It's time for "The Nutcracker," the highlight of the dance season. It's important because this show alone essentially funds Fanny's paying season (since she doesn't actually charge the kids for classes and all). Michelle is in charge of choreographing the Rat King dance, even though Fanny insists they're mice. She's chosen to do a contemporary spin on it, with the rats being Wall Street brokers in a board room. She's also surprised Fanny by bringing Sasha back to play Clara, having successfully wooed her back from the knobby short-kicks of cheerleading. We're not actually dance critics, but we have to say it's always a pleasure to watch Sasha do these dark dance pieces. (The only weird thing here was her initial ascent onto the table, which looked less than graceful.) Fanny also approves of the dance and seems teary-eyed to see her star performer back. Melanie and Ginny play police officers who come at the end to arrest the crooked broker. Another minor complaint: It's hard to tell from this piece alone where Clara fits into the broker metaphor, as she's currently just dressed in a black leotard and doesn't necessarily fit the tableau.
Next Fanny's talking about ticket sales and how the rest of their income will have to come from a fundraiser that Michelle is in charge of at Oyster Bar. She and Michelle are eating Chinese food and now we really want some of that. Also, Fanny wants to take a 3-month vacation with Michael to Montana and leave the place in Michelle's care. Michelle agrees without much trouble, which sets off all kinds of alarm bells in our heads. Then this other kickass ballerina shows up; she's called "The Ringer" because she only shows up to show off and cover holes when others (aka Sasha) drop out. Fanny has to figure out how to get rid of her in time for "The Nutcracker."
In the dressing room, the girls are still feuding about the Male!Mel situation. Michelle comes in, declares herself a new partner in the dance studio and orders them to spill. They do, she hashes it all out like a pro. To wit: Ginny can date Charlie if she never talks to Melanie about him; Boo has to realize she likes Carl and let go of the childhood Charlie crush. Sasha declares that she wishes they were all lesbians (the girl with the destructively gay dad certainly has strange notions about how that will fix everything — sidebar: Sasha should talk to KIRK about his two dads so he can be around more and Sasha can have an awkward life mentor plus a lifetime of free coffee).
Later, Sasha confronts Fanny about calling in The Ringer. Fanny tells her that part of her punishment for quitting is to tell Ballerina Robot she has to go back home, because she's scared of her (and scurries out fearfully, heehee). The Ringer makes fun of Sasha and questions her dedication to the art of dance. Then she claims she's determined to play Clara.
Sutton Foster looks amazing in a basic black dress with no major embellishments or accessories or jewelry; we hate her. It's fundraiser night, and all the girls and guys are dressed in their Nutcracker costumes (this just seems irresponsible around marinara dip, tartar sauce and other spill-y things). Ginny and Charlie go off to flirt away from Melanie. Boo is glum about Carl, and Michelle tells her to do something about it. So Boo goes up to the microphone and makes a horrifying speech about her feelings for Carl, and apologizes; he accepts it, duh. They have their dance at last to the best song of all time, Kermit's "Rainbow Connection." This episode has had so much dancing, it should be like this all the time!
Later, Fanny is upset because she talked to Michael about their Montana trip — and it turned out that he was talking dreamily about Montana because he planned to move there by himself and build a house, not take a little vacation. So they are on two different pages, and it's heartbreaking. Michelle talks to Michael to try and smooth things over (he gets up to make a call). Concurrently, Melanie gets irritated again about Ginny dating Charlie and storms out in her sexy dominatrix police outfit (what — you were totally thinking it, too). Ginny tries to kiss Charlie goodbye so she can follow her friend, but they have an even harsher height dynamic than Boo and Carl, so they smash faces and bleed and confirm that this tryst will never work out.
Sasha is hiding from Ballerina Robot. Some waiter named Tyler recognizes her; he's on the basketball team and remembers her from cheerleading. He's clearly interested but Sasha's not having it. Godot moves to flirt with Michelle; he says he doesn't have time to be clever because he's going to Australia for an indefinite amount of time in a few days. That's the worst possible time to start a new relationship, but on the other hand it seems to make him more safe and appealing for Michelle. Sometimes relationships are less threatening with a deadline. They kiss, which is incredibly dumb to do in front of the entire town.
The next day everyone is rehearsing. Fanny cuts RayRay's Arabian dance so that she can have a single speaking line again. Ballerina Robot is learning all of Sasha's parts and understands no movie references because all she does is dance, ever. Ginny won't shut up about Charlie, which angers Melanie. Fanny cuts RayRay's Chinese dance as well. Boo says she's in a bad mood today. Fanny also hates RayRay's Spanish dance. This is about to be the shortest "Nutcracker" ever danced. Charlie pulls up outside in his neon green car, but Ginny gets spooked by being around Melanie and Male!Mel at the same time, and she decides she'll just walk home.
Michelle has a slut bag that she brings to every show because it has something for every contingency — from bobby pins to boob tape, from Mace to Junior Mints. They're almost ready for opening night of "The Nutcracker." Ginny and Melanie are still bickering, and Ginny says the truce is off. The show begins. By the way, Fanny is the kooky magical godfather (because of course she is). But yay, Kelly Bishop dancing! During a scene break, Michelle is about to fix the girls' hair with spray but reaches into her bag and uses the Mace on everyone instead. There's chaos and a lot of banging into things as the ballerinas flail blindly — and, for the record, act nothing like people who have been pepper sprayed, which we are unfortunate enough to know. Everything swiftly goes to hell in a handbasket. Just as Sasha crawls offstage, Ballerina Robot glides by and says, "I told you I'd be Clara" and dances into the limelight.
Everyone winds up at the hospital. We'd like to note there's another black ballerina named Casey, but Michelle's been calling her Anna Maria since she started working at the studio (and we've never actually seen her before). Sasha bumps into Tyler, who isn't the preppy jock she might have thought he was — in his off-time, he's a moshing Bauhaus fan with guyliner and leather bracelets and he goes by his middle name, Roman. So, basically he's a different person altogether. And suddenly Sasha's into his purported "edgy" persona. They flirt. Fun fact: Her middle name is Henrietta. Also, Ginny decides she doesn't like Charlie and makes up with Melanie — this development has all made no sense, but whatever!
Fanny and Michelle confront each other in a strangely huge hospital room that Michelle has all to herself just for an ice pack, apparently. Not only did the ballet get ruined, but we learn Michael left Fanny in the middle of the night after Michelle meddled. Fanny and Michael got along because Fanny never tried to tie him down, and when Michelle interfered he felt like he was losing his sense of freedom so he fled. Fanny says Michelle has been bad luck ever since she arrived and killed Hubbell.
The next scene is Michelle in her audition uniform on a bare stage, performing "Maybe This Time" from Cabaret. Not just dancing, also singing! And belting her face off — you go Sutton Foster! But it turns out this is yet another dream, because her director/casting agent is Hubbell. OK, not to brag or anything, but we totally called this in the first dream episode (we're like, psychic, you guys— check paragraph 11). Anyway, Hubbell says everything is different from the way he remembers it. Michelle says she ruins everything, and she was supposed to help and keep our four core ballet girls from turning out like she did. Hubbell tells her to look around at the changes she's made in just a short time. Michelle wants to know if things would have worked out if he had lived. He just kisses her hands.
Michelle wakes up in the hospital. Everyone is angry at her and parents are threatening to leave Fanny's studio if she sticks around. So Michelle decides to quit. Sasha leaps up on her chair and cries, "O Captain!" and the girls follow suit. It's trite, but it's touching nonetheless. This would have been the perfect moment for Ballerina Robot to not understand the movie reference, since that joke has been set up throughout the episode. But it doesn't make sense that she's at the hospital since she wasn't sprayed, so it's the little 12-year-old Betty who has to be like, "I have no idea what's going on, I don't watch cable." Michelle smiles sadly and says, "You know he leaves at the end, right?" But she adds: "Thank you, girls." And then she leaves with the still-red-eyed ballerinas looking on.
Don't worry, folks, "Bunheads" has been renewed and will be back in 2013. In the meantime, we'll soon have "Smash" back to love to hate!