(Spoilers lurk below.)
This was a mostly pleasant, if largely plotless, episode. The major problems are its lack of focus, a serious loss of steam in the last two acts, and the beginning of a colossally stupid season plot arc… but we’ll get to that.
Before the actual review, I guess I need to address the elephant in the room, which is Glee‘s unauthorized use of Jonathan Coulton’s arrangement of “Baby Got Back.” I pretty much gave my opinion in the latest episode of our podcast, but, in a nutshell, I’ll give it here. I think it was undeniably a dick move on the producers’ part to use Coulton’s arrangement without asking or crediting him, but at the same time, they fulfilled their legal obligation. Coulton misused his license (a statutory license does not allow the licensee to “change the basic melody or fundamental character of the work”) and even if he hadn’t, his version wouldn’t have been subject to copyright protection unless he got specific permission from the copyright owner (again, because of the license). Notwithstanding the fact that he wrote it, he had no copyright claim on it. So Fox did everything that they were legally required to do, and used it. And I think that that’s really all we can expect of a big corporation. They’re not going to call everyone whose toes they might step on by doing a cover and ask for their blessing, especially when their show does literally over 100 covers per year. Did they break the law? No. Are they dicks? Yeah. Should that surprise anyone? No.
My biggest issue with this song is that it was used for a moment when Kurt was supposed to be falling for this guy (like when Blaine sang “Teenage Dream” the first time), but Kurt definitely does not “got back.”
Anyway, in contrast to the pre-hiatus “Glee, Actually,” this is definitely a non-ambitious episode. It’s about a lot of relationships, both small and large, beginning and ongoing, healthy and unhealthy, fated to succeed and doomed to fail. In many ways, the atmosphere of the episode hearkens back to season two, with its display of a soap-opera-style relationship carousel. Tina has a crush on Blaine, who has a crush on Sam. Kurt has a crush on Adam, a guy he just met at NYADA. Sam and Brittany’s relationship continues to evolve, as does Marley and Jake’s. Puck starts dating Kitty, because apparently he’s that guy from Dazed and Confused (“That’s what I love about these high school girls, man”). The weird Cheerio with the neck brace seems to have a thing for Ryder. Lauren and Sugar even finally get the courage to ask Joe and Artie, respectively, for a dance. (However, it seems odd that that would even be a plot point for them, since they have both been shown to be very confident.)
If all that sounds like a lot, it’s really not. None of the above relationships are delved into all that deeply. The sheer number of relationships is almost the point of the episode, and it’s definitely what one would expect in a high school setting. The Sadie Hawkins dance isn’t so much a plot as an excuse to explore all this, from a bit of a different perspective.
I liked the twist on the love triangle with Tina, Blaine, and Sam. Not one of the sides of the triangle is actually a viable couple, with Sam being straight and Blaine being gay. And of course Blaine already went through his issues with orientation confusion with Rachel in season two’s “Blame it on the Alcohol,” so there’s no real need to revisit that. It lends a poignantly tragic moment to the end of the episode, when Tina is dancing with Blaine, who is staring at Sam, who is dancing with Brittany.
Marley seems unusually happy in this episode, which was nice to see, but I did wonder if she’s on some really good meds. I like that they’ve established a little bit about her relationship with Jake, but they definitely need to do more with both it and the characters. We didn’t see any evidence of Marley’s battle with bulimia here.
Speaking of which, Kitty has returned to full psychopath mode, showing none of the remorse that was hinted at in “Swan Song.” She’s still not much of a character, but if crazy sex is the best sex then Puck is really in for it.
Rachel’s proposal that Brody move in with her at the end of the episode seemed extremely sudden. Partially it’s because she was so pissed at him when he first came in. Partially it’s because Brody still lacks a lot in the way of character development. But mostly it was because Rachel talked about Brody the entire episode, but that was the first time he actually appeared.
Kurt’s crush on Adam was cute, though clearly their relationship is still just beginning. The moment when Kurt asked Adam out, which was paralleled with the wallflowers asking some guys for a dance, really felt like an end to the episode. The final two acts kinda dragged along, and they dragged with them the beginning of an absolutely infuriating plot arc.
Sam, who is apparently now a paranoid conspiracy theorist in addition to being stupid (we’re learning all kinds of things about him in season four!), has proof that the Warblers cheated in sectionals. They’ve apparently been using steroids to give them the strength to do the acrobatic choreography that helped propel them to victory. While Sam’s carefully compiled photo comparisons of pre- and post-steroids Warblers and his cell phone video of a Warbler displaying roid rage may not be enough to convict, a former Warbler is willing to cop out. Now, all this faux drama is stupid enough without the topper: Blaine quotes from the show choir rule book and somehow comes to the conclusion that if they can get the Warblers disqualified, the New Directions will retroactively win sectionals. First… weren’t the New Directions disqualified too? The last time that rule book was quoted was in “Swan Song” when it was used to explain why they couldn’t finish their set. Second, there was another competitor at sectionals, and I’ll eat my hat if the glee kids’ performance of “Gangnam Style” was better than the other group’s entire set. Third, this is such a massive betrayal of the theme of “Swan Song” that it’s absolutely disgusting. If the glee kids really do get back into the competition circuit this year, by this means or any other, I will be severely disappointed. However, I’m already severely disappointed that the same kids who supposedly already learned the lesson that singing is for fun are now grasping at the idea of getting back to “nationals” by any far-fetched means necessary. Even worse, the supposedly more mature and adult Finn is right there with them. We’ve been to regionals three times in three seasons, Glee. It’s okay to let it go once.
All in all, this was about two-thirds of a decent episode. Take the average and it was pretty disappointing, but it had its moments in the fairly nice first four acts.
The music was mostly just decent. Tina’s “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” was awkward, but I admire its sincerity. “Baby Got Back” was good, but they could easily have done something creative with it instead of making a carbon copy of Jonathan Coulton’s song, and it was a weird choice for the scene anyway. The highlight by far was the ladies’ “Tell Him,” which had a wacky setup and took us a lot more out of reality than I usually like for Glee, but it was just a whole lot of fun and ran with the theme of the episode.
It was nice seeing Tina have an emotion other than rage this season.
Rachel’s advice that Kurt not join the Adam’s Apples glee club was not just out of character, but blatantly against what she told Finn in “Swan Song” about the real importance of experiences.
What was even the deal with the neck brace girl and Ryder? Did she ever even talk to him?
Kitty’s description of her relationship with Marley: “We are [friends], but I’m still going to gaslight her every chance I get.”
The shot of Kitty crossing her legs after she said that her dates are “underwear optional” was uncomfortably gratuitous for the high school setting.
I liked Marley’s honest discussion about their relationship with Jake and her description of what she wants out of it.
Brody was 45 minutes late getting to Rachel’s because the train was late. So… why didn’t he call and let her know? This is 2013, television writers, everyone has a fucking cell phone. Even if you don’t somehow, all you have to do is walk up to somebody and say, “Hey bro, can a borrow your phone a minute?”
Lauren says that she applied for a wrestling scholarship with Harvard. I’d hate to be the one to break it to her, but Ivy League schools don’t give athletic scholarships.