 train, even though her life’s been threatened?) made me laugh out loud it was so ham-fisted. Check it out! People of color walking in bell-bottoms! Is that graffiti in the background? Ooh, a subway!

Back in Emilio’s studio came the shocker of the season (yeah right): tension flared up between the two men. Tim was nonplussed by the pieces Emilio was showing him, including, naturally, another self-glorifying monogram print. Then he laid eyes on that “spray-paint brocade” monstrosity, which seemed to set off his gag reflex. As usual, Emilio dismissed Tim’s suggestions, arguing he’d made a “strong showing” throughout the competition. Tim pushed back, warning him that that did not guarantee him a warm embrace in the finals and that his collection, such as it was, skewed old and lacked sophistication. And ech… those vomitous colors. Olive velour? What?! The reality check didn’t sit well with Mr. Sosa: “I’m designing a collection for women. As far as I know, Tim doesn’t wear women’s clothing.” Uh, probably not (funny as that image may be), but he did, you know, run the design program at Parsons for, like, ever. The quarreling continued back and forth, back and forth until Tim had no choice but to give up. “You do whatever you want to do,” he said, handing the hideous epaulet-ed jacket back to its self-satisfied maker. “You just do it.” Of course later, when the designers had all reunited on the eve of Fashion Week, Emilio pulled a typical acknowledge-Tim-Gunn’s-wisdom-without-acknowledging-it when he said, “The collection that Tim will see at Bryant Park is not the collection he saw hanging on the racks.” Emilio, dude, your ego trips are exhausting.

In rainy Los Angeles, Tim discovered just how seriously Mila takes her mod philosophy. Her décor is black and white. Her boyfriend wore black and white. Her dog, Ziggy, is a black-and-white Dalmatian! Lady is hardcore! When she commits to an aesthetic, she commits! Overall, Tim seemed to dig Mama Mod’s collection, though he did warn her it was bordering on “matronly.” What?! That shocked me, I have to say. I’ll be the first to recognize that Mila’s had some massive misfires this season, but she’s rarely, if ever, been guilty of making the couture equivalent of grannie panties. And from my vantage point last night (i.e. my couch, wedged between my cats), her collection looked pretty freakin’ fabulous. If the “matronly” assessment upset Mila, it didn’t derail her determination. “I don’t want to lose to that little f—ing kid,” she said in what I’m guessing was a reference to Jay and not her way of telling us she’d also tried out for the relaunch of American Junior. “I’m a better designer and he’s annoying.” So that’s that. Oh, and to file in the rain-is-wet folder: Mila also had a Goth period.

Finally, Tim made his way to Jay in San Francisco, an apparently frigid place that requires Jay to bundle up even indoors. Jay claimed his inspiration was the Japanese samurai, but I have a feeling he made that up in the time it took him to hear Tim ring the doorbell and then walk to answer it. Samurai? In this collection? Huh? “Where is this person going?” asked an equally perplexed Tim, gazing at Jay’s black, floor-length coat. Jay’s answer? “Nowhere.” Terrific! Sir Gunn then busted out the classic “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” while eyeballing those loopy loop-sleeves on Jay’s otherwise pretty kimono jacket. In Tim’s assessment, the collection was gimmicky, student-like. Not a good thing. But it didn’t throw Jay off — certainly not enough for him to even consider the possibility that Lady Mod would beat him. “I don’t have to worry about Mila,” he said with a condescending laugh. “I know I’m going to beat her, so it’s fine.” Whether or not that kind of puffed up confidence is genuine or an on-camera fabrication, it didn’t win him any points with me. Lucky for him, he’s got adorable parents and the gift of quick-witted retorts. When Tim told him his collection was “a little cuckoo,” Jay responded, “It’s Cuckoo Chanel, girl.” Win.

Eventually, when everyone congregated back in New York, and Jay and Mila had the requisite (sort of) bitter rivals face-off in the hotel room (echoes of Irina and Althea!), it was time for the competitors to quit the subtly named “Bluefly workspace” and head for the runway. For me, there wasn’t much of a contest. As I’ve probably stated too many times already in these parts, I am a sucker for chic, ’60s influenced fashion. So Mila’s three pieces, I dig ’em, ya dig? Especially the stunning black-and-white striped coat/dress of look No. 2. No, I wasn’t wild about the boxy overcoat that a made-up-to-look-like-Mila Brandise sported in look No. 1, but the dress underneath was compelling. And look No. 3, a mod disco dress made of shimmering sequins, was a refreshing change from the usual stuff we see from the gal. No color-blocking required!

As for Jay, other than the extremely (!) mini dress from look No. 1, I didn’t much care for any of it, frankly. While his tailoring is beyond reproach, I just don’t get his heavily doodad-ed vision. The second look was a flop. The pants were nothing more than a retread of at least two other pairs of trousers he’s made this season. And that silver top? With the intergalactic spaceship bolero? Hellz no. I didn’t find anything to applaud in third look, either — not the overworked coat with the fluffy-bunny butt-and-hip detailing, not the red pants, and certainly not those indulgent gladiatorial shin guards that Agent Orange cheered with such passion. Ungapatchka for reelz, people.

Speaking of Michael Kors, judging by what we saw on screen, the guy needed some serious convincing to get on Mila’s side with Nina and especially Heidi. But whatever reservations he may have had about Mila being too “straightforwardly retro” went the way of his epidermis in the tanning booth and the Holy Trinity chose her as the winner of the coveted third spot. That left poor Jay to dry his tears in his Cuckoo Chanel. He surely wept and wept and wept…until he jerked his head up in a moment of epiphany and said, “Hey guys! I just realized that I too get to show at Bryant Park and none of this means anything!”

Now that we have our top three, what do you think? Did Mila deserve to edge out Jay? Is Seth Aaron gonna pull out all the stops and triumph over Emilio (and his ego)? Did you like any of the looks from last night? Were you as fascinated by the follicular action goin’ on as I was? So bold of Brandise to buck the growing-out trend and get a trim, right?

Be sure to check back here later today for my exit interview with Jay.

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