Stella's storyline is already ripping my heart out.
Her quiet fear and struggle not to give in to panic when she realizes that she's been exposed to HIV is very real and beautifully understated, and her reluctance to tell anyone is also very natural. Anyone would react with fear and hesitation when confronted with the possibility of a diagnosis like this, but there's something particularly heartfelt in how stubborn Stella is in her determination both not to give in and not to let anyone know. If the issue isn't somehow forced (and it seems like it will be), I have a feeling that she'd be willing -- and would perhaps prefer -- to go through the entire three months she'll have to wait for her test results without ever telling anyone, and it's her very willingness to face that alone is wrenching.
It's also very in-character, this refusal to give in, or to give anyone a chance to feel sorry for her. Or give them another reason to look at her like she's different, or like there's something wrong with her, something else that I think is very much an issue in the wake of Frankie and "All Access." It's the same thing she struggles with in "Open & Shut," and I think it's been an ongoing issue for her all season long, trying to find a balance between wanting to be the same person she always was and finding a way to acknowledge that her assault had inescapably changed her.
I don't know that she'll be able to keep it a secret, though; if Mac hasn't quite put two and two together yet, he's very close to doing so. And I think maybe she needs him to know. She needs someone to know, and she and Mac know each other far too well for the secrets to work for long.
The way she cradled her arm every time they talked about the case was a wonderful, subtle touch, and hurt me every time she did it.
We return to the Mac/Peyton storyline for the first time since "Silent Night," and the first scene establishes one very important change: Peyton is no longer "the office secret" that she accurately described herself as in "Raising Shane." This is a good thing, and a significant step for Mac to take. And it's clear, as it has been all along, that he cares for her and that he wants this relationship to work. However, I'll just reiterate what I've been saying all along: his problems, and his issues with Claire's death, have not gone away; not even Mac can eradicate those by sheer force of will, though I have no doubt he's trying as hard as he can.
On the surface, this episode might appear to be doing exactly what I feared would happen after "Silent Night": a glossing-over of those problems, an attempt to erase, or at least brush aside, everything Peyton said in "Raising Shane." However -- and I hope like hell I'm reading this right -- I don't think that's what's happening here. We're in the latter half of the season now, and we've only got a few episodes to go before we're in true endgame. Given how much intense character development and focus on personal storylines we've had this season, and if we can use S2's end run of episodes as any guideline, there's every chance in the world that S3's concluding episodes are going to be ramping up the tension and drama to an equal or greater degree. Everything that's happening in the characters' personal storylines now -- Stella's most obviously, but I think this can apply pretty much across the board -- is most likely set-up for those concluding episodes.
In short, there's probably a reason they decided to keep Peyton around beyond Claire Forlani's initial four-episode commitment. I also don't think it's an accident that in last week's "Some Buried Bones," we also saw a return to the Reed storyline. An episode in which we're shown in a very specific and detailed way that Mac still doesn't have any closure in Claire's death (and that he now has a living reminder of that in his life), followed immediately by an episode in which we're shown how Mac's relationship with Peyton is going? Not an accident.
And if this is all meant to eventually tie into the concluding episodes of the season, it's all fitting. The writers, as we've seen in previous seasons, have a way of planting these seeds early: see, for example, the subtle, but constant focus we suddenly got on establishing that Mac's relationship with Danny had taken a turn for the better in S2, beginning with "Risk" and continuing right up until "Run Silent, Run Deep." The scenes, even taken collectively, could have been seen as throwaway bits, but once we hit RSRD, it was clear they'd been set-up for some rather crucial bits of plot and character development in that episode.
Speaking of Danny, there's a bit of dead-on characterization in the scene where he finds out about Mac and Peyton. He's clearly shocked, which is understandable, but what's interesting is that he immediately leaps to the (correct, as it happens) conclusion that he's the last person to find out. Moreover, he not only leaps to that conclusion, it's the first question he asks. Not how long have you two been going out, not when did this happen, not any of the many other questions that spring to mind as something I'd be likely to ask first if I found out a friend or colleague was involved in a relationship I didn't know about. None of those, but am I the last to know?
Post-RSRD, and continuing into S3, we've seen no hint of lingering tension between Mac and Danny over the estrangement that reached its head in "On the Job" back in S1; RSRD was a clear turning point, and an indication that rift had been healed. Despite that, Danny has always been established as someone who doesn't trust others easily, and -- more importantly here -- as someone who's very quick to assume that he's being left out of other people's lives, or rejected, or just plain not wanted. That he's being kept out of the loop, perhaps deliberately. That outlook hasn't gone away, and his reaction here is of a piece with his assumption of betrayal in "On the Job," and of a piece with the way that we saw him react to Louie's rejection/betrayal in RSRD.
(It's still eating at him later, too; he may mean for his grandkids comment to Peyton to be a joke, but it really doesn't come out that way.)
Fashion Watch: I'm really rather thrilled with the clothes this week. Every single character wore at least one thing that I absolutely loved.
Danny wears a camel-colored knit collared shirt in the beginning of the episode. Later, he wears a tight red sweater with a high v-neck with his brown leather jacket and jeans, and a distressed brown leather belt that I liked a lot.
Mac wears a black leather jacket with a brown corduroy collar with a black crewneck sweater and jeans. I'm not crazy about the contrasting collar, but otherwise this is a great casual look for him. (PS: Mac, the shiny shirt would have worked with the jacket and jeans. Think about it!) Later, he wears a blue-on-blue striped shirt with a black suit. This is his standard look, yeah, but it's a very good version of it; the suit is gorgeously fitted, and the shirt is a particularly nice, and flattering, shade of blue.
Stella wears a knit khaki shirt with a deep v-neck in the opening scenes. Later, she wears a dark gray pinstriped jacket over a pale pink knit with a scalloped v-neck and a little pink-beaded tie at the deepest point of the V. This? So cute! The beaded tie was subtle, but took what could have been a very simple, ordinary shirt and elevated it to something much more.
Hawkes wears a brown zippered pullover over a heather gray t-shirt. In the outdoor scenes, he wears a three-quarter length dark gray pinstriped overcoat. This is an incredibly stunning piece that actually made me say, "Oh!" out loud when he appeared in it. Beautiful, and perfect on him. (And, again, beautifully fitted, too.)
Flack begins the episode in a light gray pinstriped suit with a light blue striped shirt and a patterned tie in a slightly darker blue. Later, he wears a black chalk-striped suit with a white shirt and a slate-blue tie. The chalk stripe? To die for. Perfect on him.
Wardrobe department? Please keep this up. Everyone was looking even hotter than usual this week, and the clothing choices are a very big part of why.