The storyline I am most invested in is the Payson (Ayla Kell)/Sasha (Neil Jackson) relationship, and last week ended with her impulsively kissing him and running off in shame. He’s 35 years old and she is 16, so naturally things were awkward between them. She couldn’t help noticing how he was hesitant to even touch her during practice. “I’ve ruined everything,” she growled in frustration. Sasha finally decided to confront the elephant in the room by talking about the normally complex relationship between coach and athlete. He explained that his father was actually disappointed that Sasha won the gold because he was competing for England, not Romania. So he split with his father – who was also his coach: the legendary Boris Belov. But Sasha praised his replacement coach, because he “made me an Olympian.” (He even admitted that had his coach been female, he probably would have kissed her!) The most important aspects of the coach/athlete relationship are trust and communication. “I trust you,” she declared. “You didn’t ruin anything,” he smiled.
Oh, no? Lauren (Cassie Scerbo) still had not been heard from. I figured that practice camera would record Payson kissing Sasha last week – I just wasn’t sure how Lauren would manage to get her paws on the footage. Things were not going well for Lauren. After engineering Chloe’s (Susan Ward) ouster from her father’s life, Lauren assumed that Summer (Candice Cameron Bure) would step right back in. But Summer had to tell her that she wasn’t getting back together with Steve (Anthony Starke) because she was already seeing someone. Sasha. “That’s totally wrong!” she howled. “You were almost my mother.” She ladled on the guilt, saying things like, “You’re not here for me!” She even pointed out that Sasha is not a Christian before running out and climbing into her father’s car. In the parking lot, Leslie, Lauren’s mother – who had earlier stopped at the house to drop off a letter for Lauren before being chased away by Steve — observed her traumatized daughter. She almost approached Lauren, but Steve came out, and Leslie lost her chance. Back home, Lauren went into raging bitch mode. She had earlier retrieved the practice camera and discovered the footage of Payson smooching Sasha; now she had a use for it. She took frame captures and e-mailed them to Ellen Beals (Michelle Clunie), along with the note, “Sasha is not the man everyone thinks he is.”
Sasha was, in fact, a better coach than he was letting on. Over the past few episodes, he has been remarkably quiet about Kaylie’s (Josie Loren) dramatic weight loss. I’m glad he finally returned to this issue; I thought he gave up too easily when Ms. Beals and Marty dismissed his concerns. And this week, he told her father that he has been noticing, and insisted she weigh in. Kaylie tipped the scales at 106 pounds, which was within her target range. Sasha apologized and withdrew. After the adults left, Kaylie revealed that she was wearing 5-pound weights – on each leg!
The Emily (Chelsea Hobbs) storyline weighed down this week’s episode with the sudden return of Damon (Johnny Pacar). Only a few weeks ago, he and Emily agreed not to see each other again until after the Olympics. But here he decided to stop in Boulder on his way to Los Angeles to begin recording his album. His presence freaked out Emily, who was already trying to deal with the loss of her fake endowment, struggling to prepare for the worlds tryouts, and getting arrested for stealing medicine for her brother. Oh, and Razor (Nico Tortorella) was back, alternately counseling Emily and trading barbs with Damon. Emily was ashamed to tell Damon was “slinging pizzas at that crappy dump” (as Damon called the Pizza Shack), and too proud to take money from her mom’s boyfriend. Damon couldn’t understand why Emily didn’t want to be a kept woman. But Razor understood. She pointed out they’re not supposed to see each other for another 2 years. He claimed he doesn’t want her to be lonely in the meantime, and declared, “You’re free. And I’m free.” He walked out and left town, leaving her crying. And leaving me yawning. I can’t really get into Emily’s story, so Damon making tracks was fine with me. I just don’t find Emily or Damon or Razor all that interesting.
I was interested in the election for president of the parents’ board. We were “treated” for a snippet of Steve’s stump speech, in which he likened Sasha to Hitler! (Yep, you read that correctly.) Kim’s (Peri Gilpin) speech was more succinct and open-minded. Before the vote, former president Alex Cruz rose to endorse Kim – joined by Chloe and Ronni. Then Ms. Beals crashed the meeting. Doing her best Joe McCarthy imitation, she claimed to have “clear evidence of Sasha Belov engaged in something disturbing.” Then she did her best Br’er Rabbit routine, begging that she not be compelled to expose her evidence. Finally, Kim pressed her, and Beals unveiled a print of Payson kissing Sasha, which shocked and horrified the assembled parents. Kim quickly recovered, calling Payson’s impulsiveness “just a crush,” but Beals twisted Kim’s words to make it sound like she endorsed grown men scoring with their daughters – and implying it would be policy at the Rock under a Keeler administration. Returning to smarmy form that viewers have seen all too infrequently lately, Steve took advantage of the room and pressed for an immediate vote. Unsurprisingly, he won in a landslide.
Kim returned home and told Payson the photo is out there now. “I wanna die,” Payson choked. An exuberant Steve and Lauren celebrated as Steve assured his daughter that Sasha’s days are numbered. While Lauren was dressing, Steve got a call about Leslie. When Lauren returned, he told her there was an accident, and her mother was dead. “I understand perfectly, and honestly, I feel nothing,” Lauren declared in a flat voice. “She stood me up at nationals. She didn’t love me. She didn’t even want to see me. So why should I care? She was already dead to me.” Steve stared at his daughter, simultaneously feeling guilt and shock. Because he knew he kept Leslie away from nationals, and thus he was responsible for creating a cold, emotionless monster. Sure, Lauren cries, but that’s when she is feeling sorry for herself. What she lacks is empathy – the ability to feel for another human being. It’s what makes her such a powerful villainess. Scerbo is expert at communicating Lauren’s dead soul. Sasha noted, “Payson is going to be devastated.” He was determined to prevent Beals from destroying Payson in her zeal to destroy Sasha’s career. “Payson is strong,” Summer noted. But we viewers could see Payson curled up on her bed, crying.
In an interview I did with Kell for SOAP OPERA WEEKLY magazine, she assured me that the finale will be amazing. I cannot wait to see it!