The day of Serena's debut performance has finally arrived, which Ash stupidly announces out loud to the assembled group (perhaps for no other reason than to reassure himself that this is indeed the case – dumb-Ash isn't known for his strong grasp on reality after all...). With Serena dressed for success in the new outfit her mother sent her, the gang makes their way over to the coliseum, when who should they run into but Shauna – a fellow veteran/survivor of Professor Sycamore's holiday summer camp and child rape-a-torium. Shauna acknowledges that she is happy to see everyone, but she tells our heroine that the two of them are destined to be rivals now! (It's not quite Ash/Gary, but it will have to do. I'd rather see a return of Miette, honestly.)
Inside the performance area, Shauna and Serena make some sketchy comments about being nervous before their "first time," but we don't have time to dwell on that, because outside the coliseum Queen Jessie has arrived! Seeing no reason to wait for a formal coronation, Jessie has gone the same route as Napoleon and crowned herself ruler of Kalos. Unfortunately for the insane bitch goddess of the Team Rocket trio, she must first endure the formal pageantry of actually competing in and winning the Pokemon Showcase circuit. Although undoubtedly remembering Giovanni's instructions to remain undercover whilst doing his bidding in Kalos, Jessie has cleverly disguised herself by... doing her hair up slightly differently I guess? And adopting the unrecognizable moniker of "Jesseline." James is equally unrecognizable in his glasses, fedora, and vest, while Meowth has completely obscured the fact that he is a talking feline by donning his Art Garfunkel wig. (Wobbuffet remains undisguised because Wobbuffet does as it damn well pleases, darn it!) "Come loyal subjects!" Jessie shouts at her comrades, who have long ago stopped defying her goddess-ness, and together they march into the stadium with James working his money-maker inside his very skinny slacks.
Serena and Shauna enter the contestants' locker room and begin to survey the competition before they too have to sway before the wrath of Jessie, their vengeful and unforgiving queen. Jessie imparts some advice to overwhelm the competition rather than be overwhelmed yourself, before ordering them to make way for their queen.
Meanwhile, a long white limousine has pulled up in front of the Pokemon Showcase arena. My initial reaction was that Aria or perhaps Diantha had deigned to attend today's performance, but the truth is much stranger. Dame Judi Dench, having thoroughly conquered British stage and screen, has apparently made the unexpected decision to bring her talents to Eastern animation. Going by the name "Palermo" for some reason, Ms. Dench does not seem thrilled at the idea of taking in a rookie class Pokemon Performance – someone of her stature should at least get an audience with the Pokemon world's most famous citizen, Professor Samuel "randy Sammy" Oak in her Pokemon cameo. Nevertheless, she reluctantly makes her way through the adoring throng of reporters to her luxury box in the stadium.
As the main attraction gets under way, twerp and Rocket alike settle into their seats. James ponders Jessie's chances as Meowth sagely notes that "there isn't a spotlight she's not in love with!" Seated alone in the owner's suite, Judi Dench bitterly comments that "there will never be another performer like Aria." Could she be a rival promoter? Or perhaps she is Aria's agent – a Colonel Tom Parker type, cynically scouting for the next big thing to hitch her star to before Aria's charms grow stale with the fickle consumer public.
The emcee for today's festivities is once again Pierre, the bizarre Kingdom Hearts enthusiast (and one of the few actually-French people in Kalos). Flanked by his loyal Klefki and standing in front of a giant keyblade, Pierre announces that the winning performer will receive, (what else?) a key! This key is one of a total of three that Pokemon performers will need to win in order to challenge for the title of Kalos Queen.
Pierre announces that the first round of the competition will consist of a beauty pageant. He ushers in the first three contestants and they are Jessie, Shauna, and some nobody with a Furfrou. The peculiar Frenchman then precedes to lock the contestants inside three ornate cells – it's going to be a cage match! Pierre starts the timer and the contest is on!
Ash is confident in Serena's ability to win when her time comes, having spent enough time in the company of females to recognize their general affinity with beautifying things. James and Meowth are equally confident in their insane leader. As jealous as James must be that he is unfairly barred from competing for the title of Kalos Queen, he understands Jessie's artistic skill when it comes to decorating Pokemon – the two of them having briefly gone professional back in Kanto.
Jessie's professional experience shines through as she clearly comes up with the best design – transforming her Pumpkaboo into a terrifying Halloween monster. The other two performers simply can't compete. Shauna simply shoves some flowers into Bulbasaur's plant and paints its face, while no name does nothing more than give her Furfrou a standard Pharaoh Trim. Unfortunately for Team Rocket's buxom beauty, Pokemon Showcases are not judged professionally like the Contests of Hoenn and Sinnoh, but are rather viewer-driven popularity contests along the lines of American Idol – where even a no-talent ass clown like Sanjaya can advance.
So as Ash struggles to work an item as complex as a glow stick, the votes begin to come in. Jessie is infuriated as it appears only James, Meowth, and possibly Wobbuffet (can Pokemon vote?) appreciate the work of a true artiste. The rest of the low-brow audience seems split between the pedestrian efforts of Shuana and Furfrou girl, although eventually (and predictably) Shauna gets the victory. Ash is lucky that Serena isn't around to hear him utter "Shauna is so awesome!" and James sagely notes to Meowth that the outcome of the showcase "could be bad for our health." I have to side with Team Rocket here (although I am somewhat biased in their favor), Jessie clearly had the most creative and involved design. I know it isn't "beautiful" in the traditional sense, but isn't great art all about defying people's conventional expectations? Poor Team Rocket... they are the kind of artists who will die penniless and who's work will become priceless after they are gone.
Other performers come and go as Serena continues to wait for her turn. Particularly amusing are a Psyduck going quackers and a Fagonite revealing why I've always considered it to be Charizard's gay cousin.
Finally it is time for our heroine herself to take the stage against two no-name challengers of her own. Serena does her best to make Fennekin look prettier than normal, but she has a long way to go before she can call herself a real fire fox groomer. Undoubtedly still jittery about her first performance, Serena falls back on Ash's words for inspiration. "Ash said nothing we ever do is a waste of time," she tells Fennekin (although he has clearly forgotten about Johto...). And having dressed up her Pokemon in a hat, bowtie, and even little socks, Serena takes to the runway, confident in the fact that her two nobody opponents have no hope in stopping what is clearly meant to be a round two showdown between Shauna and Seren–
Fennekin trips over the ribbon end of its oversized bowtie and Serena's Pokemon Performing dreams seem to be over before they have begun. She still manages to pull in more votes than Jessie got in her showcase, but nowhere near enough to advance to the next round. Serena puts on a brave face as Shauna heads back on stage in the spot that should have been Jessie's to participate in the freestyle second round. Bulbasaur and Flabebe perform a Fairy Wind/Petal Dance combo while Shauna whips a ribbon around. "She looks just like a fairy!" Bonnie spouts. (Way to rub it in – that should be James out there dammit!) Somehow or another, Shauna manages to rack up enough votes to win the entire showcase (Just like her boyfriend, Serena doesn't even have the decency to lose to the best person in the current tournament/competition). Judi Dench is equally unimpressed – she mutters something about watching the entire showcase before marching back to her limo. Outside the arena, everyone bids farewell to Shauna – we will surely be seeing her again – and Clemont quietly worries about Serena's mental well-being, although Ash seems typically unconcerned, noting how "strong" she is. Meanwhile, Jessie is still rightly fuming about the poor tastes of the Kalosian audiences, and James declares that next time, the showcase will be a team effort! (Please, let there be crossdressing...) Meowth volunteers his services, and Team Rocket leaves us with a taste of the passion they will be bringing to the next showcase episode
"I'll rule Kalos as the queeniest Queen you ever saw!"
Judi Dench makes a mysterious phone call concerning the disappointing crop of performers she saw today, which leads me to believe we will be seeing more of her Palermo character in the future. As Ash prepares to shift the focus of the group back to himself and his next gym battle (with Clemont!), Serena finally gets some alone time and lets herself finally cry over her disastrous showcase debut. Fennekin and Pancham do their best to cheer her up, and at the same time, Palermo's limo stops at a red light nearby and she recognizes Serena as one of the performers from the showcase. Whatever she saw seemed to improve her mood, however, and when one of Dame Dench's assistants asks her if she saw anyone of interest in Coumarine City, she merely gives a coy smile and replies, "it's a secret!"
What did Palermo witness that has suddenly turned her on to Serena? Only the fact that our heroine has gone all Mulan and shorn her hair in an effort to start a new life (presumably as a self-confident Pokemon Performer and not as a cross-dressing medieval Chinese soldier...but I guess you never know). Bonnie is not at all happy, stating her preference for Serena's longer hair. "I think it looks kind of cute," opines our heroine. "Yeah, I think so too!" adds Ash. (Somewhere in Cerulean City, Misty nearly chokes on the wine she has been drinking while watching this episode). Furthermore, Ash notices that Serena is wearing the ribbon he secretly gave her as a present last episode when they sort-of kinda went on a date!!!!!!!! AmourShipping 4eva!!!!!!!! (Somewhere in Cerulean City, Misty has just put her foot through the television set). And with that Serena leads the way out the door as our heroes race back to Lumiose City for Ash and Clemont's epic clash.
Wow. Serena just got hotter...and Ash noticed? Eighteen seasons of precedent down the drain!
Final thoughts: That was quite the episode! Not only did I not anticipate Serena doing so poorly in her first Showcase, I had no idea the amount of character development we would be witness to. I am so glad the writers decided to move Serena away from the lovestruck girl who's only purpose seemed to be to fawn over Ash. Now Serena has her own independent dreams and aspirations, and seems to be maturing all the time. Not only that, but the shippyness of Ash and his main lady companion has ballooned to proportions we haven't witnessed since Season Two, aka the Shippiest Season of Them All™ As if this episode were not already good enough, Team Rocket left us with the promise of more Showcase hijinx to come, and we got to meet an intriguing new character in Palermo. So far Pokemon Showcases seem to be way cooler than Contests, even without Harley!