Episode 4.04: “The Break-Up”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

After two episodes of floundering around, Glee wisely finds refuge in an episode centered around a subject that has proven fertile ground before: relationships. They’ve done plenty of episodes featuring breakups, but this is the first time that they’ve dealt with the end of a long-term relationship in a way that feels truly permanent. Even when Rachel and Finn parted ways at the end of “Goodbye,” it felt like they were going to revisit it, as indeed they do here. But the relationship troubles that come out in “The Break Up” feel, for the most part, real and, in some cases, insurmountable. This episode is willing to face the fact that sometimes relationships just end, and there’s really nothing anyone can do about that.

This episode is far from perfect, but the good outweighs the bad by a pretty fair margin.

We start by dealing with the sudden reappearance of Finn, who emerged from months of not communicating with Rachel to suddenly appear on her doorstep right when she was putting the moves on Brody. However awkward you may think that sounds, it’s actually more awkward. Finn has been discharged from the Army due to accidentally shooting himself in the leg (while cleaning his loaded rifle), and he has no idea what to do. Rachel doesn’t know what to do at first, but after a while they slip back into the rhythms of their old relationship like it’s a comfortable piece of clothing. Rachel drags Finn to places he really doesn’t want to go, and Finn kinda spaces out and does a voiceover. Just like old times. Eventually Finn finds out that Brody and Rachel were kissing before he walked in, and he gets mad and sneaks out of the apartment in the middle of the night and goes back to Ohio. Rachel chases him and they have a confrontation in the high school auditorium where Rachel finally calls it quits for good, and Finn is more lost than ever.

I mentioned last season that Finn and Rachel have a tendency to drift towards each other when they feel lost or directionless, and that’s fine when they both feel that way, but Rachel has a very clear life plan for herself right now, and Finn is just looking for something familiar to latch on to. Finn’s lack of direction is apparent even in the way he approaches his rekindled relationship with Rachel. He knows in his heart that there just isn’t anything there anymore, as is apparent when he encourages Brody and Rachel to sing together at the karaoke bar, almost seeming like he’s fixing them up. As he watches them sing, it’s apparent that he recognizes that there is something between them, something new and exciting, something based on what they have in common with each other. He understands that he doesn’t fit in Rachel’s world, as he observes Rachel’s NYADA classes and can tell from the outside that he’s never getting inside. At the same time, he’s desperate to have something in his life that isn’t spiraling out of control, and part of him thinks that Rachel fits the bill. When Rachel tells him that they’re through for good, she cuts him off from the last thing in his life that he had to hold onto, and he’s truly alone.

While a lot of this does feel like a reprise of themes from the third season, it puts enough of a different spin on it that I think that it’s worth it. It’s one thing to have no life plan in high school, but it’s quite another thing to be out in the world, lose the thread of your one life plan, and find yourself an adult responsible for your own wellbeing with no idea what the fuck you’re supposed to do. I think that they captured that with Finn pretty well. I can even believe that, in this state, Finn forgets his level-headed decision to cut Rachel loose in “Goodbye,” and instead tries to get that back. Now Rachel, of all people, has to be the level-headed one.

Meanwhile, Blaine is feeling very lost and alone without Kurt, who seems to be working all the time. He spontaneously decides to fly out to New York for a visit, which leads to Rachel, Finn, Kurt, and Blaine all hanging out together just like old times. Blaine decides to dedicate a song to Kurt at the karaoke bar, and he accompanies himself on the piano as he sings an emotional rendition of “Teenage Dream,” reprising the song the Warblers were singing when Kurt and Blaine first met. Kurt can tell by how Blaine sings that something is wrong, and while walking home afterwards, Blaine finally confesses that, in a moment of weakness, he cheated on Kurt. Kurt becomes very hurt and angry and leaves.

Chris Colfer is a hell of an actor, and he absolutely sold the emotion of the breakup scene. Darren Criss is no slouch either, and manages to keep up well enough with Colfer. Criss’s real triumph here, however, is his performance of “Teenage Dream.” This should serve as a lesson for future episodes on how you do a reprise. It serves as a way to look back over the course of Kurt and Blaine’s relationship and a way to show that Blaine is really hurting. Criss’s performance is full of sadness, regret, terror, nostalgia, and many other emotions, as he tries to figure out where he stands with Kurt, and what he even wants. And “Teenage Dream” succeeds in a very gutsy way, eschewing both cutaways and extravagant production. The only accompaniment is the piano, and background conversation is even allowed to occur underneath the number, allowing us to believe and understand the setting. This is a prime example of how to include a song organically in the story, something that even this episode fails at in how it includes “Barely Breathing” and “Don’t Speak.”

We end with Kurt and Blaine’s fate uncertain. Blaine is desperately trying to reconnect with Kurt, who is ignoring him.

So much for the stuff in the episode that worked. The rest was pretty messy.

Brittany has become involved with a conservative Christian group on campus led by Kitty that wants to, in the bitchiest possible way, prepare people for the Rapture. Santana, who is visiting Lima, tags along with Brittany at one of their meetings, and is rightly weirded out by it. She tries to convince Brittany to forget about the group, but she refuses.

Later, Santana tells Brittany about an experience she had at college, a connection she made across the room with another woman she was attracted to. Both Brittany and Santana swear they would never cheat on each other (and somehow, I believe them, at least if Brittany is aware of the definition of “cheating” now), but Santana decides to be a realist and admit that long-distance relationships are very difficult and have a high failure rate. She breaks up with Brittany, even though she says it’s not a “real” breakup, just a nod to the reality of their situation.

I’ve said a lot in the past about Naya Rivera’s acting when it comes to Brittany/Santana scenes, and all of that still applies here, but just look at Brittany’s face as she realizes that Santana is breaking up with her, and she just kinda collapses from the inside out. Heather Morris can act, man.

What I really don’t get the inclusion of the “left behind” Rapture stuff. You may have noticed that I summarized it above as if it had something to do with what came afterwards. Well, I did that because that seemed to be what the episode was telling me. Apparently we are supposed to take this as some example of Brittany and Santana’s relationship having problems, though it looks more like an example of impressionable Brittany being controlled by a crazy bitch. We never otherwise get a sense of how Brittany and Santana were having relationship problems (outside of the obvious issues), which makes the breakup scene, as good as it is, ring hollow.

Kitty gets more and more annoying with each passing episode. She has no redeeming features here. She’s not a character, she’s a stock villain straight out of a bad high school movie. Even Quinn was never this bad.

Meanwhile, Will finds out that he got on the blue ribbon government panel to improve arts education, and he invites Emma to come to Washington with him for a few months while he’s doing that. Emma says that she’d rather stay in town and concentrate on her job, but Will decides to take this opportunity to be a huge dick and refuses to take no for an answer, eventually leading to Emma walking out.

This plotline feels curtailed. Even though Will is being a dick, Emma’s walking out seems like an overreaction, which makes me think that there is some other shit going down in their relationship that we’re not privy to.

Last and also least, Jake and Marley are in this episode. But really, who cares? I’m sorry I even brought them up.

This very much feels like a classic episode of Glee, with all the good and bad that that suggests. It has a couple of great stories involving relationships and a few really fantastic scenes, all of them involving music (the karaoke bar, Santana and Brittany’s breakup, and Rachel and Finn’s confrontation in the auditorium), while at the same time failing at several basic storytelling levels, with its inclusion of stock stereotypes and aborted plotlines.

It is perhaps telling that, once again, the best stuff in the episode had to do with New York. I hope they figure out what the hell to do with the high school setting soon, and a production of Grease is not going to cut it.

There was a lot of great music here. “Give Your Heart a Break” followed by “Teenage Dream” made for two of the best back-to-back musical scenes that the show has ever done… then they had to follow it up with “Don’t Speak,” an inorganic montage that totally ruined the emotion of the preceding scene for me. Santana’s “Mine” was an odd choice for her, but I liked it. The primary weakness of it was that Santana singing a song to Brittany in the choir room evokes memories of season two’s “Songbird,” something I don’t think they’re going to top. The final number, “The Scientist,” may have included montage elements, but they got into the song naturally and, more importantly, it really worked. It felt like both a way of tying up the theme of ending relationships that the show dealt with and a way for Finn to kind of think out and deal with what he’s going through. The ending, with Finn alone on a dark stage, was quite effective. All that said, Blaine’s “Teenage Dream” is easily the highlight for me.

Other thoughts:

What the hell is up with Rachel’s makeup? I understand that she decided to change her fashion in “Makeover” and that she’s trying for a more “adult” look, but she honestly kinda resembles a hooker.

Why couldn’t we have had more (ie, some) scenes with Santana and Brittany together in season three? You know, when they were a couple?

It was actually pretty cool seeing the reunion of the four high school friends in New York; it felt very real and natural.

Who is Dottie; am I supposed to recognize her?

In three of the relationships that ended here, I felt like there really wasn’t supposed to be one good guy and one bad guy. While people obviously hold some blame in the way a relationship ends (some more than others), for three of the relationships the point mainly seems to be that sometimes shit happens, and life moves on. In the case of Will and Emma, though, Will was just being a dick and Emma was being a drama queen.

Why didn’t we see Finn approaching his mom and Burt before he decided to cry on Will’s shoulder?

I understand that Finn isn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but he was cleaning his rifle while it was loaded? I can’t help feeling that his drill sergeant is more to blame for that one.

With that, Glee is on hiatus for a month. See you then.