18th Nov2015

‘Flesh and Bone 1×04: Boogie Dark’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“A rumble comes. The ground opens up. A black tongue reaches out. Bodies get pulled down, down, down. Swallowed, whole, before they even know they’re dead.”

Flesh and Bone has been showing stress fractures since its premiere. Four episodes in there’s a pervasive sense that the messages the show espouses, the martial succinctness of the title cards that summarize each episode’s theme, are putting the cart before the proverbial horse. The show’s thematic strands are much more developed than its characters and leagues ahead of its vestigial plot. Halfway through the season and with no sense of momentum, ‘Boogie Dark’ is a weak episode flailing around in the same murky waters that constitute its subject matter.

The unknown, and fear of the unknown, lurk behind most exchanges in ‘Boogie Dark’ with so little veneer that the episode may as well be Claire, Paul, and Bryan staring down an elevator shaft. Creative flair behind the camera, not yet more than an intermittent feather in Flesh and Bone‘s cap, is sadly absent when it could do the most good. If the show is going to hang heavy thematic material on pointedly unlikable people, it needs to be able to do so in a compelling manner. Instead we get Bryan, a man who gets his rocks off to memories of raiding Afghani homes by night (and possibly detaining or killing children), whining that he’s afraid of trying to define himself in the absence of his incestuous relationship with Claire. The siblings’ interactions coast on the shock value of their situation, providing little of interest from either performer as Bryan throws a tantrum and Claire shrieks and whines.

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Clunky monologues about fearing the unknown, from Toni claiming with seminar-leader feverishness, “Whether you know it or not, there’s a part of your body you have yet to discover. A fortress where you keep locked up everything” to Paul wagging his dick at Claire while telling her to get herself laid do little to create momentum. Every scene has a clear message about what the unknown might contain, but the confusion of definitions never gels into a portrait of true unknowability. Romeo’s monologue about the soul-sucking demon that is the subway train feels wholly contrived, a way for the episode to couch in livid prose what it can’t find a way to make us feel.

It’s a scene perhaps meant to underscore the actual ability of the unknown to cause harm that really marks the episode out as something ugly. A war criminal raping a ballerina who gets turned on by stories of his crimes only to realize too late that’s (gasp!) she’s next! is a crass and unearned moment of ugliness. The moment even seems to suggest that Mia deserves what she gets for indulging her hitherto un-hinted at fetish for violence. This conflation finds a strange echo in Claire’s decision to first let her new strip club’s bouncers beat her brother and then to go and sleep with the world’s least-interesting man, on whom she ends up crying. The tepid Fink song that plays over the episode’s final moments seems to suggest that by allowing Bryan to die or be maimed she is somehow assaulting herself, or at least some version of herself.

There are glimmers of success. Bryan’s willingness to court destruction rather than face an uncertain life makes for an electrifying moment, and if Paul and his boy toy watching a grainy reel of Paul’s glory days while he gets drunker and drunker is about as interesting as anything Paul’s done so far, it’s also genuinely sweet. Offered love, Paul pauses to regard his paramour with a crocodilian look of suspicion that has to be Flesh and Bone‘s best facial expression. Still, for all the time ‘Boogie Dark’ spends talking about nothingness and what we see when we gaze into the void, there’s seldom any sense that the void itself is anywhere at hand.

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