Project Runway: “A Look In The Line”
B+

Project Runway: “A Look In The Line”

This episode was a hodgepodge. No, not just a hodgepodge—it was more like whatever weird Germanic utterance came sputtering out of Heidi Klum’s mouth tonight when she was trying to pronounce the word “hodgepodge.” A hëingrønpœrgen. But a hëingrønpœrgen doesn’t have to be a bad thing, especially when every ingredient in the sloppy mix is some tasty morsel of psychodrama.

We started in the women’s apartment. Gretchen was so eager to crap on her old roommate that she didn’t even wait for her remaining roommate (April) to wake up. The problem with Valerie was that her jabbering was “always about what was going on in her head,” Gretchen observed. “I need to focus on me sometimes, too!” If Gretchen truly felt that she has not been able to focus on herself so far, I’m terrified to imagine what her vision of “me time” would be. I suspect it would be something like the Malkovich-inside-Malkovich scene from Being John Malkovich, except with more taupe.

At the runway, Heidi strode out with the dreaded velvet random-draw bag and unveiled the episode’s first twist. It was a Twist To Nowhere: The designers would have to switch models. Do you sometimes get the feeling this season that the show is just being an asshole for the sake of being an asshole? What possible payoff did the creators think this move would have, beyond fleeting irritation among the contestants? The model swap strikes me as a smoke-break innovation, conceived entirely in the time it took a couple of segment producers to smoke a couple of butts in the alley behind Parsons. “Christ, the execs want another twist? Look, let’s just have the designers switch models. Heidi can say they’ve gotten ‘too comfortable’ or whatever.” Then the underpaid producers grind their menthols into the pavement and trudge back inside to make some Television Goddamn Magic.

The challenge: Create a look for Heidi’s “HKNB” New Balance activewear line. The winner would have their designs sold in the HKNB store on amazon.com, keeping the same elite company as Braun Series 3 shavers, baby formula, the latest Michael Lewis bestseller, and actual billions of other products. OK, to be fair, Amazon Mainframe Template Layout Node 556-D has lovingly generated a virtual storefront for the HKNB line, where thumbnails of the clothes are given a bit of extra whitespace before Amazon reminds you that people who viewed this fashion also viewed Cisco-Linksys Wireless-N Broadband Router For Windows XP.

There was a lot of confusion over freedom of fabric choice. To some extent, the designers had to use the basic black, gray, and white jersey that formed the foundation of Heidi’s line. (“There’s a warehouse full of this fabric,” said Tim, and gosh, didn’t that make the proceedings feel that much more special.) But the contestants could also incorporate their own fabric choices into the designs. The question: How much “new” fabric would be too much? The line was hazy, but Christopher did not hold back. Shopping at Mood, he said that his special touch would be “neutrals, grays, and light grays.” So if last week’s episode was any indication, Christopher would be representing the bejesus out of San Francisco in his design.

Accompanying Tim for a critique session in the workroom, Heidi got into a tense duel of passive aggression with Mondo. When she couldn’t fit her head through the blouse that Mondo was working on, she complained, and Mondo responded with withering sarcasm, as if he was a goth kid working the FedEx Kinko’s graveyard shift and he could not suffer this blond ditz asking him how to switch to legal-size paper on the color copier. I’m definitely Team Mondo overall, but jeez, if the head-hole in your garment is not a hole that can accommodate someone’s head, that seems like a valid issue for Heidi to point out.

Mondo didn’t see it this way, so he went to the lounge to sulk. Christopher joined him, and Mondo proclaimed how tired he was, how dire his state of mind, etc. None of it was very convincing. Mostly he just proved that it’s hard to pull off a dramatic speech with a bright yellow pincushion perched cheerily on your finger.

Another velvet-bag twist was unveiled. Instead of just the one outfit, the designers would now have to create three looks for Heidi’s amazon.com homepage. Surely they’d need help… I think we all saw where this was going. Valerie, Ivy, Casanova, Michael D., A.J., and Peach returned from the dead, and the still-living designers chose one contestant each to act as their assistants on the challenge.

Hey, this episode almost forgot that it was the “cheating” episode! But then it remembered. In the sewing room, Ivy asked Michael C. how it felt to be near the end of the competition, and Michael could tell he was being set up for some bullying. Perhaps excessive self-effacement would stop the harassment! That’s worked well for him in the past, right? “I’m still in shock that I’m still here,” he said.

“Why, because you cheated?” Ivy replied, and replied, and replied, because we saw this line repeated from every angle, with Rashomon-esque exhaustiveness. Yet here’s the thing: When the full conversation played out on screen, unfettered by commercial breaks or abrupt reaction shots, Michael C. didn’t seem shocked by the accusation. He’d heard this before, and so had everyone else, as we soon learned.

What was the crime that blemished Michael C.’s record? It supposedly happened during the Jackie O. challenge. If you believe Ivy, Michael’s model was covered head-to-toe in sticky tape during that runway show, up to and including her eyeballs, and this illicit adhesive was the only thing that kept Michael’s dress from leaping off the model and murdering innocent children for sport.

If you believe Michael, his model may have used Topstick tape to secure prosthetics that fill out her bust—an explanation for which there was on-camera evidence.

Ivy and Michael went at it for a while, with Michael miraculously dropping only one F-bomb in the exchange. (That was still enough to send Ivy into full-on “well, I never!” mode.) Eventually, Michael finished up his sewing and exited stage right. “Satan has left the room,” Ivy declared, because the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that she wasn’t Ivy Higa.

“Oh, Ivy!” sighed someone in the sewing room. It was Ivy. Thus began an editing sequence in which Project Runway pulled together all the threads of Ivy awfulness into one teeth-grindingly hatable tapestry. A beaming Ivy flitted around the workspace to pat herself on the back. “No need to congratulate me.” “I just took one for the team.” “The world will give him what he deserves.”

The hideousness was so over the top in this five-minute stretch that GRETCHEN served as a voice of level-headed objectivity: “Michael C. is here. Clearly the judges…have loved his work. It just seems totally counterproductive to be having this drama.” She was … 100 percent … right? My fingers are having trouble typing the words.

It was all capped off with an absolutely brilliant edit. Ivy testified that “I believe in karma,” followed immediately by a clip of her sewing machine firing something into her eye. Whoever assembled this cut, I doff my cap to you, master of schadenfreude.

The hysteria died down when Tim called an emergency meeting in the workroom. Those of us hoping for an “I don’t understand why you let her bully you!”-scale smackdown (i.e., all of us) left disappointed. Tim simply noted that neither he, the judges, nor any of the cameras had seen evidence of rule-breaking. They say it’s impossible to prove a negative, but Tim Gunn came pretty damn close.

So after two velvet-bag draws, Mondo’s pouting fit, and The Topstick Incident, it was finally time for the runway show. April, Mondo, and Andy comprised the top three. I would have swapped Gretchen with April, but I’m not inspired to argue about it. See, the exciting personal drama of the episode managed to conceal the fact that this was a pretty boring challenge, and the resulting designs were accordingly mundane. Mondo’s headbands were the highlights, each one sporting a miniature cornucopia of spheres or cubes.

Andy was the winner. Yeah, fine. His thick, undulating stripe patterns looked a bit cartoony the more I looked at them, but they made a good first impression.

The real interest was in the bottom three: Gretchen, Michael C., and Christopher. Gretchen’s collection was scattered but decent aside from an ill-advised pair of bike shorts. She earned a disproportionate share of ire from the judges, however, because of her very Gretchen-y opening statement. Gretchen basically explained the glaring shortcomings in Heidi’s collection—and how Gretchen swooped in to save the day with “transitional pieces that are maybe a little bit more sophisticated than a hoodie.” The ingrate Heidi still had the nerve to criticize Gretchen’s designs, so afterward in the designer’s lounge, Gretchen whined that Heidi “hated” her. I guess that whole maturity thing was only a phase. A five-minute phase.

Michael C. could have gone home, especially for the worst of his designs, which featured a flabby, orange take on old-timey movie-director jodhpurs and a burlap-y Bilbo Baggins coat.

Instead, that other guy—you know, the one who wears shirts and such—got the Auf. He deserved it for his ratty collection, a veritable Salute To Laundry Day. And now The Contestant That Camera Time Forgot will no longer visit our living rooms for 15 seconds or so every week. “I can’t imagine that workroom without you,” Tim said during the hugs-and-tears session, as Season 8 lost its grayest and light-grayest cast member of all.

Stray Observations:

— The “Ivy Higa: World’s Worst Human Being?” sequence had collateral damage. It's a lot harder for me to root for April after seeing her unironically congratulate Ivy for such petty, bitter behavior.

— “I know that Michael Drummond isn’t incompetent.”

— Special thanks to my DirecTV DVR, which recorded 90 minutes of black screen this evening, such that I had to stay up and watch the 12:30 a.m. rerun. (The recap is correspondingly late; my apologies.)

— Heidi played the instigator with a little too much glee in this episode. “Mondo! Where are my favorite pieces? Where did they go?” I know Mondo acted like a smacked ass during his critique, but the aggressive teasing from the host was a bit overboard.

— Along the same lines, Heidi to Michael C.: “Who was it again that said you can’t sew? Oh, I forgot, she’s not here anymore.” Yes, very funny, Heidi, except you knew Ivy would be walking through the door in a matter of minutes. Stirring the pot is not a good look on you.

— I wish the judges would shut up about “styling” already. Michael C.’s designs weren’t bad because his models had flat-iron hair treatments. They were bad because the clothes were quite ugly.

— “This is not a smiley-face dress; this is a saaaad face.”

More TV Club