(Spoilers lurk below.)
Before we get started here, I have a confession to make. An embarrassing confession. I… like… Britney Spears’s music. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t own any of her albums and I don’t really pay any attention to her career at all. It’s just that when I hear her music, I don’t hate it. Yeah, I know many of the criticisms. She doesn’t write her own songs. Her voice is altered in post-production. I really don’t care. I find her pleasant to listen to.
All that said, Britney Spears is no Madonna, and this episode shares a lot of similarities with last season’s “The Power of Madonna.” Madonna had a significant impact on the music industry and created some real high-quality work in her day. Britney Spears is more or less nothing but a pop starlet whose music will probably not be remembered in forty years’ time. I mean, I like her music, but it’s scarcely earth-shattering stuff. It’s pop. Good pop, but nothing more.
In addition to the theme, this episode also shares the unusual atmosphere of “The Power of Madonna” in that the subject of the week is revered almost as a goddess by pretty much everyone on the show. This one allows for Sue and Will to speak against her, but that sets up the strange “young vs. old” dynamic in which all the kids like Spears but the adults don’t. They’re targets for the kids to shoot down. The hero worship the kids show for Spears quite frankly makes the whole episode seem like some kind of Britney Spears infomercial, much like “The Power of Madonna” seemed like an infomercial for Madonna. Spears even appeared in this episode, though there really didn’t seem to be much point to it.
Aside from all that, the show had its share of flaws. Last week I complained about musical numbers that are not written fluidly into the plot, and we had plenty of those this episode. No, writing them as hallucinations doesn’t count as working them into the plot. One of those would haven been plenty. They could have gotten their music video recreation out of the way (they were so close to the real thing it was much more recreation than parody) and then they could have moved on. Having Will cave in earlier would have allowed us to see more performances within the confines of the actual plot. Instead, it took 33 minutes (not counting commercials – I watch the show on Hulu) before there was a non-hallucinogenic musical number and in the end, out of six numbers, only two of them were worked into the plot. Talk about lazy writing and a betrayal of concept!
The characters were much better this episode than last one, though admittedly it’s hardly possible that they could have been worse. Rachel was back to having flaws that actually fit her. She’s been an outcast all her life, so it makes sense for her to be kind of paranoid and controlling when she finally has something she wants, even needs, to be happy. We once again end with Rachel learning a lesson and singing a song about it, but at least it was worked into the plot this time and hey, it actually worked. Also, Lea Michele apparently managed to get a real tear out of that performance. That always impresses me.
The whole Will-Emma-Carl love triangle they set up actually worked a lot better than I thought it would. It makes sense for Will to kind of panic and try things that just aren’t him in a perhaps unconscious effort to win Emma back. I also expected Carl to be some kind of jerk so that we could unconditionally root for Will, but he came across as a very likable character. It’s even possible to see what Emma sees in him.
This show actually had a very identifiable turning point in it for me, when it went from being this goofy send-up of Britney Spears to being about the characters and the rest of the plot. It came very late in the show. Too late, in my opinion. But that moment was when Quinn walked up to Rachel after propositioning Finn and said “I said what you wanted me to and he shot me down. So congrats. Looks like he really loves you.” I liked that moment for a lot of reasons. It was the moment when Rachel realized that she didn’t have to be paranoid and controlling about Finn, but that she could let him go and everything would be fine. Ironically, she also discovered that in her own way, by setting a trap to see if he would fall in, a very paranoid thing to do. This point also showed the audience that Quinn had not really reverted back to her early season one days, but had actually learned from her experiences after all. I was all ready to rant and rave about Quinn’s character when I saw her proposition Finn like that, but then it was revealed that she was working with Rachel. This moment also revealed, through Quinn’s glistened-eyes glance back at Finn, that she still has feelings for him in reality.
Will and Emma’s frank discussion just prior to this worked too, but the Quinn/Rachel moment was so simple and powerful and full of meaning, just within the span of a few seconds. This is the kind of thing that really makes me wonder. The Glee writers are capable of these little moments of brilliance, yet they so often just fall on their face. What is that all about?
Speaking of the writers falling on their face, I refuse to discuss Artie’s joining the football team. Maybe another time I’ll have the energy for that rant.
As for the musical numbers, I don’t really feel like I have a lot to say about them. The hallucination numbers were enjoyable, I have to admit, even if they weren’t written in well. I thought that “I’m a Slave 4 U” was an odd choice to open up with, but I guess it’s an iconic Spears number. I never really cared for it too much. The performance of “Toxic” came off as really goofy, but since it was the climax of the goofy Spears-worship subplot, I was okay with that. Overall, oddly enough, I’d say the highlight was Rachel’s final performance, “The Only Exception.” This was the only song that really fit thematically with what the character was going through at that moment, and Lea Michele really put a lot of feeling into it.
Overall, I’d have to call this a decent episode, though I wonder how much of that is influenced by how awful “Audition” was last week.