Thursday, August 20, 2015

Project Runway: S14 E3: "Shut Up and Sew"

There's something wonderfully organic about the drama of a team challenge on Project Runway. It's not really forced except when it feels like the producers have put certain people together for the sake of creating drama. A collection of artists with their own ideas and aesthetics are of course going to clash when asked to create something together. The truth is that compromise isn't in our nature. Everyone thinks their ideas are right. It's actually the same way I tend to think about religious people; when talking about the strife between different religions, something very basic has always been so clear to me: Of course the believers of this or that religion believe their religion to be the "right" one, if they didn't, they'd change and go with the one that was "right." That's what's at the heart of team challenges on this show; each designer, by their very nature, thinks their designs are best. The nature of a true collaboration isn't about getting them to see that their designs aren't the best, but that the two of you are more capable of coming up with something better if you work together. But until you setup the teams for any given episode, it's impossible to tell who'll be capable of doing that and who won't be.

This week, the designers are taken onto a luxurious cruise ship and told that they'll be put in pairs at which point they'll choose a suitcase. The suitcase has a destination written on it and fabric inside that will serve as the fabric they'll use. The challenge? Create a look that can easily transition from the excursion at your chosen destination back onto the ship and the typical night life found therein. For the second time this season I have to take some time and praise the show for maximizing the appeal of its runtime. This episode hit the ground running in a way that we haven't seen in years. There was no segment of the designers waking up and meeting Heidi to be told where to go meet Tim. Instead, the episode starts and the designers are already heading to the boat. Also, all of the impressed gushing over the lavish nature of the cruise ship feels earned. I don't buy for a minute that people are excited to be in a Hallmark store, but on a ship that big? Sure even I'd be awestruck. I know it's hard to sell some of the support of their sponsors, but this worked in a way very few things of this nature do. Bravo, PR, you seem to have finally learned a lesson.

I complained earlier that there didn't seem to be any big personalities on this season, and I stand by that observation, but it seems like the recipe for bringing that out of these contestants is to pair them up in some fashion. From the word "team," some of the gloves came off in confessionals. Candice (I think?) is quick to point out that she doesn't want to work with Edmond because he has immunity this week and she doesn't want to carry the brunt of the burden. Joseph says he doesn't want to work with Merline because she drives him crazy. And I was fully expecting both of them to be screwed on those points, but I was only half right. Tim pulls out the button bag and pairs people at random and Joseph and Merline end up being the last two left. To her credit, Merline seems honestly excited to be working with Joseph. Her smile during the car ride back to the workroom is unflappable as Joseph tells her point blank that her singing and dancing annoys him and she won't be allowed to do any of that when they work together.

Something else I said about the first episode of this season was that Merline was someone I found to be wonderfully authentic and the edits around her would be interesting. As we spend more time with her this week, I find myself being impressed with her authenticity as she shows how she's capable of being vulnerable. Or maybe vulnerable isn't the best word, but there's something about the way she gets upset and worries about her inability to make her and Joseph's look carry any part of her signature style, and the way she admits to being maybe too concerned with letting people down and trying hard to fit in with other people like she's still in high school. It feels honest and watching it transpire was oddly affecting. Either way, in this pair Merline comes off as the far more sympathetic party.

Once everyone gets back to the workroom, there's some small amount of manufactured drama about Blake grabbing the white fabric that Gabrielle and Amanda wanted to use, but it's short lived. There's a brief glance at all the designers working and getting along well with each other, and then the bulk of the episode is spent focusing on the three teams with the most toxic relationships. Merline and Joseph have problems whereby he seems to think his job is to teach Merline how to make the outfit he wants to make. Some portion of the problem here is that Merline isn't forceful enough to stand up for herself and speak her case. She's so concerned with hoping she doesn't let him down or that he likes her that she just allows him to make whatever he wants and then sits there demurely while he condescendingly tells her how to make it. Meanwhile, Joseph sees all the time that he "has" to spend telling her how to make his dress as a distraction from the work he could be doing if he were alone. But unless I missed something in the editing or through just not paying close enough attention, there wasn't a "need" to hold Merline's hand through it all; he chose to do that on his own accord and then got made at her for it. Joseph seems to thrive best when he's teaching someone else how to do something, and that's the dynamic he gets with Merline because he doesn't respect her and she's too passive to stand up and demand respect.

Meanwhile, Jake and Lindsey have their own set of problems. She doesn't like it when he calls her things like "sweetie" and "honey" and he doesn't like how forceful and direct she is with some of her opinions. There are, I think, two ways to read this situation. 1) Jake is a misogynistic ass who purposefully condescends to women with pet names in a manner that's meant to be placatory, and he has a problem with the fact that Lindsey has thoughts and opinions of her own. 2) There's a cultural misunderstanding between them and a fundamental difference in the way they communicate. What I mean by that is that I think, though I can't be sure, that I hear a hint of a southern accent when Jake speaks. If that's the case, then calling a woman, especially a woman younger than himself, things like sweetie is just so deeply engrained in him that he couldn't turn it off even if he tried. That's not to say that such a thing isn't accidentally condescending in and of itself, but I didn't get the impression that that was his intention, so maybe if they had just talked that out before getting to the runway, things could have been better? Either way, they don't like each other, and Jake's brilliant plan on how to get around that is to sit around doing nothing while Lindsey does all the work so he can throw her under the bus when they inevitably find themselves in the bottom.

Communication problems also extend to Han and Edmond. The interesting thing about this pairing was in how splendidly wrong they both were. Edmond wants them to communicate and wants Han to tell him all of her thoughts while she's having them right there right now. On the one hand, this is because they only really have eight hours in which to work and finish their look. On the other hand, he isn't taking into consideration the possibility that Han thinks in a different language than he does and therefore would have to formulate her thoughts and then translate them to English all in her head before she can even begin to get the words out. And even if that's not the case, different people think and process information differently; Edmond's insistence on her just blurting out what she's thinking isn't taking these things into consideration. But with all that being said, Han also has to do a better job of expressing her thoughts and concerns in a timely manner. When she complains that the dress she sketched was more in Edmond's aesthetic than in her own and she doesn't like it, he's right to point out that that's something they needed to address long before the time in which she brought it up. She's also inflexible to an extent that I found odd, and both of them are passive aggressive and a bit petty. So there's that.

Tim's visit is predictable. The teams that are getting along well need very little help, and the teams that aren't need miracles. My artists thinking that they're right theory holds true in a brief moment between Swapnil and Laurie when he points out that he wants to use one kind of fabric and she wants a different one, and Tim agrees with Laurie's choice and Swapnil looks a bit dejected. But to his credit, he listens and the outfit is made all the better for it. Tim's advice to Han and Edmond is that Han basically just needs to do what Edmond is saying and I'm left wondering what the fuck kind of advice is that? Sorry, but Tim's stock as a mentor is just plummeting with me this season.

There's one more moment of drama before the runway when Edmond decides to stop working on the skirt that's going to serve as the wrap for their bathing suit and start making a new bathing suit from scratch as he assumes the one Han made won't fit properly. Meanwhile, Han sees this, grabs her suit and their model and locks them both in a bathroom while she sews the model into the two piece without Edmond's knowledge. It's petty, deceitful, and underhanded, and hilarious. It's especially funny that Edmond complains about Han's move being those things without acknowledging that his own choice to make a second bathing suit on his own was also all of those things. It's a pot and kettle kind of moment, but I still couldn't help but to laugh.

On the runway, the lovely, funny, and talented Tracee Ellis Ross is a guest judge, and in that moment the reason why Laurie was talking about how much she loved Girlfriends and Tracee Ellis Ross earlier in the episode is made clear. For what it's worth, Ross is a thoughtful, capable, and rightfully harsh judge and I'd love for her to come back anytime!

The Runway:

I like it way more than I expected to. I thought it would all be a bit much together, and there is a slight feeling of a lack of cohesion in the textiles, but not the looks themselves. It's something I can see someone buying specifically for vacation and I think it does serve to transition well between spaces. I think it's really pretty and well made. Welcome back to form, Ashley.

Is there a weird fit to the pants? It looks oddly bunched up in the back. Maybe it’s just the fabric. Other than that, I like this look a lot. I like the fabric choice for the Sari drape as it’s really nicely understated. The top is really pretty. The pants are probably the weakest part of the look for me, but they work as part of the outfit. Maybe a little more time on getting the tailoring just right would make the difference. 

I actually think it’s cute, but I don’t think the fabric photos well at all. It hurts my eyes on the runway. The cut of it is simple, but still cute, so I honestly have no complaints. If I didn’t want to see them on the runway complaining about each other, I’d say they deserved to be safe based on the look. 

I like Joseph’s taste level, I really do, but good lord could that dress look any older, sadder, or more simple? The complaint that there’s no Merline is accurate. There’s no fun, and no youth, and I can’t imagine anyone who'd want to wear that on a cruise vacation. 

The first thing I notice about this look is the way the model turns around and holds the skirt up over her ass to cover up just how exposed she is. It’s a bottom that wasn’t meant to be a thong but turned into a thong and that’s a problem. Other than that misstep, do I hate it? Maybe a bit, but not fully. It looks thrown together around all those straps in the middle, and the top looks poorly constructed, but there’s an idea there and there’s someone that I could imagine wearing it if it were actually finished. It needs a lot of work, but it's not the single worst piece of shit I've ever seen. It is, however, the worst thing on the runway thus far. 

The puckering in the back of the top is an eyesore. The pants are well made and cute, but ultimately I just found it boring. And I don’t see much of a transition to it. So I think it’s boring and it doesn’t really embody the challenge all that well. 

hm….. I want to like this, I really really do. And I find the cut of the top to be sexy without being tasteless. The only thing I don’t like is the cut of the bottom. The flowy sides look like fish fins to me, or something, and I can’t take my eyes off of them. On the one hand, it adds movement, so that’s nice, but on the other hand I find it distracting and not very flattering. Heidi smiling like that doesn’t surprise me though, this looks screams her. 

Blake & Kelly are the only safe look. Joseph & Merline and Edmond & Han are of course in the bottom. The surprise comes from Jake & Lindsey being in the top. They're joined by Swapnil & Laurie and Ashley & Candice. Gabrielle & Amanda round out the bottom. Which all just goes to show that how a team does or doesn't work together might not have much baring on where they end up. 

It's positive things all around for Ashley & Candice. Ross calls their willingness to mix textiles bold, and when they're asked who should win neither of them can pick. Heidi points out the poor fit on the pants in Swapnil & Laurie's look, but other than that the judges respond favorably to it. Ross, after being flattered by Laurie before the runway show started, admits that she doesn't mind the pants at all. So take that, Heidi! Laurie says, without hesitation, that Swapnil should win and he seems happy with that assessment. Jake & Lindsey's critique is the shit show we all could have assumed it would be. The manner in which they can't seem to leave well enough alone is just ridiculous. You made it to the top looks, take the compliment and try to sneak off with some amount of dignity. It doesn't even seem like the judges grill them much before Jake is just spilling the beans on everything that was wrong with their partnership. When it's time for the judges to talk about the outfit, they all seem a bit flustered and taken aback by just how much the designers didn't get along. They have nice things to say about the look, but it's clear they won't get giving the win to this team after all that dysfunction. 

As for the bottom looks, there's no real surprises in what the judges say. What annoys me the most is how even faced with the critique, with the judges asking who should go home, and with Joseph throwing her so firmly under the bus, Merline never really mounts a solid defense for herself. The dress is so clearly of Joseph's design and construction that there can be no doubt that it's all on him. He opens the defense by saying the person he designs for is older and everyone rips the dress for being too old. This is 100% his look, this is 100% his screw up, and yet he firmly believes that Merline should go home? He cites that having to take time away from what he needed to do caused the dress to be a s bad as it is, but at no point does Merline say that she never asked for or needed his constant tutelage and overbearing nature. Never once does she say she deserves to stay simply because she didn't really have a hand in anything that went down the runway. If they want to eliminate her for not working to help her partner, that'd be one thing, but it's information that the judges would have to have and make the call themselves. Instead she mostly just says that she shouldn't go home because she wants to stay and we're all left rolling our eyes. You've got to do better than that, baby girl. 

In the end, Ashley and Candice both get the win because the judges can't decide who to give it to. And Han goes home mostly, it seems, because Edmond has immunity. This is already the second win for Ashley who seems to have rebounded after the disaster last week, but in truth I would have given this one to Swapnil and Laurie. This makes the second week in a row that Swapnil was only barely edged out when he could have and should have won and it's starting to remind me of the times Sean stole wins from Kini last year. This also makes the second time that a contest went from a top look to a look that would have sent them home if they didn't already have immunity. So I guess we've gotta keep our eye on Candice and Ashley next week and see if the pattern holds. 

Loose Threads: 

--Joseph lost a lot of points with me in this episode. I don't know how much of it is the editing and how much of it is just him being a dick, but I was not a fan of his this week. 

--Idk how many people saw this, but there was a little moment during one of the commercial breaks where we got to spend time with Laurie while she called her daughter and gave a little more backstory on herself. It was the single cutest thing in the world. I'm always so much more invested in teary calls home with they involve children than I am when it's to partners. If you can't be without your boyfriend or girlfriend for a couple week without crying about it, then that speaks of codependency and it ain't cute. But this worked and it was a nice way to make the commercial break tolerable and to get to know a little more about one of the contestants without taking up the more important show time. Project Runway's good show management shows up again, and I'm loving it. 

--Why is everything always "about to get real" with Merline? Is she from some place where everything is just constantly fake?

--There was a significant lack of Blake in this episode and that was 100% the way to go. The less I see of him the better. 

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