A lot of the gimmick dances on "Dancing With The Stars" don't go well: The ones with brooms or fake glasses or too much specificity in whatever goofy story line has been chosen tend to seem a little desperate and precious. So it was surprising that a night that was essentially all gimmicks didn't go all that badly.
The theme wasn't technically gimmicks, of course — it was "storytelling." Some couples took the license to create a scene fairly literally, like Evan Lysacek and Anna Trebunskaya. The pair had their best performance so far with a quickstep built around a scene that began with her sitting at a vanity table powdering her face. Others had a more nebulous presentation, like Chad Ochocinco and Cheryl Burke, whose paso doble wasn't noticeably more storylike than the average bullfighting tale.
But a few of the dances actually managed to bring out some hidden personality that can — especially in the early weeks when everyone is nervous — remain hidden. Lysacek displayed a functioning sense of humor, Pam Anderson goofed around with Charo while learning to bring some Latin spark to her dancing, and Buzz Aldrin got to specifically portray an older guy dancing with his daughter, which made the fact that he dances very much like an older guy seem less conspicuous.
In fact, on a show that rarely rises above its inherent schmaltz, a couple of the stories were actually sort of interesting. Niecy Nash and Louis van Amstel performed a waltz they based on a story about an interracial couple in the 1960s. They started out with Niecy crying in rehearsal, thinking about the fact that it once would have been illegal for her to marry a white man.
That soon led to Louis crying in rehearsal, talking about the fact that it's still illegal for him to marry any man. It was quite touching, and it was a little surprising for such a determinedly controversy-free show, but they were both clearly quite moved by it, and, as often seems to be the case with van Amstel and his partners, there's a nice bond developing there.
Probably the most unexpected use of a prop came from Erin Andrews and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who incorporated a blindfold into their waltz. It sounds ridiculous in the abstract, but it was adequately connected to a story about trust and danger and so forth. And what Maks said in rehearsal — that it might loosen her up by making her trust him more — actually seemed to come true ... a little. Erin was probably less studied and more dramatic to watch with the blindfold on than she'd been earlier.
Of course, it didn't work for everyone. Kate Gosselin performed a disastrous paso doble (she's an easy target, yes, but it's true). She wore silly-looking hair and silly-looking makeup and danced to Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi," trying to somehow convey what a hard life she has and how much pent-up rage she has developed about her mistreatment by the press. Unfortunately, for Kate, what was supposed to look like intense anger looked like dead-eyed pouting, and she dances primarily by walking around.
The most disingenuous event of the evening was the quickstep from Derek Hough and prohibitive favorite Nicole Scherzinger, who's been dominating to the point of making the show seem boring. Wouldn't you know it, this week, Derek choreographed a quickstep that repeatedly broke the hold required for a proper quickstep and contained an illegal lift, subjecting them to a tongue-lashing from the judges and scoring penalties, including a ridiculously low score of 6 from Len Goodman. This led Scherzinger to tie Erin and end up behind Evan. Those rule violations were probably the only way such a fall from the top of the scoreboard could have happened, and it suddenly made her seem less likely to win. A highly suspicious turn of events, to say the least.
As things stand, Evan is at the top with 26 points. Erin and Nicole both have 23. Then there is a pile-up: Pamela, Niecy, Chad, Jake Pavelka and Aiden Turner all scored either 20 or 21 points. Then, well behind them, Kate has 15 and Buzz has 13.
Honestly, if there was enough fan support to keep Kate and Buzz last week, then who knows? Those top three are probably safe, but Pamela was in the bottom two last week with scores no worse than she got this week. On the other hand, maybe — just maybe — the gimmick has run out for one of those two low-scoring stragglers.
Linda Holmes is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com.