The sight of TV characters reading books should warm the hearts of disenfranchised literacy advocates, but…did these older teens not sit through the same health classes the rest of us had back in junior high school? Or, in some cases, elementary school? Did all their parents unanimously avoid the subject all their lives? (I’d buy that last one.) This montage of book covers and bug-eyed shock is accompanied by a 1956 B-side sung by obscure duo Patience and Prudence (sisters aged 14 and 11 at the time) called “A Smile and a Ribbon“, whose naive narrator believes the secret to attracting boys is a positive attitude and cute hair accessories. This sounds like Boo to a T.
Fortunately for me, the girls are distracted from their studies when Michelle (Sutton Foster) suspiciously bows out of her Saturday dance-class session and takes off in her VW Beetle convertible. With their curiosity piqued and the tyrannical Jordan appointed substitute teacher offscreen, the Bunheads skip class, pile into Sasha’s BMW Mini (!!), and tail Michelle all the way to L.A.’s Hollywood United Methodist Church (a real church frequently used in movies), where they uncover her deep, dark secret: she’s auditioning for a part in a show. DUN DUN DUUUUNNNN.
Even before playing hooky from class, Michelle already had a busy morning. The episode begins the morning after last week, with Michelle and Godot (Nathan Parsons) having spent the night together, even though they have next to nothing in common except geography, race, and possibly alcohol. Naturally today is the 20th of whatever, the exact day Fanny (Kelly Bishop) scheduled to return from her two-week vacation of meditation and “spiritual tea”, which may or may not be synthesized crystal meth juice for upper-class overseas tourists. Naturally this is also the day Michelle’s deadbeat brother Scotty (Hunter Foster) chooses to sneak in and spend the night on Fanny’s couch. Naturally this leads to awkward, half-clothed confrontation in the guest room — Fanny upset about her surprise company, Scotty apologizing profusely, Michelle struggling to wake up, and Godot begging for someone to hand him something to cover his shame (whether throw blanket, towel, or the comedy prop of their choice). As the women squabble and storm off, Scotty is left alone with Godot to bond in their awkwardness. Scotty meekly tries to break the remaining ice: “So how’s oceanography going?”
Thus does Michelle leave behind this post-sleepover conflict, along with Sasha’s request to schedule a very special talk about sex (a dunderheaded move on Sasha’s part — Michelle is all about impulse, never about overintellectualization), and trek to the aforementioned church, audition site for a planned musical based on the 1939 film Dark Victory, in which Bette Davis played a woman trying to live life to its fullest while hiding the deep, dark secret of a brain tumor slowly killing her. I expect the female lead’s big solo number will make “I Dreamed a Dream” sound like “A Spoonful of Sugar”.
During this process, the Bunheads hide and watch from afar, except for an impromptu moment of joining the first-round qualifiers for a few minutes of easy dancing. When Boo attempts to throw caution to the wind and join the auditions for real, Sasha has to stage a reality-check intervention to keep her 17-year-old non-union cohort in check. After a full season of being bossing around, Boo finally tells Sasha off, but reluctantly concedes this particular point.
Meanwhile, Michelle’s adventure shows us the dark side of auditioning: the long line of worthy competitors (Michelle is #103 of at least 155 applicants); the tempers that flare during trials and after dismissal; the arbitrary vetting process that sees dozens sent packing on looks alone; and the painful revelation that the whole thing was a sham. The roles have already been cast, but the union requires open auditions as part of the official process anyway, no matter how pointless they are. Though Michelle performs a rousing rendition of “If My Friends Could See Me Now” from the musical Sweet Charity, it’s all for naught. Adding insult to injury is an initially encouraging moment with the audition pianist (real-life stage veteran Seth Rudetsky), who says a few kind words but fails to give her a life-changing business card, not unlike the years-old card that recently yielded a new opportunity for her gal-pal Talia. Michelle storms off and heads back home, but eventually cools down even though the universe seems to like Talia better.
Off in the land of disconnected subplots, Truly (Stacey Oristano) mopes around the studio and feebly tries to alter or update the dance academy’s costumes, trying to keep herself busy so she won’t dwell on the fact that running her dress shop Sparkles out of the same studio isn’t working and is finished in her eyes. In a surprising show of grace and sisterly non-hate, Milly (Liza Weil) finally sets aside monetary considerations for a second and offers her sister a new storefront, free of charge since the previous tenants prepaid several months in advance and then abandoned it. Thus do the Stone sisters have a happy ending.
Not everyone finishes the season finale on such a high note. Michelle returns for class, only to discover that Fanny — shocked by the discovery that one of her dear students has been asking about sex — has taken it upon herself and her personal history (which she compares proudly to Anais Nin’s — ick) to spend the evening’s class not on dancing, but on sex education, even though that wasn’t in the Paradise Dance Academy brochures and might not be appreciated by some parents. Her disturbingly varied collection of exotic educational props and classroom displays seems to exhibit the sort of comprehensive coverage of the topic that would require signed, disclaimer-filled permission slips in most American school systems.
Michelle recoils from this flagrant birds-and-bees horror (invoking a quasi-epithet derived from the Jesus and Mary Chain, an all-time favorite band from my own youth) and seeks refuge on a bench outside. Ginny joins her and asks politely about the audition, probably prepared say something nice about it if she’s still bitter, but Michelle seems sanguine about it now. As they share a quiet moment, Ginny finally breaks down and confesses that she and Frankie — not officially dating, because he doesn’t do that sort of normal thing — slept together last week. Ginny keeps referring to him as “so beautiful” and even kept a copy of the mawkish thank-you note she wrote him afterward (“As far as first times go, this seems successful”), though he hasn’t called her since. Ginny clearly isn’t suited to play the role of a woman trying to live life to its fullest while hiding a deep, dark secret that’s slowly killing her.
Thus does the season finale end with tears.
Also, one last musical number — all the dance students (including a prominent Cosette) sporting 1950s tops and skirts and performing to a jazzy version of 1929’s “Makin’ Whoopee”, a cautionary tale about a couple who hook up too young and let their urges steer them down the road to disaster. I was unable to track down the exact version or artist used in this episode; the version enclosed below by the legendary Dinah Washington is the jazziest, least depressing I could find. Enjoy!
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Missing an episode of Bunheads? Be sure to check ABC Family’s official site for recent episodes posted online, consult your local Video On Demand provider, spend money on them over at iTunes, try Hulu if you’re so inclined, or check out past episode recaps here at MCC. Your handy episode checklist is provided below, along with recap links where available.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next season.
6/18/2012: “For Fanny”
6/25/2012: “Inherit the Wind”
7/9/2012: “Better Luck Next Year”
7/16/2012: “Money for Nothing”
7/23/2012: “Movie Truck”
7/30/2012: “What’s Your Damage, Heather”
8/6/2012: “Blank Up, It’s Time”
8/13/2012: “No One Takes Khaleesi’s Dragons”
8/20/2012: “A Nutcracker in Paradise”
1/7/2013: “You Wanna See Something?”
1/14/2013: “Channing Tatum is a Fine Actor”
1/21/2013: “I’ll Be Your Meyer Lansky”
1/28/2013: “The Astronaut and the Ballerina”
2/4/2013: “Take the Vicuna”
2/11/2013: “There’s Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit”
2/18/2013: “It’s Not a Mint“