Previously on The Swan, two people with low self-esteem got cut up, made up, and emotionally torqued. After a three-month program, they emerged happier, more confident, and more akin to women on the slick pages of magazines. Impacted by two male surgeons' tastes and what academic theorists call the "patriarchal gaze," these women were formed in the images of mainstream beauty standards: "feminized" features and augmented breasts.
This particular episode is not much different. The storyline is similar; the women's issues are similar. Ultimately, we know that the women will emerge happier and more alive, at least for the nonce. If you'd like, fast-forward through this recap so as to view the "before" and "after" shots. Or, if you'd prefer to read a recap which will be remarkably similar to all the previous recaps for this show, then stick around. It is understandably fun to listen to the same song more than once; however, this episode was no swan song. For the three or four readers who stick it out, I acknowledge your, um, endurance. Thanks for the support.
What's Not to
Amanda Byram, our Irish lass, enters the mansion through double doors flanked by tuxedoed gentlemen. Decked in a strapless blue prom dress, she reminds us that this is one of the most unusual competitions ever devised. She forgot to mention that teenagers strap bombs to their backs in competitions over religious righteousness or that people else-network starve on an island for a month, except for when they opt to drink cow's blood and eat flying cockroaches. However, we'll grant her "unusual," if not "most." Women undergo crap for the sake of beauty and an ego boost--how positively typical.
In the executive boardroom, Amanda welcomes the Team of Experts. In a semi-circle, the experts surround a wooden conference table and view clips of the contestants, or what we in the sciences and social sciences call "human subjects." They first glimpse Andrea, 29, of Westminster, Colorado. She recounts her woes. She is self-conscious, she considers herself "frumpy," and she dislikes her nose, hair, and chest size. Her particular bane would be her acne scarring, which she developed in her early 20s. She enumerates an experience with an ex-boyfriend in a nightclub, in which he called her Scarface. Brian, her current boyfriend, says that Andrea is outgoing sometimes and other times unable to leave the house. At times Andrea gets angry, and Brian worries that her son Zach doesn't distinguish whether or not Andrea's anger at Brian has anything to do with him, too. Andrea worries that her insecurities will be the death of her relationship.
During the experts' conference, Dr. Lynn Ianni wonders what Andrea's deeper issues are. Dr. Terry Dubrow suggests laser treatment for Andrea's acne scarring. Dr. Randall Haworth suggests a brow lift, nose job, turning up the corners of Andrea's mouth, and a breast augmentation. In addition, he will perform a fat transfer to Andrea's cheeks and chin and liposuction her in four places. Dr. Sheri Worth discusses Andrea's extensive tooth decay. She will have a root canal, tooth extraction, and gum tissue recontouring. A before-shot of Andrea:
Next the team visits Las Vegas, where resides Belinda, 28. Her story is refreshingly different in that she once was a beautiful model, a head-turner. She hasn't been confronting self-confidence issues nearly her whole life, as many of the other contestants have. However, she formed relationships with alcoholic, drug-using, abusive men. As a result, she gained much weight and sees herself as a "big, fat cow." Her mom views Belinda as someone with "broken dreams." Belinda closes by saying that she only lives for her son. "I'm just existing."
Dr. Lynn Ianni, the therapist, says she's excited to work with Belinda. She remarks that Belinda once had strength where now she doesn't. Greg, the fitness trainer, suggests starting her on a running program. The surgeons suggest a brow lift, mid-face lift, a fat transfer to Belinda's lips, a liposuctioning of her cheeks and chin, lasik surgery, a breast reduction with a lift, and other general all-around liposuctioning. I would list all the places, but couldn't notetake that fast. The only places not getting liposuctioned would be her lips, eyeballs, and hair. Amanda asks the experts if they can make it so guys chase Belinda down the street again (screaming "Give back my cheeseburger!" no doubt). They say, absolutely. A before-shot of Belinda:
A Big Longer
The orange sky at dawn, purple clouds, blue diamonds, green clovers--magically delicious. We're in Los Angeles, California, palm trees abounding. It's the day of the surgery consultation. Andrea talks with Dr. Randall Haworth about the CO2 laser treatment for her acne scars, and he explains she will see between 40% and 70% improvement. She is disappointed and says she hopes for the 70% side of the scale. Randall mumbles something about people with unrealistic expectations.
Belinda visits a Jenny Craig weight loss consultant. Her nutritionist is affectedly cheery and welcomes Belinda to Jenny Craig so elatedly you'd think Belinda was the All-knowing, All-present, Ever-loving Creatrix, or Whatever You Call Her or Him. Belinda weighs in at 187.4, and Amanda mentions Belinda's challenge will be sticking to her diet. Belinda visits Dr. Terry Dubrow, who prepares to remedy Belinda's headaches and neck pain with a partial lipo to her breasts and a lift. Terry expresses love for the type of patient Belinda is, owing to her great attitude.
Andrea's visit to Dr. Sheri Worth, the dentist, does not go smoothly. She cries on the dentist's chair when Sheri remarks on her tooth decay and the need for a tooth extraction. Andrea carries on and on about how she knew she needed a crown, how she couldn't afford it, how upset she is at herself and so forth. Sheri responds, "It's one tooth. It's not a big deal." Sheri offers a reality check and says that Andrea could've prevented her dental troubles with "a little hygiene and maintenance." It's one of our initial glimpses into how Andrea makes excuses to avoid being responsible.
We then see Belinda on the phone with her son. Belinda tells her son she loves him "the whole world." Her son entreats her to "come home right now." She says she won't be back for a while longer. "A little longer or big longer?"
"A big longer."
Truly, this must be the cutest conversation ever spoken. In any case, Belinda doesn't accept her son's request and tells us that, if she can't love herself, she won't be able to give that to anyone else.
Oh Give Me a Place to Be, Where the Rhinos Plasty
Another day, another fat cell liposuctioned away. Terry greets Belinda and draws a basketball court on her stomach with purple marker. He talks to the camera while liposuctioning her. He tells us how stretchy and good Belinda's skin is. As the yellow fat fluid funnels through Terry's liposuction "wand," he remarks on the color: "nice and golden." While the producers have protected us from much of the blood and gore of surgery, the exposure to someone else's bacon grease really turns the stomach.
Terry's next goal is to "feminize" Belinda's face. He aims to remove fat from her cheeks and chin and stuff it into her upper lip, like a bulbous Mr. Potato Head gone wrong. After lipo-ing her every which way from here to November, Terry intones that lipo is for body contouring, not weight-loss. So, kids, don't try this at home (unless of course you have a mechanized straw and a large bucket).
Andrea's surgery day doesn't go as smoothly. She is nervous and she cries. Randall comforts her: "Some people get nauseous; other people cry. You're a crier." He tells her that crying is normal. He tells us that it will be important for her to have realistic expectations. While Andrea's surgery goes smoothly and finishes quickly, she prepares for a tough recovery. Randall calls her "a little loopy," and indeed she is.
Still on the doctor's chair, Andrea sings "Home on the Range" through her battered, laser-burned, swollen face. She wears a blue mask to help heal her lasered skin. She wears a bandage around her head. Her lips swell to encompass several land masses. Rhode Island declares a state of emergency. Andrea's head pivots to stare at the camera, and we meet face-to-face with the alien, Marvin the Martian's little sister, her speech unintelligible, her gaze stunned, and her chest cavity awash in silicone.
It's the day after. The cast eats canned soup in their respective bomb shelters. Randall takes off Andrea's blue mask. He says that no one is ever quite prepared for how painful the recovery is.
Belinda, on the other hand, dances away from the doctor's offices. Bandaged like a cartoon character with a toothache, Belinda hops up the plaza steps in a purple silk pantsuit--or would those be pajamas? At any rate, Terry says that, even though it's the day after surgery, Belinda looks as if she's on her third week of recovery. He credits her attitude. Amanda says that Belinda's recovery will give her ample time to focus on fitness training.
One week after surgery, Andrea still writhes in bed. At her doctor's consultation, she tells Randall about having sunk into a post-operative depression, and Randall offers a sympathetic ear. He happened to have one handy in his Fat Transfer bin.
One week after surgery, Nely, the life coach, encourages Belinda to stand up for herself. Like Tawnya's treatment for having anger toward an ex-partner, Belinda will also take to the punching bags. She pastes pictures of her exes on the punching bags and beats them into a living pulp. (Sorry, I know that makes no sense, but it's 5 a.m., and many things seem funny now.) After having been, as she puts it, "slapped, punched, kicked" by men she fell in love with, Belinda says it feels good to release her aggression. I can only think, good for her. She seems like a gracious, good-hearted, and fun-loving person, and I hope this type of part-fitness/part-therapy has helped her put the past behind her.
Andrea's check-in with Nely doesn't go as well. Nely accosts her with having only lost one pound. Andrea denies this and reports having entered the program weighing 145. Nely corrects her and says Andrea weighed 139. We see visual evidence of Andrea on the Jenny Craig scale, no doubt too chipper and optimistic for its own good. We see clips of Andrea in the kitchen refusing to weigh in. Finally, Nely accuses Andrea of making up excuses for herself. Andrea denies making up excuses and walks out of the meeting: "I just want to go home."
Lynn addresses Andrea's anger issues in their therapy sessions. Smartly, she asks Andrea what the payoff is in being angry or self-righteous with someone else. The answer ultimately is that Andrea gets to call the shots in any situation.
"Do you win?" Lynn asks.
"It just makes things 100 times worse."
Andrea finally addresses the cost of having her anger and temperament run the show. Belinda sits on a concrete wall overlooking the ocean. She swings her heels. Metamorphoses are at work here, and Ovid would have a field day. But like Hans Christian Andersen, even Ovid's Swan was male; Zeus transformed into a swan so as to seduce Leda. Those whacky FOX producers! Don't they know that allegorical swans are male and some of them are gods with overactive sex drives?
Amanda falls down the steps of the mansion in a quantum-leaped alternate reality of my own choosing. She removes her high heels and casts them into the foyer's chandelier, the crystals shattering into millions of prismatic bits. She says to her shoes, "Damn ya bloo-day spoiky pices of crehp!"
The broken chandelier, spinning iridescent beams like a disco ball, dusts Amanda's features with rainbows. She says the contestants are ready for their Big Reveal. Amanda joins the experts, who discuss Andrea. Nely claims that Andrea hasn't been able to solve her anger issues, but she's now more aware of them. Andrea enters through the double doors in a red dress with spaghetti straps, and I am grateful that the Reign of the Black Evening Gown is over.
Andrea, trundling in pigeon-toed, glances about the room. "You look a bit stunned," says Amanda. Indeed, she is. Somewhat confused, somewhat off-balance, Andrea trips forward on her heels. Who was it that said that walking is just a controlled "falling forward"? Amanda remarks on Andrea's beauty and sexiness and these remarks are met with disbelief. Andrea thanks Amanda but walks to the giant red curtain-covered mirror to see for herself.
I forgot to mention, what with the shoe-hurtling fury, that the experts haven't seen Andrea in one month. Andrea hasn't looked in a mirror in three months. Amanda notices that Andrea has begun to shake.
When the curtain parts, Andrea says, "Oh my God," now a comment trademarked by FOX and its associates. She gasps. She wows over her teeth. We see the now-familiar cutaway of Sheri, the dentist, smiling. "I like it," Andrea says. Amanda tells her she looks amazing. Andrea thanks the experts. She hugs Nely. Sheri says that Andrea looked like a "knock-out supermodel" and specifically comments on how her smile brightens up her face. Aren't language and beauty funny things? The difference between knock-out and knocked-out is either two letters or two teeth. An after-shot of Andrea:
Tears of Happiness and Some Bats
After the commercial, Amanda consults the experts about Belinda. Lynn says that Belinda was brave about facing all her issues. Greg proudly claims that Belinda lost 32 pounds in their fitness training. Amanda faces the double doors and says, "It's time to see if Belinda has become a model again."
Belinda gracefully steps into the foyer and executes an Olympic-quality turn. Amanda invites her to do the "catwalk" with her, as they walk down the marbled floors toward the cameras. Belinda makes the now-expected beauty-is-on-the-inside observation. And, certainly, Belinda shines with that internal beauty. She does, however, wear a black evening gown, and I realize I have spoken too soon. A parade of long black evening gowns descend from the ceiling like bats and, before they land, they transform into black-caped vampires. Their jaws unhinge and expose sharp fangs, which snap off and become high-heeled shoes, which Amanda puts on so as to fall over, so as to greet the next contestant who wears a black evening gown, who causes a flight of bats to descend from the ceiling.
Belinda stands before the parting red curtain. She gasps, cries, and so forth. When Amanda stands next to her, Belinda hugs her and nests her face into Amanda's shoulder. "I'm assuming these are tears of happiness?" Amanda asks. Belinda nods. The team claps. Greg comments on how Belinda's commitment and dedication paid off: "She looked outstanding." Although Belinda is not as skinny as she was in her pictures from her modeling days, she has a seasoned fuller-figured beauty. Her smile shows off her contentment. An after-shot of Belinda:
Some Squiggles and a Final Decision
Amanda welcomes us back from the commercial, and goodness knows we've been on some sort of elongated media-trip since then. We would kill our TV, but it loves us, it does. Amanda carries on about the women's respective straggled, bedraggled, and reticent beauties. Wait, no. My handwritten notes seem to squiggle and bark. They taunt me with their inky swirls. I can't make out what they say anymore. I'll have to make up the rest.
Belinda and Andrea hold hands. The tuxedoed men wait like the jackal-headed Anubis, guarding the pathway between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Amanda reads out the one who will move on to the Swan Pageant. The appointed person is Belinda.
Andrea applauds and looks at Belinda: "You deserve it, girl!" Belinda moves to the side while Amanda bids Andrea adieu. Andrea says that she still had anger issues to work through, and that she's okay with that. Andrea's husband and son, Brian and Zachary, enter the mansion. Andrea picks up Zachary while Brian ogles her, tells her how beautiful she is. Then, Andrea's neice, brother, and mother glide into the room, surpassing the bats. They, too, comment on Andrea's beauty and transformation. "There's so much more to life than what I was living," Andrea says.
Before the camera pans outward and away, Amanda says to Belinda, "Come to me!" She grabs her and says, "You did it, girl!" The bats fly away, the maintenance men clean up the broken glass, and the aliens phone home.
If you're one of the two people to have read this far, I thank you. Please join me next week for a recap of what FOX calls a two-hour "Event." Four women will brave the therapist's couch and the operating table. Their fat will be redistributed. Their happiness will increase. Viewers will think, "What in the heck am I watching?"
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