In the Final Episode of Fosse/Verdon, Bob Fosse Turns the Lens Towards Himself
What’s been clear about Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and Gwen Verdon’s (Michelle Williams) relationship from the start of Fosse/Verdon is that Gwen deserved far more credit than what she got for her significant personal and professional contributions to the art officially helmed by her ex-husband Bob Fosse. Yet in a final grain of salt to a career-long wound, this insightful series ends with his death — not hers. The show’s primary focus, despite its veneer of due equanimity, is yet again (as it so often has been in art since… basically the dawn of time) the straight white man.
The Man in the Mirror
In “Providence,” Fosse is directing his uncanny, “semi”-autobiographical film, All That Jazz. It’s deeply uncomfortable for everyone around him, who he forces to suffer through repeating their shared history for Fosse without any hope that the man will learn from it. Gwen is up first, being interviewed by her ex-husband on an odd white chair that invokes the image of a thrown. He asks her blunt questions, as though a reporter, about their deeply contentious shared history around his affairs. “How do you feel about me now,” Fosse asks her. “I don’t feel anything at all,” Verdon replies.
Annie too is subject to the beyond peculiar way that Fosse is approaching this film. He requires her to try out to play herself in the film. She is unceremoniously jammed in a row of girls who look just like her, each reciting lines from the traumatic fight that ended her relationship with the choreographer. And ever obtuse, it is then the same man who can’t comprehend why she later struggles to be emotionally vulnerable in her audition, or why she isn’t thrilled he announces she has the part.
And finally Nicole, Fosse’s own daughter, finds herself learning exactly who her father is. The pair share a moving, intimate scene dancing together in their living room. It’s by far the most connection we see between the two in the entire series. They collaborate, they joke, they relate. Fosse even suggests that perhaps Nicole should play herself in his movie. But shortly after, Nicole comes by set and sees Fosse rehearsing the very same interaction with actors. He has violated the intimacy of their father/daughter relationship and put it on display, with a better, younger dancer playing her role.
“If you die… I’m not gonna say a word at your funeral, I’m just gonna tap dance.”
Fosse makes good on his promise to his best friend, who dies long before Fosse himself. In a moment of levity in episode seven, Fosse promises Pat that he won’t speak at his funeral, rather, he will dance. The scene ends with Pat reflecting, “that sounds nice.” The following episode features Fosse dancing a slow, painstaking, nearly impossible tap dance before his best friend’s coffin.
The final episode of Fosse/Verdon ends at the start, with a revival of Sweet Charity and a recreation of the “Big Spender” number that opened the series. A row of slinky, dirty, exhausted women entice ironically “fun, laughs, good times.” It’s difficult to say whether the choir of beleaguered women represent Fosse himself or the way he sees the world around him. “Nothing stays,” says the lyrics of the Chicago finale, says Fosse’s best friend shortly before his death, says everyone but Fosse himself. In film after Fosse-directed film, the main character fails to evolve or learn anything of meaning at all.
Photo and video credit: FX Network – Read the previous review here
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