The models take part in an insanity-based challenge at the Bates Motel even as they all start to go a little nuts themselves.
Credit: Chris Frawley/The CW

It’s a thin line between villainy and heroism in pop culture. In The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s unstoppable machine was a golem of death and hilarious understatement, but in the sequel he was practically cuddly. We all cried when he died, where earlier we cheered. Grendel got a reevaluation, and even Cobra Commander would occasionally put aside his nefarious plans to join up with the G.I. Joes for the greater good. Every monster has got at least someone who loves him. (R.I.P. Jabba’s rancor.)

As Top Model’s editors toned down the levels of Alexandria’s nastiness (and upped the levels of the other girls’ cattiness), she somehow morphed into something less than utterly mean and almost crossed the hero/villain threshold. While she may not have been this week’s protagonist, per se, Alexandria was certainly more victim than villain, facing the harsh words and barbed criticisms of her compatriots rather than doling them out. Brittani led the charge, waving the anti-Alexandria banner like a 7th-century caliph, but ended up getting chewed out by Tyra for it and almost sent home. It reminded me of when a bully hits some poor kid in math class and then the teacher turns around just in time to see the bully get hit back and sends the kid to the principal’s office. Of course, in this instance, the principal is a crazy six-foot-tall woman wearing far too much rouge. Actually, come to think of it, aren’t they always?

With Tyra being so, so disappointed in Brittani, you almost forget that she won last week. When the models got back to the house, it was her picture on the monitor, in front of the seven mystery satchels that awaited them. Ooh, goodie bags! Would they be filled with Ring Pops and temporary tattoos like every single goodie bag of my youth? No, just some scarves and symbols representing the Warriors in Pink campaign against breast cancer. This wasn’t nearly enough to cheer up the house, and presently everyone was back to their usual sniping. Brittani declared Alexandria to be on her list of “top most annoying bitches ever,” which actually sounds like an uncomfortably appropriate replacement title for “Top Model.” A shot of Alexandria crying in the bathtub was intercut with sepia-tinged clips of her greatest (read: worst) hits, officially making her the cycle’s most nuanced character since Molly’s weave was cut off.

NEXT: It’s cancer, not can’t-cer!Ford sponsored the first challenge, which was to model as a representation of one of what I think were supposed to be the zodiac signs of breast cancer. Mikaela was “war paint” and posed with the Lance of Longinus, while Brittani was embodying the “Dove,” but since they couldn’t get a live dove, they just grabbed a bonsai tree off a desk somewhere and slapped it in her hand. Sure, why not? Nigel asked her what she thought about while posing, to which she responded, “I don’t think, I just do.” Nigel was shocked, and took affront at that for some reason, perhaps because he rejects any sort of purely ontological interpretation of modeling in favor of a more epistemological one. Or, more likely, because as the photographer, he’s supposed to be the one spouting nonsensically meaningless maxims. Nigel wagged his finger and told Brittani, “You can’t just do passion, you have to be passionate.” See? Now, that’s how you say something and nothing all at once.

Kasia represented “Heart,” much like Ma-Ti, which I think is appropriate because very much like Ma-Ti she keeps getting congratulated for not doing all that much at all. (Seriously, what the heck did Ma-Ti bring to the Planeteers? Captain Planet clearly liked him the most, but what could he do? Talk to animals? Make people care about stuff in some totally vague, unmeasurable way? Yeah, that’s way cooler than fire or a friggin’ tornado. A tornado. God, that kid got on my nerves. Do something already! Aaaaannd…rant over.)

Alexandria, our new antihero, won for her impression of a tree, which made Brittani and the other girls furious. Then she won a Ford Focus, which made them 2 furious. Actually, it’s pretty impressive they managed a car as a prize. That’s totally more Top Chef caliber than Top Model, which usually just gives out Chinese finger traps and $20 gift certificates to Dave & Buster’s. Good on them, even if it took a few million repetitions of the word Ford. I was also glad to see a shout-out to “Potato Chip”-brand potato chips later on in the episode. I love how most of the food products in the house have been de-branded to the point that they all look straight out of the Dharma Initiative’s pantry.

Then we finally got to see some cat claws come out: Brittani berated Alexandria as undeserving of the win, and the rest of the contestants looked down at their feet in silent assent. Alexandria, defiant, insisted, “I’m strong, I’m alpha, I’m the lioness.” Perhaps, but it was clear that the other models had had enough of the lioness and were ready to rip her apart, not dissimilar to how the hyenas finally ripped apart Scar at the end of The Lion King. She should have been prepared.

NEXT: Psycho killers, qu’est-ce que c’est?

The next day, the models were whisked away to Universal Studios, where they took a trip back through cinema history. Look, there’s Jaws! There’s the Back to the Future DeLorean! And there’s Corey Feldman! The real one! Hi, Corey!

They stopped the tram in front of Norman Bates’ house from Psycho, appropriate because I’m sure the number of mommy issues in this group would make Oedipus’ head spin. Jay emerged from the front door to stab Miss J—who surprisingly bled blood and not glitter and streamers—and explained the photo challenge: Look crazy! Well, that should be easy enough.

Molly was “crazy for accessories” and practically drowned in baubles, while Jaclyn did an awesome job with “crazy for makeup,” smearing lipstick all over her face like some sassy Joker. Why so fabulous? Mikaela got the unfortunately abstract concept of “crazy for sales,” and so spent most of her shoot just looking confused and touching stuff, which, by the way, is exactly what I tend to do when shopping for clothes. Alexandria, still feeling the icy chill of the other models’ disdain, wrapped herself in faux fur to keep warm. Unfortunately, at a certain point “crazy for faux fur” is really just “crazy for stuffed animals,” which is really just “crazy.”

At judging, everything went smoothly until it was Alexandria’s turn on the block. Nigel brought up Brittani’s earlier attack, pointing out that the client was there in the room, which made her outburst all the more unprofessional. I’m about 80 percent sure that when he said “the client,” he was referring to the actual Ford Focus. Girls, girls, don’t fight in front of the car! It has voice-activated controls, so it knows what you’re saying!

The judges seemed particularly mad at Brittani for finally doing something interesting and injecting a little drama into this moribund cycle. Hmm, maybe this is all part of a secret plan by Tyra to make the show so boring that The CW has no choice but to cancel it and replace it with Hellcats (that’s a real show, right?). Maybe she’s getting too busy with business school and needs to get out of her contract, and Brittani’s attention-getting actions are threatening to make the show interesting again. Hey, it’s a theory. Regardless, Brittani totally lost it, spiraling down into a panic attack and having to leave the dais. When she finally pulled herself together enough to get back out there, she got hit with the double whammy that her picture wasn’t even all that good. Oof. Maybe she’s going to be the one going home.

Nope. The judges took a vote and decided then and there they wouldn’t be sending Brittani home, effectively killing any possibility of tension or suspense. (Seriously, Tyra, I’m totally on to your plan.) The other three judges agreed that Brittani should be given another chance, but Tyra submitted a strong dissenting opinion. She then pointed to her failed vote as evidence that Top Model isn’t, in fact, an absolute Tyra-nny, but rather some strange assemblage of oligarchs of which she is still the most powerful.

Jaclyn won for her genuinely insane-looking makeup smearing, while Molly came in second. Mikaela and Brittani were in the final two (no surprise), and Mikaela was sent home (literally, no surprise). Brittani survived to smize another day, but not before Tyra upbraided her for a good minute and a half and basically accused her of being only a smidgen less evil than Vlad the Impaler. Jeez, Tyra, don’t you watch the dailies? Haven’t your producers told you about Alexandria? Are you not entertained?!

And then there were six. Things seem to be slowly, slowly getting more interesting, despite Tyra’s insidious scheming toward dullness. Sure, at this point, the show’s got the emotional nuance of a Bundt cake, but before it had the emotional nuance of a half-eaten Bundt cake. Progress! What did you guys think of the episode? Did Brittani’s treatment of Alexandria make you feel bad for her? Is it worth picking a side, or is it basically just like Alien vs. Predator: Whoever wins, we lose?

Episode Recaps

Trya Banks
America's Next Top Model

Tyra Banks searches for the next great supermodel

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