20th Nov2015

‘Flesh and Bone 1×06: F.U.B.A.R’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

Ross: “Which movement do you want?”

Paul: “Childhood.”

F.U.B.A.R is messier, less visually stimulating, and broader than the hard-hitting ‘M.I.A,’ an unending procession of gloom and doom which spends far too long showing us how fucked up each and every character is when it comes to work, love, and family. The holidays, stressful even for people who aren’t terminally ill or in thrall to petty tyrants, are a showcase of horrors in the world of Flesh and BoneKiira sharing a moment of collusion with a child who sneaked off from Thanksgiving to get wasted, Claire resuming her incestuous sexual relationship with Bryan, Paul spitefully terrorizing his dancers after Toni makes him jealous, and the open wound of a human being that is Claire and Bryan’s father are all sad things to look at, but there isn’t much to F.U.B.A.R beyond that.

Then there’s Paul’s temper tantrum, a marathon session of brutal physical abuse triggered by his jealousy over Toni’s popularity in the company and her happier home life. The shift from a joyful rehearsal under Toni’s direction to the punishing repetition Paul demands from his dancers as a sort of penance for daring to love anyone but him is unpleasant, but again it doesn’t tell us anything but that everyone in the room is fucked up. Paul is a vicious, small-minded man and the people who crave his approval are trapped and forced to cater to his whims if they want to pursue their chosen art form. What Flesh and Bone fails at time and time again is bringing those elements together into any kind of meaningful conflict or synthesis. There’s no sense that Paul’s misery and monstrosity are entwined with the artistic struggle of his dancers in any kind of compelling way.

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I spent about five minutes convinced that the ballet company showing up on Paul’s doorstep on Thanksgiving was the pitiful daydream of a deeply lonely man, but it turns out that everyone is just so terrified of him that even his worst abuse is answered with boot-licking. Even then, surrounded by adoring underlings, he uses his podium to belittle and manipulate. It’s not that it’s unbelievable. Abusers lead rich, active social lives all the time. It’s just that it’s fast growing dull to watch the same pattern play out again and again as Paul inflicts pain, reaps deference, and uses it as an excuse to inflict more pain. Paul feels only tangentially connected to any given character, defined more by his befuddling solo material (and his Phantom Pooper boyfriend) than by his connection to Claire, Kiira, or the other members of the ABC. Defining Paul as someone who pushes people away and then asking us to believe that his entire job and life consist of managing those same people should be interesting, but more often it’s just nothing at all.

Another exercise in repetition, Claire’s trip home is a muddled and unpleasant affair. I’m all for ugliness in art, for taking a hard look at the least pleasant and most taboo subjects and just kind of letting things get fucked up. Watching Mr. Robbins berate and abuse Bryan for most of twenty minutes, though, seems engineered to make us sympathetic toward a man we know is a war criminal and a rapist. Even if that isn’t the case, the spectacle of the Robbins home curdles quickly. Mr. Robbins’s vocabulary seems to consist solely of the words “Fucko” and “beer,” and his disdain for a son who impregnated his daughter doesn’t exactly feel shocking. The revelation that Claire and Bryan had a daughter together is icky and complex, a family tragedy wrapped up in an impenetrable web of emotions, but it’s hard to square Claire going home at all in the first place with what we find when we get there. Joyless lovemaking, ugly memories, and a horrid old man who ruined his children.

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Mia’s arc doesn’t feel earned, and her emotional alienation from Claire makes it tough to imagine how the tragedy of her suicide attempt might affect Claire going forward. Mia’s angry unwillingness to accept just being competent seemed like a natural jumping off point for further character development, but instead we get a pretty uninteresting march toward physical breakdown followed by an intensely uninteresting one-woman end of the world party and a garish suicide attempt. We’ve never really seen Mia do anything aside from sneer at people, so the pathos mostly floats around with nowhere to land.

Likewise the repeated use of Romeo as a chronicler figure. He appears over and over in the act of writing his books, an image perhaps meant to suggest the “day in the life” anthology structure of F.U.B.A.R but which comes off as superfluous. It’s worth noting, too, that Flesh and Bone‘s use of Romeo always presents him as archetype first and person second. He’s “touched,” a prophet unheard in his time, an observer meant to paper over whatever hole in the plot of the moment needs filling. It’s a portrayal that has grown more stilted as the show has gone on. There’s something admirably unsettling about the butchered copy of The Velveteen Rabbit he hands back to Claire before vanishing into the night, but it’s a note of intrigue in a sea of mediocrity.

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