By Lori Acken
Forgive me for saying it, but God bless Cathy Nesbitt-Stein.
For if it were not for her and her rosy-red dreams of revenge-steeped glory, this episode of Dance Moms — “Cathy Brings It On!” — may have become too depressing to watch. In a genuinely depressing depressing sort of way — not in the incredulous, “this cannot possibly be happening” camptacular sort of way of the first nine episodes. In a tense, tired, beaten-down moms, tinderbox Abby, pins-and-needles children, “can anybody possibly leave here saying hooray for anything about Hollywood?” sort of way.
Melissa hasn’t even made the trip, ferrying Maddie and MacKenzie off with Abby Lee while she spends time with the guy who, from the very first episode, became known to everyone on both sides of the TV screen as “The Guy Who Writes The Checks.” The other mothers smirk. Abby cherishes the chance to have her sparkle princess all to herself, taking her out for dinner complete with a kiddie cocktail in a martini glass and encouraging conversation about how Abby’s mother is in the hospital subsisting on water and yet Abby is still there while Maddie’s mother is off galavanting with her boyfriend. He writes the checks, Ab. Let her do what must be done.
And anyway, Maddie reacts with the same cool indifference that she saves for most sentences that don’t involve the words “dance” and “win” and calmly fishes the maraschino cherry out of her martini glass while Abby checks in with her ailing mother.
Lori wonders a little what poor MacKenzie is doing for dinner, since the babysitter seems have remembered only one charge.
Backing up a little, the pyramid of fame and shame of course sports Paige and Brooke at the bottom because Kelly has been speaking her mind just a little too often. Which would include once. Chloe and Nia get the middle row, though Chloe will be dancing a solo and Nia will duet with little Mac. Maddie shines like a star at the top because Abby gave her the day off in Vegas and everything went to hell and we’ll never make that mistake again, oh no we will not.
And then Abby has a special surprise for the girls! Nooooo, not Brandon (Squeeeeeeeee!). Nooooo, not a loopy Vegas showgirl who tells 8-year-olds about dancing topless. LaQueefa is back! Only she spells it Laquifa. And she is actually a he dressed as a she who goes by the name Shangela. What we have here is an admittedly lovely drag queen on hand to teach little girls about stage presence. And they think that’s a kick in the booty shorts!
Happily, Shangela demonstrates some of the most good-humored common-sense dance instruction I’ve seen on the show, and after blowing Nia’s mind with her version of the Laquifa/LaQueefa dance, she teaches her a show-stopper move that will cap off the group dance. It’s called the “death drop” and that’s pretty much what it looks like. Bend one knee, throw your arms out wide and fall flat on your back. Nia gives it a solid go, dropping to her bended knee before flopping on her back, sensibly avoiding concussion or broken vertebrae. Shangela gently tells her it’s full flop or nothing.
Maddie gets a death drop, too, and her own little blast from the past in the form of her solo, “Disappear.” You know. Disappear, as in “Where Have The Children Gone?” except with only one children. Again, she will wear an angelic white cotton frock. Again she will play a tormented child. Only this time, instead of someone or something else taking her life, she will be committing suicide. Figuratively. Drowning as it turns out. She also gets some nice little zombie-like dark makeup under her eyes to make the job appear half done.
“I want them to feel bad for the poor little girl!” Abby croaks, nose-to-nose with Maddie. “I want them to feel bad for the abused child!”
God bless this kid, too, for internalizing nothing.
We also make a trip back to Ohio (John R. Kasich, Governor) where Cathy Jean is now calling her studio her command center and instructing a pair of very little children to strum their air guitars “like Slim Pickens!” I barely recall who Slim Pickens is; Vivi and Justice decide to improvise and strum their air guitars like Slash, and Cathy seems fine with their efforts.
Then she reveals her evilest of evil plans — Taylor will be dancing to the self-same music that Chloe will. “It’s no secret you can go online and find out what the contestants are dancing to,” shrugs Cathy. It’s also no secret that pirating another kid’s music does not so much speak to your confidence that yours is the better dancer as it does to really childish desperation, apple kicker. But we’ll see.
Meantime, out in Hollywood, a makeup-less, frazzled-looking Kelly has decided to walk her “get another choreographer” talk and get Paige a fancy LA dance master — even though Abby warns her that if she does someone else’s solo, she will not dance as a part of Abby’s group. Paige was not born with Maddie’s teflon innards and looks as though she may explode from anxiety. Nonetheless, she is shuttled off to meet with Mike Munich, a grown-up Dennis the Menace looking guy who says he’s danced with GaGa.
Mike has a smidgen of one day to teach Paige her new solo and gets right out there and starts demonstrating Lakers Girls moves for the clearly mortified little dancer. Kelly watches, desperately hoping that her youngest will take to the moves so she doesn’t have to eat crow in Abby’s presence. But when Paige flees, coughing with sobs, into the bathroom and locks the door, Kelly realizes that if Paige is going to dance at all successfully in this competition, she’s going to have to do it Abby’s way.
Mike Munich is dismissed, Kelly is in tears and Paige is once more left without a solo.
Abby wants to know if Kelly is happy now. Kelly, clearly anguished for her child and her place in this dance corps, wails that she just wants Abby to make her kids feel like they’re special, too.
“I wasn’t put on this earth to make her feel special,” Abby roars as Paige buries her face in Maddie’s shoulder. “I was put on this earth to make her dance!” Just not particularly memorably.
There’s also a tasteless little exchange in which Abby implies that Maddie is closer to Abby’s teenage choreographer because the Zieglers cough up better Christmas gifts, and in my head I hear Cathy’s voice whispering, “Dead presidents.” Just flash those dead presidents and have a happy new year!
And just when things couldn’t get any more testy, the dressing room door flies open and Little Red Apple Hood appears followed by her equally crimson-clad dancers and toting a cloth-covered picnic basket of God knows what. Abby looks as though she’s gazing upon the devil’s own and wants to know what Cathy is doing beyond the bounds of Ohio (John R. Kasich, Governor). Cathy tells her she has come to kick Abby’s apples because she and Kelly told her to bring it and she’s brought it alright.
Abby looks like she has finally reached her maximum capacity for unfortunate events and goes to fetch Maddie for her solo, clutching her hand as they walk down the corridor. “I don’t need to hold your hand,” she says to the child. “I just want people to know who you are.” The kid at the end of Abby Lee’s arm who’s about to “Disappear.”
Maddie expresses the living daylights out of the dance and, at it’s conclusion, spreads herself into her imaginary watery grave heartrendingly. Abby is blissed. Maddie cries for Melissa’s absence.
Now it’s time for Round One of the Cathy/Abby showdown in the form of duet dances. Vivi and Justice go out there and do a musical theater sort of deal that definitely allows Vivi to do more than swing, play pattycake and turn cartwheels. Just not particularly well.
Then Nia in her Bollywood costume and MacKenzie in what I think may possibly be a serpent costume, or maybe a jewel-toned baby dinosaur, come out and do an impressively technical and well choreographed duet that suggests it was very much Mac who was being shortchanged in the Vivi/Mac pairing.
Next it’s time for the Taylor/Chloe showdown and for Cathy’s Hollywood moment — watching the faces of her frenemies as Chloe’s music starts to play with Taylor on the stage. Everyone in the audience looks duly horrified. Backstage, Christi and Chloe are puzzled when they hear Chloe’s song much too soon and Chloe rushes for the stage only to find another dancer in action.
Because she is Chloe, she takes it with sweet aplomb. And then — Chloe, oh, Chloe, I am such a fan of you! — she goes out and does a glorious dance, technically wonderous and wonderfully expressive. Abby is, for once, tickled.
And then it’s time for the girls — including Paige — to pull on the shiny spandex pants, red boa shrugs and bobbed black Uma-Thurman-In-Pulp-Fiction wigs that I’ve been waiting for all season, and go out there and dance about pumps. They’re not wearing pumps. They remember Shangela/Laquifa’s instruction. And Nia — bless her, too, and her back of steel — nails that death drop on the final beat of the song and makes mine and the judges’ jaws drop. Awe. Some.
Nia and Mac beat Vivi and Justice, who do not place.
Chloe wins her division (CHLOE!!!!!); Taylor does not place.
Then things go all a-bumble.
Without her Chloe-in-second buffer, Maddie finishes there instead. Maddie thinks she danced the best. Abby thinks the judges are cretins.
Then, deadly death-drop and all, “My Pumps” limps into third place. Third. Numero three-o coming into Nationals at Tahoe next week. Abby — who hasn’t checked on her mother in quite some time — wonders what could have gone so horribly wrong when it all felt so right.
Wound meet salt — here comes Cathy.
She regards the crew cooly, then announces, “I can go home and fix what my kids did wrong. You can’t fix your …” Bleeeeeeep!” Her lips are still moving but no matter how many times I rewind the video, I can’t figure out what bleeep cannot be fixed. Must have been choice,though, because Abby and the mothers are reunited in their disgust.
And off we go to Tahoe.
Watch full episodes of Dance Moms online at mylifetime.com
Photo credit: Lifetime