Sunday, 21 December 2014

Many crappy returns

Week 13: The Final (Part 1) - 20 December 2014

We open on a shot of the glitterball trophy in a dark, empty studio, giving it such significance that I half expect a giant boulder to roll out of the Clauditorium and crush anyone who dares to move it. It's the symbol of everything that this year's couples have been working towards, of course, but before we move forward we must go back - 15 weeks back, to be specific, right back to the launch show, when Aliona got another no-hoper, Pasha got another attractive young woman, Kevin got left until last for the second year in a row and for a very brief time indeed some of us actually believed that Iveta had been given this year's obvious champion. However, this was a most unpredictable series, where our finalists have a record seven dance-off appearances between them (compare to last year, where the finalists shared had a grand total of two dance-off appearances - this year, both Simon and Mark beat that total individually). Rather than spend time dwelling on the dances that got us to that point (although believe you me we'll spend plenty of time doing that later this evening), we skip ahead in time again to the present day, as the finalists attend a press conference for the more telegenic members of our nation's press (when was this? Why weren't we invited, eh?), and as a result Mark says "rollercoaster journey" a mere 29 seconds into the final. It all gets a bit X Factor as we follow them all on a whirlwind montage tour of TV and radio appearances and everyone talks about how this is literally the most important thing that will ever happen to any of them (and that's quite possibly true, but I think it says more about the collective achievements of this year's finalists than it does about Strictly Come Dancing in and of itself).

Titles! As usual they've been remixed a tad to put the four finalists at the end, but at least the other 11 contestants are still featured. This is your last chance to savour Iveta crawling up Thom's back with a fiendish glint in her eye. Sooner or later you're certain to meet / In the bedroom, the parlour, or even the street / There's no place on Earth you're likely to miss / Iveta Lukosiute. (Doesn't quite scan, does it? Needs work. Someone get Kander and Ebb on the phone!)

We open with a pro dance that starts with Aljaž beaming down the camera lens, presumably in his capacity as defending champion. The bank strike up with Kool And The Gang's 'Celebration' as Aljaž does a bit of Disco Latin and then Janette leaps/is chucked into his arms from somewhere off-camera. God bless Janette and her apparent absence of any sort of skeleton. Whatever your feelings about Jake Wood and whether he deserved to still be in the competition at this stage or not, can we all just agree that we were probably robbed of a showdance that would have redefined human anatomy as we know it? They're quickly joined by Tristan and Joanne, and Trent and Anya (presumably subbing for Ola, who broke herself training for Channel 4's The Jump and is therefore now probably more than ever not returning next year, because I'd imagine the producers were a tad miffed that this happened while she was - I assume - still under contract with this show). They're joined shortly after by Natalie and Brendan, and Iveta and Anton, and Aliona, who does not get a partner to dance with. Poor Aliona - truly the Edith Crawley of Strictly Come Dancing. Everyone continues with more Disco Latin (sigh) and some fairly inelegant lifts until the four finalist pros arrive on the scene - dressed in black/blue and silver, as opposed to everyone else's black and white. Then the giant glitterdome at the back opens and Caroline, Mark, Frankie and Simon emerge to join their partners. Fireworks erupt left, right and centre, doing their best to disguise that this is a bit of a damb squib, opening-number wise.

The glitterdome rises into the air, revealing Tess and Claudia. Daly Dresswatch: strapless red gown. What Winkleman's Wearing: asymmetric purple one-shouldered gown. They both look terrific, so well done everyone. Glad we could make this happen for the final. In the audience: Michelle Keegan, Jessica Wright, Lee Ryan, Wayne Bridge. Where are Caroline's loved ones, eh? WHERE IS HARRY STYLES? Tess tells us that it's been a "glamorous series" with 37,000 sequins, 280 dresses, 120 cans of hairspray, and 87 gallons of fake tan - "and that's just me and Claud". Ho ho. Well, at least her comic timing is improving slightly. Claudia, attempting to make this show seem fractionally less shallow, also points out that it has also involved 1300 hours of training from the finalists, performing over 60 dances between them.

Claudia welcomes the judges, who are putting in a bit more effort tonight since it's the final. Well, with one obvious exception: Craig charlestons on, Len shakes his hips with Natalie and Iveta, Bruno emerges from a puff of smoke (probably having a sneaky fag backstage) and Darcey...gets carried on by Tristan and Trent. Darcey Bussell: giving the minimum fucks possible since 2012. Claudia reminds us that the judges' scores are "for guidance only" tonight, and that the outcome will be decided 100 per cent on the public vote. Which is nice, considering how casually the wants of the public have been tossed aside for most of this series, with the judges repeatedly telling us "NO! YOU ARE WRONG! YOU WANT TO SEE MORE OF SIMON AND MARK, YOU JUST DON'T KNOW IT!"

Our finalists emerge: Mark and Karen, Frankie and Kevin, Caroline and Pasha, and Simon and Kristina. The show's been keeping the dances being performed in the first round - Judges' Choice - close to its chest all week, but the costumes are an obvious giveaway here: Mark's doing his cha cha cha, Frankie's doing her samba, Caroline's doing her cha cha cha, and Simon's doing his charleston. That's two week one cha cha chas on the bill tonight. Oy. There'd better be a damn good explanation for this. (Spoiler: there isn't.) On the bright side: everyone shimmies to the music.

Claudia tells us that the lines will open after round one, and then we'll get the showdances. Then after a break for Atlantis (sidebar: now that Atlantis is officially Darker And Edgier, Jason isn't getting his Atlantits out nearly as much as he used to. Such a shame) and the Lottery, we'll be back to boot out Simon Mark the contestant with the fewest votes so far, and then the three remaining couples will reprise their own favourite dance from the competition. Claudia also promises us an appearance from the understaffed, undertaxed Take That at some point in the evening, and the return of the entire cast of the year. "Don't worry," she says. "It's a group dance, we're not starting the competition again." Don't joke, Claudia, some of us would really appreciate a do-over this year. #justice4pixie #justice4trent

Opening the show, we have Frankie and Kevin. Tess points out that Frankie did cock this routine up a little bit the first time she danced it and had a bit of a Mark Wright over it (back when "Mark Wright" meant "crying like a baby", not "giving a tedious and unprompted speech about how you never expected to be here"). In her VT, Frankie recalls doing her rumba last week and getting a mixed response from the judges, but getting a much better reception for her Argentine tango. (Advance warning: I will not be recapping any bits of anybody saying that they never expected to make the final, it's a dream come true, the pressure is on, three dances to perform, the real work starts here etc, because I'll be here all week. Just assume that everyone says it, repeatedly, and you won't be too far off the mark.) Frankie and Kevin go to meet the judges on the set of Alexandra Burke's 'Hallelujah' video, for some reason. Kevin is wearing his glasses, which he hasn't been doing nearly enough this year if you ask me, and you almost certainly didn't. Bruno tells them they'll be doing the samba, and Frankie facepalms, but ultimately looks upon it as a chance to improve what she got wrong last time. Len reminds her that she got 32 points this time, and this time he'll be expecting 40. (Note: at this point, the samba and the rumba are the only two dances in the competition for which no one has ever received full marks.)

The return of Frankie's samba also means the return of Kevin's eye-searing TopMan t-shirt and high-waisted granny pants (truly the biggest scandal of the series - when you've got an arse like that at your disposal, why would you dress it in such awful trousers?). I'll admit to being one of the few people who actually liked Frankie's samba the first time round, but even so this feels like an improvement: Frankie looks more comfortable here than she ever has done in Latin, there's sharpness and bounce in the routine, and the energy levels remain high throughout. I'm pretty certain they still finish a beat or two ahead of the music though.

Tess welcomes the singers while Frankie gets her breath back, and then Kevin and Frankie applaud Derek The Donkey for his sterling supporting work. Len liked that the routine both had the quantity of steps he expected, and the quality of the technique. Bruno says that Frankie was "saucy tonight" and had the exuberance and the carefree feeling that he wanted, while also managing to finish everything properly. Tess reminds Craig (who is wearing an absolutely horrible jacket) that last time she performed this he said it was her worst dance, and Craig sniffs that that was Frankie's fault, not his (pretty sure Frankie isn't in charge of the words you say, Craig, but okay) but she has redeemed herself with this performance and shown great improvement with her rhythm and bounce. Darcey admires the ease of Frankie's moves at this point, and how she brought the carnival vibe to the dance floor.

They badabadalalabamba their way up to the Clauditorium, where Frankie registers her extreme distaste for having to go first because it really puts the pressure on. Claudia asks if it's nice to have everyone back there (for the entire class of 2014 is back in the Clauditorium tonight) and Frankie says that it's so lovely to have them all there cheering her on. Since Frankie didn't enjoy her samba the first time round, Claudia asks if she was "livid" to be asked to reprise it, and Frankie's all "actually yeah kinda", but now that she got through it without fucking up she's feeling a bit better about it. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39, which is Frankie's highest score to date and the joint-highest samba score ever on the show (alongside Abbey and Aljaž). Frankie declares this "a great start", as well she might.

Up next, we have Mark and Karen. Tess says that Mark's dancing has improved throughout the series and by this point he's done lots of dances that we'd all love to see again.

*considers that statement*
*runs through all of Mark's dances in head*
*shrugs*

But which one have the judges chosen? In his VT, Mark says that being in the dance-off last week was rotten, but he's done it twice before so he knew what was required of him. Being saved over Jake was one of the biggest shocks he's had in the competition (but not bigger than actually being able to dance, he didn't see that coming, he didn't even have any legs before, Marky No-Legs his mates all called him) but now that he's here in the final, he really wants to win. Mark and Karen arrive in the judges' lightbulb chamber, where they're welcomed by Bruno, and Mark says that he can't believe it, and I can well believe that they cut out around five minutes of oration from him here. Thankfully, we immediately cut to Darcey (now there's something I never thought I'd say), who tells Mark that the judges want him to do his cha cha cha again. Bruno explains that it was a bit overenthusiastic the first time around and his timing used to be all over the place, and Darcey wants him to show us how much he's learned since then. Mark says that he really wants to do it again, because he loved it. Len says that he is ANNOYED that Mark did the caterpillar the first time around (because it says so in the script), Craig says that he was overjoyed by the presence of the caterpillar (because it's the opposite of what Len thinks), and Mark asks for permission to include the caterpillar in this round (because apparently Mark is a fucking milquetoast these days). Mark is sure that he can do it better, and he thinks that this dance could be the difference between him being a winner, and "someone who nearly won". I think the word you're looking for is "loser", Mark. "Loser".

So Mark reprises his construction site-themed samba to 'I'm Your Man' (God, I'd forgotten the music for this, and how painfully on-the-nose it was). It is definitely better than the first time around, but it is also a week one cha cha cha, so it really couldn't fail to be. (At least when Natalie Gumede reprised hers in the final last year, it was actually a reasonably demanding routine.) But while Mark's technique is a little cleaner these days, his timing is still inconsistent in this routine, the choreography is embarrassingly basic for a finalist, and he's also chewing away at the air madly like he's on a meth comedown. Was he doing that in rehearsals? Because Karen really should've put a stop to that a long time ago.

They walk over to Tess who says "I don't know about 'men at work', that was more like 'men at twerk'!" Right, that's it. By the time series 13 rolls around, everyone involved in this show needs to either a) learn what twerking actually is, or b) agree to NEVER EVER MENTION IT, because we've reached a point where any piece of choreography involving moving one's bottom is being referred to as "twerking", and not only is that a problematic piece of cultural appropriation[/tumblr], it is also fucking ridiculous. [It's like that time Strictly got Gangnam Style and then tried to make it happen two years in a row.  Sometimes this show really is an embarrasing older relative  - Rad]

Mark, entirely unprompted (natch), tells us that he remembers the judges telling him to go up on his toes for this dance, but he must have done it too much this time because he's broken his shoes. Then again, it's only to be expected: Mark had never even worn shoes before he signed up for this show. He'd seen other people wearing them in clubs, but had never experienced them for himself. Marky No-Shoes, his friends would call him. Tess: "Bruno, he was in the dance-off last week, did that prove he was a worthy finalist?" I know the "that" in that sentence is meant to refer to Mark's performance that we've just seen, but it kind of sounds like Tess is asking if the fact that Mark was in the dance-off proves he's a worthy finalist. And judging by how this series has turned out, I guess the answer is "yes". Moar dance-offs for everyone! Bruno calls Mark "a cheeky chappy with a lorry load of charm", and says that his timing was sketchy (audience boos) in the past, but not tonight! Craig thought the walks were stiff and it needed more hip action, but Mark's confidence is extraordinary now. Yes, of all the people who came into this competition needing a higher opinion of themselves, Mark Wright was at the very top of the list. Darcey says that the timing has really improved from week one (yes, IMAGINE THAT) but the presentation was also fabulous, but she's really going to miss Mark's smile. Tess asks Len if he's still allergic to caterpillars, and Len says that they're growing on him. Len compares Mark to a red wine that gets better with time (and as someone who doesn't drink wine, I'll hand over to Richard Butler on Twitter to respond to that one), and he saw terrific improvement in that routine.

They go up to the Clauditorium, where Claudia says that the thing she loves about Mark is that he can't believe he's in the final. Yes, if only he weren't such a shy, retiring type who couldn't possibly express that emotion for the viewers at home. Mark says that this was his highlight of the series, because it was his first time performing for an audience. Something tells me that Mark has spent his entire life performing for an audience, but there you go. Claudia points out Karen's mum and sister in the audience, and Mark says that he hasn't met them yet. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35. Mark is happy, because that's 11 points more than he got for it last time. Claudia: "Later, Frankie and Kevin get happy. That's the name of the song, they're not kidnapping one of the seven dwarfs."

Our third couple this evening is Caroline and Pasha. Caroline says that last week was one of the best nights of her life - she got off to a good start with the foxtrot, but the salsa was where things really turned around and she got the first 40 of the competition. She and Pasha go to see the judges in the Chamber Of Lights, and they will also be doing their week one cha cha cha, good grief. Len reminds her that she lacked hip action the first time around, and Craig says that it was her lowest scoring dance (BECAUSE IT WAS WEEK ONE, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. THAT IS WHAT IS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. JESUS) but it has the potential to be perfect. Caroline says that last time she missed an underarm turn and she was really nervous, so this time she's got to get everything right.

They reprise their cha cha cha, and sadly Caroline's dress is no more flattering than it was the first time around. That amount of fringing is nobody's friend. Much as with Mark's return to this same stomping ground, there's a real improvement in technique and performance, and while Caroline's routine is a little more taxing than Mark's was, it is still a week one cha cha cha. It's kind of hard to get that excited about it, especially now we've seen what Caroline is actually capable of.

Craig says nothing, but simply applauds. Darcey cackles that she can't believe Craig didn't actually say anything, and goes on to say that she loved the phrasing, the dynamics and the "bum-and-leg action". Len admires the clean, crisp movements, and he could hear the audience responding to it appreciatively. Are we sure that wasn't just for the occasional glimpses of Pasha's nipples? Bruno calls her a "golden sex goddess" and says that he's still "basking in the afterglow". That's...one way to describe his general state of mind in the final every year, yes.

Caroline, Pasha and Pasha's Nipples head up to the Clauditorium, and Caroline says it's so lovely to have everyone back. Claudia points out that Caroline got 27 for this routine the first time she performed it, and asks if Caroline thinks she's grown throughout the competition. Caroline says that she's learned how to perform, because that's the thing she didn't really know how to do before. (I kind of love the subtextual admission here that she totally knew how to dance already.) Scores: Craig 10, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 40. I have conflicted emotions about this, because I don't think that was a perfect cha cha cha, and I don't think it was technically better than, say, Natalie Gumede's, but at the same time, the only cha cha cha ever to receive a perfect 40 prior to tonight was this one, and that didn't deserve it either, so eh, what are you gonna do?

Closing this round, we have Simon and Kristina, who have been in the dance-off "a few times", according to Tess. That's certainly one way of putting it. Simon's samba last week was a bit of a colossal fuck-up, to be honest, but he pulled it back in the second round with a charming, delicate and very skilful foxtrot. Simon and Kristina head in to see the judges, and Simon appears have donned his old school blazer for the occasion. Len congratulates them for making it this far, and Bruno tells them they'll be doing their week four charleston again. Craig says that this was the first time they saw Simon's personality (/ability to gurn like a good'un). Darcey says she's confident he can achieve a higher score this time. (Simon's original score for his charleston: 31. The last time a dance scored 31 or less in the final: Matt Dawson's samba in series four.) Darcey tells him to bring more technique, cheeky character and detail to the routine this time. Simon says that this is a dream come true, because it's one of his favourite dances.

I wish I could say the same, because this is exactly the kind of charleston that leaves me cold: gimmicky, flaily, and gurny. Sadly, I also think this performance of it doesn't really do Simon justice as a dancer - his legs are rather slugggish, his swivel is not as good as it should be, and it feels rather stilted in places.

So, what are the criteria for the selections in this round, exactly? It's clearly not one of those years where the judges go "this was a brilliant dance, we want to see it again", but it also doesn't appear to be a series 10-style "this is a dance where you obviously fucked up, here's a chance to get it right" round either, despite the inclusion of Frankie's samba. If anything, it seems to be "here's a dance that you did fairly early in the competition, do it again so we can manufacture a journey narrative for you with minimal effort". Because I can't imagine anyone was clamouring to see any of the routines in this round again. Shouldn't the final be a celebration of the best routines of the series? Also, shouldn't there be some effing ballroom in it, somewhere? [Also, wasn't Simon's Charleston the first of many comebacks for him, whilst the others had dances they either fucked up or were in week one, so there doesn't seem to be much equity... Ugh, I hate judges' pick.  Just pick the other best dance from the one the contestants have chosen and have done with it. - Rad]

Tess tells Simon that he "sold that performance". Whether he can do much with the "magic beans" he got in exchange, that's another matter. Simon does a bit of a Mark, telling the judges that he understands what they mean now about the importance of coming out of one's shell, and this show has really done it for him. Tess asks Darcey if she can still see the "star dancer" inside Simon that she saw last time he did this, and Darcey replies "still shining, mate". I think we need to add "mate" to the list of words that just don't sound right coming out of Darcey Bussell's mouth. She loves that Simon is still finding details and accents in the music (bad Cockney accents, mostly). Speaking of Cockney, Len says it was a "treat for me mince pies" and it "put a smile on me boat race". It's almost like Danny Dyer's here, isn't it? (Suggested casting for next year: Danny Dyer and Natalie Lowe. Just putting that out there.) Bruno loves that he's really seen Simon blossoming into a strong, confident woman who does not need to smoke and versatile person and performer. And we all know how much Bruno loves a versatile performer. Craig finishes by saying that this was Simon's breakthrough dance, and they've really seen him take off since then - and this reprisal was tight and full of swivel, which he loves. And we all know how much Craig likes a man who's tight and full of swiv--oh, hang on, I've just done that exact joke, haven't I? (What do you mean, "it doesn't usually stop you"?)

Clauditorium: Simon says that this is a fun dance, but one that also requires a lot of technique. Kristina giggles that he nailed it. I love how giddy Kristina is all night - given how outraged she usually is when she gets eliminated, it's nice to at least see her get to go all the way to the end, even if she's clearly not winning again. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, "a Len from 10" (if you will insist on having silly catchphrases, Len, don't come crying to me when they backfire on you), Bruno 10 for a total of 39.

Shall we have a quick look at the leaderboard after round one?

1. Caroline & Pasha - 40
2=. Frankie & Kevin - 39
2=. Simon & Kristina - 39
4. Mark & Karen - 35

Whatever specific scores you might have been anticipating, I think we can all agree that that's at least the order we all expected. Claudia declares the voting for this year's champion officially open until 8.15pm, whereupon the lines will be frozen and whoever is in fourth place will get the boot.

After a quick recap of the first round, Claudia joins Tess back on the dance floor ready for the start of the showdance round. But before we get to that, Claudia asks Len what the rules of this particular round are - this being the only point in the entire series where the concept of any of these dances actually having rules has been addressed, and even now only to say that of course there are no rules in the showdance - you can do as many lifts as you like. Unlike...you know, that dance that you can't do lifts in. Which one was it, again? It's on the tip of my tongue, I swear. There is a dance you can't do lifts in, right? [The judges' opening dance-on I think - Rad]

We'll be going in exactly the same order in this round, so Frankie and Kevin are up first again. They'll be dancing to 'Get Happy' by Judy Garland, and Frankie describes it as "American smooth-foxtrot-quickstep all-in-one", adding that they've "gone for a bit of a Fred and Ginger style". I love the way that Frankie says "Fred and Ginger" like she has literally no clue who either of those people might be. I think she thinks they're Kevin's parents. Frankie says she's always wanted to dance like she's in a black-and-white movie, and Kevin says that there's a whole section where they'll be dancing on benches, jumping on and off them. Kevin really likes jumping on and off things in his choreography, doesn't he? Frankie admits that this section has a lot of potential for error, but she wants to be pushed now because it's the showdance. She says that Kevin has been a brilliant partner and she can't imagine dancing with anyone else. Kevin tells her that he's proud of how far she's come in her time on the show, and Frankie says she owes it all to Kevin being an awesome teacher. Bless. I like their dynamic, actually - they've got the "good mates with no sexual tension whatsoever" thing going on, which I think is probably the ideal for this sort of environment.

I'll admit I was slightly nervous about this routine going into the final, if only because sometimes Kevin's ballroom choreography veers towards the twee and the overtly theatrical, and while there are elements of both in here, it's actually surprisingly restrained - especially considering it's a showdance, which is the one time you might think he'd really let everything go. Also, I'm glad we've got at least one dance with a ballroom element to it this evening, because otherwise it would have been extremely lopsided. My biggest problem with this routine is the benches - not the part of the routine that uses them, but the part that doesn't, because having Chekhov's benches there waiting to be incorporated only leaves them about a third of the dance floor to play with the rest of the time, and that really hampers the quickstep elements of this routine because they simply don't have the space to travel with it properly. Still, enough griping: it's gorgeous and elegant and full of razzmatazz, and the bit where Frankie hops around the benches is visually arresting and impeccably danced. Frankie screams "I loved it!" as soon as it's over.

Len tells Frankie that it was fantastic. Bruno says that it was a fitting tribute to Fred'n'Ginge and that Frankie was "absolutely radiant" out there. Craig puts his Resident Grump hat on to say that he wasn't all that taken with the benches part, because it looked a bit like Kevin was "training a horse" as he led Frankie around in circles. He loved all of the quickstep and jazz stuff, though. Frankie whinnies indignantly. (I really wish we'd seen more of Sarky Frankie on the show - we saw a bit of her on It Takes Two and she was great fun.) Darcey says that this routine showed that Frankie has grown into a stylish and sophisticated dancer, and she loved the side-by-side bit as well.

Up in the Clauditorium, Frankie explains in more detail that Kevin put the benches bit in because that's something she's always wanted to do, like 'Sixteen Going On Seventeen' in The Sound Of Music. Claudia says that she likes that it was a digression from the usual approach to a showdance (i.e. it wasn't a shitload of lifts and gymnastics vaguely performed to music), and it had an old-fashioned quality to it. "That's just us: old," says Frankie, and giggles. Everyone expresses their envy for Frankie's dress, and then the scores come in again: Craig 9, Darcey 9, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 38. Frankie's relieved because she was expecting worse after Craig didn't like the dressage bit, though she points out that telling her she looked like a horse was kind of uncool. Frankie whinnies again, and as Claudia reads out the numbers, Natalie starts doing a horse impression behind her which eventually leads to everyone joining in, with Judy getting slightly carried away.

Mark is up next, and tells us in his VT that he's really excited about his showdance because he can just go out and have fun. As opposed to his cha cha cha, where he had to go out and sit an A-level physics exam followed by the endoscopic removal of his kidney stones. Mark explains that his showdance is "based on the jive", in much the same way that the movie Catwoman was "based on" the comic books. Karen says that she's pushing Mark to the limit to get this dance right, and everything has to be just right. Mark says that it's "trick after trick, not much time to think" (which I think is a line from Bruno's autobiography), and Karen thinks this could be the dance that defines whether they win or not. Mark tells Karen she's a friend for life, if she wants to be. Oh god, Mark's going to be an honorary Clifton. He'll probably be one of the pros in 2016 at this rate. [I thought it was quite hilariously creepy when Mark was all stalkerish going 'you'll be my friend for life' and Karen looked terrified and then he remembered he needed to actually get her consent - Rad]

In possibly the greatest example of vanity trumping self-awareness since Snowdance, they're dancing to 'Don't Stop Me Now' and it opens with a projection on the floor of all of Mark's results show faces. Because he doesn't want us to stop him now, do you see? Look, we can see him having a ball! Also, Mark is wearing cricket whites for no apparent reason and Karen has come dressed as the Absinthe Fairy from Moulin Rouge!. I think you know exactly where this routine is going when Mark actually turns to the camera to mouth "don't stop me" along with the band, and several members of the audience openly laugh at him. After a brief reprisal of their jive, Mark and Karen pretty much spend the rest of the routine running around the ballroom, including up and over the staircase that generally only gets used for everyone's entrance at the start of the show. There's very little dance content, and what dance content actually exists is basically "drunk couple at the end of a wedding disco" standard. Even the lifts aren't particularly impressive, and if you can't wheel out a couple of crowd-pleasing lifts in this sort of showdance I don't know why you'd even bother turning up. (I spent most of this week fretting that by some fluke Mark would actually end up winning, but I relaxed after seeing this, because it was basically a direct retread of Dani Harmer's final, and was clearly going to end the same way.)

Mark collapses from all that running around, but eventually makes his way over to Tess where he tells her that that dance sums up his entire journey on the show. Attention-seeking, ill-advised and stretching a trace amount of content over an agonisingly unnecessary length of time? No, apparently it's "coming out here and just having a good old time". My mistake. Bruno wants to know how many coffees Mark's had - presumably because he wants to meet him backstage later to sell him something that'll give him exactly the same buzz but won't make him need to wee so often. (It may also cause insomnia, panic attacks and spontaneous combustion, please consult your physician.) Bruno says that this is about engaging with the public, and he's sure Mark has done that. Yes, that's why he's been in the bottom two three times. Craig says he felt like he was in a "Jane Fonda aerobic class" and that Mark could possibly sell DVDs of that, but he thought the athleticism and joy was absolutely brilliant. Darcey calls it "a high-energy performance", and then accidentally shades him by saying "it was jive all the way through, except for all that running". Heh. Len says Mark was "flying about like Harry Potter on a Nimbus 2000". He reminds us that Mark didn't have any limbs until September, and says that this was exactly what you want to see in a showdance. Or in the Olympic steeplechase.

Claudia opens by saying to Karen "you have a totally blank slate", which I thought was uncharacteristically rude of her until I realised she was talking about the showdance preparations and not about Mark. Karen says that Mark did quite a bit of the choreography. Yep, looks like it. Mark says that if it's his last dance, he just wants to have fun - and he would love to go out and do it again. Claudia informs him in no uncertain terms that he can't. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 9 for a total of 35 again. Mark's happy with that. Claudia says that Mark's fiancée and sister were just staring at him the whole way through that in rapt attention. Something tells me that they probably stare like that a lot, generally.

Now it's time for Caroline and Pasha. Pasha wanted to do something different this year (so no Disco Latin to Beyoncé this year then), and suggests doing something slow and emotional. It's going to be rumba-influenced, and Pasha reckons it's the hardest routine she'll have had to do in the entire show. Caroline says that there's one lift where Pasha lifts her up from behind (I'd let Pasha lift me up from behind, etc etc), and Pasha says that anything could go wrong at any point. They tell each other how much they're going to miss dancing together; Caroline says that Pasha has changed her in a good way, and then sobs on him. She thinks she's in a completely different place in her life now.

They're dancing to 'Angels' (apparently the Beverley Knight version rather than Robbie Williams, but it's not really like you'd notice), and it begins with Pasha bearing Caroline aloft while yards of fabric fasten her to all the corners of the room. At first I wondered if this was wardrobe's ultimate revenge on Caroline, rendering her immobile for her showdance, but apparently it's just because they're doing wafto-contemporary stuff. After the initial bout of wafting, Caroline is consciously uncoupled from the extra acres of fabric and it turns into an extremely overwrought rumba. There are some nice lifts and extensions in it, but it is very wafty and as such I think it's likely to be a bit polarising. I liked it, certainly more than when Louis Smith did something similar for his (perhaps because here it feels a bit less of a busman's holiday), but I think I preferred Frankie's showdance overall just for feeling more Strictly and less So You Think You Can Dance. Though I will say there was probably more rumba in this routine than in either of the ones we saw last week. [I enjoyed it - well, for a Pasha show-dance, anyway - Rad]

Craig calls Pasha "a brave man to even attempt to do that on live TV", as though Nigel Lythgoe didn't build an entire format around precisely that. He loved the theatricality and the contemporary feel, and the way Caroline pointed her feet. He thought the lifts were amazing, and the storytelling was gorgeous. Darcey says that there are so many sides to Caroline, and the preparation into every lift was seamless. She says it was like watching a beautiful contemporary ballet, and she'd have Caroline in her company any day. Yeah, I am so sure. Len liked it, saying "sometimes a whisper is louder than a shout" and this was quiet and understated. It was many things, but I'm not sure "understated" was one of them. You could see those faces from space. Bruno goes on one of his sprees of dropping references that yer average Strictly viewer is probably unlikely to pick up, saying that he spotted "the earthiness of Martha Graham" and "the dynamism of Twyla Thorp" (then again, we'd maybe stand a better chance if he got the names right in the first place) and the inventiveness in the lifts was pure Matthew Bourne, apparently. He thinks any of the people he just listed would be happy to work with Caroline, and...again, so sure.

Claudia greets Caroline in the Clauditorium by telling her that she "thought [she was] going to go", and Caroline admits that she nearly started crying, but managed to stem it off. She says that it was emotional, but it felt "very appropriate for now", and says that that's totally the sort of dance she'd do alone in her house while listening to that song. I think the lifts would be a bit messy if there wasn't anyone there to catch her. Scores: 10s all round again for a total of 40. Caroline collapses into Pasha, as any sane person in her position would.

The final showdance comes from Simon and Kristina. Tess says that it's an "incredibly ambitious routine" (I'd expect nothing less from Kristina) and involves three dances in one. Simon says in his VT that he's sad that this is coming to an end, because his experience on the show has been golden. I don't want to be that guy here, but it could have come to an end much sooner, and nearly did on more than one occasion, so maybe try to look on the bright side? He says that Kristina has been his best friend on the dance floor, and Kristina tells him they made a great team. Simon thinks nobody else's experience will have been as great as theirs. He wants to use his showdance to remind us of all the dances that he did well over the course of the series, so this will be a combination of his salsa, his jive, and his charleston. [Which is... odd, given how much he likes ballroom.  I would have thought an American Smooth style dance would suit both of them much better - Rad] He adds that there are seven lifts, and Kristina says that if they fuck up the lifts, there'll be no way to hide it. Simon says that if he doesn't nail this dance, it could all be over for him.

They're dancing to 'A Little Less Conversation' and start by jiving on some boxes before shedding their outer jackets and going into a charleston section. Then they shed more clothes and I start to worry that this is all going a bit Bailando por un Sueño, but thankfully that's the last time they do it. This is probably the most traditional showdance of the evening, in that it's basically "my lifts, let me show you them", but that's not necessarily a bad thing if done well, and I think by and large they pull it off. They're a skilled and enjoyable enough couple that they make it look fun but also accessible. It is occasionally ever so slightly sloppy in one or two places, but given the pace and the ambition, I think that's forgivable. Simon slumps when it's over, genuinely worn out.

Tess says "seven lifts in one routine, it could be some kind of record!" Tess, this year I think that's basically a quickstep. Darcey enjoyed it because Simon took his clothes off (paraphrased). Len says that it was a trip down memory lane, and Simon's greatest hits. And it probably was, but I think it worked better than a lot of "greatest hits"-style showdances because it took inspiration from other dances rather than explicitly trying to recreate them. This one worked on its own merit, I think. Len particularly enjoyed the body-popping. Bruno says that Simon gave "plenty of action and total satisfaction". Simon says that this could be his last time dancing with Kristina, and he's getting emotional. Craig tells Kristina that she taught him brilliantly, and he can't believe it's the same person that walked in here back in September. To be fair, Simon has had a haircut since then. That can make things very confusing.

Up in the Clauditorium, Simon says that Kristina has been really drilling it into him (I'm not making that joke, don't even look at me) and believes in him. Kristina tells him that he always delivered and never said no to anything she asked him to do. Simon says that he'll be doing his Argentine tango if he makes the final three, and that's as good a call-to-arms as anything you're likely to get on this show. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39.

Leaderboard after two routines?

1. Caroline & Pasha - 40+40=80
2. Simon & Kristina - 39+39=78
3. Frankie & Kevin - 39+38=77
4. Mark & Karen - 35+35=70

A quick recap of the evening's dances: Frankie's much-improved samba and her Fred'n'Ginge showdance, Mark's serviceable cha cha cha and sprinty showdance, Caroline's stepped-up cha cha cha and her wafty rumba showdance, and Simon's Cockney charleston and his little-bit-of-everything showdance. After that, we get a VT from everyone talking about how much that they want to win: Mark just wanted not to be out first, second or third (jeez, why stop there?) but never thought he'd make the final, Frankie just wanted to get to BLACKPOOL, Simon had his expectations lowered by all those dance-offs, Caroline would love to have the reward of lifting the trophy for all her hard work, Frankie has enjoyed being a person in her own right and not just 1/5 of The Saturdays, Caroline has surprised herself with what she's capable of, Simon wants to win it for Kristina, Mark had NO EXPECTATIONS coming into this competition, let's just reiterate that.

That's it for the first half of the final - when we return, someone's getting the boot. Unless they suddenly decide to re-institute the dance-off to save Mark or Simon one last time, and frankly I wouldn't ever rule that out.

1 comment:

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