'The Collection' Episode 2: Scent Of Imagination

Credit: Courtesy of Lookout Point and MASTERPIECE

The Collection insists on taking the slow path to getting to the actual Collection, leaving everyone to imagine their own drama.

Eliette Malet: "I don't know what life I'd be wearing it in, but I said "Damn it, when I find out I'm buying the damn thing."

Last week's opening episode of The Collection had something weirdly wrong about it. There was too much plot piled on, too many dramas, too much hokey dialogue. This week, I figured out what it is. Someone should tell the producers to sit down and watch Project Runway (at least those early years on Bravo.) Then they should make them watch all four seasons of The Great British Sewing Bee. Why? Because apparently, they don't believe that the making of beautiful clothes and the process of design is interesting enough on its own to carry a television show.

They're wrong. The process of design has kept Project Runway on the air for 13 years and counting, with multiple spin-offs. To recreate the design process that created to "New Look" of 1947, and why that look was inspired in that region, in those times, would have been an hour I would have found riveting.

Credit: Courtesy of Lookout Point and MASTERPIECE

Instead what we got was a work of pure imagination, not just on the part of those producing the show, but by the characters. Everyone was on a flight of fancy, from Nina, who imagined a life where she could have her son back, only to realize he had been taken from her forever by a society which refused to see him as anything to her but a sin. Billy, the photographer who is clearly in love with Nina, continues to imagine that the House of Sabine and all that occurs within it somehow above board, even though everything in front of his eyes tells him otherwise.

Meanwhile, Helen imagines her husband cares about fragrance... and her for that matter. Paul doesn't care about either of those things. Oh, he might have cared about the fragrance, had it been his idea. But it was not. Nor was it his connections that brought the fragrance maker Pierre to his door; it was hers, and her father's. Both meetings with the man in question are therefore utterly awful. In the first, he tries to show last year's collection. In the second, he doesn't show up at all, leaving Helen to cope, and show off one of Claude's rejected designs out of desperation.

Claude: "You don't have a neck, that's why we gave you a collar."

Speaking of Paul, he imagines he can manipulate everyone to do his bidding. In some cases, yes, he can. Billy, for instance, who obediently comes running up like a lapdog, with the threatening note in his mouth of someone trying to expose Paul Sabine's involvement with the Germans during World War II. In others, like the case of the Marquis' daughter who freaks out about her neckline on her wedding gown, he needs his assistant Charlotte to solve the problems. And when it comes to getting Nina into his modeling stable with a brand new haircut, and out of the sewing room, he needs the church to tell her to go live her life, and forget her sinful child.

Paul's greatest triumph in actually getting people to do what he wants is the best part of the episode, mostly because, once again, it focuses back on the clothes. His biggest rival for the crown of France's couture world is Frederic Lemaire (Michael Kitchen), a fictionalized version of the real-life Lucien Lelong, who kept Haute Couture in Paris during WWII, despite Hitler's best efforts to move it to Berlin. 

Credit: Courtesy of Lookout Point and MASTERPIECE
Credit: Courtesy of Lookout Point and MASTERPIECE

Sabine's efforts to remove Lemaire from his path are driven by two issues. The first is professional needs. The House of Sabine needs to become the biggest fashion House in France, or they'll lose their cotton king bankroller. Second, the Life magazine reporter from last week, Stanley Rossi (Stanley Townsend), has rolled back into town. He is trying to find out about the House of Sabine's German sympathizer connections -- ones that both Sabine and Lemaire shared. Lemaire is untouchable, he has the De Gaulle Award for keeping Couture in Paris, and he kept his unsavory connections on the down low. As Lemaire points out, it was Sabine who made those trips to Berlin; his record is clean.

But Lemaire must feel the pressure or fear his involvement will spill out. When Paul throws him a surprise luncheon with the help of magazine editor and fashionista, Eliette Malet (Doctor Who's Michelle Gomez, eating the scenery with gusto) where Sabine Models stroll through the dining room wearing famous Lemaire outfits, the old wolf recognizes it's eat-or-be-eaten time, and he decides to get out of the game. He does Paul a solid by "surprising everyone" by announcing his retirement then and there, frustrating Rossi, and leaving a slow smile on Paul's face.

Claude: With the right dress, and the right shape, the right color... you could create the world that you wanted to live in. You could take away the misery. 

If only Paul could control his brother so easily. Sadly no, though both the elder Sabine and their mother do everything they can to jumpstart the actual genius of the family into drawing the New Look, without accidentally driving him to a place where he then rips up everything he's been working on in a drunken rage. No, Yvette Sabine must drag her younger son down to a cottage by the seaside, and allow the collection to slowly grow inside his imagination, drawn out by, of all things, an imaginary princess who lives next door.

Of all the scenes, the ones between Claude and his mother in the cottage, and then Claude helping design outfits for the little girl's "kingdom" of stick dolls out of scraps of fabric, are some of the most delightful. One can see the light of creativity fire up behind his eyes. But how those moments translate to the gorgeous portfolio of artwork that will become the New Look is not clear. Instead, we simply cut to Yvette clutching the sheaf of drawings close, as the weekend draws to a close, and she insists they must get back to Paris post haste.

No, the show would rather spend that time giving us a dog, worrying at the dirt of the little garden kingdom which Claude's little princess claims simply appeared in front of her house one morning. Until that is, we realize what the mutt is pulling free of the dirt is a human arm. I suppose that means we're not out of the subplot woods by a long shot. At least next week, they'll present the New Look, and hopefully, we'll get a full-on fashion presentation to ooh and ahh over.