Episode 2.08: “Furt”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

In a way, with this episode, the character of Kurt has come full circle. At the beginning of season 1, he was scared and timid, unwilling to admit to anyone the fact that he was gay, despite how obvious it was to everyone around him. After he came out to Mercedes, and finally his father, he gained a lot of confidence. He even overdosed on it a bit, becoming cocky and self-absorbed to the point that he started acting on his crush on Finn by acting in a somewhat stalkerish way. Kurt even got his dad together with Finn’s mom as a way of getting himself closer to Finn. This season, Kurt’s self-absorption was challenged by his father’s heart attack and coma, and his confidence has been challenged by the bullying of Dave Karofsky. Kurt has, in a way, reverted back to the timid boy he was at the beginning of season 1, even to point of choosing to retreat by switching schools rather than stay and fight. Notice how Kurt has even obeyed Karofsky’s command not to tell anyone that Karofsky kissed him (with the notable exception of Blaine), suggesting that maybe he took Karofsky’s death threat seriously.

This episode also heals the rift between Kurt and Finn that Kurt took great pains to create last season. The new, humbler, Kurt probably recognizes that his behavior towards Finn was not acceptable, even though he doesn’t seem to have apologized directly. Finn, however, dealt Kurt a pretty rough blow by refusing to come to his aid against Karofsky, even though Sam, Artie, and Mike all agreed to protect him. Even Puck wanted in on the action, but was prevented out of fear of the consequences of violating his probation. (However, that could be attributed solely to Puck’s love of mayhem in general.) Finn, however, finally decides to reach out to Kurt, even calling him his brother. He may have been inspired not only by how Sam, Mike, and Artie got into a fight with Karofsky, but by Kurt’s dad’s immediate and impotent rage against Karofsky for daring to even mock Kurt’s homosexuality.

They’re continuing to portray Karofsky as not wholly villainous. His dad seems genuinely concerned for his son, even taking his expulsion calmly, perhaps wondering if it wasn’t what his son deserved. I wonder what happened between the elder and younger Karofsky afterwards, behind closed doors. Did Dave convince his father that Kurt was lying? Did Dave, even obliquely, let on about what he was going through? His father knew that the bullying was not Dave’s only problem. Again, I hope to see more of this character, and I think it’s probably likely to happen. I’d like to see more of his father too.

If it seemed a little off for Rachel to be leading the charge to protect Kurt as one of their own, it may be just because I’m not quite used to character development in this show yet. Rachel and Kurt grew closer in “Duets” as they shared a song and, as I mentioned then, they have a lot in common. If Rachel really is losing her self-centeredness enough to care about her other friends in the club, then it really does make sense for her to be the one who wants to stand up for Kurt.

Sue’s turn as principal was pretty interesting. With one exception, in this episode she seemed entirely calm, level-headed, and reasonable during the times that she was acting as the head of the school. (The one exception was the expulsion of Karofsky. She should have investigated the allegations further before laying down a verdict like that. It was bound to be overturned.) Even her jokes (“I’m sorry, I thought that was your name”) come across different when she’s speaking as principal. She’s understated instead of over the top, concerned about other people instead of self-absorbed.

That’s directly in contrast to her part of the plot in which she decides to marry herself because she’s the only match for herself possible. Playing to their strengths (?), the writers contrast this bizarre plot point with the return of Sue’s mother and Sue’s confrontation with her about her absentee parenting. Sue is concerned not only about herself this time, but also about her sister Jean. Jean doesn’t seem capable of confronting their mother, so Sue tries to do it for the both of them. In an unusual twist for a television show, there is no reconciliation to be had here. Sometimes a bad parent is just a bad parent.

Carol Burnett was good, but not outstanding, as Sue’s mother. I actually wish that the whole self-marriage subplot hadn’t even been there so that we could have focused a lot more on Sue, Jean, and their mother’s relationships. I think that would have given Burnett more of a chance to shine. Her rendition of “Ohio,” however (including the screaming argument in the middle of it), was one of the highlights of the episode.

The marriage between Burt and Carole was a more fun plot, but it didn’t feel exactly earned. We haven’t seen much of their relationship, and now they get engaged and married in the course of one episode. You know how I know we haven’t seen much of them? I couldn’t even remember Finn’s mom’s name before I looked it up just now. So even though I’m pretty much a sucker for weddings, even television ones, I didn’t feel much for Burt and Carole. That said, the ceremony was as much about Finn and Kurt, and their joining as a family, as it was about their parents. That part rang true.

Musically, this episode felt a little lean, but what little it used did deliver a punch. I mention Sue and her mother’s rendition of “Ohio,” but I think the musical highlight of the show was “Marry You.” It was a strange way to start a wedding ceremony, but it felt right. The glee kids dancing in as couples was also fun to watch, and it made me realize more than ever that Glee is about relationships more than anything else, at least right now. Almost everyone in the club has paired off by now. The exceptions are Mercedes and Kurt, for obvious reasons (though not for lack of trying on Mercedes’s part before Kurt came out).

Something also has to be said for “Just the Way You Are” too. What it may have lacked in lyrical appropriateness as a way for healing the rift between Kurt and Finn, it more than made up for in execution. Kurt’s smile as he’s dancing with Finn tells you that he realizes how lucky he is to be surrounded by people who love him and accept him for what he is. That must have made it so much harder to make the decision to transfer schools.

This was a pretty good episode overall. I’m not sure if I should complain or commend for the way they blend the absurd with the dramatic, sometimes uncomfortably, so I’m going to just continue to accept that for what it is.

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Episode 2.07: “The Substitute”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Even if it has a great history in nothing else at this point, Glee has consistently had amazing guest stars. You can put this episode’s Gwyneth Paltrow right up next to Kristin Chenoweth and Neil Patrick Harris in the pantheon of Glee guests. She really dove into the role of the quirky but flawed substitute teacher. At first I thought her character was going to be a simple cliché: the fun teacher who really knows how to grab kids’ attention. However, it turns out that she reaches out like that because, deep down, she really doesn’t think she knows what she’s doing. The confrontation with Sue and Mercedes was excellent as a revelation of her character, and anyone whose ever taught has had moments like that. Your student has royally screwed up, and you have no idea how to react. You feel like it’s your fault, even though you know you can only do so much, and the rest is up to the student. It’s not a good feeling.

I also thought they might go the route of making her the clear villain, but they portrayed both Will and Holly as being both right and wrong here. Will might need to listen to his students’ input more often, but Holly, if she is ever to be a permanent teacher, can’t let discipline and rules go totally by the wayside.

Also, I love that Glee has gotten to the point of being able to poke fun at itself like this: “Can we do that new Cee Lo song ‘Forget You?'” “Uh… no. Come on guys, there’s gotta be a Journey song we haven’t done yet!” The intro of “Audition” (virtually the only good part of that episode) poked fun at the series in a similar way with the mention of the glee club “propping up the Auto-Tune industry” or something like that. Such metahumor could easily get old in large doses (see House a couple of seasons ago for an example of egregious metahumor overload), but it can really be funny if used sparingly, and it shows that Glee isn’t taking itself all that seriously.

The “tots” subplot was kind of bizarre, but I guess it was a suitable crisis for “Principal Sue” and Holly to face. The main good thing to come out of the focus on Mercedes was the development of her character. Kurt points out that she is substituting having a boyfriend for her relationship with him, which is why she reacts badly to Kurt’s relationship with Blaine. This actually goes way back to early last season, before Kurt officially came out of the closet and Mercedes had a crush on him solely because he paid attention to her. Do I detect a subtle plot arc? Naw, they probably just finally decided to revisit the theme. But it worked, and it’s always good to see character development.

Speaking of Sue, I didn’t find her all that annoying this episode, despite her prominent role. Most of her humor was low-key rather than over-the-top (“Effective 4 PM today, the football team is officially disbanded.” “Who are your Cheerios gonna cheer for?” “…I will get back to you on on all of this later.”), and I’d really like to see the the character used like that more often. There’s probably a lot more mileage they can get out of Sue as principal too, if they’re going to continue with that arc in future episodes.

One of the major annoyances last season was Terri, so it was somewhat frightening to see her come back. But she actually came across as sympathetic. She’s in therapy, on medication, and getting her life back together. However, she still wants to take advantage of Will, and does so by preying on him while he’s sick. That said, Will is far from guiltless in that situation. He rightly threw Terri out when she first came in to baby him, but he called her in again when he decided he needed to get well as fast as possible so he could defend his job from Holly. That’s sending mixed signals to an already disturbed lady. That set up the situation in which they had sex, so Will has to take a lot of the blame for that mistake. At least he recognized it for a mistake. I was worried that Will and Terri might get back together, and we’d have a little sequel to last season’s debacle that was their marriage.

I’m still worried that their brief encounter might, ironically, result in Terri getting pregnant. But they wouldn’t revisit pregnancy as a plotline after everything last season… would they?

Musically, the episode was a bit underwhelming. Cee Lo Green’s song is called “Fuck You” for a reason, and it loses a lot of its impact when it’s sanitized for broadcast. That said, it was a decent number. I was completely indifferent towards “Make ‘Em Laugh” (which was a completely purposeless hallucination, or a big-lipped alligator moment if you prefer) and “Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag.” The highlight of the show was easily “Umbrella/Singin’ in the Rain.” When I heard they were mashing those two songs up, I really couldn’t imagine how they could make them go together. The result does sound a bit awkward in a few places (specifically going from the end of the “singin’ in the rain” chorus to “stand under my umbrella-ella-ella”), but for the most part it sounds really good. They kinda forced “Singin’ in the Rain” into the beat of “Umbrella,” but one of the styles had to be sacrificed to make the mash-up work, and they definitely made the right choice. The performance also looked amazing, even if I did keep wondering about the logistics of using that much water on a high school auditorium stage.

Once again, this was a pretty solid episode. My main complaint, aside from the general lackluster nature of the songs, is that Paltrow didn’t get a chance to sing more. Her rendition of “Forget You” was really good. However, it made me keep thinking that I’d actually like to hear her sing the real “Fuck You” version.

Episode 2.06: “Never Been Kissed”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Like many Glee episodes, this one is about outcasts. Puck is a delinquent. Kurt is the only openly gay kid at school. Coach Beiste isn’t seen as feminine. Artie is handicapped. Rachel and Quinn are celibate. And the “Neanderthal” who hits Kurt (“Dave Karofsky” according to Wikipedia… I didn’t catch it in the episode)… well, he has his problems too, it turns out. All these different threads weaved together in a way that at first didn’t seem obvious at all, but ended up meshing very well.

Kurt’s story took the forefront, and, for the first time in I think ever, Kurt came across as a likable character for almost the whole episode. A large part of what makes him unlikable in other episodes is his cockiness and air of superiority. When Karofsky hits him though, all that melts away, and he’s just a terrified, confused boy. Kurt has no idea how to handle this situation, and he has no support network among the men at the school (with whom Will forced him to work for their project), so he takes their jibes literally and goes to check out the all-boys school whose glee club represents one of their competitors in sectionals.

What he finds there is a completely different culture, and it leads to one of the (in retrospect) most heartbreaking lines of the episode. Kurt is sitting down to coffee with three of the boys from the private school. Even after they found out he was “spying” for WMHS, they’re being nice to him and talking to him like a human being. And Kurt asks, “So… are you all gay?” It’s a funny line, but when examined deeper it reveals that Kurt can’t conceive of straight men befriending him right off the bat like that. He’s so used to cutting through layers of prejudice that he can’t even recognize when it’s not there. That’s sad, being unable to recognize true kindness.

Blaine is an interesting character, and I hope we see more of him. Kurt is a pretty stereotypical gay kid (so much so that everyone, including his father, knew he was gay before he came out), but Blaine comes across as less… flaming, I suppose. He’s a normal guy who happens to be gay. TV needs more characters like that.

(It may be worth noting that this is the first time Kurt’s gaydar has been demonstrated as having worked, though he loses points for identifying all three of them as gay rather than just Blaine. He kinda shotgunned it.)

As for the subplot with Karofsky, it was a pretty obvious place to go to make him a closeted homosexual. It’s become a cliché to identify homophobes as such, and I don’t know how far it may really be true. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to test. What I like about the way this episode handled it though is that it was left open-ended. As Blaine put it “That guy isn’t coming out any time soon.” Sometimes, you have to surrender, or at least make a strategic retreat.

It also would have been really easy to completely villainize Karofsky, but in the end, he’s sympathetic. He’s going through something terrifying to him, and he has no way to handle it. It’s actually sad that the only thing he can think of doing is lash out, especially since he’s clearly not even gaining any comfort from it. I hope they bring this character back.

My main regret in the Kurt storyline is that we didn’t see Kurt interacting with either of his normal sources of strength: his father or Mercedes.

They’re working really hard to try to make Coach Beiste (I still hate that name) into a sympathetic character, but I’m having a hard time buying it. How could a character that strong, whose obviously had to fight for everything she’s achieved every inch of the way, be so emotionally fragile? Think of all the shit a female football coach would get all the way through the ranks, from pee-wee league to high school, from both parents and kids. I don’t think it’s possible to go through that without developing emotional callouses. I understand still being affected by personal attacks, but she wouldn’t have made it to where she is if she were that easy to knock down.

It was fun seeing Artie and Puck interacting, since that’s not a pairing we’ve seen a lot of. Puck even got some character development.

Speaking of character development, why in the hell did Quinn go to Sue for advice and then pretty much obey every word of it? She has every reason to hate Sue. Is popularity so important to Quinn that she’s completely forgotten about how Sue revealed herself to be a terrible person personally to Quinn’s face several times last season? Quinn’s characterization has been very inconsistent. I want to see the Quinn who was actually affected by last season’s events.

All the musical numbers were good this time, but none of them really stood out as amazing. The highlight, though, was probably “Teenage Dream” by the Warblers of the all-boys school. I like a cappella music, and it really worked with the arrangement of the song. They went a bit overboard on the autotune (a recurring problem), but I enjoyed it so much on first viewing that I didn’t really notice. It was also really cool seeing Kurt react to the situation in which a glee club was actually popular, and seeing Blaine basically sing the song to Kurt (or at least so it appeared from Kurt’s point of view).

This was a strong episode, easily up to the relatively high standards set this season.

Episode 2.05: “The Rocky Horror Glee Show”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

I’ll say first off that I pretty much know jack about The Rocky Horror Picture Show, so most of the parody/homages within this episode were lost on me.

This was another episode that took a stab at a somewhat serious topic, like “Grilled Cheesus,” though not nearly as boldly. “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” addresses the subject of free speech. Once again, I find myself agreeing in principle with Sue. Yes, there should be limits, especially on what children are exposed to. Defining those limits, however, is extremely difficult, and setting it at “I know it when I see it” isn’t good enough. I’m not sure if the ideas in The Rocky Horror Picture Show cross that line or not. I certainly don’t think that the idea of a transvestite is that bad. Bugs Bunny cross-dressed all the time, and it never seemed to bother anyone.

I would have liked to see a stronger statement from the opposition. Will, from the very beginning, was doing the show to try to get closer to Emma, so I suppose it stands to reason that he would crumble under pressure faster when he realized it, and that he wouldn’t be able to articulate a powerful argument in his favor. In the end, Will comes off as contradicting himself. He decides not to do the show because he agrees with Sue that it contains elements that are inappropriate for high school kids. But then he allows the glee club to put it on solely for their own enjoyment. Are the glee kids not high school kids? Why is it appropriate for them but not for anyone else?

Finn’s body issues kinda came out of nowhere, but were believable, especially given the comparison to Sam. They way he dealt with it was moronic, but it was actually moronic in a way that I could believe from Finn. Like I said before, he’s not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. I hope to see Finn’s relationship with Sam develop in the future. Despite the fact that they are both football players and both in the glee club, they have a lot of differences and it was fun seeing them interact.

Speaking of Sam, didn’t he dislocate his shoulder in “Grilled Cheesus?” He seems fine now.

Carl’s place in the episode seemed awkward. Granted, part of that was intentional, given the love triangle that he, Will, and Emma have going on. However, it’s weird for an adult unaffiliated with the school to take a part in a school play in the first place, and it’s even weirder after the whole reason for his joining disappears. He specifically auditioned because they couldn’t find anyone to play Dr. Frank-N-Furter, but immediately after his audition Mercedes got the part. Carl seemed to get the part of Eddie by default, even though Sue just said that she wrote Eddie out of the play. That makes no sense, except as a convenient way to write Carl into the plot.

Speaking of Mercedes, Will should have thought of getting a female to play the role much earlier, especially given the dearth of female roles, how progressive he was being by pushing the play in the first place, and the fact that Frank-N-Furter is gender-confused anyway. I just wish they’d taken a different tactic with the costuming after they decided to get a woman to play the part. It would have been interesting to have her cross-dressing as a man, to try to capture the same humor that comes from a man cross-dressing as a woman. It would have been difficult to design male attire that would look as ludicrous on a woman, but I’m sure Emma would have enjoyed the challenge. If they were going for having Mercedes play a man cross-dressing as a woman (As You Like It style), I don’t think it came across.

Will and Emma’s relationship was at the center of this episode, and it actually showed some development, though not in the way that at first seems obvious. Will did do the play and bring Emma aboard to try to get closer to her. He also got Emma to rehearse with him for the same reason. But when they did rehearse “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me,” it was Emma who was all over Will, being very touchy-feely, ripping his shirt off, and sweeping his desk clean and writhing around on it. Then she went back and told Carl that Will was hitting on her. Yeah, Will was hitting on her, in a way. But he was being more or less subtle about it. Emma ruined one of Will’s good shirts and messed up his desk while dancing with him very provocatively. Will pretty much just stood there and took it. She didn’t have to do that. At first I thought this was a contradiction, that the writers wanted us to believe that Emma really felt the way she told Carl she felt. But on further reflection, I think it’s just a sign that Emma is denying her own feelings.

Speaking of Emma, it was very cool seeing more character development from her in this episode. She’s almost a normal, if not ordinary, person at this point. I hope it sticks.

One other little thing. It was weird seeing Brittany and Santana spying on Will and Sue, but fun watching them enjoy themselves together without words. When they were dancing through the hall together after they finished their spying, I thought that that made a stronger statement of their feelings for each other even than the scene of them making out on the bed together in “Duets.” It was very cute seeing them dancing around together and being goofy.

The musical highlights for the show were definitely “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me” (Jayma Mays should get to sing more often) and the final “Time Warp.” All the songs were good though. My main regret is that we didn’t really get a sense of the final play as a whole.

So yeah, this was an okay episode. I don’t really have a lot of complaints.

On that topic, let me say that Glee has been almost infinitely better this season thatn I was expecting. The only season 2 episode that I’d really call “bad” so far is “Audition,” the premiere. I honestly started writing these reviews expecting season 2 to go off the deep end, allowing me to rip into the terrible writing as Glee began it’s inevitable decline. And… I’m not getting that. I’m actually getting a show that is not only entertaining, but of some quality, even in the writing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very pleased about that. It’s just not what I was expecting, so I’m finding myself struggling to write about it sometimes. When you go into something expecting the writing to be one style, and it turns out it has to be a completely different style, it throws you.

That’s pretty much my excuse as to why this review is late, and as to why any of my reviews might not be of the quality I’m aiming for.