Two episodes in, Flesh and Bone is already double pirouetting down on what the premiere only implied: There’s something a little bit warped in Claire. She borrows Mia’s lipstick without asking and shamelessly kisses the bathroom mirror with it, like it isn’t enough just to disregard the unspoken rules of roommateship: She has to throw them into a bonfire and stomp on their ashes. Claire doesn’t care what Mia thinks of her; this is not America’s Next Top Best Friend. She only cares what Paul thinks. And people talking about baby birds. And if they won’t accept her, she’ll just go full-tilt crazy and use the blood from her own mangled toe as her lipstick — and then kiss the company mirror with that.
But if Claire has baggage — and she really, really does — it’s heavy for good reason. It’s the emotional equivalent of her actual suitcase, full not of clothes but of books. Her brother Bryan is possessive and abusive, and he’s on his way to find her. He even hurts (please tell me the poor man isn’t dead) his seatmate on the bus to New York when he gets too chummy, shoving him into a bathroom stall at a rest stop. Meanwhile, Paul’s expectations for his “little debutante” carry with them the implication that she’s going to have to sleep with whomever Paul chooses. Claire’s body is everyone’s property but her own. If she wants to take it back, it isn’t going to be pretty. What’s a little blood on the mirror to mark her turf? (To be clear, the blood is still creepy.)
Step 1 in Claire’s quest for independence is to get a new phone. She deliberately drops her old one on the pavement after talking to Bryan, then disconnects her number and starts fresh. Presumably her ringtone will not be “Yankee Doodle” this time. Claire puts on a brave face in class, dancing with confidence even though “her tits are two counts behind,” but her fellow company members cut her down. They won’t even let her talk about baby birds. She tears up at the barre when no one is looking.
In a post-Lipstick Incident world, Claire can’t even count on her roommate to have her back. The only person even sort of on her side is Daphne. Brousseau sends Claire an expensive pair of stilettos in the mail to replace the ones she broke; Claire offers them to Daphne — which is only fair; Claire did break her shoes — but Daphne tells her to keep them; everyone else is just jealous, anyway. Claire returns the favor by offering some pointers when Daphne can’t stop falling out of her turns.
WANT MORE? Keep up with all the latest from last night’s television by subscribing to our newsletter. Head here for more details.
Mia gets her help elsewhere. She complains about Claire to Pasha (who massages her shoulders in what is either a platonic-best-friend way or a we’ve-had-casual-sex way; assume nothing at the American Ballet Company), and it’s starting to look like she might be the most-grounded character on this show. When he tells her to focus on the bigger picture, she sums up the fear of everyone who’s only ever felt they had one thing to offer: “It’s my picture, Pasha. It’s the only picture I’ve got.” Pasha may have made his peace with the fact that he’ll never be Beethoven, but Mia still believes that she can be ballet’s Beethoven, and she’s not letting anyone tell her that she can’t be. Even her solution is sane: She’s going to try harder.
Practical solutions are hard to come by in this environment; Kiira would rather deal with her problems by snorting cocaine and staging a coup. Paul wants to feature Kiira in a traditional Balanchine ballet and Claire in the “edgy modern” ballet he’s all set to commission from a hot new choreographer (if you’re not thinking about Cooper Nielson riding a motorcycle on stage, that makes one of us), but Kiira wants both. If he really wants to feature Claire, she can dance the lead on the second night, cutting down on the pressure and allowing the critics to feel like they “discovered” her. Stop making backstabbing sound so rational, Kiira.
NEXT: I have a feeling we’re not in Pittsburgh anymore
But Paul is still grooming Claire for stardom, even if he’s not paying her for it. Since Claire is on a corps contract, she’s making a corps salary, despite the fact that she’ll be dancing a principal role. Paul shrugs off her concerns. She’s getting paid in opportunities! She should practically be paying him for the privilege that is a dinner with Brousseau in a pair of “f— me shoes.” Paul declines to admit what everyone in the locker room knew as soon as they saw those shoes: Brousseau will probably be expecting sex. “Nothing has been explicitly stated,” he says, like his lawyer’s shoulder angel is whispering in his ear. Anyway, what’s wrong with a little “adventure”?
SO MUCH. And so much is wrong with the idea that there’s nothing wrong with it — that non-consensual sex counts as an adventure in the first place. Flesh and Bone in no way endorses Paul’s attitude, but Claire seems tempted to buy into it, berating herself for her inability to get properly hyped about forced prostitution. “For anyone else this would be an adventure,” she says as she pauses at her front gate. Oh, Claire. No. Don’t listen to that voice. Listen to the friendly addict who lives beneath your stairs. Romeo is the only person in this scenario who wants Claire to know that what she wants matters. “It always matters,” he says. “No, yes: It matters.”
In this Shakespearean tragedy, Romeo (ohhh) plays the fool, spouting wisdom as everyone looks the other way. He’s even writing a book. As he helps Claire carry her mattress up the stairs, Romeo recites the opening paragraph from memory. (“It was a dark and stormy night. Gotcha! I’m just kidding.”) It’s a solidly written passage about the coming of a storm: a feeling Claire knows well. They bond over a mutual love of books, and Claire entrusts him with her copy of The Velveteen Rabbit. In return, he offers her an unknown blue pill to help her get through the night with Brousseau. She takes it. And again: No, Claire. Taking Romeo’s advice is one thing. Taking his unidentified drugs is another.
Claire slips herself the drug at dinner after gifting Brousseau a new tie, and by the end of the meal, she’s as high as a kite — and going full Pittsburgh, to boot. (“The famous yellow towel. The Terrible Towel. The Towel.”) Brousseau is obviously displeased, but he’s not so turned off that he doesn’t slide a card across the table and instruct her to meet him in his room in five minutes. There’s even the awful possibility that the fact that Claire is clearly not in her right mind is part of what inspires him to take advantage of her tonight. To be clear: No matter what choices Claire has made, Brousseau is the only one to blame here. But Claire’s life is a never-ending cycle of misplaced guilt; she’ll always have to wonder if her attempt to survive the inevitable is part of what hastens it along.
The one bright spot in all of this is that Flesh and Bone doesn’t try to find any bright spots. Brousseau objectifies Claire; the camera does not. There’s nothing sexy in her drugged, terrified march toward his hotel room or in the way he studies her after pulling off her clothes, her body totally naked except for the tie he draped around her neck — and those “f— me shoes.” He pushes her onto the bed. Claire’s rape seems inevitable, until she finds a suitably ugly way out: She makes herself throw up. (Consider, as if this weren’t depressing enough, that she knows exactly how to do it.) We see it all from her miserable perspective; Brousseau’s face isn’t even in the frame as he looms over the bed. He calls for his car.
Claire wakes up the next morning, slips off her shoes, and hugs herself in the corner of the shower. Across the city, her brother arrives at Port Authority. This storm is just beginning.