The curtain rises on the American Ballet Company's season as it falls on the show.
Credit: Starz

Maybe Flesh and Bone has warped me, or maybe I’m just feeling warmly toward its particular brand of decadent madness, but Claire ate her own blood again tonight, and I was all for it. Her story has been a twisted one. She’s taken steps toward independence and relapsed; she’s told off Paul only to call her brother crying. But even Toni’s grand ballet about one girl’s journey into womanhood is a spiraling one. Change doesn’t tend to happen in a straight line. It took Claire a long time to get here, and it hasn’t always been a pleasant trip, but every setback and every weird smear of blood on her lips eventually propelled her toward her own emancipation.

She’s had some help along the way. Even after Paul decided that he wanted Claire as the lead, they both needed a push in the form of Kiira’s resignation, and Claire needs one final push from her brother — though not the one she thinks. She still believes that none of this will feel real unless Bryan sees her dance, but as soon as he turns up at her apartment, he realizes that he’s made a mistake. “I’m not doing this,” he declares. “I’m done, and you should be, too. That’s what you wanted. That’s why you’re here. And you were right.” Is he just figuring that out now? And why now? After going to such inappropriate lengths for this relationship, it’s not clear what snaps in Bryan that leaves him ready for a clean break. But he’s making the right call here, finally.

Bryan is a cipher. The treatment that he gets from their father is unacceptable, but that doesn’t excuse what he’s done — which is why I’m glad he doesn’t get the last word. Before he goes, he tells his sister that he hopes they made something good together. He wants their daughter to be happy out there somewhere. Claire responds by shouting him out the door. Bryan doesn’t get to decide that her pregnancy was a good thing; that’s Claire’s call to make, and she spent the whole term wanting what grew in her to die. “It was a monster,” she yells, “because you’re a monster, Bryan.”

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Claire needs to stand on her own, but she can’t control the circumstances that push her to center stage any more than Mia can control her disease. They can only control how they respond. Mia takes a while to get back on her feet, but a pep talk from Pasha does the trick. (“You were never going to be prima. But always you will be smart and funny and world-class piece of ass.”) She dances her part in Rubies in her hospital room while the company does the same onstage, with Daphne in Kiira’s spot. Daphne nails it, nerves and all. Meanwhile, Claire stares into space in her dressing room, numb to the buzz of the people around her.

It takes pain to pull Claire back to reality — which Kiira’s drug guy Jasper would find fitting, if he weren’t off throwing parties with leopards. Someone in the company put broken glass in Claire’s shoe; it digs into her toes as soon as she goes en pointe backstage. Unfazed, Claire wipes the blood from her feet and licks it, staring down her fellow dancers as the blood drips down her lip. If she’s going to be full-tilt crazy, this is exactly how I want her to be full-tilt crazy. Claire knows a thing or two about dancing through pain. Her head is in the game now.

NEXT: Places, everybody

The curtain rises on Toni’s new ballet, Dakini, and we get to watch it happen. This has to be the longest TV dance sequence I’ve ever seen — end to end, it stretches 20 minutes, with only one interruption. (Of course that would be Bryan.) It’s a gorgeous piece, with the possible exception of some unnecessarily literal crotch-grabbing with Ross, which probably didn’t translate as much of anything to the back row of the theater. But Claire does get to touch his abs, and who am I to deny her that? Let’s also give Sarah Hay and Sascha Radetsky a standing ovation for their work in this piece. As if performing this ballet live wouldn’t be hard enough, they had to repeat it for different camera angles. They both make it look easy.

Now to that interruption. Bryan is forced to put his soul-searching on hold when Romeo trails him to the waterfront, which I have a few questions about. Actually, just one question: How did Romeo manage to stealthily trail Bryan anywhere when he was wearing the loudest coat this side of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” video? Claire told Romeo earlier that he was the real hero of the story that he’d written for her. He took it to heart, sewing bottle caps on Bryan’s old Steelers jacket and wearing it into battle like a suit of armor.

Romeo confronts Bryan, but not perfectly. He can’t find the words to tell off Claire’s brother for what he did wrong, so he just apologizes repeatedly for calling him Jim Joe. When Romeo refuses to leave, Bryan asks him if he has a death wish. He’s quick to apologize, but that’s the last straw for Claire’s knight in shining bottle caps, who stabs Bryan in the chest. “I need to do the right thing,” he says as Bryan falls to his knees. Some part of Bryan must feel that he deserves this because he just nods. Romeo slashes Bryan’s throat, then carves the likeness of his tattoo into his own chest.

As her brother dies, Claire takes a bow to thunderous applause. Paul watches from the wings. The look on his face is hard to place, but a part of him already appears worried that her star outshines his. Backstage, Claire passes through a hall of admiring dancers (sure, now they like her) and sneaks out the stage door, holding her bouquet and smiling up at the snow. She has exactly what she wants, and she doesn’t need anyone else’s validation to know that it’s real. For Paul, that’s a problem. He steps into Claire’s dressing room as she stares into the mirror, robe hanging half open. He guides her to her feet, running his hands all over her. “Tell me everything you’re feeling,” he purrs into her ear. Claire stares dead ahead. Paul doesn’t own her anymore: “No.”

What an ending.

Second positions:

  • Check out creator Moira Walley-Beckett’s postmortem thoughts here.
  • I would pay to see Dakini.
  • Congratulations to Ross for learning not to use sex as a bargaining chip.
  • Claire didn’t know her mother. So who was behind the camera in those home videos telling her to “wave to mommy”?
  • Did Paul put that glass in Claire’s shoe to give her the push that she needed?
  • Sergei thinks that he owns ABC now. Calm down, Sergei.
  • “Half our audience will be dead in five years. That’s real.”
  • I want to know everything and nothing about Mia and Pasha’s relationship, which is to say that I like how ambiguous it is but am also a curious person. Are they just good friends, or have they ever slept together?
  • “Five minutes we walk around hall. Maybe there’s handsome doctor out there.”
  • I’m pretty sure Kiira is not actually going to be a good mother. Remember when she let that kid drink wine?
  • “Now go out there and f— them in the heart.”

Episode Recaps

Flesh and Bone
Starz mini-series 2015
  • TV Show
  • 1