A secret comes to light when Claire goes home for the holidays.
Credit: Starz

If nothing else, “F.U.B.A.R.” wins for best title card. Before now, each episode of Flesh and Bone has opened with a straightforward definition of its name — even when everyone already knows what it means. (I think we’re all pretty solid on “reconnaissance.”) “F.U.B.A.R.” takes the exact opposite approach. “Military acronym,” it says, because drunk kindergarteners are totally fine, but writing out a four-letter word that its own characters use all the time is just going too far. You want to know what the acronym stands for? Google it yourselves, kids. We’re on episode 6 now. You’re either in or you’re out.

If only the rest of this show were so tongue in cheek — or, more importantly, if only it had a better sense of what is and is not appropriate. There’s a stark, tense sequence early in the hour when Paul, in his holiday dark place, forces everyone to stay late on the last class day before Thanksgiving, performing the same sequence again and again. Their trains leave the station without them. They all miss their flights. He fires Mona for no good reason. “Again,” he repeats. They’re all doubled over. He smashes a chair. He takes away their music, keeping time with the cold metal pieces of the chair that he smashed. “Again.” By the time Paul is done, he’s left more than a few of them in tears.

This is what Flesh and Bone should be doing more of. It’s a painful scene, and it works not only for the physical strain on the dancers but for its emotional toll, which you don’t have to dance to understand. The first thing Paul does is invite the dancers to leave if they have somewhere to be, a passive-aggressive offer meant only to activate their guilt complexes — but Kiira wastes no time planting a kiss on Paul’s cheek and waltzing out. We’ve all known some variation of this double standard: Some people breeze by, while others make themselves sick for praise that never comes.

The emotional “terrorism,” as Ross calls it, of the American Ballet Company is more than enough drama on its own, but Flesh and Bone just keeps piling new kinds of dysfunction onto its Thanksgiving dinner plate. Despite the fact that her relationship with her brother is anything but healthy, Claire has been worrying about him lately, so she books a flight home that she somehow manages to catch even after Paul’s tirade. Her life back in Pittsburgh (“Steeltown? Yikes”) turns out to be every bit as dark as expected: Her dad spends all day in his armchair, berating everyone around him. Right now, that’s Bryan.

There is no excuse for everything Bryan has done, but meeting the eldest Robbins gives context to Bryan’s anger issues. In this house, Claire and Bryan have the support of no one but each other. As far as their ailing father is concerned, they’re here to serve him — and while he seems a bit soft on his daughter, he’s got no love at all for his son. Claire accuses him of sending Bryan to war in the hopes that he’d be killed. Then again, by that point, Claire would have been pregnant with her own brother’s child, so if their dad only turned on Bryan after that came to light, he might be the one voice of reason in the building.

You’re not on Kiira’s drugs: Claire actually did have Bryan’s baby. That clears up the “family issue” that kept her out of the spotlight for a couple of years. She doesn’t want to talk about it, but she does go to Bryan’s room in the middle of the night. They have sex; I just keep trying to remind myself that the actors aren’t related. As Claire leaves, she pulls a hospital bracelet from her pocket and tells her brother that they had a girl. “They said she was beautiful,” she says, which either means that she couldn’t handle looking at her daughter before giving her away, or she’d just lost touch with beauty in all forms by that point. Claire stuffs the hospital bracelet in her father’s mouth and bounces. That’s one way to make an exit.

NEXT: It’s my party, and I’ll manipulate if I want to

Claire is missing a party in New York — one that it seems Paul throws for himself every year. Did he really manipulate everyone into missing their flights so they’d have no choice but to celebrate with him? That shouldn’t surprise me at this point, but it does. Kiira buzzes into his apartment (which is way too swanky even for him to afford, which is my favorite thing about it) as if it’s just her, but the way Paul throws on a scarf and musses his hair screams, “My people need me!” His fake surprised face isn’t even all that good.

The dancers are much better at faking a good time than Paul is at faking surprise. As the party winds down, he thanks everyone for being a family, then reminds Mona — who came in the hopes that her firing was just part of the show — that she is, in fact, still very much fired. Paul can’t go five minutes without asserting his control over everyone. He even twists Trey’s blackmail for his own gain, swearing that their “romantic relationship” had nothing to do with the dancer’s promotion. As the company files out, Paul kisses Trey as the poor guy fights to get out of his grip. Now would be a great time for him to remember that big speech about the whistleblower protection act.

Ross would probably have some choice words for that whole display, but he’s already long gone. Apparently desperate to win back Paul’s approval (because he’s seen how well that goes for everyone else?), Ross helps himself to some of Kiira’s coke and then all but offers himself to his director. Paul shuts him down. Fall out of Paul’s favor, and you don’t get a second shot at the inner circle — unless you’re Claire, who gets as many shots as she wants. Or Kiira, who doesn’t even have to try.

The untouchable prima is still living a charmed life with her very wealthy husband, though I have bad news: Prescott is not nearly as likable when he’s talking football as he is when he’s wearing sweaters and agonizing over hot chocolate. But I also have good news: His mother is played by Kelly Bishop, and she’s basically Emily Gilmore with even less of a filter. She actually goes off on a rant about deer. It’s incredible. If only a small child weren’t upstairs drinking a full glass of wine in the corner of someone’s bedroom. If only Kiira didn’t find him, wink, and leave him to his devices. Someone needs to intervene here.

In another game of good news/ bad news, Mia gets the bad kind from her doctor. Her eye issue must be indicative of a more serious problem, because she takes one look at her diagnosis and starts eating whatever she wants — which would be a good thing if not for what follows. Mia leaves Paul’s party and gets drunk alone in her apartment, the music turned up so loud that Romeo eventually peers through the window the check on her. By the time Claire gets home, she finds her roommate being wheeled into an ambulance on a stretcher. The bathtub is full of blood. Paul is going to find some way to make this about him, isn’t he?

Second positions:

  • Romeo’s writing setup is pretty enviable, at least on good weather days.
  • “I’m actually quite familiar with my secret study. It’s hardly a secret to me.”
  • “Don’t be fooled by that species’ overrated so-called elegance. They’re actually long-legged rodents with pretty eyes.”
  • “My baby will be an enlightened being with a caustic wit and opposable thumbs.”

Episode Recaps

Flesh and Bone
Starz mini-series 2015
  • TV Show
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