Flesh and Bone, Episode 1 - A Vicious Pirouette
Flesh and Bone is a new series from Starz akin to the film Black Swan a few years back. If they're anything to go on, the life of a ballerina seems a miserable one. In this pilot we're invited into a world of sex and solitude, bathed in deep psychological themes, questioning the roles of men and women in the act of daily survival.
Damon Herriman's character Romeo proclaims that ballerina is the "ultimate optical illusion". In many ways, this statement pulls the strings of the entire hour-long pilot. The dancers are beautiful, elegant, balanced, and in the flesh their audiences relish the chance to 'brush shoulders with angels'.
But backstage we see women who are strong within their own skin, taking back control of their own bodies in questionable ways, and our protagonist is introduced to the activities behind the veil. A ballerina's body is an asset and for some (of both genders) sex is a means toward feeling empowered and in control.
For our main character, there's a freedom that can be found in bearing her own skin. The veil clouding her life is lifted steadily throughout, the catalyst being her escaping her home in the opening minutes of the episode, with her father's furious voice in the background. By the pilot's end, there's still plenty of mystery.
She walks in on her new roommate, Mia (Emily Tyra), on top of a nameless man. There is no love to be found here. Everything is motivated by the search for success, and seeking an escape when they can't find it.
Flesh and Bone takes the idea of someone who chases a dream, and shows us the nitty gritty rougher edges of the world that person has cannon-balled into. Sarah Hay plays Claire, a girl who is instantly sympathetic courtesy of an abusive life under her father's roof. And Hay is exceptional in delivering each side to Claire's personality; her sweetness, her curiosity, and her fear.
Her rise to stardom is a necessary achievement in the pilot, but it felt rushed. We weren't given enough time to believe in her talent, ironic given the run-time that could have been chopped back even slightly. In many ways, it wants to say too much at any one time.
Damon Herriman plays Romeo, the dance instructor who symbolizes every power-hungry desire that the premiere houses. He's loud, driven, selfish, but even if he is a little one-layered, he creates a terrifying sense of dread when he stands furiously in a silent room.
Moral ambiguity continues to play a front-row presence when Claire bares witness to another fellow dancer, Daphne (Raychel Diane Weiner) working at a lavish strip club, she is completely enthralled in the process. It's hard to say exactly what the moment says about her just yet. Her sexuality is yet to be explored, though that's sure to change. When she bottles a man who pulls her out of her trance while the girl dances on the stage, it's a curious moment. The girl is tortured, but this is always shown and not told. The golden rule.
The premiere of Flesh and Bone is fascinating. Not a scene is wasted in this twisted tale of one ballerina's quest for success. But in many ways, it's the story about her escaping a traumatic past, and that's made no clearer than in the bizarre final scene that brings her own brother into the story in twisted ways.
The limited series from Starz has a magnificent beginning, not surprising coming from the mind of Breaking Bad alumni Moira Walley-Beckett. With no follow up season coming, this is it. And, hopefully, it continues on this wild, and in many ways grim, path.