12th Nov2015

‘Flesh and Bone 1×03: Reconnaissance’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“‘There is no ‘there’ there.’”

Reconnaissance, the third of Flesh and Bone‘s eight episodes, is as preoccupied with spying, interrogation, and information as its title suggests. The hour of inquest and mystery has its ups and downs, but the strange Hitchockian climax to which it builds is worth the bumpy ride. The dizzying sprint down the apartment building’s staircase, the heart-stopping cut from Bryan sleeping on the couch to Bryan sleeping on the floor beside Claire’s bed, Claire’s fingernails digging into the palm of her hand as blood wells up, Romeo as a stand-in for L. B. Jefferies powerlessly watching horror unfold; it’s a climax given weight by the dull, defeated hopelessness with which Claire makes up the couch and gets Bryan a sandwich. Real horror lives in the mundane, not the fantastical.

The camera remains one of Flesh and Bone‘s strongest players, especially during the aforementioned stairwell descent and in Paul’s self-aggrandizing lecture to Claire in the empty studio. The show has made excellent use of the depth and hollowness of vacant practice spaces, and as Paul reminisces about his long, hard climb to the top of the ballet world, the gloom and emptiness around him remind us of the worth of his accomplishments. That business with the chicks, the chirping of new life interrupting Paul’s rant about the glory days, is hardly subtle even before Paul hurls the nest from the sill. Claire walking past the broken bodies, strangers crying over the tiny everyday tragedy, is more successful than that moment of vicious pique. The old “kick the dog” stratagem of showing just how awful a bad man really is feels thoroughly shopworn here. The sequence is echoed in almost every way when Paul, distraught at losing Brusseau’s financial backing, pelts his co-director’s grave with eggs while screaming obscenities as the camera pulls back to reveal the vastness of the graveyard and the inconsequential nature of Paul’s anger.

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If Ben Danielson’s Paul remains an unevenly engaging character burdened by lazy material, Irina Dvorovenko’s turn playing Kiira as a decaying prima bleeding from her nostrils while spitting put-downs at Claire is a hell of an improvement over her vague characterization in the premiere. Her dance partner’s well-founded suspicion that she’s returned to cocaine provides a surprisingly tender scene and does solid work portraying the deflection, feinting, and outright deceit of a person who has learned that information is power and that allowing other people to learn her secrets is an invitation to destruction. Kiira’s interruption of Claire’s interview with stuck-up journalist Kerwyn Voss, a man whose name suggests he’s either an NPR segment host or a minor character in a Star Wars film, is a prime example of the duplicitous construction of personal narratives. Kiira’s vision of herself is delusional, sure, but if she can get out ahead of the papers she can undercut all other stories and cement it with the public. That’s recon, laying groundwork for eventual action.

Two other major threads deal directly with the idea of reconnaissance. The first of these is Bryan’s All-American apple pie routine with Monica, the culmination of his systematic review of every ballet school in New York. That his projected wholesomeness, complete with a wide-eyed “I’m sure glad to be home, yes ma’am,” wins Monica over more or less at once seems a bit too convenient(she’d seemed a little more level-headed than that, ya dig?), but the demented grin Helman conjures up when he learns Claire is at ABC is utterly chilling. His almost normal but not quite voyage through New York is a murkier shade of off-putting, and the tension as he eats a pretzel on a bench in a crowded playground belies the fact that the words “pretzel,” “bench,” and “playground” are present in the scene’s description.

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Bryan lives his life like he’s still in the service. When Monica lets slip that Claire is at ABC, his response is “So she is a member of your company?” You can almost see the image of a marine unit jogging through the desert flicker to life in his eyes. At night he organizes his boots and toiletries into a neat little square, clean and optimally efficient. He is adept at ferreting out information, but his otherness is plain to everyone who meets him. His bottomless, vacant state of observation makes it impossible for him to integrate. It’s also chillingly clear that he isn’t afraid to use force to get what he wants (not that brutality is the sole province of military personnel, but it sure as hell doesn’t help).

The second thread is the scene in which choreographer Toni Cannava is introduced to the dancers. Before she arrives, Paul and Ivana circulate among their students to correct postures, give advice, and (in Paul’s case) spit venom like “all the height in the world can’t hide a faggot in a pair of tights.” When Toni enters and sits down next to Paul, he greets her with a hyper-critical rundown of the dancers’ skills and weaknesses. This is the information he works hard to acquire, a list of soft parts he can stab at when he wants to motivate his troops or when he’s just feeling cruel. Toni, after graciously accepting his introduction, embarks on her own gentler and more disarming brand of information-gathering. She runs the dancers through free-form trust exercises, shaking them out of their combat jitters with a combination of goofiness and genuine feeling. When she tells them to close their eyes, though, she keeps hers open. It’s a safe bet that she’s conscious of the importance of what Paul does; she’s just approaching it in a smarter way. Paul’s approach keeps the dancers on their toes (literally and figuratively), but pushing people to learn their weaknesses isn’t a great way to find out what they’re actually like. His attempt to use Claire to butter Brusseau up is disastrous not because Claire flubs it but because Paul badly misread her.

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The sequence in which Claire visits Sergei and dances at his club is inelegant as a setup for what will surely be Daphne getting the ABC in bed with the Russian mob but much better as a fit of angry self-inquiry by Claire. Everyone, or at least every man in her life, has an idea of what Claire should be. Her brother wants a lover/sister, Paul wants a pliant protege he can brutalize and reshape at will, Brusseau wanted a doll to fuck, and on and on. Sergei’s announcer even calls her an angel when she comes on stage; her beauty and her otherworldly silence and reticence mark her out just like her brother’s uncomfortable intensity does him. Up on stage she captures something of what she saw Daphne do in the premiere, cutting loose after her awkward interview with Voss and Paul’s blow-up at her in the studio. The result is overload, a numbing cascade.

Sergei’s memories of the ballet Sleeping Beauty call back to Claire’s unwillingness to answer Voss’s questions about what happened in the three years between her apprenticeship at the Pittsburgh Ballet Academy and her sudden appearance at the ABC. “She slept for a hundred years,” the gentleman mobster muses, shaking his head. That darkness, that negative space, is what defines Claire. It is the structuring absence of her life, a void in which her brother did grievous harm to her emotional health and stability. Her urges toward self-destruction, her lethal focus on her art, and her inflexible emotional state all come from the blackness that opened up inside her somewhere in those three dark years.

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