In an earlier recap, I mentioned how Dash & Lily, like so many rom-coms before it, is sprinkled with magical realism. Well, in episode four, the show really leans into it — and it pays off handsomely. If you couldn’t guess from the episode title, “Cinderella” borrows a lot of its magic from a certain fairytale: The bulk of the episode follows a guy on his quest to find a girl who owns a very specific piece of footwear that she left behind while fleeing from an evening of dancing. And there’s a fairy godmother — and I apologize in advance for this — to boot. It would be easy for something this on-the-nose to be clichéd or make you roll your eyes until they actually fell out of your head, but that is not what happens here. From the jump, Dash & Lily has been so great at out-maneuvering rom-com tropes or cheesiness with characters going through some very authentic high school emotional turmoil, plus the performances (again, especially from our leads) don’t hurt, either. What a lovely way to spend a half-hour.
Let’s get to Lily’s boot, shall we? The crux of it all! Last we saw, Lily had bumped into her middle school crush turned bully at the Challah Back Boys underground show, he (once again) called her weird, and it confirmed all of her fears about opening herself up to the world. She ran out of there in tears and in the chaos, tripped in the snow, and left one of her red boots behind. She also, devastatingly, forgot to leave the red notebook behind for Dash.
When Dash shows up at the underground show location the next day and learns from the Challah Back Boys that Lily left without giving them the notebook, Dash is concerned. When he heads into the bathroom and sees Lily’s response to the note he left her on the mirror urging her to get back out there (because he knew how hard this would be for her, yes I’m still a little misty-eyed over that), well, then he’s distraught. We finally get to see her response, too: But I’m scared. The Challah Back Boys try to assure Dash that they saw the notebook girl out on the dancefloor straight-up living her life, but Dash won’t hear it. He pushed her too hard. It was too much for her. He ruined everything. And now, without the notebook, he has no way to talk to her about it.
That’s when the magic of Christmas or the magic of New York or the magic of love — whatever you want to call it — throws him a lifeline: He finds the red boot outside in the snow, and the Challah Back Boys confirm it was hers. There’s a tag in the boot that says ‘TDF’. It’s a long shot, but it’s all he has to connect him to Lily. He has to figure out how to use this boot to track her down.
It actually doesn’t take that long: TDF stands for Theater Development Fund, a theater-rental shop in Queens. The woman who works there, clad in a Phantom of the Opera sweatshirt (because of course she is), tells Dash and Boomer that those boots — part of the original Broadway staging of The Music Man — were purchased by a Lillian St. Clare DuBois. The last name is clearly made up, but the ‘Lillian’ part seems promising. The woman won’t just hand over this Lillian’s address, so Dash has to work for it. He tells her that he, like the Phantom of the Opera, wears a mask. He doesn’t let anyone see who he really is — until this notebook girl came along. He gives the woman the highlights of his situation, but it’s his closing argument that really brings it home: “I’m just a boy with a boot that’s asking you to help me find … my Cinderella.” He sort of chokes on that last part; But it works! The woman is here for fairytales and here for love, and she sends him and Boomer off to Lillian’s home address.
Once Dash works up the courage to knock on the door, a fabulous older woman answers, sending Dash into a panic over who he really was writing with all this time. (I told him to be more concerned about catfish scenarios!!) Her name is Lillian and she does own that red boot, but she is not the Lily who Dash has been writing to. Guys, I am so pleased to report that this woman is the Mrs. Basil E. It’s Lily’s great-aunt Lillian! She is as wonderful as I had imagined. Also her apartment is insane in the best way.
Before she agrees to help Dash get a message to Lily, she needs to size him up and make sure he’s good enough for her grand-niece. Although she’s intrigued by the fact that this boy went to such great lengths to track down Lily using a boot, it’s not until he admits that he is worried he pushed Lily too far with a dare and all he wants to do is make sure she is okay because he cares about her, that Mrs. Basil E. is in.
To some extent, Aunt Lillian knows that she’s walking into a hostile environment at Lily’s apartment. She had a very bad falling out with her brother Arthur, Lily’s grandfather, involving her abandoning her family to tour with the Rolling Stones and then apparently flying Lily out to Las Vegas to possibly see the Blue Man Group? The details are unclear, but the tension between the siblings is palpable. What Aunt Lillian doesn’t know is that Arthur is particularly ticked off at the moment because of the scene he walked into the night before when he came home early from Florida. Arthur is fuming, and Lily is grounded for the foreseeable future.
This grounding is problematic for Lily because she has made the decision to cut things off with Dash. What happened at the club was just proof that she will never be the cool girl Dash imagines her to be through her writing. She wants to get out of this thing before he can realize that. Only she can’t bring the notebook to Two Boots to call the whole thing off. So, really, Aunt Lillian’s arrival with news of Dash and the boot and his really caring for her couldn’t come at a better time.
Aunt Lillian is a woman who gets things done. She has exactly no time for her brother’s shenanigans and in mere minutes gets him to reveal that his real problem has nothing to do with Lily or Langston, but that he’s heartbroken: He proposed to Mabel, and she said no because she refuses to move to New York. Now that everyone’s being honest, Lily and her Grandpa have a nice chat in which he tells her that Mabel made him “feel less lonely” — and now because of Notebook Boy, Lily really gets that. She thinks he needs to work it out with Mabel.
And the chat makes Lily want to work it out with Notebook Boy. She gets the notebook with her new instructions to Boomer, who runs (this guy is the truest of friends) it to Dash and his red boot. (Aunt Lillian made him keep it because it is “the prince who returns the shoe, not the fairy godmother.”) She wants Dash to know that, yes, what he had her do was scary, but it also opened her up to a whole new world. She wants to do the same for him. So she has him go look at the Christmas lights in Dyker Heights. At first, he wants to be cynical, but then he starts looking at everything through Lily’s eyes. He sees the beauty and the — dare I say — magic of it all.
Lily is realizing that she shut herself off from the world because she made herself believe that she didn’t belong anywhere and would have to wait for that to change someday. But that’s not how it works: “We make our own magic,” she tells Dash. What they’re doing with this notebook is proof of that. Then she makes sure he is standing right under the big Believe sign when it lights up. A sign from her. And then it starts snowing. Obviously, Lily has no control over the weather, but still: what timing.
And then Dash gets a text from his ex-girlfriend, Sofia, telling him she’s in town and she wants to see him. Again I say: what timing.
• Dash will never apologize for being Dash (and nor should he), but having to watch him make French-press coffee in the middle of the day just because is asking a lot of the audience!
• I’m sorry, now this high school boy is tossing out a casual reference to Cyrano de Bergerac in the goddamned afternoon, and no one questions it? Is this show just trolling me now? Anything is possible on Christmas, remember.
• When Aunt Lillian is trying to figure out if Dash is right for Lily, she mainly wants to know if he’s a believer. Her line of questioning is hilarious, and I’d expect nothing less from Mrs. Basil E.: “Do you believe in fairies? The power of wishes? Love at first sight? Musical theater?”
• Um, hi. When Great Aunt Lillian shows up at Lily’s apartment, Grandpa Arthur’s friend Sal (yes, the Macy’s Santa Claus) says, “Looking good, Lillian” as he walks by her. “You too, Sal,” she responds. I am immediately invested in a necessary Lillian/Sal hookup. Can we get a spinoff? It will really make up for the French-press-coffee business.
• “Argue for your limitations and they are surely yours.” Mrs. Basil E. really cut to the core of me with that one.