Checking her temperature for ovulation-tracking purposes, Cherry complains to Keith that the cast is blowing off training to party, resulting in a sloppy show that could get people hurt. But she’s just had a chance encounter in the hotel gym with Denise (UnReal season-one standout, Breeda Wool), sternly training three showgirls from Rhapsody, the Fan-Tan’s longest-running show. This has given Cherry an idea: She’s taking all the Gorgeous Ladies to Denise’s dance class! Beforehand, the wrestlers crack jokes — “Puking before class like a real ballerina!” — but are soon forced to confront the artistry and athleticism of the Rhapsody dancers.
Denise tries to get Melrose to tighten her core and Debbie to tuck in her tailbone so her ass doesn’t “stick out” (Ruth, being Ruth, proudly soaks up positive reinforcement); when it’s time for the Gorgeous Ladies to run the choreography, they all gamely try their best, except Debbie, who judges herself harshly against the impossibly tall, slender, and graceful showgirls and slips out in shame.
The only wrestlers excused from this exercise are Sheila and Tammé, who’ve enrolled in an acting class, and both get essentially the same feedback from their instructor (Arye Gross): Tammé shouldn’t end a monologue from A Raisin in the Sun with an ad-libbed joke, nor should Sheila take on Miss Julie in her She-Wolf regalia, because they’re playing the characters from the text, not themselves. Hurt, Sheila quits on the spot; running after her in solidarity, Tammé drops her purse and throws her back out trying to pick it up. Evidently this isn’t the first time, but in response to Sheila’s urging that she see a doctor, Tammé claims she’ll be fine after a little time in the hot tub, and that she’ll see a doctor when she’s back in L.A.
Sam’s day has started with an awkward elevator encounter with Ruth that lets us know she’s responded to his declaration by moving to a room farther from his, claiming the location of the old one was plagued by pollen. (“Oh, yeah — that desert pollen,” snorts Sam.) He goes from there to the tennis court, where Bash has booked them a doubles match with the Zeissman twins, fellow producers in town, and you’re never going to believe this, but an episode of a comedy series needed to cast twins and Jason and Randy Sklar booked it! Sam is annoyed by all the networking and kibitzing (he’s unimpressed that the Zeissmans have lately been playing with a kid named Agassi), and when the brothers have left, he crabs that he just wanted to work up a sweat! But this is no fun either, as Bash wrecks Sam’s old carcass so badly that Sam ponders throwing out his cigarettes before keeping two, just in case.
After the dance class, Cherry learns that Denise isn’t actually in Rhapsody anymore, and hears the horror story of her pregnancy: Denise was four months along, not yet showing, when she had a partial placental abruption. Not only did all the blood ruin her costume (and probably a floor), but she couldn’t lift anything heavier than three pounds for the rest of her pregnancy, meaning her 35-pound showgirl costume was right out. Now she has to keep auditioning to try to get her old slot back. Hesitantly, Cherry asks, “Was it worth it?” Denise is saved from answering by the arrival of the tiny girls in her next class.
Since the theme of this episode is Awareness of Your Body and the Ways It Lets You Down, we return to Debbie, who claims not to be hungry for lunch when everyone returns to the hotel, and forgoes the elevator to run stairs instead. Before long, she literally runs into Sandy, who cheerfully says she always takes the stairs too, and offers her company. Debbie doesn’t think she could ever give up performing entirely; Sandy, a retired showgirl, gets it, but tells Debbie she’d be surprised how much more is possible when you let that go and move into a behind-the-scenes role; you can even eat ice cream! Sandy recognizes that she and Debbie didn’t really hit it off at first, but her door is always open.
After the show that night, Bash brings the Zeissmans into the women’s dressing room, without notice, to be gross about their bodies — the line in Vegas is that a showgirl’s breast should fit in a champagne saucer, whereas Debbie cracks that hers are more like brandy snifters or pint glasses — until Sam kicks them out. Eventually, only Debbie and Ruth are left; Debbie declines dinner, claiming exhaustion with the “garbage buffet,” and Ruth tries to change her mood by dancing around with an abandoned showgirl headdress. Debbie is mildly amused, but notes that she’s not so convincing in “a blouse that saw my grandmother through the Great Depression.” (I would like to note that this top is one of several garments in this episode that we’ve seen Ruth wearing since season one; I appreciate the acknowledgement both that less than a year has passed since then, and that Ruth, being Ruth, would not spend any of her wages on something as frivolous as new clothes.) Anyway: Ruth draws on her improv skills to heighten the scene by taking off her blouse and dancing topless, to Debbie’s scandalized delight. Ruth’s still capering around when Sam comes in to apologize for the Zeissmans, but it seems safe to say things aren’t going to be less awkward between him and Ruth now that he’s seen her naked boobies.
This transitions us into the part of the episode that’s about Awareness of Your Private Parts. Melrose has picked up Paul (Andy Clifford), a guy who, before they repair to her room, wanted to discuss rates, but she puts off the conversation until later. After they’ve had sex, he says he thinks $200 is fair, and she agrees, and then they just stare at each other, and while I was expecting him to turn out to be a very unethical vice cop, in fact it is he who is the sex worker. She is furious when he scoffs at the idea that he could have thought she was, and he is furious that, because he “came like a fuckin’ faucet,” she’s going to stiff him: “You know, a creative professional experiences satisfaction from their work, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t pay them!” He gathers up his silk underwear and leaves, grumbling that this isn’t over.
Keith is waiting to have some procreative sex when Cherry admits, “I don’t think I want to do this.” After hearing Denise’s story, Cherry has concerns. Keith promises to pick up the slack when the Vegas run is over, but Cherry doesn’t relish knowing he’s “driving Camaros off a cliff while [she’s] stuck at home with the kid.” Keith starts to cry as he tells her he wants a family — he thought they both did — and that he’s been waiting since he met her, and especially since her miscarriage, for her to be ready. “I don’t think I want to have a baby,” Cherry tells him. “Does it matter what I want?” he demands, before storming out. Because Keith is one of TV’s best husbands, I trust the two of them will eventually remember that they could adopt a child instead, but for now, it’s heartbreaking.
Over cheeseburgers — her own untouched — Debbie tells Ruth how hard it was for her to hear the criticism of her big boobs and ass today. Instead of contradicting her, Ruth enthuses, “Your ass is big. It’s big and juicy and sexy, and it’s an honor to have it in my face every night.” Debbie isn’t a ballerina, Ruth reminds her: She’s an actress, a wrestler, a businesswoman, and “a hot fucking piece.” Debbie sighs that she figured out at age 14 that if her body was what people noticed about her, it would need to be perfect; the thought has never left her, though now she knows it’s stupid … and finally takes an enormous bite of her cheeseburger and orders them milkshakes for good measure. Ruth says the showgirls in their class reminded her of a scene in Funny Girl …
… and they both crack up remembering it, and it seems like Debbie’s back to normal!
But then Debbie goes back to her room, watches a video Mark sent of Randy kind of saying “horse,” cries; matter-of-factly goes to the bathroom; kneels in front of the toilet; sticks her finger in her mouth; and makes herself throw up. This moment took me back to Debbie’s very first scene, in the series premiere, when Ruth had to tell Debbie in the middle of their jazzercise class that Debbie was leaking breast milk; since then, we’ve seen Debbie talk about her body getting co-opted as Randy’s support system, and how part of the appeal of wrestling is that it’s a way to use her body that’s just for her. This episode reminds us of all the different ways it can be complicated to live in a human body — the ravages of age and abuse, with Sam and Tammé; its usefulness for pleasure and profit, as with Paul; the potential dangers of making it create life, as for Denise and Cherry; and the pressure to conform to dominant beauty standards that Debbie, like many women, has known all her life and feels even more acutely having gone into a line of work in which her success depends so much on her desirability.
Upsetting as it may be for us to watch Debbie purge her meal, she ends up smiling serenely. She is a businesswoman; she’s handling her business.