Project Runway: Earth, Wind, and Pantsuit

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New York "personifies man-made inspiration," waxes Tim Gunn philosophically, gesturing from his rooftop perch down to the humming city below. The Project Runway contestants, the brave remaining nine, blink back at him warily, and justifiably -- they're about to receive quite the hippie-dippie challenge, on that will actually bring them closer as colleagues and compatriots. Brotherhood, friendship, Kumbaya, and so forth.

Barf.

The assignment this episode: to create a look inspired by one of the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Passive-aggressiveness, sadly, does not make the list -- this season is exceptionally well-behaved, in that no violent screaming matches or mysterious fires have occurred, but plenty of rude asides are being murmured in lieu. Mila and Mila, the black-bob twinsies with only 20 years separating them and little else, chat amicably in the opening minutes. "I'm twice her age," says Mila. "I don't think there's a hyper-competition between us." Sinister pause. "That could change."

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The designers are generally not pleased with their randomly assigned elements, nor by Heidi Klum's news that all future challenge winners will no longer receive immunity. "Anyone can go at any time!" she exclaims. Her smile is not returned for most of the episode; this is an unusually somber segment, with furious work and scarcely-met deadlines. Every contestant sews down to the wire; Jonathan aims to "play with opacity" and mimic air by cutting layers into his fabric. Ben designs a pantsuit for water that only limps into the runway with charitable assistance from Jay, who (of course) is done early. Kind gesture, brah, but stop ruining the curve! Seth Aaron decides that his concept, air, can best be defined in sweeping black leather, Anthony's 'fire' sale is based in a gray palette -- as he explains, someone once burned his pastor's house to the ground, so he associates fire with "remains."

The workroom is muted but intense -- and also, an excruciatingly extended commercial for Garnier hair products; for the entire middle segment, there is virtually no moment that those moss-green cans are not in the frame. Gotta respect Runway's indifference to subtlety, which Tim Gunn also shares; in his ritual mid-day evaluation, he raves that Jonathan's dewy layers are "stunning," but burns the judges nonchalantly by warning panicky Ben that "subtlety and nuances are not being picked up by the judges." Ben consoles himself by kibitzing on the phone to his new husband later that night -- thankfully, he's much less annoying with this than lost lamb Janeane was recently.


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