Born to Make History, Continued Further Still: Yuri!!! On Ice episode 4 recap, Like Yourself… and Complete the Free Program!!!
Thanksgiving is over, and I’m back here to finish catching up with the recaps. Today I want to try to get through as many as possible, and I’m probably going to do the next few in a lump, but four needs its own post because it’s such an important episode. They tell you everything you need to know in the title.
Fourth Skate: Like Yourself… and Complete the Free Program!!
I dig these exclamation points, man.
Anyway. Yurio has gone back to Russia, and so here’s Yuri with Victor, VICTOR, his dream man, dream coach, dream everything, fucking living with him, coaching him, eating with him, taking walks on the fucking beach with him. This is his life now, and Yuri is both elated and freaked out. As the episode opens, he’s rushing to the rink because he’s overslept and kept Victor waiting. He’s so apologetic he performs the dogeza, which delights Victor more as a cultural show than any need to be appeased. Victor continues to be Victor, always landing somewhere between bored and mildly surprised.
A cat, basically. Victor is a cat. I have six. I know one when I see one, and Victor is about as feline as they come. Arrogant, proud in this distracted, uninterested way, amused by you and loyal in a complicated way only they understand, affectionate on their own terms, and in possession of an attention span that must be earned and maintained. Also can be bribed with food.
Victor is still somewhat human, however, and he points out to Yuri he should lower the difficulty of his jumps at this point since he keeps having trouble and then plan to raise them later as he improves. Yuri doesn’t like this at all, gets very frustrated because he feels like this whole task before him is more than he can do and he gets dejected. And thank goodness, because it leads to a lovely scene.
This whole conversation is taking place in the hot spring, and when Yuri resists Victor’s lecture, Victor pulls him out of the water–they are both naked–and first speaks passionately to him while holding his hands and then does this complicated stretching maneuver with him while he explains why he was drawn to Yuri, why he came to Japan. He says he was drawn to Yuri because of the music, that the way Yuri skates is like his body is creating music. He wants to create a high-difficulty program to maximize that, and he knows only he can do that. He says the short program validated his suspicions, and now he thinks Yuri should produce his own free program.
Yuri tries to object, saying his coach has always chosen his music–he’s having a hard time, though, because at this point he’s standing naked in front of Victor while Victor contorts his body into various poses. Victor is unmoved by his distress or his lack of faith. The only thing that stops him is realizing they’re giving a free show to men waiting to come use the hot springs.
They end up placing a call to Yuri’s old coach, Celestino, who tips Victor off that Yuri never had any confidence in himself before either, but also that he once presented him with a piece of music he’d commissioned for himself. Victor immediately asks to hear this, wanting to know why Yuri hasn’t told him about it.
Celestino also doesn’t miss a chance to remind Victor he’s not fit to be a coach, which Victor ignores, focusing instead on asking why Yuri’s old coach didn’t let him choose his own music, and Yuri seizes the chance to vow to his old coach he will make up for his loss last year by redeeming himself at the Grand Prix Final this year. So much character came down in that phone call. Celestino hints at truths about Victor and yet at the same time, Victor is doing the job he couldn’t do, or maybe more accurately is giving Yuri the space to do the job none of them seem to be able to get done: coach him.
Meanwhile, in Russia, Yurio is working on his own program, between stalking Yuri and Victor through updates from Yuri’s friend and social media updates. He’s been better about practice, fueled by his rivalry with Yuri, and he agrees to be mentored by a famous ballerina who promises to help him reinvent himself and become the best figure skater he can be.
Yuri doesn’t consider Yurio a rival, or at least isn’t worried about him per se–he’s too worried about how to produce his free program, since Victor had the same reaction to the music his old coach did. He wants to choreograph and produce his program like Victor always did–that’s always been his dream, but he doesn’t have the confidence. He ends up having a late night FaceTime with his friend Phichit, another skater, who encourages him to reconnect with the friend who wrote the song for him, to see if she could revisit it. He even offers to help Yuri reconnect with her since he admits the exchange ended awkwardly when he didn’t use the music after all.
Phichit is a great secondary character, one we’ll see more of in future episodes, and there’s a lot to love in him on his own and as Yuri’s friend. What he spurs here for Yuri too is important. He gets Yuri to think about why he produced that piece in the first place. He’d wanted it to express his career as a skater, but at that point it wasn’t much of a career. Yuri, taking a walk to the rink to skate out his feelings, admits this is likely why it wasn’t much of a song.
This kind of self-awareness, while bald and a bit grim, is so huge, because it takes this kind of moment, this kind of truth, to build up a real self. While Yuri is asking the composer to rewrite his music, while he’s rebuilding himself after admitting he has very quietly drifted to the bottom of himself, Yurio is being drilled by the ballerina and being told to reinvent himself he must throw himself away. And this is true. Because the part of you that is you, you can’t even throw out, so everything else you ditch is the stuff that shouldn’t have been there. Everything else truly is interchangeable. Malleable. Both Yuris are reforming themselves resolutely. Though Yuri is doing so out of love, and Yurio is born out of some kind of hate and revenge.
It takes Yuri a moment to get to this reach, though. He wallows in his indecision, not choosing any music at all, rejecting all Victor’s efforts to get him to relax, to get to know him, to help him find his inspiration for his program. Eventually Victor gets Yuri to sit with him on the beach, and they watch the gulls together with Victor’s dog Makkachin. Victor confesses he thinks of St. Petersburg every time he sees seagulls. He never noticed them before, but he never thought he’d leave St. Petersburg before.
So this is a man who has traveled for over ten years as a professional figure skater. He has left home a lot. What he means, then, is that he never thought he’d feel like somewhere else was home. Yes, he’s been in Japan for some time now, but he’s also spent this much time on the road before. Think of how Yuri said he hadn’t been home in five years. Yes, they would go home between competitions, I know. But what a statement this is. Mister super traveler, saying Hasetsu feels like home. Except I don’t think it’s the pork cutlet bowls calling to him. Or rather, it’s a specific one.
Anyway, we continue.
Victor has managed to get Yuri to open up. Yuri tells a story too, about a time when a girl had been pushy with him, had kept talking to him and he’d been rejecting her, then one day a teammate had been injured and he’d been so worried. She’d tried to comfort him and he’d been angry and had pushed her away, upset at her intrusion on his feelings. Victor is quietly blown away by this reaction. And justifiably so, since all he does is push on Yuri’s feelings. Yuri explains he hadn’t wanted to seem weak, but none of his friends or family here at home ever treated him that way. They always had faith he’d keep growing as a person, and they always gave him space to be himself.
Another pause here, this one point of privilege. Yuri taught me something here, because I am definitely that pushy girl. I have a hard time with letting people have that space. It’s not that I think people are weak, it’s that I hate seeing people in pain, and I want to take it away. Which is so odd, because I get really tetchy about people claiming my pain. I can relate to what he’s saying here, and I know I’m going to think of what he said the next time my kids are struggling and I want to swoop in but what I know deep down what they need is space to carry their own pain, to deal with it in their own time. I will probably still suck at it, but thank you for that, Yuri.
Victor, still staring at the ocean, quietly tells Yuri he is not weak. He says no one else thinks that, either. And then he asks Yuri what he wants Victor to be to him. This is a very Victor moment, because remember, Victor is a charmer. He’s not been able to be content here because he can’t figure out how to get Yuri into a place where he knows what to do with him. Yuri doesn’t worship him, not exactly, even though he had literally made his life a shrine to the man. He’d worshipped the ideal of Victor, and the real Victor he’s struggling with. So Victor is trying to find the way to get Yuri to behave how people usually do to him: smiles and obsequiousness. Or at least mild adoration. What’s it to be, he asks? Father figure? No, Yuri says. Brother, friend? Yuri has no answer.
Lover, then, Victor says, with a small sigh. He can try, he supposes, he says. But before he can finish the sentence Yuri freaks out, leaping into the air and all but screaming no no no no no at him.
“I want you to stay who you are, Victor! I’ve always looked up to you. I ignored you because I didn’t want you to see my shortcomings. I’ll make it up to you with my skating!”
“Okay. I won’t let you off easy then,” Victor says with a smile. “That’s my way of showing my love.”
Emphasis there is mine. What exactly we’re supposed to make of that, I don’t know. I’m assuming some of that is lost in translation, both language and culture. In any event, It’s pretty safe to say at this point Victor is more in love with Yuri than Yuri is with Victor. Or rather, Victor is ready for something but Yuri is still back at start, trying to get his skates on, and Victor is saying, “okay, I’ll be your coach instead, that’s okay with me, I can love you however it works out.”
Victor has decided he’ll be Yuri’s devoted coach. Yuri is pleased because Victor has met him where he is. That opening up has given him something real. This has been a huge lesson for him, in fact, both in sharing his feelings in general and that he can trust Victor, that Victor is on his side. Also the fact that so much time has passed at this point shows that this isn’t simply a whim anymore. Victor is committed to him, and regardless of anything else, this is love for Yuri, someone who will give his career this much attention.
It’s at this point he sends the email to the composer and gets the music altered. While they wait, Yuri insists Victor teach him all the jumps he can do, and Yuri practices them with a rigor and stamina which impresses and even surpasses Victor’s. When the music comes in, Victor is impressed, and they finalize the program, moving the jumps in the program around to fit it and maximize impact, even though some of the arrangement will challenge Yuri. When Victor asks what Yuri wants the theme of his program to be, Yuri says, “on my love.” He’s a little shy about it, but Victor only smiles and says it’s the best theme of all.
The assignments for the Grand Prix come in, and we learn the setup for the next few episodes: after competing in a local event, Yuri will go tot he Cup of China, then an event in Russia where he will face Yuri again, then on to the Grand Prix event itself. There’s some explanation of the setup of why he’s going where and when, and we pause to be reminded that this will be awkward because usually Victor goes as a competitor, not a coach, and won’t that be awkward for Yuri. But mostly we’re building up because it’s clear the next few episodes are going to be a big arc. And they are.
Before we get to that arc, though, we are still in this beautiful little cocoon of an episode. We are here at this point before it all starts, where Yuri learns to like himself, or begins to start. Where he understands the only place that can come from is love, and that the people who teach us how to do that are friends and family and teachers and lovers and complicated people who we aren’t sure who they are, like Victor. And in the meantime there is Yurio, Russian Yuri, who is sadly mostly showing us what happens when you try to learn this lesson without love at the center, with only a grain of dusty memory at the heart.
Jesus, remember that it’s Yuri dancing to eros. Yuri is dancing to eros, Yurio is dancing to agape. But Yuri is finding both agape and eros through his coaching with Victor, by refusing Victor’s offer of eros and insisting on turning it into agape. This fucking show. This fucking show, I love this fucking show.
The closing montage of this episode is everything. It gives you the first peek at Yuri’s free program, both the choreography and the music. It sets up Yurio’s conflict too, and reminds us what is at stake for everyone. That everyone in the story, hero and villain alike, has something to lose. That everyone, regardless of their motivation or worthiness–whoever is deciding that–wants to win, wants to succeed.
Victor asks Yuri as the episode ends what he’s going to name his music, since it hasn’t been titled yet, and Yuri names it “Yuri on Ice.” Victor declares it perfect. (He frequently declares much about Yuri perfect, in fact.) Yuri’s narration closes us out, reminding us that in September, his season with Victor will finally begin.
And we will continue that with a recap of the next episodes soon.