Episode 3.02: “I am Unicorn”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

This episode had a lot more focus that “The Purple Piano Project,” but it is similar in that it tried less to be a standalone episode than it did to continue the narrative for the season as a whole. The play, Quinn’s baby drama, and Kurt’s campaign for class president obviously are going to take up a good portion of season three. I won’t say that’s necessarily a bad thing. I will, however, say that continuing narratives are something that Glee has never done all that well. We’re only two episodes into the season so it’s hard to pass judgment on how they’re doing this time. Maybe the brand-new writing staff will fare better at it (each of the season three episodes so far is credited to one of the big three, but I imagine, or at least hope, that the writing and revision process has changed now that they have a staff).

It was fun seeing Kurt and Brittany interacting. Brittany’s unicorn speech at the beginning of the episode was actually one of her longest in the whole series, and I like seeing her show a little personality beyond the one-liners she’s always throwing out there. She also managed to be quite funny in said speech without resorting to one-liners. And, despite the fact that I’m admittedly longing to get back to Santana and Brittany’s relationship as a plot point, I also like seeing Brittany developing as a character apart from Santana. Kurt and Brittany’s campaign ideas differed (and gave us an early glimpse of the theme) because Brittany has absolutely no shame about who she is, and doesn’t understand why anyone else should either. See her disappointment in Santana’s reluctance to come out of the closet last season. Kurt, on the other hand, while he is proud of who he is, also understands the meaning of a popularity contest. He thinks he should downplay his sexuality because it could cost him votes (he also should be worried it could cost him an asskicking, but there wasn’t any evidence of that). While Brittany’s ideas are a bit over-the-top, she correctly zeroes in on the fact that Kurt can’t hide who he is. To even attempt to do so would be a lie. To Brittany, if you can’t escape it, you should celebrate it.

This runs in parallel with Kurt’s auditioning for the role of Tony in the school’s production of West Side Story. I wondered at the time that he sang his audition number why he would audition for a male lead (and a male lead who is a gang member at that) by singing a woman’s song. Apparently he was blinded by all the acceptance he had in the club, and failed to recognize that a male lead sometimes has to be… masculine. After realizing this through overhearing the directors having a casting discussion (which, by the way, contains some of the most brilliantly-written real-sounding dialogue of the series), he makes a vain attempt to convince the directors that he can play masculine by doing a scene from Romeo and Juliet with Rachel. I actually think he wasn’t half bad (he at least approached “theatrical” masculinity), but those who really know him couldn’t buy it and ended up laughing at him. This leads Kurt into despair as he realizes that he may not be the “type” to star as any male lead. His dad tells him that if it really is true that no one is writing lead roles for Kurt’s type (and Burt really has no way of knowing), then Kurt should write his own. You are who you are, Burt says. Be proud of it, accept it, and roll with it, because anything else would be a lie.

The last two characters you’d expect to make the exact same points in an episode of Glee are Burt and Brittany, but they both steer Kurt towards the realization that there’s no point in pretending to be someone he’s not.

Meanwhile, this episode marks the return of Rachel’s biological mother, and the adopted mother of Quinn and Puck’s baby, Shelby. Shelby has been absent for a full season, so her return actually has a lot of impact. She seems to have been brought on board mainly to interact with Quinn’s plotline, but Rachel had to be addressed. I’m not really sure why Rachel was so standoffish when they first met at the school, since I recall that they parted on friendly terms, but I can believe that being apart for a year has lead to confusion on Rachel’s part. That said, their duet performance of “Somewhere” was amazing and full of emotion. In fact, there was more emotion in that one song together than Rachel and Shelby’s relationship had in all of season one. Compare this to the lifeless “Poker Face” in “Theatricality.” That’s a fine song, but there wasn’t any feeling behind it. “Somewhere,” on the other had, really sold the relationship that they share. In fact, it convinced me that they even have a relationship and care for each other, something that season one attempted to do and failed at. What really works this time is that their interaction is open and honest. There’s no mysterious tape, there’s no Jesse acting as a mediator, there are no backroom shenanigans. All this is is the simplicity of a mother and daughter who really don’t know each other all that well just trying to reconnect, and also spontaneously breaking into a show-stopping number. That’s really all I’m asking for.

Quinn, meanwhile, continues along her story arc at a steady pace. We’re apparently meant to believe that her (attempted) story arc in season two (return to the Cheerios, return to dating Finn, eventual flameout) was all in reaction to her having given up her baby at the end of season one. That’s hard for me to buy, but I think that’s mainly because Quinn in season two was so badly written. She was underwritten in season one, but at least she was more-or-less consistent. The fact that they’re trying to bridge seasons one and three with this storyline unfortunately means that they have to cross season two, and I have a hard time making that connection. That said, they can’t go back and rewrite season two, so I’m just going to have to roll with it.

For what it is, Quinn’s part in this episode plays out in a believable way. At the beginning, Quinn is looking for a scapegoat anywhere she can find it. She doesn’t want to take responsibility for her own failures and, really, she never has. When she comes into Will’s office to tell him off, with Sue filming it for her campaign, Will explodes at her. He gives her a lot of harsh truths that she really should have gotten a long time ago (recall from my season two reviews and season overview that I thought Quinn needed a wake-up call – this is the one she needed). Seeing as how Will attempted some media whoring in “The Purple Piano Project,” I’m wondering if the camera is what set Will off more than the situation itself. Either way, he told Quinn some things that she really needed to hear. Whether or not this sunk in for her remains to be seen.

Quinn wants to get back into her baby’s life, but Shelby won’t allow it as long as Quinn is acting childish, refusing to take responsibility for herself, and hanging with the “skanks.” Quinn eventually decides to clean up, dying her hair blond, wearing normal clothes, and rejoining the glee club. As an aside to Puck, she lets on that it’s all an act, she’s pretending to care about herself in order to get back into Beth’s life.

This brings us back to the theme of being true to yourself. Which is the act? Is Quinn really a bully who doesn’t care what she looks like or who she pisses off, or is she really a friendly girl who’s just a little too self-centered, needs a bit more maturity, and needs to connect with someone? I think the real answer lies somewhere in between, and I think that it was actually subtly given in this episode. Quinn is a mother. She says that she will do anything to get in Beth’s life. By doing what she needs to to have contact with Beth she is, in her own way, being true to herself.

That said, her plan to get “full custody” of her child is unrealistic. I’m pretty sure that after legal adoption has taken place, the biological parents no longer have any recourse. I could be wrong, though. Quinn also seems to feel that getting her baby back will somehow address all the problems she’s having. Quinn is always after the easy solution. Unfortunately what she needs to do is what Will told her to do: grow up. That can happen easily or roughly. We’ll see which route Quinn chooses.

There was just about the right amount of Sue in this episode for my tastes. Her campaign video documenting the “effects of the arts” on Quinn was in-character, funny, and struck at the root of Quinn’s problems, and not the way that Sue thought it did. After that she disappeared for most of the rest of the episode, only reappearing to affirm that her campaign is working, leading Will and company to come to the conclusion that they need to find someone to run against her. As long as this plotline stays in the background, I’m okay with it. As soon as it comes to the forefront, I’m probably going to hate it.

The other things happening in this episode were mainly for the benefit of continuing story arcs. Finn has a job at Burt’s garage and he and Rachel are going to have problems soon when it comes time to choose colleges. Finn might not even decide to go to college. What happened to his football scholarship plan? That goes all the way back to season one, but has apparently been dropped. Also, despite what Rachel said, Finn is decidedly not talented enough to get into a top-tier theater school. I mean, it was hard enough watching “Anything Goes/Anything You Can Do” and believing that Kurt and Rachel could get in. Now imagine Finn trying to step up to that level. I’ll go ahead and wait until you’re done laughing… alright, let’s move on.

The dancing bit was fun to see, because certain characters, especially Finn, have had problems with dancing throughout the series. Finn’s problems dancing are actually based on Cory Monteith’s own problems, so I wonder how much of this is biographical. Finn’s success at pulling off a small dance move may have been meant as a way of steering Finn back towards life in the theater with Rachel, but I think that in the end Finn is too realistic about his own limits for that.

It’s a shame that Brittany decided to form her own presidential campaign, because it was a lot of fun seeing her and Kurt interact. That’s not a pairing we’ve seen a lot of, and I’d like to see more of it. I assume that Brittany’s own campaign will act as an opportunity for us to see Santana and Brittany interacting again, since that’s how the whole thing got started. I also feel like we missed a scene where Santana convinced Brittany to run herself, but since I think that’s going to be revisited soon I won’t complain too much.

I liked seeing Puck want to stand up and be a father to Beth. We haven’t seen him like this since season one, but I still find it believable from him. The responsibility of helping to care for a child might even help Puck clean up his act and find the right path for himself.

Kurt and Blaine find themselves in competition for the same role in the musical, even though Blaine tried to voluntarily recuse himself from consideration, reasoning that it should go to senior Kurt rather than junior Blaine. The directors still wanted him to read for Tony. I’m not sure how Kurt will handle this. He thought that by going to the same school, they would avoid being competitors. It may have turned out even worse.

I’m not sure what to make of Shelby’s parallel glee club at WMHS. Is this just a lame excuse to bring Shelby back, or are they going to do something with it? Glee has a pretty good history of doing cool things with dumb jokes (the deaf glee club and Brittany/Santana for example), so I won’t rule anything out yet. That said, Sugar is a pretty annoying character. At least she’s also scarce.

And, this episode featured one of the best gags of the series: “Isn’t that a Barbra Streisand song?” “I know what you’re thinking, but I got written permission from the woman herself… Miss Rachel Berry.”

This was a very musically lean episode, which is surprising given that it was structured to have auditions. I presume we still have more to come, including Mercedes’s, which was hinted at. The musical highlight was definitely “Somewhere,” but Kurt and Blaine’s auditions were entertaining as well. Something felt weird to me as I watched Blaine’s audition, and then I realized that it’s the fact that he’s not singing a top-40 hit a capella, which out of context is a really odd reason to feel weird about something.

This was a solid episode. Even if it still doesn’t feel self-contained, it was moreso than “The Purple Piano Project,” and it had two good stories that had some kind of resolution, even if they’re going to continue into the future.

Episode 3.01: “The Purple Piano Project”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

This episode didn’t have a lot of focus, preferring to set things up that are (hopefully) going to pay off as the series progresses: Kurt and Rachel want to get into a top-tier theater school in New York, Quinn has completely lost her identity, Will is finally in a relationship with Emma but isn’t totally happy, Sue is running for a Congress on a platform of cutting funding for the arts in schools, Santana can’t figure out where her loyalties lie as regards to the glee club and the Cheerios, Finn isn’t sure what his future holds, Will has to face hurting the hopes and dreams of kids for the betterment of the whole club, and the glee club once again has to figure out a way to draw in new members.

That’s a lot to pack into one episode, but most of those things were only briefly alluded to and then faded into the background, waiting to be picked up again in future episodes. The primary plotlines of this episode were the glee club’s audition drive, Kurt and Rachel’s first foray into the competiveness of college, and Sue’s Congressional run. I also appreciate that of all the things this episode decided to turn the camera lens on, Finn and Rachel’s relationship was not even mentioned. It’s obvious that they’re still together, but the writers were content to leave it entirely in the background. After how they suffocated us with Finn/Rachel last season, I hope it stays that way for a while.

For what it was (season three setup), this was not a bad episode at all. After two full seasons, the characters are well-defined, the actors are comfortable in their roles, and we’ve grown to appreciate the quirky style of the show, so this is the kind of thing that’s hard to mess up. Setup is easy. Resolution is more difficult. We’ll see how they handle that soon enough.

The opening, featuring rapid cuts among Jacob Ben Israel’s interview subjects, immediately invites comparisons with last season’s dismal opener, “Audition.” Luckily, the interview segment of “Audition” was one of the few parts of that episode that I really enjoyed, and it was just as funny here. Both segments used metahumor to poke fun at the series, which is something I’m glad to see that Glee is not overusing. I like metahumor in small doses. In this case, they poked fun at the ambiguity of the characters’ ages that reigned up until near the end of season two, at which point it appears the decision was made to pin down the characters in time and have them graduate. (“I thought you were a senior.” “Optical illusion. The chair adds a year.”)

Also, in grand Glee tradition, this episode had to brush aside the various things that the writers didn’t want to deal with anymore. Chord Overstreet left the series, so Mercedes/Sam (“Honey, that is so June.”) will never go beyond that brief handhold in “New York.” Likewise, Lauren is to Puck “the one that got away. Really, really slowly.” And, finally, Sue had to be regressed back to her old self. I thought maybe they’d let her stay reformed for a few episodes, but no, they had to undo it right off the bat. I will say that I like that they at least have a new angle on it, with Sue running for Congress and only gunning for the glee club indirectly, through her targeting of school arts programs.

The titular “purple piano project” was a poor idea from the get-go (anyone could have predicted the reaction they got in the cafeteria), but it’s believable that it might spring from Will’s idealistic mind (compare to what he did in “A Night of Neglect”). Much like last season’s first membership drive, this one didn’t net anyone, with the partial exception of the acerbic and untalented Sugar. My first reaction when Sugar started singing was “whoops, they forgot the autotune.” It was good to finally have something like that to force Will to face the fact that a winning team sometimes has to hurt feelings. Shannon, as a successful football coach, was the perfect person to teach Will that lesson. You can’t field all your scrubs and expect to win it all. Will’s cutting of Sugar also segued nicely into his banning of Santana. Santana has played both sides of the fence many times before, and it’s about time that Will called her on it. She can’t work for Sue and be a member of the glee club. Now we have to wonder what Santana will ultimately choose. Is it all about popularity and glory for her, or is it about acceptance and what she really wants for herself? When she comes out of the closet this season (and that pretty much has to happen), who does she want to have around her: the uncaring Sue and her league of minions, or the glee kids who have inexplicably continued to accept and love her despite everything she’s ever done?

Seeing Quinn in total freefall was good because it finally feels like a real reaction to all the shit she went through last season. Her complete change of fashion made a good parallel to “New York”‘s haircut, a facile solution to her problems that was never believable. This isn’t a solution to her problems either, but I can buy that Quinn sees it as one. She’s pushed away all the people who hurt her, without realizing that those same people are also her only friends. The scene when Rachel confronts Quinn and asks her to come back was effective because it showed how much Rachel has grown (compare to the assassination attempt on Rachel’s character that was “Audition”), and it was built on the ruins of a relationship that really existed between Quinn and Rachel (“We were friends once.”). I hope they do Quinn’s story arc right this season. They’re off to a good start.

Rachel/Kurt was one of the most fun relationships of last season, and it was a good move showcasing it in the season three premiere. I swear Kurt and Rachel could supply a small city with enough power for a year just from all the drama-queenitude they exude in one scene together. When faced with the competition of getting into the college of their choice, they were forced to face the fact that there are many people out there just as talented as they are, if not more. They are the stars of WMHS, but in any top-tier program they’re going to have to fight for everything they get. I look forward to seeing them face this struggle, but why do I feel like there’s going to come a time that Rachel is going to have to choose between Finn and her future, as “New York” foretold? I hope it doesn’t come to that, because that’s just too easy to go to as a source of conflict.

The scene they shared together in the car, crying after seeing what they had to compete against, was heavy on overblown drama (with Kurt and Rachel that’s a given), but it was probably the best acted single scene in the episode. Chris Colfer is the best actor on the show, and everyone around him seems to get better when they act with him.

I’m not sure what to make of Kurt’s bid to make class president. Does he have any recollection of the prom queen debacle?

Sue’s Congressional run, as I said, at least puts a new spin on the Will/Sue tension. Seeing Will try to fight Sue’s media whoring with some media whoring of his own was fun, and I find myself actually looking forward to seeing what else Will comes up with for the upcoming battle.

Seeing Emma and Will get together without a lot of drama was nice. Will’s U-turn in Figgins’s office from complaining about Sue’s stance on the arts to pouring his heart out about his problems in bed with Emma was the funniest bit in the episode. It also points to their real problems, which go all the way back to the first time they got together.

I’m actually disappointed that they made the decision to have Blaine transfer to WMHS. I thought there was a lot more they could have done with Blaine and Kurt as competitors. And I will miss the beautiful Dalton Academy sets. I hope we haven’t seen the last of the Warblers either. Maybe we’ll see them again at sectionals with a new front man.

The musical numbers this week were all high-energy and really fun to watch. It was nice seeing Kurt and Rachel do a light, upbeat duet with “Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead,” since most of their previous collaborations have been pretty heavy. “We Got the Beat” in the cafeteria was a great way to start off the season. “It’s Not Unusual” made use of that beautiful stairway location and was a fun way to welcome Blaine into the fold. The “Anything Goes/Anything You Can Do” mash-up was amazing, and a great way of showing Kurt and Rachel how much they have to overcome. It’s actually really hard for me to pick a single highlight. If forced at gunpoint, I guess I’d go with “Anything Goes/Anything You Can Do,” for the high energy and relevance to the plot. But as I said, all the songs this week were highly impressive.

This is an encouraging start to the season, even if it was mostly setup. Let’s hope they can live up to it.