We might have the strip club version of Pretty Woman on our hands. Just a day after her impromptu turn at the pole, Claire is back at the Anastasia to ask Sergei for a permanent gig. “You do not even know what it is you have,” Sergei marvels. He doesn’t want this life for her, but the money that he offers her to leave has no effect. If Claire doesn’t dance here, she’ll be dancing somewhere else — so it looks like she’ll be dancing here.
Hours later, Claire trades jeans for lacy lingerie and hits the stage as “Angel,” only to catch the attention of a guy who liked her for her jeans. She can’t fight it. Something in Claire always comes off as innocent. In reality, she’s both tougher and more breakable than anyone knows — her backbone appears and disappears almost at random — but as far as Claire runs in any one direction, she’s always pulled back by the way others perceive her. She’ll always be the one whose striptease attracts the guy who “just wants to talk.”
For Toni, that’s a problem. The choreographer (who once made a “whole company rehearse Don Q in the buck-f—ing-nude”) isn’t looking for an innocent young face to front her new piece. If she’s going to tell the story of a “young girl’s journey from childhood to womanhood,” she’s going to need a warrior. She tries reaching out to Claire, but Claire can’t even accept a literal hand on her shoulder, much less a listening ear, so Toni turns to Paul. And Paul turns to nudity. In the middle of a massage, he invites Claire in for a little chat, executed with characteristic subtlety. “This, my dear, is a dick,” he declares, forcing her to look at his. “It’s a body part, Claire, not a bogeyman.” That’ll cure her.
This is a part that was designed for Claire in a ballet that’s being created around her, and yet, somehow, it’s a terrible fit. Paul is trying to curb the same qualities that made Claire appeal to him in the first place. And Claire, with her side job at the strip club, is doing the same. She’s trying to force herself into a new box, and the pressure to change is only compounded by the return of a brother who wants her to stay exactly as she was, repeating the same cycle of trauma again and again.
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Claire copes by abusing herself, and she’s moved on from taking advantage of her pre-existing toe injury to squeezing her fingernails into her palm and stabbing her head with a bobby pin. Toni notices the marks on Claire’s hand, but she treats the young dancer’s pain as something that might prove useful to her art — and then, when that fails, as nothing more than a sign of her inconvenient fragility. Even Romeo, who saw Bryan make a move on Claire, isn’t exactly doing anything to help — though, like the Shakespearean fool he is, he does declare that he’s “given to the sight and seeing of things” and then warns Claire’s brother about the end of the world.
Bryan finds a more receptive audience in Mia, who takes his side only because she’s definitely not taking Claire’s. Mia, the only person here who doesn’t see Claire as innocent, assumes that war hero Bryan is the one who’s been wronged: “I’ve seen how [Claire] treats you, Bryan: like you’re the problem, like you’re some disease she’s got to hide.” He is the problem in this scenario, and he’s about to make that entirely too clear. Bryan responds to Mia’s flirtations by throwing her roughly on the floor and tying her hands and legs, then gagging her when she screams. After taking pleasure in that experience and then, let’s say, using Mia like a tissue, Bryan unties the knot and bolts.
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