Episode 3.17: “Dance with Somebody”

(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.

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Episode 3.16: “Saturday Night Glee-ver”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

It’s nice, every once in a while, to see an episode of Glee that has a cohesive theme. This episode is about having the courage to follow, find, or admit your dreams. The theme was played out in several variations, to the point that it almost felt like the different movements of a piece of music. Mercedes has a dream, but doesn’t know if she has the courage, confidence, or ability to achieve it. Santana has a shallow dream that will not make her happy. Finn does not know what his dream is, or even if he will ever find one. New character Wade dreams of being able to admit that he self-identifies as a woman, but he doesn’t know if he has the courage to do it, or even if it’s a good idea.

Let’s first talk about the decision to do a tribute to Saturday Night Fever. This is a kind of followup to their other movie tribute, “The Rocky Horror Glee Show,” but because it focusses on the music rather than recreating the movie itself, in many ways it bears a more striking resemblance to their previous album tribute, “Rumours,” a fact that was lampshaded in the episode. I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t really comment on it. I will say that I like disco well enough, but I perceive it as a kind of light and fluffy genre, something that can be fun but that tends to be simple, undemanding, and forgettable. Despite the fact that every song in this episode was good, it didn’t do much to change my opinion.

Like many episodes this season, “Saturday Night Glee-ver” didn’t really having what you could call an A plot, because of the mishmash of various minor plots. Unlike many episodes this season, it actually works here. We don’t need a single story to act as the star of the episode, because the theme fills that role nicely. This was last done to good effect in season two’s “Duets,” and if they are going to continue doing unfocussed multi-plot episodes, they’re going to have to get much better at doing that much more often, and it’s not something that is easy to do.

So Will notices that, in his opinion, three members of the glee club in particular don’t seem to have done much planning for the future: Mercedes, Santana, and Finn. Finn’s lack of direction has been a recurring theme throughout the season, so I definitely understand that one. Santana and Mercedes, however, kinda came out of nowhere. Their problems are believable, it’s just odd that it never came up before. I honestly wasn’t even sure if Mercedes was a senior or not. A glaring omission from Will’s list, however, was Brittany. I do imagine that Brittany has a life goal, however I also imagine that it’s something like “ride a unicorn to Narnia and meet Jack Sparrow.” Maybe Will just decided that some problems can’t be solved.

Finn decides that he doesn’t want to go to LA with Puck, but he’s still not sure what he wants to do. He and Rachel aren’t talking, and he’s kinda meandering about hoping to fall ass-backwards into something other than “be Rachel’s husband” as a life goal. Eventually he and Rachel make up and Rachel makes the staggering declaration that she’d be willing to give up going to New York in order to be with him, if that’s what it takes.

Let’s take a moment to examine this, because the episode glosses over it, but this is the most astonishing thing that Rachel has ever said or done. Playing on Broadway has been her dream for, pretty much literally, her entire life. She’s known Finn for fewer than three years and they’ve broken up twice during that span. Also, they’re in high school. Rachel is talking about dropping over a decade of dreaming because her oaf of a boyfriend might want to play semi-pro football in Akron or something. Of course, none of that came to pass. I’m just wondering what would have happened if Rachel had really been forced to carry out the promise to follow Finn. I see that ending in tragedy.

Anyway, after rejecting the traditional approach of seeking an athletic scholarship at a lower-tier program where he might get a chance to shine (and he pretends to do this for the benefit of Will, Emma, and Rachel), Finn eventually reveals that he wants to be an actor. That seems reasonable on the surface, until we consider that we haven’t seen any evidence of Finn doing any acting aside from in “The Rocky Horror Glee Show.” However, maybe in college he’ll discover that it’s really his passion. It’s also much more realistic than if he’d decided to pursue being a singer. And, of course, there’s always time to change his mind. Many people do in college.

Mercedes wants to be an amazing singer, but she has no clue how to do it and she’s not sure she has the courage to leave all her friends and go to LA where such careers live and die. She knows that she’s amazing at WMHS, but fears that she will be merely ordinary out in the real world. She’s convinced otherwise when Sam posts a video of her singing and dancing on YouTube. The video has a modest four hundred some-odd views, but the people who have seen it love her. The scene in which Sam shows the video to Mercedes is the only Mercedes/Sam scene that I can recall in which they share a real emotional connection, but it works very well here. The way that Sam shows her the video and tells her that she’s amazing, you can tell that he means it. If Sam and Mercedes had had more moments like this, perhaps in lieu of all the songs, I’d have been more invested in their relationship from the beginning.

Santana, meanwhile, unwisely has decided that “Blaine’s handsome brother was right,” and she doesn’t think she needs to go to college. Her goal is to get famous by any means necessary. She learns her lesson the hard way when Brittany, in her usual robot-like way, takes her claim extremely seriously and literally and helps her get famous by releasing a video on the Internet of the two of them having sex. This leads into the first fight that Brittany and Santana have had since the debacle over the Lebanese shirt. Santana learns the lesson that some kinds of fame are bad, and Brittany even takes a little initiative in finding Santana a full cheerleading scholarship at the University of Louisville (“It’s in Louisville”). I like the way this plays out because it drives the point home to Santana in just about the most direct possible way that if she wants to live just to be famous like Paris Hilton, that carries with it the unfortunate side effect of being like Paris Hilton.

And playing left field, we have Wade. Wade is a member of Vocal Adrenaline who comes to WMHS to meet Kurt and Mercedes, who he is big fans of. Since Kurt and Mercedes love having fans, they quickly become friends. As it turns out, although Wade is anatomically a man, he self-identifies as a woman (named Unique), and he’s still looking for the courage to come out as transgender. He tells Kurt and Mercedes that he wants to do Vocal Adrenaline’s next show in high heels. Sue somehow convinces Kurt and Mercedes that they should convince Wade that it’s a good idea in order to sabotage Vocal Adrenaline. Why Kurt and Mercedes decide to go along with this I don’t know, but Wade ends up going on stage as Unique, fully dressed as a woman. And people love her. She really is amazing in the number, but you have to wonder how many people in the audience knew that the were cheering for a transgender person, and how their perception would change if they did know it.

I also wonder about the future of the character, but there are a lot of interesting possibilities. Dealing with the realities of being a transgender teen might be kinda heavy, but if any show would try it, it would be Glee.

(Jesse is inexplicably back as the director of Vocal Adrenaline, but his appearance in this episode amounted to little more than a cameo. I did love his hysterical reaction to Unique, though.)

The real weakness of this episode’s plotting is in the characterization of the adults, who do tend to be the biggest problem of the show. Will and Sue dream up this “dance contest” in order to try to help the three students who Will has identified as needing help finding focus. They fix it so that those three are “finalists” and they have to do a solo number and then state what their life goal is. All good so far, but Will and Sue fail to have a plan for what to do if their goal makes no sense (Santana) or if they don’t have the confidence to attempt their goal (Mercedes). Because of this, it’s entirely up to the other kids to deal with that. To be fair they succeed (after a fashion… and I really hope that both Santana and Brittany are eighteen), but the adults didn’t even really make a serious effort to help Mercedes or Santana.

The main problem with this episode overall is the same one that plagued this season’s earlier tribute episode, “Michael”: music overload. Once again, nine songs pranced through the episode, severely cutting into the storytelling. Worse, none of the songs felt like they were driving the plot. I think that goes back to the weakness of disco as a genre: it just doesn’t have much to say.

Sue was pretty much a good guy throughout the episode and Jane Lynch managed to relatively underplay her while remaining true to the character. If she stays like this, I can stomach her. Over-the-top maniacal Sue is beyond played out. Leave her in the past with Sandy, Terri, and that bizarre choir they used to use for stings.

Overall, this was a pretty good episode, and a nice return to form after last week’s bland effort. However, the producers really need to learn when to cut songs for the good of the story. I think a hard limit of six songs per episode (for an average of one per act) would not be out of line. It would also be nice if the adults appeared less useless. I don’t think that was the intention here, but because of the way the story was structured, it looked like the adults identified the problems but were helpless to do anything about them, so the other kids had to step in.

Something I didn’t notice until the preview for next week: Quinn was not in this episode. I hope that that means she will get the full attention she deserves soon.

As I mentioned, the songs were all good, but fairly forgettable. The highlight was most likely Santana’s “If I Can’t Have You,” by far the song that brought out the most emotion of the episode. It didn’t hurt that Naya Rivera looked amazing in that outfit. I also have to admit that the retro lighting and style of disco appeal to me, even if the songs are mostly fluff.

Episode 3.15: “Big Brother”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

In this episode, Blaine’s brother comes back! Wait, Blaine has a brother? For whom he’s had a lifelong resentment yet has secretly always wanted to be closer to? You’d think that would have come up at some point in the past. That’s actually a hell of a thing to lay on us in the course of only one hour, especially when so little screen time is devoted to it.

Blaine’s brother is Cooper Anderson, the well-known star of a series of commercials for a credit report website. He’s back in town both to bask in the glory of his midwestern celebrity status and to reconnect with Blaine. Blaine, however, has harbored resentment against Cooper for years because Cooper always corrected and criticized him, and Blaine has never really felt supported as a brother.

The major problem for this plotline is that, for the vast majority of it, Blaine comes across as a total douchenozzle. Cooper is definitely self-absorbed, has a feeling of entitlement, and is oblivious to the feelings of those around him, but he’s just not mean or malicious. It’s clear that everything he does is with the best of intentions, and Blaine’s inability to recognize that makes him come across as a total jerk. It’s kinda hard to root for the reconciliation of two brothers when one of them is a self-absorbed prima donna and the other is a dick. That said, the final scene in which they did reconcile was believable and I felt some real emotion there. It worked because Blaine managed to cut through his layers of resentment and say what he really felt about Cooper, and because Cooper, for the first time in the episode, was more character than caricature.

Speaking of caricature, the climactic “acting master class” in which Blaine finally can’t hide his disdain for Cooper anymore was one of those marriages of the silly and the serious that have become a Glee trademark. Also part of the trademark: it doesn’t work. The glee kids aside from Blaine come across as mindless idiots and Cooper comes across as mentally retarded. Meanwhile, we’re supposed to believe that Blaine and Cooper have had this serious conflict for Blaine’s entire life that is just now coming to a head. Tell me how I’m supposed to feel, Glee: amused or grave. Try as I might, I can’t be both.

What I really would have liked to see was some kind of admission that Blaine was in the wrong here, a hint or a clue that Blaine came to some kind of realization about accepting Cooper as he is. What we got instead was more or less the standard “well, I guess we’re both wrong” kind of reconciliation. Don’t get me wrong, it works. I just think that the structure of the plotline lent itself to a more original resolution. Besides that, I really do think that Blaine was in the wrong.

What worked much better in this episode, perhaps surprisingly, was Quinn’s plotline. I was honestly expecting her to be out of action for at least an episode or two, but she appears in the very first scene. Aside from being in a wheelchair, she appears none the worse for wear from her accident, with nary a scratch on her lovely face nor a tooth out of place in her pretty smile. However, she suffered a severe spinal injury and is paralyzed from the waist down. She says that her doctor assures her that she’s going to make a full recovery, and she promises to be up and dancing again for nationals.

The most obvious element of this plotline is Quinn’s unrelenting optimism. Her statement early on that this is the best day of her life is over the top, but for the most part she comes across as happy, well-adjusted, and looking forward to the future, just as she was immediately prior to her accident. She reassures her friends in the glee club that she feels wonderful; she comforts Rachel, who feels understandably guilty; and she starts hanging out with Artie as she learns about living in a wheelchair. However, as tends to be the case with Quinn, there are dark undercurrents here. Artie realizes that she’s simply not facing the very real possibility that she might not recover. Quinn has absolutely refused to even acknowledge that she might never walk again. She sees her disability as temporary and, to a certain extent, a bit of a lark. She’s having fun learning to “dance” in a wheelchair, and she’s exploring the world from a new perspective. She isn’t facing the prospect of living in that chair every day for the rest of her life, long after the novelty wears off.

Her sudden friendship with Artie was the highlight of the episode, as we got to see two characters interact who rarely had in the past. The actors also have a lot of chemistry together. Quinn feels real friendship for Artie, but just as she considers her disability to be temporary, there are subtle hints that she may consider her friendship with Artie to be temporary as well. Near the end of the episode, not long after hanging out with a group of disabled people and having a lot of fun, she heartlessly exclaims, “I’m not one of you!” As always, Quinn is a little too concerned with herself, and unwilling to face reality.

Without a doubt, Quinn’s plotline should have been at the forefront of the episode. Cooper’s plotline actually would have worked better over the course of several episodes. Introduce him slowly, give his relationship with Blaine more development, and allow him to be a real character in more than one scene, and you might actually have the makings of a good arc. As it is, it’s just disappointing.

Meanwhile, Sue is still on the show, and I’m still wondering why. Figgins appoints swim coach Roz as co-coach of the Cheerios for reasons too stupid to go into, and Sue agrees to help the glee club win nationals in exchange for getting her solo Cheerio coach job back, a deal Figgins makes for reasons that aren’t given, likely because the whole thing makes no sense. Let’s just pretend this whole subplot didn’t happen and move on.

Speaking of things I’d like to pretend didn’t happen, Sue is still pregnant. She finds out in this episode that she’s having a girl, and that the baby will have Down Syndrome. That’s actually a common risk for older mothers, and it lends Sue a connection to her sister. That said, caring for a child with Down Syndrome has to be much more difficult than the already difficult job of raising an unimpaired child. Sue is finding out that motherhood for her is going to be a bitch and a half at the same time that she’s trying to re-establish herself as a dedicated career woman. I’d suggest that there is some kind of intentional irony going on here, but I hate to give Glee too much credit.

Rachel and Finn called off their wedding upon hearing about Quinn’s accident, and they are still unwed. This gives Puck a chance to move in and try to convince Finn that he and Puck should become business partners. Puck has an idea to move his pool cleaning business to southern California, and he wants Finn to join him. Of course, Puck’s perception of Finn as the brains of the operation says a lot more about Puck than Finn. Anyway, as silly as this may seem, it brings up the very real point that Finn has basically been doing whatever Rachel wants when it comes to planning their future. Rachel has always been the dominant one in their relationship, but Finn is just now realizing that he may end up married, living in New York City, and wondering what the hell happened to him. He’s eighteen years old, and there are so many opportunities out there. Even if he doesn’t really know what he wants yet, does he really want to shackle himself to Rachel for the rest of his life? Does he love her enough to follow her dreams with her?

There were indications at the end of “New York,” when they most recently got back together, that their relationship was going to be temporary. Finn isn’t a New York kind of guy, anymore now than he was then. But his dream of playing football in college was shattered, his dream of following in his war-hero father’s footsteps was shattered. Is standing behind Rachel while she pursues her dream of stardom enough, or does he need a new dream? Going into business with Puck may not be much, but at least it would be him doing it and not Rachel.

I like the way they set up Finn and Rachel’s conflict, and I hope it pays off soon.

Overall, however, this episode definitely rates a strong meh.

The songs were all good, but, for the most part, forgettable. As silly as it was, “I’m Still Standing” made me smile. Quinn’s happiness is infectious. The montage of “Up Up Up” over most of the kids at Six Flags and Quinn and Artie at a disabled skate park was fun. The highlight, however, was probably “Somebody That I Used to Know” between Blaine and Cooper. Despite how little of their plotline worked, that duet made me believe how they felt about each other. If the entirety of the plotline had had that much emotion in it, I’d have liked it a lot more.