(Spoilers lurk below.)
I was worried when I saw that this week’s episode was a tribute to Whitney Houston. Aside from the usual problems with tribute episodes, and aside from the fact that they just had a tribute episode the week before, it seems awfully early to do a tribute to the recently-deceased Houston. Glee has a hard enough time planning ahead even when they’re not trying to deal with contemporary topics. However, my fears were unfounded. “Dance with Somebody” makes few references to Whitney Houston the person, but it uses her music as a backdrop to highlight the emotions that everyone is going through as the school year gets ever closer to its end. Emma says early on that Whitney Houston’s death represents to the kids the end of their childhood, but it’s not quite that simple. Thematically, this episode deals largely with change. Certain relationships are pretty much going to end with graduation, as, for example, Santana and Rachel are unlikely to keep in touch outside of “liking” each others Facebook statuses every once in a while. And even the relationships that aren’t ending are never going to be the same, as Blaine and Kurt are going to try to maintain a long-distance relationship while Kurt is in college in New York and Blaine remains a high school student in Ohio.
Whitney Houston died, and death is just a type of change. It’s an extreme type, but, to high school kids, so is graduation.
This feels strangely like a good season two episode in that it plays around with established relationships. Specifically, it reminds me of “Duets,” but instead of focussing on characters that rarely interact, it has a good mix of new character interactions and new looks at old character interactions. New character pairings include Rachel and Santana, Kurt and Chandler, Joe and Quinn, Joe and Sam. Old character pairings include Kurt and Blaine, Will and Emma, Kurt and Burt. Yes there is a lot going on but it’s all united by a common theme, and none of the relationships feel like they were given the short shrift. And mercifully absent from the pairings is Rachel/Finn. I’ve had enough of them for a while, and I’m glad they gave it a rest this week.
Kurt and Blaine start having problems when Kurt feels neglected and starts trading flirty texts with a guy he met at the record store. When Blaine finds out about it, he has another one of his mini-freakouts like when he blew up at Finn in “Hold on to Sixteen.” Blaine normally appears to be a very laid-back character, but things like this (and his issues with his brother a couple of episodes ago) make me think that Blaine tends to hold a lot of things in. I’m reminded of his admission to Kurt that “I don’t know what I’m doing” in “Silly Love Songs,” still one of his best character moments in the series. He has trouble coming out and admitting that he has problems or issues with anyone about anything. Anyway, he feels cheated on when he finds Chandler’s texts on Kurt’s phone, and he sings a mean-spirited rendition of “It’s Not Right but It’s Okay,” dedicating it to “anyone who’s ever been cheated on,” something that has to reach a lot of people in the club considering how many relationship shenanigans they’ve had over the past three seasons.
Kurt and Blaine eventually go to Emma for “couples counseling,” where it comes out that Blaine has been pissed off lately by Kurt’s self-centeredness (a trait of his that was more pronounced in season one but which is definitely still there), but that the main reason that he’s been neglecting Kurt is that he can’t stand the thought that Kurt is leaving soon and they’re going to have to be apart for a long time. They reconcile and all is well.
Allow me to digress for just a bit. One of my favorite television moments of all time comes in the series finale of The Wonder Years. That episode, like much of the series, is about the relationship between Kevin and Winnie. And these two aren’t just high school sweethearts. That series essentially showed them growing up together. They mean a lot to each other and the passion of their relationship often burns brightly, including in the finale. But in the end, Winnie moves to France and Kevin stays at home. They swear to be faithful to each other and to write to each other all the time to maintain the long distance relationship. The ending narration informs us that they did write to each other every week, they remained incredibly close, and that when Winnie finally came back from France after several years, Kevin met her at the airport… with his wife and son.
I guess what I’m saying is that I buy the intense emotions associated with high school relationships, but they don’t have to last, especially beyond the end of high school when so many things change… and that’s really okay. I don’t mention this as something that I think that Glee should be addressing right now, but it would be a great place to go in its fourth season as characters try to maintain relationships that just don’t work anymore, not because they no longer love each other, but because they’re no longer the same people. You can’t change the operands of an equation and expect the solution to remain the same.
Alright, digression over.
Will tells Emma that he wants to move their wedding date up from December to May. Despite how much trouble it proves to try to plan a big production of a wedding with only a month of lead time, Will persists, insisting that it has to be May, which makes him look like a loon. His motivations for this are obscure at first; I just figured that he loves a wedding season finale as much as the next guy. However, it comes clear that Will is worried that the graduating glee kids won’t come back for the wedding. He wants to have the wedding in May just to get it done while the kids are still around. This could come across as very silly, but it’s true that those kids changed his life, and he changed their life. I dare you to watch “Pilot” and “Journey to Regionals” again and tell me that Will and those kids don’t have a very real and important relationship on both sides. Emma finally convinces Will that it’s okay that things change and that the kids love Will enough to come to his wedding whenever it is. This plot element addresses both the changing relationship of Will and Emma as they move forward to get married, but it also shows that Will, who has some kind of relationship with each one of his students, is feeling the pain of the impending changes brought on by graduation as much as anyone.
Kurt and Burt have a short confrontation in this episode, as Burt laments that his relationship with his son is going to change forever when Kurt graduates and leaves the state. Burt brings up the point that Kurt is too young to appreciate how true it is that everything changes, that when it comes to everything in life, both good and bad, “none of it lasts.” This is symbolized by the “certificate of participation” from season one’s losing regionals competition, which Kurt has decided to throw away. Burt defends it as a memento of a part of his life that he’s never going to get back. As strange as it is, there are parallels between Kurt’s relationship with Blaine and his relationship with his father (paging Dr. Freud!). Both Burt and Blaine started avoiding Kurt because of their sadness that he will be leaving, both of them are concerned about the fact that their relationships with Kurt are going to change a great deal very soon and neither really knows how to deal with it, and both of them love Kurt and are just trying to make the best out of the fact that things just can’t stay the same. Kurt, for his part, is guilty of neglecting both of them, concentrating so much on his happiness at possibly achieving his goal of stardom in New York that he doesn’t even stop to consider how the changes in his life might effect the loved ones in his life.
There were a few other short scenes among various characters highlighting the theme of changing/ending relationships.
Rachel approaches Santana and they have a remarkably frank and unbearably cute discussion about how they’re friends now, but they wasted so much time being enemies. Santana even sincerely apologizes for being such a bitch for so long, even if she is a bit taken aback by Rachel’s sudden interest in maintaining a friendship. Rachel’s point is not that they should be friends forever or that their friendship is anything amazing: they won’t and it isn’t. Her point is that they can make the most of the time they have left, that their friendship right now means something.
Joe approaches Sam for relationship advice in a scene that offers some nice characterization for both characters. Joe doesn’t know quite how to deal with his feelings towards Quinn. He’s afraid that if he starts a relationship with her he might slip and succumb to the temptation to have sex, something that terrifies his conservative Christian values. It was one thing to approve of a same-sex relationship for other people in “Heart,” but it’s another thing to consider the possibility of breaking the rules himself. Sam, meanwhile, comes across as a Christian who has put a lot of thought into his beliefs and how they affect his real life. He suggests that maybe it’s okay with God if good, loving people act in ways that don’t hurt anyone and are acceptable for the time and place. He points out that things have changed a lot since words were first put in the Bible.
Quinn, who has such high highs and such low lows, is in a “low” period as her paralysis doesn’t seem to be going away. Help comes from an unusual place as Joe volunteers to keep her company and help her when she goes to physical therapy. Joe and Quinn were previously shown to be associated with each other as members of the God Squad in “Heart,” but this is the first time that they’ve made a real connection. Joe and Quinn’s quiet mutual attraction evokes memories of the beginning of Sam and Quinn’s relationship in “Duets,” one of the few “Quinn” moments in season two that really worked. Quinn is hurt and vulnerable the way she was then, and Joe is even more awkward than Sam was. Joe helps Quinn get out of her depression both by showing an interest in her when she was terrified that he would be scared off by her disability, and by trying to help Quinn see herself through his eyes, so that she can see that she’s still a good person with a lot to offer the world. “So what is this?” Joe asks, “You and me?” “I don’t know,” Quinn answers, “Something new.” In the midst of so many relationships ending, or changing so much that they might as well be ending, another relationship is beginning. It’s the circle of life, and life for Glee pretty much equates to relationships. They’re born, they live, and they die. And the show goes on.
This really was a fantastic episode, and I’d easily put it alongside “Rumours” as one of the best tribute episodes.
The music was put to great use, even if it does miss by a bit the perfection of the music in “Rumours.” “How Will I Know,” as an a capella quartet by Rachel, Mercedes, Kurt, and Santana, is absolutely amazing and a quietly perfect tribute to Whitney Houston. Thankfully, it is also the only direct tribute to her. Rachel and Santana’s duet version of “So Emotional” was also very cool, as it was a pairing we’d never seen before and it led directly into their discussion of their new relationship and how much they’ve missed. Quinn and Joe’s “Saving All My Love for You” was a great start to their relationship, and it showed (as did all of their scenes) that they have chemistry together. While all the songs were great, the highlight to me was the titular “Dance with Somebody.” First, it provided a great showcase for Heather Morrison’s singing and dancing, which we rarely see front and center. Second, it served as a great highlight for what the episode and to a large extent the series is all about: finding a connection with someone.