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Series / Flesh and Bone

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"Ballet is the ultimate optical illusion. We make effort appear effortless. We make difficult divine. And we make gravity our bitch."
— Paul Grayson

Flesh and Bone is a Starz mini-series, consisting of eight episodes. While it was first conceived as a longer-running show, Starz confirmed its re-tooling as a limited series in October 2015.

The plot follows Claire Robbins, a young dancer from a Pittsburgh working-class family, as she runs away to New York and joins the American Ballet Company. Introduced from the beginning as the fragile product of a very seriously disturbed home-life, Claire's luck does not improve as she is thrust into the unforgiving arms of the company, complete with its outright abusive Artistic Director and cutthroat fellow dancers. The situation is only further complicated by Claire's increasing involvement with a Russian mobster and the arrival of a disturbed figure from her past.

The series was created by Breaking Bad writer Moira Walley-Beckett. It stars real-life ballerina Sarah Hay as Claire Robbins, Ben Daniels as Paul Grayson, Irina Dvorovenko as Kiira, Emily Tyra as Mia, and Josh Helman as Bryan Robbins.

Previews: Official Trailer, An Inside Look, Behind the Curtain and Opening Titles.

Flesh and Bone contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Claire's father. It's heavily implied and later demonstrated in his treatment of Claire's brother, Bryan. That's possibly what drove his children to seek physical affection from one another.
    • Mia's mother isn't winning any parenting awards either. Turns out their issues seem more to be borne out of misunderstanding what Mia's MS leaves her capable of doing with her life.
  • Agony of the Feet: Well, it is a show about ballet.
    • An opening scene shows Claire pulling off a damaged toenail - something her ballerina roommate shows no surprise about whatsoever.
    • Later, Claire is shown hitting herself in the foot with a pointe shoe.
    • Right before her big performance, Claire discovers someone has put ground glass in her shoes.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Claire's father - unashamedly.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Claire's mocked by many other ballet dancers at the company, except for Daphne (who she befriends), largely because her bust is bigger than average for ballerinas.
  • Big Brother Bully: Played with. While he's not physically abusive, Claire's older brother is definitely a threatening figure for her and anyone who gets between them. Their relationship is complicated but almost certainly predatory on his part.
  • Bondage Is Bad: The audience's suspicion that there is something very wrong with Bryan is proved correct when he hog-ties Mia before masturbating on her. To be fair, the fact that the bondage is non-consensual greatly increases the squick of it all. However, the event traumatizes her so much that even a drunken hookup couldn't erase that image from her head.
  • Bookends: Paul standing behind Claire facing a mirror, him caressing her chin and attempting to show her what she's capable of. The final scene has her denying Paul the satisfaction of giving him credit for the strength of her performance earlier that evening.
  • Break the Cutie:
    • Seemingly the objective of Claire's entire life, up to and including her employment with the Company. Thankfully, her future seems at least marginally brighter by the end.
    • Mia's life is frustrating and difficult enough without the eating disorder, bouts of blindness, sexual assault and eventual multiple sclerosis diagnosis the series throws at her.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Between Claire and Bryan. Alluded to and then confirmed in a scene that likely induced a Sick and Wrong moment for most viewers. To make things worse, they had a daughter who Claire gave up after her birth.
  • Bungled Suicide: Mia attempts suicide after she's diagnosed with MS, since it means she'll be unable to do ballet anymore, though she survives.
  • Captain Ersatz: The American Ballet Company, presumably based on the real-life American Ballet Theatre.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Kira's stress-fracture to the ankle. It proves to be career-ending conveniently in time for Claire to take her part.
  • Casting Couch: The other dancers assume Claire has made use of this, given her rapid ascent in the company and Paul's interest in her. In another episode, Paul not-so-subtly implies that he wants her to sleep with the company's benefactor in order to keep funds for the company coming in (when the night goes badly, the man withdraws his funding, and Paul is enraged). And in yet another episode, Paul embarrasses Trey by revealing their relationship—by claiming that it is not the reason Trey has been given a prominent role in an upcoming performance. The truly twisted part is that Paul actually did it because Ross rebuffed his advances earlier, and in a petty act of revenge, he had Trey take over Ross's role. He actually made up the claim of being in a relationship with Trey just to give the latter no illusions about who was in charge, despite Trey willfully stepping in.
  • Crippling the Competition: What someone attempts to do to Claire before her opening performance, also acting as Paranoia Fuel for Claire. As if she didn't have enough reason to distrust mankind already. Word of God says it was Paul. Ironically, NOT to cripple her, but to get a terrific performance.
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: With all the soap-like plotlines, it's easy to overlook that this is a major component of the show.
  • Dark and Troubled Past:
    • Claire grew up with a father who was an alcoholic abuser, an absent mother (why's never made clear), had an incestuous relationship with her brother (by whom she got pregnant), and her father forced Claire to have the baby but then give her up for adoption. She is unsurprisingly a bit messed up due to all this.
    • Paul mentions his briefly. He was apparently brought up by a couple he'd believed were his parents, though it turns out they were simply paid to care for him. This was obviously a devastating revelation for him by the way he related it. Likely because of this, he's bipolar.
  • D-Cup Distress: Several other dancers snark about Claire as she practices—"Her tits are two steps behind". Claire's actress is a professional ballet dancer in real life, and has been told to get a breast reduction before.
  • Deal with the Devil: Jessica's agreement with Sergei is heavily implied to be this.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Artistic director Paul Grayson. Not an episode goes by without him eyeing, flirting with, making advances to, or practically assaulting people of both genders, behavior enhanced whether he's in the manic or depressive phase of his Bipolar Disorder.
  • Disability as an Excuse for Jerkassery:
    • Once again, Claire's charming father. Although, the show does call bullshit on it around the time Claire shoves her baby's wristband in his mouth. In another instance, one hard look from Bryan after an unwarranted slap to the head causes him to shrink back in utter terror. Judging by the home video we see of him with Bryan in the past, he was already an asshole before getting disabled.
    • Paul also. After he relentlessly drills the company on a performance piece, one of the dancers tries to rationalize it, saying that he always gets like this during "the darkness".
  • Dysfunction Junction: It would be easier to count those affiliated with the American Ballet Company who aren't living very complicated and stressful lives.
  • Fan Disservice: Claire making herself vomit to avoid being forced to sleep with the company's primary donor, even when she's also naked. Another instance would be Bryan hog-tying Mia and masturbating on her. Claire appears nude when she wakes up after having sex with Bryan (who's her brother) as well.
  • Forceful Kiss: Paul plants one of these on Trey. It borders on a sexual assault, as Trey is clearly struggling to get away from him at one point, and it seems Paul's sole purpose in doing this is not out of affection, but to humiliate him by revealing their relationship to everyone else in the company.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted. Claire did not abort her child of incest, but reveals she used to punch herself in the stomach in the hopes of a miscarriage. This suggests she would have had an abortion, had her father permitted it.
  • Hates Being Touched:
    • Claire - for increasingly obvious reasons. This is also what makes Toni Cannava's more intimate choreography difficult for her.
    • Spotlighted when Claire smashes a bottle over a man's head because he touches her ponytail. It's later revealed that Bryan tended to do this to her whenever they slept together.
    • It's shown once again when she flinches away from Toni's compassion.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Daphne, to some extent. She doesn't actually prostitute herself, but aside from being a ballerina, moonlights as a stripper. And she's also the daughter of a very wealthy man.
  • Homeless Pigeon Person: Subverted. Romeo hates and fears the pigeons for unspecified reasons. He goes as far as to drive them away with the corpses of their own. He calls them "grey motherfuckers" on one occasion.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each episode is taken from an official or slang military phrase. Amusingly, despite the explicit nature of some of the show's scenes, the acronym "FUBAR" (fucked up beyond all repair) is not elaborated on; only stated as a military acronym.
  • Important Haircut: Claire cuts off her ponytail in an act of self-liberation from her brother's abuse and her exploitation by men in general.
  • Incest Subtext:
    • The incest between Claire and Bryan is pretty blatantly implied before the big reveal. One notably icky example is when Bryan calls Claire while masturbating on her childhood bed.
    • Also, the awfully revealing I have a boyfriend line has the potential for a Delayed "Oh, Crap!" moment from the viewer.
  • Insane Equals Violent: At first Romeo seems a little delusional, but otherwise harmless and kind. In the last episode, he becomes convinced that Bryan is a "dragon" he has to slay, and does so.
  • Madness Mantra: "Blood is in the water!"
  • The Mafiya: Daphne and later Claire perform in a strip club owned by a powerful Russian crime boss. Claire learns he's involved with trafficking underage girls. One girl appears to have "vanished" as a result of becoming a problem as well.
  • Missing Mom: The absence of Claire's mother is not elaborated upon. It does make for a wonderfully awkward silence after a misplaced insult from Paul, though.
  • Mood-Swinger: Paul. Justified as he suffers from Bipolar Disorder. Glaringly obvious when he laughs it up at his Thanksgiving party, then humiliates and insults two of the dancers, then goes right back to partying.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Claire provides most of the show's. At the club, she does a spontaneous pole dance in which she takes her top off. She views herself topless in the mirror another time too. Daphne also performs as a pole dancer at the club, while Mia's shown naked having sex with a guy in her very first scene.
  • Naked on Arrival: Mia is first seen having sex with a guy just as Claire first enters her apartment.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Bryan receives one from Sergei's bouncers.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted, as right before Claire's first practice another ballerina complains she just got her period, and Claire hands over a tampon.
  • Parental Favoritism: While her father is a straight-up bastard to both his children, Claire is not quite the unfavorite that Bryan is.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: "Behold the dragon!"
  • Sadist Teacher: Paul Grayson, although like many abusers he justifies his methods as necessary Tough Love.
  • Self-Harm: Claire tends to do this several times. Mia attempts suicide by cutting her wrists.
  • Sex Slaves: The underage waitresses on Sergei's yacht are revealed to be these. Claire even spotlights the fact when arguing about the incident with Daphne.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Beautiful classical music (intercut with scenes of Claire's performance plays as Romeo murders Bryan.
  • Stripper with a Heart of Gold: Claire and to a lesser extent Daphne.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Mia and Daphne. Claire later becomes one to both of them individually.
    Daphne: (to Claire) Careful with that one. She's a crazy slut.
    Mia: That's not true. (Beat) I'm not crazy.
  • War Is Hell: It is implied that Bryan was even further twisted by his tour in Afghanistan than he was before. This is particularly frightening considering he impregnated his sister before he'd enlisted.
  • Weight Woe: Another common ballet trope.
    • Mia has an undisclosed eating disorder.
    • Toni advises the company not to be afraid to eat before they depart for Thanksgiving.
    • The ballerinas always tend to have an instinctual reaction to seeing Jessica's assistant eating lots of foods while pregnant.
  • Wisdom from the Gutter: Romeo is a self-proclaimed "seer of things".