Episode 4.08: “Thanksgiving”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Well, the Thanksgiving episode is a week late, but that’s okay because Thanksgiving doesn’t really have anything to do with it except as a way of bringing the non-New-York graduates together while setting Kurt and Rachel apart. “Thanksgiving” is a first this season in that it includes both New York and Ohio elements, and the Ohio elements were actually the stronger part of the show. Of course, it helped that we had the entire graduating class from season three back to lend some star power.

It was fantastic finally seeing Quinn again, and the reunion of all the graduates (minus Kurt and Rachel) really was quite emotional and fun to watch. At the same time, I can’t help thinking that it would have had a lot more impact if most of them hadn’t already spent a lot of time hanging around WMHS due to Grease or pep talks to their half brothers or what-have-you. Imagine seeing this scene after all these characters had been absent the entire season up to now. Santana kinda needed to appear in “The Break-Up,” but we could have easily left Puck, Mercedes, and Mike aside until now, since they didn’t serve much purpose in their prior appearances.

But what we got worked well. The reunion bits were strong and felt believable. Highlights are the opening musical number, their dinner conversation at Breadstix, and Santana, Brittany, and Quinn delivering a lecture about teamwork and then a song (reminiscent in style of their audition number, “I Say a Little Prayer,” way back in season one’s “Showmance”) to the newbies.

This episode also took an interesting path in addressing some character similarities that have plagued the season: they flat-out own up to them. Finn assigns each of the newbies a “mentor” in the form of one of the graduates to help them prepare for sectionals, and of course Quinn and Kitty end up paired together, as well as Puck and Jake. Quinn and Kitty’s interaction really brings home how much Kitty is like Quinn, but, to be more specific, Kitty represents a particular part of Quinn. Kitty is a psychopath, adept at manipulation but unhindered by the crippling emotions that always characterized Quinn. Quinn was capable of sadness so deep that it rendered her almost comatose, anger so red-hot that she was unable to think straight, jealousy so frustrating that she lost sight of what was important. Kitty doesn’t have any of that. She quietly, calmly, passionlessly manipulates, moving events and people towards whatever disaster she thinks will be most amusing. She continues to play the game with Quinn, pitting her against Jake… in hopes of continuing to hurt Marley.

Even when faced with evidence that Kitty is fucking with her in the form of Jake’s apparent innocence (and Puck sticking up for him) and Santana telling her that Kitty is encouraging Marley to use laxatives to lose weight, Quinn still stands by Kitty, having already been fully convinced by her act. It’s sad, that Quinn can’t recognize ploys that she herself used to use, now employed by a true master. There’s also the hint that Quinn may be concerned about Marley and Jake’s relationship so much because it reminds her of the failed relationship she had with Puck.

Unfortunately, we don’t get much out of the other mentor/newbie pairings. There was a lot of potential in Santana finding out that Marley is a blossoming anorexic, but the script bizarrely uses it to force a confrontation between Santana and Quinn and then never brings up the connection between Santana and Marley again. There wasn’t much in Puck and Jake’s relationship aside from Puck’s advice of “bros before hos.” Mercedes and Wade barely got to do anything at all.

The relationship that worked best was actually Jake and Ryder’s. Jake tells Ryder that he and Marley are dating, and that he doesn’t want it to affect their friendship. Jake, to show that there are no hard feelings, takes a dive in dance auditions for the male lead for sectionals, handing the part to Ryder. They really do come across as friends, and it feels earned after “Dynamic Duets.” It’s also refreshing in a high school show to see two rivals for a girl actually being honest and friendly with each other. I was sure that the end of “Dynamic Duets” was setting us up for a renewed rivalry between them, but I am once again pleasantly surprised.

Meanwhile, Marley starts the episode with a voiceover, further cementing her similarities with Rachel. Much like Kitty to Quinn, I think that Marley represents a part of Rachel: the part that extremely insecure. Rachel always exhibited signs of insecurity, and she still does to this day, but she is strong enough to power through it, she is sure enough of her own abilities to push it aside. Marley… is not, thanks in no small way to Kitty’s machinations. Marley is using laxatives, skipping meals, and presumably still purging in a vain effort to somehow look better than she already does. She almost has a breakdown prior to sectionals, telling Jake that she’s so scared of losing, and that she would see it as her own fault. Ryder, who overhears, responds by giving the dance lead to Jake (because Jake is the better dancer and “we have to win!”). This is sweet as a gesture to help Marley, but of course, as high school kids, Ryder and Jake both miss the point: Marley is having serious issues aside from normal competitiveness. She needs help in the worst way, as she proves by collapsing on stage (though she politely waits until the end of the number).

And bringing up the rear, we have the C plot, all the way in New York. Kurt and Rachel decide to stay in town for Thanksgiving, having already trekked back to Lima a ridiculous number of times already (seriously, Rachel has been back twice in a few months, once for the sole purpose of breaking up with Finn). They plan a little get-together at their apartment including Brody, Kurt’s boss Isabelle, and Isabelle’s friends. Brody shows some personality for perhaps the first time ever when he confronts Rachel about her being mad that he had sex with Cassie. Brody points out that Rachel left him for another guy. Rachel counters that she broke up with that guy. Brody scores the checkmate with “And I was supposed to retroactively know that would happen? Don’t become one of those crazy girls who expects people to read minds.” It’s a nice little scene that does everything that needs to be done as far as addressing what Brody did, while at the same time clearing the air and allowing Rachel and Brody to become friends again. It’s a good bit of writing, and worlds better than any scene Brody has been in before, save perhaps the date he and Rachel were having before Finn interrupted in “Makeover.”

Kurt also has a nice scene with Isabelle (and their close relationship is much more believable now that a significant amount of time has passed) in which she suggests that, before he can move on from his breakup with Blaine, he has to forgive him. This thought just kinda hangs out in the subtext for most of the episode until Kurt finally calls Blaine shortly before the New Directions go on stage. Kurt says that he can’t forgive Blaine yet, but that he wants to see him and have a heart-to-heart talk around Christmastime. I don’t think that Kurt and Blaine will get back together (at least I hope not — it would be too obvious), but I think that they do have a lot to talk about. Kurt’s emotional arc over the breakup has been handled very well, even if Blaine has mainly just been whiny for most of his own arc.

I don’t care for cliffhanger episodes in general, but by doing it this way, Marley’s collapse hits us almost as hard as it hits her friends, who didn’t see it coming.

This was a decent episode, but the Ohio half felt curtailed and the New York half felt mostly pointless. At the same time, I’m glad we’ve finally gotten two good-to-decent episodes in a row out of this season.

The music in “Thanksgiving” was good, even if not quite up to the standards of an average competition episode. First, though, I have to say that “Let’s Have a Kiki/Turkey Lurkey Time” stands out as particularly out of place. It’s set up very unnaturally and doesn’t fit the scene at all. What is it with Sarah Jessica Parker and numbers like this? The Warlbers’ two numbers were quite good, and both hearkened back to the classic Warlbers of season two. “Whistle” was probably a bit better than “Live While We’re Young.” The opening number, “Homeward Bound/Home,” was a nice way to welcome back and reintroduce the graduates, even if I always have problems with episodes that open up with a musical number right out of the box because it’s devoid of all-important context. Sometimes it works, as with this number and “How Will I Know” from season three’s “Dance With Somebody.” “Gangnam Style” was good for what it was, but was really fucking weird and inappropriate for the context of a competition (competitions almost invariably want mainstream), so I don’t really know what to make of it. The highlight for me was Quinn’s “Come See About Me,” which was a great way to reintroduce Quinn and of calling all the way back to the few happy times of season one.

Other thoughts:

Best line of the episode, from Puck as Quinn comes up to him just as he was talking about her: “Speak of the devil I knocked up.”

I also liked Puck’s reference to “loopy Quinn,” and his explanation of how to recognize her.

It seems vaguely racist at first for Tina to be lead singer on the Korean-language “Gangnam Style,” but it’s actually a fairly subtle meta-joke. While Tina has a (half) Chinese last name, actress Jenna Ushkowitz is actually 100% Korean by birth (her last name comes from her American adoptive parents).

It really does feel like Rachel is maturing, as she doesn’t take long at all to forgive Brody.

Episode 4.07: “Dynamic Duets”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

When an episode starts in as goofy a way as this one did, with a meeting of Blaine’s “superhero club” (following up on a single gag from “Makeover), I always get a sinking feeling in my stomach, because I know that they’re going to both be trying something really weird and trying to blend comedy with drama, two things that this series has had limited success with.

However, the capacity of Glee to surprise me is something that goes all the way back to the beginning, when I was told to watch the pilot of a “terrible” series that just happened to incredibly impress me. “Dynamic Duets” is an episode that took a lot of risks and had them pay off. This is a fantastic episode, maybe even the best episode of the season so far, even if nothing in it matched the power of the musical numbers in “The Break-Up.” It’s one of those rare occasions when the mix of comedy and drama is nearly perfect. If Glee had managed to hit this tone consistently over the past three years, it would have a lot more respect than it does.

“Dynamic Duets” also includes no Kurt, no Rachel, no New York whatsoever (though there is one brief scene in LA for a Puck cameo), and it still manages to succeed. So I guess they’ve finally proven to me that the Ohio half of the show is worth saving. They just have to keep the quality level up, as they do here.

The title is reminiscent of season two’s “Duets,” and it does bear a slight thematic resemblance to the earlier episode as well, as we get to see characters pair up and deal with each other that we otherwise really haven’t. Finn senses that there is a lack of cohesion in the glee club, so he approaches it with all the brute force of a new teacher. He makes Ryder do a duet with Jake, and Marley do a duet with Kitty, since the rivalries there are what’s stirring up most of the hatred. This also creates a prime situation for character development, as all of these characters need some. What happens between the duet partners is interesting. It would have been easy to just have them come to terms with each other in the course of planning the duet. It would have been easy to wrap everything up in one episode. It would have been just as easy for one or both of the pairs to just refuse to come to terms with each other and remain enemies. Well, this episode refuses to take any of those easy routes.

Jake and Ryder manage to plan a duet together and get through most of a performance in the choir room, but they eventually come to (real) blows over the fact that they’re both trying to impress Marley. That puts a damper on the performance. Finn, pulling another idea out of his ass, tells them that their new assignment is to share their “kryptonite” with each other, their biggest weakness or secret, hoping that this will lead them to a greater understanding. This leads to Jake admitting that, as a half-black, half-white Jewish person, he never feels like he fits in with anybody, and faces bullying from both the black kids and the white kids. Ryder, previously established as a struggling student, admits that he has trouble reading, to the point that when Jake hands Ryder a note explaining his “kryptonite,” Ryder crumples it up and tells Jake to man up and tell it to his face… only because Ryder doesn’t want to stand there and struggle through reading the note in front of Jake.

Jake immediately goes and tells Finn what Ryder told him, a breach of trust that is 100% understandable and the nicest thing that Jake has done on the series. Despite his problems with Ryder, Jake recognizes that properly dealing with his learning problems could be the difference between Ryder succeeding in life and failing. Finn takes Ryder to McKinley’s special education instructor, who tests Ryder (in a very realistic scene, though I don’t know anything about the subject) and diagnoses him with dyslexia, the go-to learning disability of sitcoms at least since The Cosby Show. Ryder then has an emotional scene with Finn in which he talks about how hard it’s been his entire life, being told he wasn’t succeeding because he was stupid or lazy. It’s not a final or easy solution for Ryder, but the special education instructor is going to develop a learning plan for him, and he is now going to be in a much greater position to perform to the best of his abilities.

This dovetails nicely with Ryder’s introduction in “The Role You Were Born to Play,” which established that Ryder studies hard almost all the time but he never shows any improvement on his poor grades. Finn’s idea in that episode is to get him to join the glee club, a facile solution that, of course, does Ryder no good in the academics department. In “Dynamic Duets,” Finn actually acts like a teacher, getting Ryder the help he needs immediately after being told about his issues by Jake. Of course, some teacher along the way should have caught on to Ryder’s issues, but things like this can fall through the cracks, especially when there really are students who are lazy and don’t care. Separating those from the students who are trying really hard but need extra help requires a little more interest in individual students than some teachers care to take, or, more often, have time for. (This would also be exactly the kind of thing that Emma should be dealing with, if she were actually a tenure-quality teacher.)

Despite the breach of trust, Ryder shows his thanks to Jake by helping him stand up to his bullies.

This plotline lends a lot of characterization to Ryder, and also serves the purpose of differentiating him from Sam. As clichéd as it is, I think that this episode saves it both through Blake Jenner’s strong performance and because it’s not offered as an easy or final solution to Ryder’s problems. It’s just a beginning, it’s something that his teachers can work with. And Ryder scarcely feels 100% good about the diagnosis, even going so far as to call himself “stupid” while trying to work out what he thinks about having a learning disability.

This plotline also offers Finn a chance to really act like a teacher, something he rightly struggles with throughout this episode. His original idea for a Schuester-style theme (“songs by Foreigner, in a foreign language!”) is stupid, his duet idea is iffy, his “kryptonite” plan for Jake and Ryder is crazy, and his support for stealing the trophy back from Dalton is un-teacher-like… but when he has to do something to really help a student, he doesn’t fuck around. And he finally starts to earn the respect of the students as an “adult.” This adds another dimension to Finn’s status as a leader of the club, something that the series really needed to do in order separate this from all the other times that Finn has had to be a leader.

I thought that Finn as a teacher wouldn’t offer any chances for character development, but I’m not too big a man to admit when I was wrong.

Meanwhile, Kitty and Marley’s duet goes in a bit of a different direction. Marley is still struggling with her body image (turns out Ryder didn’t magically fix her after all), but Kitty helps convince her that she looks great… which Kitty does only after ascertaining that Marley has been throwing up on a regular basis. I’m not quite sure what Kitty’s game is here, but I’m guessing that she just wants to convince Marley that her bulimic purging is working so that she will keep doing it. Anyway, Marley actually kinda warms up to Kitty, since Kitty gives every appearance of being nice, but Kitty is still a psychopathic villain. She’s just showing off her skills at manipulating people now. Kitty’s compliments on her appearance and their duet does give Marley confidence, though, to the point that when Ryder has to break their date (because he has an appointment with a dyslexia specialist), Marley asks Jake out instead.

While I feel bad for Ryder, I like seeing Marley having some confidence, and it’s very high-school realistic.

As for Kitty, she definitely got the short shrift in the characterization department in this episode, but I will say that I like her as a manipulator more than as a mustache-twirling obvious villain. The Kitty/Marley relationship also feels unresolved at the end of this episode, unlike Jake/Ryder, but I think that’s intentional. Not everything can be solved in a week, and, in fact, not everything can be solved at all. Kitty and Marley’s relationship is at the exact point that Kitty has allowed it to get to. Until she drops her defenses, nothing more can happen.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the plot, the Dalton Academy Warblers have stolen the New Directions’ nationals trophy, and Blaine is involved in a plan to get it back. The Warblers, for their part, want Blaine to rejoin them and, with Kurt not only graduated but out of his life entirely, Blaine finds little reason to stay at WMHS. Everything there reminds him of Kurt. I was certain, when Blaine announced his decision to go back to Dalton, that we were going to see the old double agent cliché, that it was all a ruse to gather intel or get the trophy back. Sam even hangs a lampshade on it, but it’s not what’s going on here. Blaine just really wants to try something, anything, to make his pain from losing Kurt go away. In the end, Sam saves the day again, and helps convince Blaine to stay where people care about him rather than go back to the Warblers, who act much more like a street gang than they did back in season two.

I like the hints about Blaine’s cheating and why he did it. He says that he wasn’t sure how he even felt about Kurt anymore, something I sensed at the time, but that as soon as he did it he knew it was a mistake.

As for all the superhero stuff: against all odds, it was really funny. The silly comic book transitions, the ridiculous costumes, the faux-serious acting, and the Batman-style sound effects during Sam and Blaine’s caper (“Blam! Slaine!”) made for some of the best straight-out comedy that Glee has ever done. When this series takes a risk of this magnitude and it pays off, it’s really something. It even meshes well with the drama, something that almost never happens. The last time we saw characters walking around the school in silly costumes was season one’s “Theatricality,” and let’s just say that “Dynamic Duets” is much better.

The music in this episode was good, for the most part. The only real disappointing number was the Warblers’ “Dark Side,” which didn’t feel like it belonged in the scene. Jake and Ryder’s “Superman” was fun, Marley and Kitty’s “Holding out for a Hero” was really good (and sexy… perhaps crossing the line a bit for high school), and Sam and Blaine’s “Heroes” was a decent way to show Blaine deciding to stay with WMHS. The real standout, however, was the final “Some Nights,” which shows how much everyone has come together, how much they care about each other (or, in Kitty’s case, effectively pretend to care), and how they’ve grown to respect and trust Finn as their teacher, not just their leader. It’s definitely a highlight of the season, not just the episode.

Other thoughts:

Aside from being unable to remember the word for “making someone a villain” (“…villainize?”), Sam doesn’t show any particular signs of stupidity in this episode, for the first time since “Makeover.” Maybe he’s being granted a second chance to be smart.

When Finn admits to the club that his first idea for an assignment was dumb, Tina and Artie chime in with “Worse than ‘funk'” and “Worse than ‘a night of neglect,'” which I’m guessing is both a references to the failures of those particular assignments and a meta-reference to the episodes “Funk” and “A Night of Neglect,” the latter of which definitely deserves to be made fun of. Those were also episodes written by Ian Brennan, who also wrote “Dynamic Duets.”

The new leader of the Warblers is quick to assure Blaine that he is “not even remotely bi-curious.”

Tina is still in the background bitching about not being featured. We gonna give Tina something to do, someday, anytime soon, at all? Did Jenna Ushkowitz run over Ryan Murphy’s dog or something?

Why is Blaine considered a legend among the Warblers anyway?

I liked the gag about Finn being disgusted by coffee. I’m 30 years old (just like Cory Monteith, actually), and I still can’t stand coffee.

I’m almost scared to find out where Marley’s bulimia plotline is going, but nothing in this episode was as tough to watch as what she went through in “Glease.”

Episode 4.06: “Glease”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

If this episode had consisted of only the sixth act, I’d have said it was pretty good. Unfortunately, there were five unfocussed, silly, plotless acts before it. At its heart, “Glease” wants to be a sequel to “The Break-Up,” examining the post-breakup lives of Rachel, Finn, Blaine, Kurt, Santana, and Brittany, and what it does with that is decent. However, a lot of it gets buried in bullshit having to do with Kitty and her bizarre revenge plan, Marley and her body image, and Finn’s taking charge of the school production of Grease.

Finn stepping up as a leader has come through in Glee over and over again throughout the series. In fact, it was one of the main reasons that Will recruited him: he needed a male lead for the club. As an accepted leader of the club, though, I think the defining moment early on was season one’s “Sectionals,” when he put aside his problems with Quinn and Puck (even after finding out that Quinn was carrying Puck’s baby) and showed up at the competition with the music they needed just in time to bring everyone together. He also did this at Will’s request because Will couldn’t be there. So, in many ways, Finn’s now-official leadership role feels like rehash rather than the step forward that it’s supposed to feel like. He’s also scarcely shining bright as a leader, at least as far as the viewer can tell. His entire role in this episode appeared to consist of getting the guys to practice in his stepdad’s body shop, and then tell them to do it again “with, like, twice the energy!” I thought that that scene was meant to establish that Finn still had no idea what he was doing, but the musical was apparently a huge success, and Will is perfectly content to give all the credit to Finn (because really, fuck Artie).

Finn is also worse than Will at mending fences with Sue, though to be fair he did call her possibly Down syndrome afflicted baby “retarded,” which is genuinely fucking offensive and mean. I was actually kinda on Sue’s side when she refused to accept his half-assed apology (though I’m much less prone to revenge than Sue). I’m quite disappointed to see Sue back in full-bore villain mode since, as I’ve said before, I like her much better as a benign antagonist.

All in all, the musical was pretty pointless. If some of Finn’s supposed leadership skills had been put on display, it might have had some worth. At the end of the episode, Finn tells Rachel that she was his inspiration when he was trying to lead the musical. However, we never actually saw anything like that, so we just have to take his word for it.

Most of the interesting things related to the musical happened on the sideline and didn’t have a lot of plot time devoted to them. First, Wade’s parents come down to Figgins’s office to pull Wade out of the play. They’re actually remarkably accepting for parents of a transgender child. They say they were “proud” of Wade’s performance as Unique in Chicago, but that Chicago is a “liberal” city and they fear for Wade’s safety if she continues to dress and perform as a woman in public. This explanation is intercut with a scene of Wade, while dressed as a woman, being shoved into a locker. Which did not have much of an emotional impact. We’ve seen much worse things happen on this show to people who do dress consistently with their anatomical sex. Anyone remember when Puck was locked in a Porta-Potty for 24 hours? That aside, Wade’s parents were interesting characters and really seemed to have the best interests of their child at heart. I hope to see more of them (though I said the same thing about Karofsky’s dad once).

And rounding out the crew of glee kids coming back to WMHS for the musical is Santana, who at least has the excuse of only being a few hours drive away, unlike Mercedes, Mike, Kurt, and Rachel. (Absent are Puck, who made a cameo earlier this season, and Quinn, who has yet to make an appearance.) Santana comes in at Finn’s request to fill in as Rizzo when Wade is pulled out, which leads to a short scene of Tina being angry at being passed over (she’s playing Jan). Anyway, Santana has a very cute scene with Brittany in which they discuss how much they miss each other, which essentially boils down to how much they miss the way things were and never will be again. That hints at the theme of the episode, which is pretty much that you can’t go home again.

As strong as act six was, a lot of the stuff leading up to it felt like rehash, as Rachel/Finn and Kurt/Blaine deal with the fact that their relationships are over for good. I’ve had enough of Kurt and Rachel’s personal angst, but I liked the scene in which Rachel and Finn have a heart-to-heart talk with each other that meanders from wistful to happy to sad to mean to cold. It’s a very well-written scene that feels very real, including their final promise to break off all contact with each other. The end of any relationship is hard, but especially at that age it feels like the end of the world, and neither party really knows how to deal with it.

I was really expecting Kurt and Blaine to have some kind of serious heart-to-heart talk as well, but Kurt still insists that it’s all over and shuts down the lines of communication. This is non-negotiable for him. We pretty much got that sense from “The Break-Up” and “The Role Your Were Born to Play,” so I don’t think they added much here, though it was a bit shocking to get no hint of friendliness between the two characters at all, even after some time to cool off.

That brings us to Kitty and Marley’s subplot. Still out for revenge because Marley kinda caused Jake to break up with her, Kitty convinces Marley that she’s gaining weight by taking a couple of inches out of the waist of Marley’s costume every day. Why Tina, who is in charge of costuming, doesn’t notice her costumes shrinking, or why Marley doesn’t just weigh herself and thereby notice she’s not gaining weight, or wonder why all her other clothes still fit properly… none of that is explained. However, Marley does become convinced that she is doomed by genetics to become obese like her mother.

It’s around this point that things get really ugly and dark. Kitty not only decides to convince Marley that she’s gaining weight, but tries to get Marley to try losing weight via bulimic purging, to the point that the emotionally wrecked Marley actually tries it. After her last failed attempt to fit into her costume, Ryder finds her sobbing into a toilet bowl with her fingers down her throat. Jesus Christ! Kitty has successfully proven herself eviller than Sue and season-one Quinn combined, as well as genuinely mentally disturbed. Marley sorta helped cause Jake to break up with Kitty (though it was mostly Kitty’s fault) and Kitty tried to force Marley into a life of bulimia and distorted self image. This is only slightly less of an overreaction than Cartman’s in “Scott Tenorman Must Die.”

Body image problems were previously explored with Finn in “The Rocky Horror Glee Show,” but sheesh. This one was really hard to watch.

While Marley’s final scene with Ryder was nice, we still know basically nothing about Ryder. Why is he even here? Write that scene for Sam or Jake or even Joe and it would have worked better.

Revealed at the end of the episode: Cassie convinced Rachel to go home for the musical so that Cassie could move in on Brody, which she successfully does. And here I thought that Cassie and Rachel were kinda becoming friends, especially after their cathartic confrontation at the end of “Britney 2.0.” Nope, that would just be too interesting.

The music in this episode was pretty bleh. “You’re the One That I Want” was the highlight by a mile, and it actually was kinda cool seeing the other characters put themselves in the places of Ryder and Marley, remembering times and relationships in their lives that they will never get back. Especially pointless, on the other hand, was Kitty’s “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.” It was an entertaining number, and I actually do like Becca Tobin’s voice quite a bit, but it came out of nowhere and had no place in the scene. The boys’ “Greased Lightnin” at least had a purpose in being a rehearsal number, but it felt strangely lifeless, and I had to wonder where the hell the music was coming from.

This episode was a big bag of wasted potential. Not exactly horrible, but I’m not liking where the season is heading.

Other thoughts:

“Glease” is the new record-holder for stupidest episode title of the series. Sorry “Prom-asaurus.”

They established that Finn is volunteering at the school, which I guess I actually can buy, as long as the glee club really is an outside activity and not a class.

Why the hell did the girls decide to be so friendly with Kitty? Has she not sufficiently proven that she’s a total psychopathic bitch? Hopefully she has now.

Melissa Benoist isn’t nearly as good a crier as Lea Michele, but who is?

If nothing else, at least this episode reminds us that, as unreasonably old as the Glee actors may look, at least they look more like they’re in high school than the actors in Grease.

Episode 4.05: “The Role You Were Born to Play”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

You know… Nashville is a great show. I started watching it during Glee‘s hiatus, and I’m really digging it. The unfortunate thing about that is that as I come back to Glee, the successes of Nashville really put Glee‘s failures into stark contrast.

Take Juliette Barnes, for instance. She is a villainous character, a duplicitous bitch, a jerk with a heart of jerk. But she’s someone you can understand. She’s someone you can actually sympathize with to at least a certain extent. Her explanation of why she stole the nail polish, at the end of “We Live in Two Different Worlds” (even after she just finished throwing a tantrum on national television worthy of any spoiled star), was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve seen on television in a long time.

And on the other hand, take Glee‘s Kitty. Comparing Juliette to Kitty is like comparing Darth Vader to Snidely Whiplash. They’re both villains, sure, but Juliette is a character while Kitty is a caricature. She’s nothing more than an amalgamation of high school villain clichés. What drives her? What does she think of herself? Where does she come from and where does she think she’s going? Who cares! She’s just here to be a bitch to Marley and Jake!

Take also Nashville‘s use of music. Nashville is a show that has utterly refused to chose a side in the musical/non-musical dichotomy. It uses music when it’s called for, and it uses music absolutely beautifully. Not only is the quality of the original music in Nashville very high, but every single time they’ve ever used a song in the show through five episodes, it’s been for a good reason. It’s been for character development, or plot reasons, or setting the tone of the scene, or something equally important, and it often works on multiple levels. They don’t feel beholden to shoehorn six to nine songs into an episode the way Glee often seems to, and they don’t shove songs in for the sole purpose of selling singles on iTunes the way Glee often does. Nashville is actually a show with a ton of artistic integrity, something that I think that Glee lost somewhere along the way, if it even ever had it as opposed to just occasionally stumbling into artistry by accident. Each of the dozen or so songs that Nashville has done through five episodes was used to good effect, and often to great effect. Glee‘s fourth season can say that about maybe four songs.

So why am I talking about Nashville so much in this review? Part of it is that I’m really enthusiastic about it, and I’d like to encourage people to watch it. Part of it is that I see things that Nashville is doing better than Glee and I’d just like to point it out and encourage Glee to take a few cues. But mostly… I really really don’t want to talk about “The Role You Were Born to Play.” Because… meh. Meh!

This was the first episode of the season not to deal with New York at all, and it definitely suffers for it. This episode features some fallout from the far-superior “The Break-Up,” as Finn has to deal with losing Rachel along with any kind of direction in his life, Will and Emma have to deal with the fact that Will is kind of a humongous douchebag, Blaine has to whine and cry and feel sorry for himself because he lost Kurt, and Brittany appears once in the episode to give the camera a thumbs-up. Okay, so not all those threads are dealt with equally.

Let’s start with what worked. I’d been waiting for the Wade episode all season, and this wasn’t it, but they did finally address a couple of things about her that needed to be addressed. First, they establish that she is definitely transgender, not just a cross-dresser. Second, we saw Wade express how much trouble she’s having trying to live as a woman. It was good to see her admit that her dressing as a woman (which even she refers to as “drag”) is seen as a joke, because that’s how they’ve been playing it this season. She may be playing it up in order to avoid conflict, as people may find it easier to deal with a confident cross-dresser than the truth: a frightened pre-op transgender person. Third, they establish that there is some kind of opposition to Wade living as a woman in public. I would have thought that it would have come to a head when she started coming to school in dresses on a regular basis, so tying it to her being cast as Rizzo in their production of Grease seems artificial, but at least they’re doing something with it. It’s also somewhat believable to put Sue into a position of opposition, what with her previous opposition to the production of Rocky Horror in season two. While she has stood up for the rights of gay kids before (something she herself brings up in this episode), for some people the rights of the transgender are a whole other issue. I also liked Wade’s developing friendship with Marley quite a bit. As fellow outcasts, they both connect with each other very well.

On the other hand, the part of the show that deals with Wade is depressingly short, so let’s move on to the rest of the show.

Finn, Mercedes, and Mike all coming back to help the glee club put on Grease is just weird. I mean, it’s weird enough for Finn, who at least apparently has nothing better to do (aside from help run his stepdad’s body shop). But shouldn’t Mike and Mercedes be working/in school? I mean, what the hell are they doing there? That was never even brought up, much less explained. But it does give us the opportunity to revisit Mike and Tina’s offscreen breakup (brought up, but not really resolved) or even Mercedes and Sam’s vague relationship (although: please don’t). It just seems to go against the prior season’s themes of moving forward and personal growth. It’s easy to just use old characters by writing them back into Ohio. It’s more difficult to use them in the cities they moved to at the end of season three: Los Angeles for Mercedes and Chicago for Mike. However, it would have been much more rewarding and made a hell of a lot more sense.

Mercedes and Mike had almost nothing to do in this episode, anyway. They came across as a third wheel. What the bulk of this episode was about (yes, we’re finally getting to it) was Finn’s relationship with both himself and the glee club.

Finn is back in town working at Burt’s body shop, but he’s not happy and his friends know it. Artie approaches Finn and convinces him to direct the school’s production of Grease with him. I actually like seeing Artie as the one to approach Finn, even though they’ve never really been friends before. Artie has a big heart, and it reminds me of his brief friendship with Quinn after she became wheelchair-bound. However, I most definitely don’t like seeing Finn going back where he came from, creeping around his old high school like Kurt was doing when the season opened. It feels like a step back for him. Finn was the de facto leader of the glee club for three years, so putting him back in that position is not a step forward for his character development. Finn’s recruitment of Ryder even echoes his recruitment of Sam back in season two.

This plot thread ends with Will handing the reigns of the glee club to Finn as Will heads to Washington for a few months, which is something they telegraphed from a mile away. By doing this, they virtually guarantee that Finn’s character will remain crystallized in an undeveloped state for the duration, preserved forever for future generations. Even if Finn eventually decides to pursue teaching as a career (which will probably happen, but which will probably not at all work out based on what we know about Finn), he didn’t have to revert back to his old role in his old high school in order to discover that.

I did like Finn’s confrontation with Sue. His anger felt real, it set Sue up as a villain in this situation pretty well, and Finn’s slip-up over the “retarded baby” line both adhered to the Finn Standard of stupid and allowed Sue to get a sympathy point.

The episode also features Will continuing to be a huge dick in insisting that Emma follow him to Washington even though she obviously does not want to go. This plot thread ends with Will realizing that he should not be a dick. Thrilling.

Meanwhile, Kitty and Jake were also kinda in this episode, and we saw more of the Jake-Kitty-Marley love triangle that I wish would just disappear along with Kitty. Please for the love of God, either give Kitty some character development or have her die in a freak cheerleading accident. In this episode she even inserts herself into the glee club to keep an eye on Jake, just as Quinn inserted herself into the glee club to keep an eye on Finn back in season one. She’s Quinn! Just bring Dianna Agron back already and be done with it. I miss her anyway.

Awkward newcomer Ryder strikes me as very Sam-like, at least before Sam apparently permanently lost his intelligence in “Makeover.” Retreads for everyone! I’m surprised that we don’t have a literal “new Rachel” yet (Marley comes closest).

All in all, a very mediocre episode. They’re still fighting a losing battle when it comes to convincing me that the Ohio portion of Glee is worth holding onto. On another note, their production of Grease smacks as an excuse to do songs and sell albums. It just feels like they’re getting lazier and more obvious as the years go by when it comes to that sort of thing.

The music was at least as “meh” in this episode as the writing was. Marley and Wade’s “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” was the highlight of the episode by a mile. It had a lot of energy, Wade and Marley have a lot of chemistry together, and it was a lot of fun to watch. None of the other numbers from this episode are really even worth mentioning.

Other thoughts:

Not to sound insensitive to the handicapped or anything, but how the hell did Artie catch up with Finn after Finn stormed out of the auditorium?

Finn never really had a good reason to try to recruit Ryder, aside from seeing him dancing around on the football field like he was on drugs. Ryder even denied he could sing. Luckily, he was wrong. I guess Finn is psychic?

Wade’s defense for using the ladies’ restroom: “I sit when I pee.”

Why did Jake decide to audition with Kitty? They kinda glossed over that. They were just involved in an ugly breakup a short time ago, and Jake made it pretty clear that he doesn’t like her. But hey, they wanted it for this episode, so fuck continuity.

So is Finn getting paid for teaching the glee club, or what? And how is it not an “actual class?” It’s been pretty strongly implied in the past that they meet in the middle of the school day.