At last, the two-part second-season finale of MAKE IT OR BREAK IT sent the Rebels of the Rock to Rio, where they represented the USA at Worlds. It was not exactly the team roster that anyone expected – with spitfire demoness Kelly Parker stepping in for the pregnant Emily – but it was evidently the team that was needed to pull off a miracle on the mats that would make the Harlem Globetrotters envious.
Part one was all about getting the team to Rio de Janeiro without killing each other. Yes, there was a lot of strife before they even left Colorado. Kaylie (Josie Loren) invited Kelly (Nicole Anderson) to the Tanner’s send-off party in order to help her bond with her new teammates. Kelly struggled with her true nature – the side of her that wanted to use Kaylie’s anorexia diary to beat her out of a big-money sponsorship – and when she came clean about her thievery, she was rewarded with spite when Kaylie turned on her. But Kaylie calmed down enough to decide to slough the sponsorship off on Payson (Ayla Kell) – with a little help from Max (Joshua Bowman). Of course, taking sponsor dough meant Payson would lose her college eligibility, and the Healthy Bar money wasn’t guaranteed unless she medaled at Worlds. So a lot was riding on Payson’s robust shoulders. And a lot was weighing on her heart, too, because she told Max she loves him, and he… didn’t exactly return the sentiment. Later, Lauren (Cassie Scerbo) dragged Max off to that private, candle-filled love nest she had shared with Carter for a while, and threw herself at him. But again, Max deferred. A distraught Max started hitting the bottle, and was confronted by Austin (Zane Holtz). Max told his buddy that he had just rejected Payson’s heart and Lauren’s body – and then he kissed Austin! Meanwhile, Summer (Candace Cameron Bure) was outraged that she was left out of loop on the videotape scandal, and ran out on Steve (Anthony Starke) and Lauren. Lauren was so upset about Summer that she took off – with Max trying to watch over her. But someone should have been looking out for him, because Lauren ran a stop sign and crashed.
At the hospital, Lauren heard a delirious Max calling for Payson, but pretended he said her name. Lauren was essentially uninjured, so the team left for Rio as scheduled. But it began to look like they should not have even bothered. Everyone was terrible, and the girls were acting like catty individuals, not teammates. The only person who seemed to be trying was the outsider, Kelly. The squad barely qualified to return for the second day. That night, Sasha (Neil Jordan) gave the girls a tongue-lashing and locked them in a room to work out their problems. Which they did. They went into that room as rivals, and came out as a team. And this team came to win… The girls staged a miracle comeback – highlighted by Payson performing a one-legged vault after suffering yet another injury, and Kaylie performing a floor routine. In the end, Team USA pulled out a miracle comeback and claimed the gold medal.
It was surprising how easily Kelly Parker (now I’m in the habit of using her full name) slipped into the role of fourth musketeer with Emily out of the picture. I have to admit that I do like KP better than Emily; I mean, what’s not to love about a sexy bad girl? But also, strange as it may sound, KP is more likeable than Emily, who was written as an endless progression of not just bad breaks but screw-ups and downright wrong-headed decisions. Chelsea Hobbs is a talented actress, but it’s hard to warm up to a character that is always moaning about her horrible lot in life – and then going out of her way to make things worse. Kelly Parker is also a different sort of bad girl than Lauren. KP has a heart – but she puts it on ice when she has to compete; in other words, she’s just a hater as psychological warfare. Having a heart is what makes her different from Lauren, who is truly all about herself. She wants Carter – er, Austin… I mean Max… because, as she noted in this story, she just doesn’t want to be alone. Everything – including her father’s marriage – is about Lauren. She was definitely more psyched about the nuptials than Summer, but because she wanted Summer to adopt her so she could have a mother again.
The direction of part one was outstanding, particularly the verite extreme close-ups of Kelly Parker facing off against her mother (Kathy Najimy) on the bus; the close-ups of the Keelers as Kim and Mark (Peri Gilpin and Brett Cullen) agonized over whether to let Payson surrender her college eligibility; and the way the confrontation between Austin and Max was staged with a mirror behind them, emphasizing that the scene was about images of people. That was something Kaylie would do well to remember after she got steamed about Austin playing “Mr. Cobalt” to sell sunglasses. Apparently Kaylie forgot that Austin was all about the bling and tomcatting around when he first strutted into the Rock. There was a reason a big banner was posted outside the gym with his face on it.
Max was doubtless the best plot device (and the most interesting character) introduced for the back half of this season, and the finale finally paid off on the vague sense of mystery surrounding the new gymnast/photographer. While turning down the ravenous Lauren as well as the twinkling Payson would have buried the needle on anyone’s gaydar, Max then got soused and kissed Austin! But the script didn’t use the kiss for mere shock value; it was supposed to tell viewers something about him. It didn’t come across as some drunken impulse move, because it wasn’t. Max was trying to explain to his buddy why he had just turned down two very different offers from two very different women. Max could not accept Lauren’s body or Payson’s love because he didn’t know how to tell them that he also likes kissing boys. In making Max bisexual, the script was a taking a chance and venturing into politically loaded territory – but hey, that whole abortion issue from a few weeks back blew “safe” completely out of the water. Max addressed the criticism that a bisexual man is “just a gay guy who can’t admit it.” He kissed Austin because he was trying to process his emotions while simultaneously imparting to his bud what he was going through. Both Bowman and Holtz handled the scene very well. And while the script did get slightly preachy, it never ventured into afterschool-special territory.
“Preachy” is a word that often comes to mind with Summer, but not this week. Being holier than thou was a little more Sasha’s bailiwick. He confronted Summer about Steve and pinned her down about her shifting emotions and mixed signals – as he should have — but then he also tried to wriggle out of accepting blame for confusing the young and impressionable Payson. (Yes, honey, this man worked with you day and night and gave you his most treasured possession, his Olympic gold medal, because he likes you. Y’know, as a gymnast.) But that doesn’t mean he was wrong about Summer. He accused her of trying to play it safe with Steve – which she was! Being the last to know about Lauren pirating the Payson/Sasha kiss video was just an excuse to let Summer righteously storm out of Steve and Lauren’s life. But when Lauren crashed the car, Summer rushed to the hospital; she claimed it was because Lauren told the hospital she was her daughter. That whole accident sequence seemed a little too manufactured to be acceptable. Despite being on the driver’s side (which was struck by the oncoming vehicle), Lauren only sustained some light bruising, while passenger Max suffered a concussion and a broken collarbone? Seriously? Well, Lauren did have her mad on, so maybe the rage protected her like a warp shell around a starship? And while I’m wondering, how cheap was it for Summer to materialize right next to the balance beam and hit Lauren with her best bitchface right before the girl started her routine! Summer’s selfishness endangered the chances for the entire team to medal.
And, finally, we get to the issue of those medals. In the weeks leading up to Worlds, MIOBI seemed to be suggesting that each team sent one designated athlete to each apparatus (which was why Kaylie pinned all her hopes on just vault), but I had assumed the-powers-that-be were just saving time/budget by not depicting all the girls competing on each apparatus, as normally happens. That was shown to be correct at Worlds, when it really counted, but it may have confused some viewers. Out of nowhere, Payson was vaulting with a medal on the line – and vaulting so hard that she injured her ankle! Oh no’s – right before she really needed to stick a landing on her next vault in order to medal! It was a good thing Kim and Mark didn’t tell her that Stanford had come calling to recruit her; unaware that she was ineligible…
The weirdness was compounded when Sasha turned to Kaylie and asked her to come up with a floor exercise to win the gold. Sasha wanted Kelly to do it, but when KP insisted that Kaylie perform, Sasha should have been, like, “Kaylie, do you even have a floor exercise since you concentrated solely on one high-value vault at Austin’s urging?” But, instead, he gave her one of those “Go get ‘em, tiger!” looks, and off she went. Even though she presumably hadn’t worked on a floor routine in…months? (Since before rehab, at least.)
That meant that in the end, the gold medal rested on Payson doing a vault instead of Kaylie, and on Kaylie performing an artistic floor routine instead of Payson. I suppose that irony amplified the idea of “teamwork,” and how you cannot win a team medal without a team. (BTW, were there no individual medals to be had? Surely Lauren, Payson and Kaylie medaled in their individual events? And what about Payson or KP in the all-around?) Real-life married Olympic gold medalists Nadia Comaneci and Bart Conner guested as themselves as color commentators, which really lent verisimilitude to the broadcast booth.
Still, the ending was satisfying; the sort of wish-fulfillment and promise of good things to come for Team USA that would make a fine end to the series – if comes to that. MIOBI definitely deserves a third season, but executive producer Holly Sorenson has wisely hedged her bets and rewarded fans with closure. The series can end here or continue on, toward the Olympics…