(Spoilers lurk below.)
Let’s cut right to the heart of the matter: “Makeover” is a flop. But it’s an interesting flop. It doesn’t fail in quite the same way as most of the series’s previous flops failed. It has a lot of good ideas poorly executed, a lot of brilliant themes poorly explored, and a lot of interesting character moments wasted. Despite its many disparate plot elements, it manages to feel cohesive while at the same time feeling aimless. It rehashes old plot elements in an interesting way while forging ahead with new plot ideas that seem strangely awkward and dull. I have a strange feeling that in the end, unfortunately, “Makeover” may be remembered as the moment that defined the fourth season for the worse.
Thematically, as the title suggests, this episode wants to be about moving forward and forging a new identity in a new situation. Will doesn’t know what to do with himself after achieving his dream of leading a glee club to a national championship, so he decides to join a government campaign to improve funding for the arts. Kurt lands a job at Vogue.com, where he learns that he may have a gift and even a passion for fashion. Blaine runs for and wins senior class president, while realizing that not only are he and Kurt drifting apart, but his feelings for Kurt may even be fading. Rachel decides to embrace a new fashion sense in her continuing quest to assimilate in New York, and she may even be giving up on Finn.
There are a lot of things going on here, but there is a very strong theme holding it all together, which is exactly what I said this season needed to do to succeed. So what’s the problem? As usual with Glee, the answer lies much more in the execution than in the concept.
Kurt’s relationship with his boss Isabelle (Sarah Jessica Parker) is weird. Weird, man. I mean, what high-powered fashion executive spills her guts to her intern, much less the day after she hires him? And then later she catches Kurt and Rachel sneaking into the Vogue building after hours to try on clothes, and what does she do? Why, she joins them in a music montage that is ridiculous even for Glee, and those of you who have been following these reviews know that that really means something. And then she submits the music video they shot to her boss, whose one word e-mailed response (“Great”) is apparently the most praise that Isabelle has ever gotten. And it’s all thanks to Kurt.
I understand the point that Kurt may end up feeling at home in the fashion world, and it’s believable that he has designed his own clothes before even though I don’t think it’s ever really come up. I understand the point that Kurt is getting caught up in his new life and drifting away from Blaine. What I don’t understand is why they decided to present that point in this completely unbelievable and asinine way. We’re basically meant to believe that Kurt, fresh from the mean streets of Lima, Ohio, has better instincts in the industry than his fashion executive boss. Even the quite entertaining performances of Chris Colfer and Sarah Jessica Parker are not nearly enough to save this plotline. I like the relationship of their characters, but it’s just begging for a slower development curve. As it is, it’s coming off as forced and artificial.
While I get that Rachel may need to try harder to assimilate into her new environment in New York, pinning it to her fashion sense is a little weird. It isn’t anything that came up in the previous two episodes and I seriously didn’t notice a major difference in her post- and pre-makeover appearance. And what was up with the girls in her dance class making fun of Rachel’s outfit early on? They were wearing black leotards and she was wearing a red one, as far as I could tell. Either I just have a complete blind eye for fashion, or maybe the costume designer fell asleep at the wheel. Having Rachel’s turning point be that silly music video/outfit montage was lazy writing at its finest. The only “change” even readily apparent afterwards was more attention from Brody, who I believe had already been firmly established as wanting to jump her bones. So what’s the big deal?
I liked the bit at the very end a lot more, when she and Brody have that cute “first date” scene together (nice dialogue writing there), and then Finn of all people shows up right when they kiss. The man has the best timing. I wish that Brody were a better-established character, but that scene felt like Rachel starting to really change. The montage/duet with Brody, on the other hand, didn’t really do any real narrative or characterization work. Despite taking up so much screen time and having a decent thematic basis, Rachel’s plotline ended up feeling curtailed and pointless.
Blaine, meanwhile, decides to try to find meaning in his Kurtless senior year by trying everything, as the opening montage demonstrates by showing Blaine joining every ludicrous student organization on campus, culminating in his deciding to run for senior class president against Brittany. Now, we did a “substance versus Brittany” kind of bit with the senior class president plot arc from season three, and this bit bears a striking resemblance to that. However, it has several important differences. First, vice presidential nominees in the persons of Sam for Blaine and Artie for Brittany have been introduced. Second, Blaine is off message about as often as Brittany. Third, this time the election bit only lasts one episode and is not taken at all seriously. I mean, one of Sam’s answers during the vice presidential debates is to perform a striptease. Also, at one point Blaine goes off on a rant during the debate about how Brittany’s banning of hair gel could lead to fascism and book burning. Compare that to Kurt’s overwrought stand against bullying last season. This whole plotline was played mostly for comedy, and for that it works, largely because of Heather Morris and, to a lesser extent, Chord Overstreet.
I do question why Sam suddenly becomes an idiot just at the very moment when they need him to form a parallel with Brittany (“What’s a debate?”). Continuity! Who needs it?
The larger dramatic point of the election plotline comes at the end, when Blaine has a sudden realization that he only ever went to WMHS in the first place to be with Kurt, and now that Kurt is gone everything feels empty and pointless. He tries to call Kurt on the phone to share in the joy of being elected class president, but Kurt is busy and hits ignore. I like this plot point, but it sure was a long way to go to get to it, and I’m not sure that the silliness of the whole bit doesn’t overwhelm the drama of the final point.
Musically, this was the leanest episode since season three’s “I am Unicorn“: that episode had three songs while “Makeover” has four. Unfortunately, none of them were particularly good. Every single one was a montage! I like a good montage as much as the next guy, but that’s not really the kind of thing that Glee was built on. I prefer numbers that are organically inserted into the story and have some kind of slight basis in reality. I guess that Rachel and Brody’s “A Change Would Do You Good” would be my pick for the highlight, but lets not mistake that as any kind of big compliment in an episode like this. Meanwhile, “The Way You Look Tonight/You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” is probably the new record-holder for most awkwardly-set-up song. Even in a traditional musical, that would have earned a groan.
Kurt has blogged about Project Runway since season one. Man, what a loser. I’ve been blogging about Glee since season two, which is totally different, you see.
Speaking of callbacks to season one (were we speaking of that?), it was pretty surprising to see the director of the deaf glee club back. I’m not sure what the point of it was, really, but it was surprising.
I get the gag that Artie’s answer in the debate goes on for hours, but aren’t debates usually timed?
I almost feel like the whole election makeover subplot was worth it because of how cute Heather Morris looks in glasses.
I like what they’re doing with Sue this season. She’s retained her edge while staying out of supervillain territory. There’s not even much negativity underlying her insults anymore. She’s a much funnier character that way.
Sam and Brittany, in their final scene, actually have a lot more chemistry with each other than Rachel and Brody do. Considering that the next episode is called “The Break-Up,” I have to admit to feeling a little worried for the future of perfect couple Brittany and Santana. At the same time, I recently realized that I would love to hear Naya Rivera sing “He’s Got You,” so if by some weird chance they happen to use that, a breakup would totally be worth it.