Episode 4.17: “Guilty Pleasures”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

When I first became a fan of Glee, I described it as a guilty pleasure. Around the middle of season two, when the series really began to pick up, I dropped that descriptor because I felt like it had become a quality show. Even through the dregs of season three, there were enough points of brilliance for me to continue not feeling guilty about being a fan. Well… now I’m starting to feel the guilt creeping back up.

Superficially, “Guilty Pleasures” bears a striking resemblance to season one’s “Bad Reputation,” another episode that tried to rehabilitate maligned songs and artists. What “Bad Reputation” had and what “Guilty Pleasures” lacks, however, is a strong theme tying the musical assignment to the plot. While by no means a stellar episode, “Bad Reputation” had a point. It was about how bad reputations come about, how they can be both a blessing and a curse, how they can be either fair or unfair, truth or lie, and how it’s possible to feel like having a bad reputation is better than having no reputation at all. It also has the hilarious “Run Joey Run,” the most deliciously and self-consciously terrible musical number the show has ever done. “Guilty Pleasures,” by comparison, is disappointingly shallow. It spends most of its running time dealing with the various perverse musical fascinations of the glee kids, with the actual plot (what little there is) being shoved into the background.

What started as an interesting look at what really motivates Kitty and what she wants out of her relationship with the glee kids quickly derails into Spice Girls hero worship. Blaine’s unrequited crush on Sam is resolved in such a boring way that one wonders why they wasted a whole subplot on it (seriously, how else could Sam possibly have responded?). Sam and Blaine’s guilty pleasures, Wham! and Phil Collins for Blaine, and Barry Manilow for Sam, don’t really add anything to the plot, despite eating up a lot of screen time. Jake and Marley get closer together despite Jake being kinda dumb (and that sentence could be said of just about every episode featuring the two of them). Most of the goings-on in New York are a meaningless waste of time, ending with a short and unsatisfying “real” breakup between Brody and Rachel, despite the fact that they had already broken up offstage.

How could the same season that gave us the wonderfully rich “Swan Song” and “Dynamic Duets” give us schlock like the most recent three episodes?

Let’s start with this episode’s most egregious sin, and what I think pushes it over the edge from merely unremarkable to bad: Rachel and the writers’ treatment of Santana and Finn. In my review of “Feud” I said, and I quote, “If Rachel later has some revelation and decides that Santana was right to act the way she did, I will be very disappointed.” Well, guess what happens in “Guilty Pleasures.” Rachel actually thanks Santana for creeping around behind her back, lying to her, and calling Finn all the way to New York to cave her boyfriend’s face in, all without saying a word to her about what was going on. Rachel really feels like Santana was right to try to take care of her like she’s some fragile porcelain doll who can’t handle the truth? She really thinks it wasn’t incredibly creepy and possessive of Finn to travel several hundred miles to kick a guy’s ass in a hotel room, as if she can’t take care of herself? Not the fucking Rachel I know. I don’t know who this pod person is who’s claiming to be Rachel Berry, but the girl who demurely accepts that she needs other people to take care of her most certainly is not the strong, egocentric, independent person I remember, who would have told Santana and Finn exactly where to step off.

And fuck Kurt too. How could he have been so dishonest with his best friend after finding out about Brody? And why did Santana pick the exact moment she did to tell Rachel about Brody? Why didn’t she tell her about him earlier, like, during a time period when Rachel could have made her own decisions and taken independent actions based on this information?

What I’d been waiting for is to hear Brody’s side of the story, but as presented in this episode it boils down to “don’t judge me” and “we don’t all have doting daddies,” which doesn’t go all that far into explaining how he got into hooking. The episode does allow Brody to be sympathetic, but mainly because he’s clued into the fact that Rachel lied to him about sleeping with Finn. All that said, this was not a bad scene. It was just too short and shallow.

Also, Rachel still in love with Finn? I have so had it with the two of them. Their relationship was one of the least interesting bits of the show as far back as season two. Move on!

I continue to have no idea what to make of Kitty. It was fun seeing her interact with Brittany (Brittany is like black: she goes with everything), and Kitty’s kinda hesitant and awkward answers to Brittany’s initial brutally honest approach suggest that she may actually want to change and have real relationships. However, she has proven herself to be such a master manipulator that I can’t possibly buy it without a little more to go on. Anyway, then this whole plot was derailed by the Spice Girls, so we’ll have to pick this up again later, possibly when we address Artie’s apparent crush on her.

The only interesting bit of the Jake/Marley plotline was their argument over Jake singing a Chris Brown song. Jake argues that he should be able to separate the artist from the art, and that singing someone’s song doesn’t mean that he supports everything or even anything that person stands for. It was good seeing Jake with a backbone and a strong opinion, because it lent something to the illusion that he has a personality. What’s more, I agree with his argument, and I’ve been saying the same thing for years. Creative works transcend the creator and exist independently of them, and we should be able to enjoy them without having to worry about all the opinions and actions the creator took in his life that we may not agree with.

In the end, however, this thread doesn’t really come to a conclusion. Jake decides to kowtow to pressure and doesn’t do Chris Brown, but he does do Bobby Brown and gets everyone mad at him all over again. Can’t a song just be a song?

I don’t really have much to say about the Sam/Blaine subplot, but I will say that I’m glad to see Sam at an acceptable level of intelligence and perceptiveness again. Now let’s see if we can get his intelligence to stop yo-yoing quite as much. (I’m not hopeful.)

Finally, I have got to say something about the reference pools in this episode. The Spice Girls? Barry Manilow? Small Wonder? Yeah sure, all high school kids in 2013 are familiar with those things. Come on, I’m thirty and I barely remember Small Wonder. These kids are supposed to be teenagers. It feels like this show should be set in the 90s.

And I know that the Small Wonder thing was meant in part to be a lampshade-hanging, but it ended up just drawing more attention to it. I mean come on, that’s a reference that even Family Guy would consider pointlessly obscure (which is not to say they wouldn’t still do it).

So, overall, this continues a run of disappointing episodes. Let’s hope that season four can find its feet again now that we’re in the home stretch. As an aside, five episodes doesn’t seem like much time to deal with both regionals and nationals, so I’m getting curious as to what’s going to happen there.

Musically, this episode was good but not great. Seven songs were a bit much, too. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” was fun but overproduced. In fact, most productions in this episode should have been more bare bones — the whole premise is that these are just kids having fun and loosening up without their teacher around. “Copacabana” was more like it. “Against All Odds” fell flat for me, perhaps because they were consciously trying to channel the far superior “Teenage Dream” from “The Break-Up.” Blaine is apparently unusually good at creeping people out while playing the piano. “Wannabe” was decent but the costumes were a bit much and the tempo felt a bit too slow. “My Prerogative” and “Mamma Mia” were both good but pointless, and the latter felt really weird transitioning the way it did between Ohio and New York. The highlight of the episode was “Creep,” which actually felt like it had something to say about the end of Brody and Rachel’s relationship.

Other thoughts:

If Sam isn’t having money problems, why can’t he just buy macaroni rather than steal it? Dry macaroni is almost literally as cheap as dirt.

I got a good laugh out of Kitty pointing out that despite the fact that everyone hates her and thinks she can’t be trusted, “everyone keeps telling me their secrets.”

The other good laugh I got was the shot of the drummer rolling his eyes during “Wannabe.”

Santana and Kurt’s short interaction at the end of the episode before Rachel walked in was a lot of fun.

I’m glad that Finn seems to be gone. He’s been a square peg in a round hole ever since Will came back.

Episode 4.16: “Feud”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

I watched Nashville right before I watched this. That was an error. It was like eating a steak prepared by a master chef right before eating poorly cooked Kraft macaroni.

In case the metaphor was too subtle: this episode was a mess. Last week, with “Girls (and Boys) On Film” we saw how a plotless episode can be merely unremarkable. “Feud” proves that, to be truly awful, an episode has to have a badly handled plot. When Glee takes a theme and runs with it, as with “I Do” just a few weeks ago, it can be amazing. When it takes a “theme” and beats you over the head with the blunt end of it, we get things like “Feud.”

The theme of “feuding” is a tough one from the very beginning. What is a “feud?” Essentially, it is conflict… which forms the basis of every piece of fiction since the beginning of human language. So you’ve got to bring something new to the table, and this episode just does not try at all. Will is mad at Finn for kissing his fiancée. Jake is mad at Ryder for kissing his girlfriend. Blaine is mad at Sue for forcing him to rejoin the Cheerios. Santana is mad at Brody for hiding his side gig from Rachel. Wade is mad at Ryder for refusing to accept that she’s a woman.

And… what else? Nothing. That’s it. “Feud” expects us to buy conflict, in and of itself, as the glue holding the episode together. There simply isn’t anything deeper going on here. That’s not a dealbreaker, though. It could still work. As thin as it is, write it well, base it in characters, and we could have a quality episode on our hands.

They didn’t do that.

Will acts like a huge douche throughout this episode. It didn’t help that they tried to make the whole thing into a gag at the beginning, with Will treating Finn like Smithers, complaining about the way he brings back coffee from Starbucks and how the dry-cleaned vests that Finn picked up for him aren’t clean enough. It makes light of the entire situation, and makes Will look petty and small-minded. I don’t care if Finn is nineteen: he’s still a dumb kid who made a mistake, and Will (a fucking teacher) should be able to see that. I could understand an immediate visceral reaction to the apparent betrayal of trust, but with the implied passage of at least a few days, if not a week or more, it looks ridiculous. More importantly: where is Emma in this episode? Jake forgave Ryder largely because Marley told him that the kiss meant nothing. Emma should be telling Will the same thing. And if she doesn’t know that Will knows about it, how oblivious could she possibly be? Will is completely losing his shit over the whole thing. It’s disrespectful of the character of Emma to completely leave her out of this. Given what we know about Will, however, it’s actually believable that he wouldn’t give a shit what she has to say.

When Marley came to Finn and essentially told him “Fuck Will, who cares what he thinks?”, I just about cheered. Will is a boor and Finn needs to get the hell away from that high school, and that message should really have come to the forefront a lot more. It should have been the theme, if you will.

Blaine’s feud with Sue was idiotic, and not just because Sue’s conflicts with the glee club are virtually the foundation of this series, making one wonder why Blaine needs to declare a “feud” on someone who did her best to defund the club just last season. It’s also not idiotic just because Sue’s Nicki Minaj routine made her look like an escaped mental patient. It’s also not idiotic just because Blaine went straight to “duet contest” rather than complaining to Figgins or even the cops about Sue’s actions. No, there’s a much better reason than all of that why this entire plotline is a big sack of stupid: if Blaine’s plan all along was to rejoin the Cheerios as a spy, why didn’t he do that from the very beginning? Sue could have said, “I want you back on the Cheerios, Young Burt Reynolds,” and Blaine could have said, “Okay,” and we could have skipped to the conclusion in just a few minutes and avoided embarrassing all involved. Alas, it was not to be.

Santana’s feud with Brody was the most interesting story of the episode for a couple of reasons. First, it lent some much-needed humanity to Brody, who is finally revealed straight-out to be working as a high-class prostitute. However, he’s only doing it because he needs the tuition money and he doesn’t feel good about it at all. The second interesting thing about this subplot is that it features Santana white knighting for Rachel, not only by taking an undue interest in Rachel’s questionable love life and repeatedly trying to convince her that Brody is bad for her, but by actually showing up at NYADA and threatening Brody via song (with the background dancing aid of Brody’s own students, who no doubt all received F’s as soon as Santana left). Santana finally discovers Brody’s secret and tags in fellow white knight Finn, who beats the crap out of Brody and refers to Rachel as “my future wife,” which is one of the creepier things that Finn has ever done. The way this whole story is structured… Brody comes off as the good guy. That’s hard to pull off when your character is a lying secret prostitute, but they managed it. Now I just wonder if it was intentional. If Rachel later has some revelation and decides that Santana was right to act the way she did, I will be very disappointed. Regardless of how Rachel and Brody turn out, Santana was way out of line for most of this episode, to say nothing of Finn.

The biggest problem with Santana and Brody’s plotline is that they never shared a single scene in the entire series until Santana showed up at NYADA, making it a little hard to buy the rivalry.

Ryder’s feud with Wade kinda came out of left field, but it was nice to see some actual conflict between named characters on the subject of Wade being transgender. In many ways, it’s been far too easy for her, and Ryder’s refusal to see Wade as a woman is perfectly natural for a kid his age. He doesn’t even come across as cruel, just kinda ignorant in a “I never really thought about it” kind of way, which makes his quick rehabilitation at least a little believable.

It was good seeing Ryder and Jake come to an understanding with each other without resorting back to the conflicts that characterized their relationship prior to their breakthrough in “Dynamic Duets.” I like to see things move forwards, not backwards.

Also happening in this episode: Ryder has an Internet girlfriend. Despite how smart, pretty and, above all, existent she seems, I’m still calling hoax. I’m pretty sure that only one person could be behind this: well-known Hawaiian prankster Ronaiah Tuiasosopo! TUIASOSOPOOOOOOOOO!

Anyway…

This episode was just plain messy. It’s almost like they didn’t even try.

The musical numbers varied between dull as dirt and pretty good. “Cold Hearted” and “How to be a Heartbreaker” were objectively the best numbers in the episode, and were both excellent. Despite the inorganic nature of the latter, I’m going to call it the highlight if only because it’s the only piece in the episode to hint at some deeper theme. Sorry, Santana (also, “Cold Hearted” would’ve made a lot more sense being sung to Rachel). “Bye Bye Bye/I Want it That Way” was surprisingly quite good, even if it was really weird and uncomfortable seeing Will down in the trenches with the kids (and I don’t think the intercuts of Finn and Will physically fighting worked at all). “I Still Believe/Super Bass was just weird and awkward. Jane Lynch hasn’t had a real good number since season two’s “Ohio,” and no good solo number since season one’s “Vogue.” The lady can sing; give her more to do. “Closer” was good, but, but unremarkable, as was “The Bitch is Back/Dress You Up.” Also: Ryder plays the drums too? That doesn’t help differentiate him from Finn.

Other thoughts:

So… Rachel’s not pregnant. Woo!

Will tells Finn “You broke the code of a brother.” I don’t have anything to add to that. I think it stands on its own as a monument to bad dialogue and poor characterization.

Santana tells Rachel, “My breasts ache with rage.” I don’t even know what to say about that one. It’s neither bad nor good dialogue: it fell off the scale.

Even if Kitty’s sudden heel/face turn is disorienting and unbelievable, it was actually nice seeing all the newbies together in one scene, bonding over their future in the glee club.

Marley’s show of support for Finn would have meant a lot more if regionals were still off the table. As it is, Finn accomplished very little in his time with the club.

Could Santana have a crush on Rachel? I doubt it, but her actions here make me wonder, and you never know with this show.

Episode 4.15: “Girls (and Boys) On Film”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

This may be one of the top ten most plotless episodes that Glee has ever done. Don’t get me wrong, it was a hell of a lot of fun, at least for the first few acts, but what really happened in this episode? Finn helped Will locate Emma and the two of them reconnected. There, that’s your plot synopsis. Pretty much everything else in the episode is a song, setup for a song, setup for later episodes, or background details.

The funnest bit of the episode was the B “plot” featuring Santana, Kurt, and Adam going stir-crazy while snowed in in the loft apartment in New York. Naya Rivera just stole every scene she was in, and I can almost forgive the questionable plot machinations that brought Santana to New York. She manages to make things awkward between Kurt and Adam by pointing out that Kurt still has a thing for Blaine, and when she finds a wad of hundred-dollar bills and a pager in the apartment she tells Rachel that she’s pretty sure that Brody is a drug dealer. It was like a recipe for instant fun: add Santana to any closed environment and just watch. Oh yeah, Santana also finds out that Rachel might be pregnant, since rooting around every drawer, shelf, nook, and cranny in an apartment is, she explains, “a thing I do.” They should have stayed snowed in a lot longer — watching the characters clash was just a blast.

The thing that tried to masquerade as a plot in the Ohio portion of the show was the movie music mash-up contest, which was not only pointless from the very beginning, but ended with Will declaring that everyone is a winner. The songs were fun, but I’ve seen Bazooka Joe comics with thicker plots.

It was a bit weird how persistent Finn was about getting Will to reconnect with Emma. Their breakup was a very delicate situation and Finn was far from being in possession of all the facts. He could easily have made things a lot worse. Will also didn’t exactly seem inconsolable. He was sad, sure, but he didn’t have a problem giving Emma some space to decide how she wanted to handle things. Finn’s method could have led to another retreat, which would have been disastrous. But hey, it worked out. I like that Emma addressed, at least obliquely, that Will has changed. Even before he went to Washington, he was acting self-absorbed and insensitive. Anyone remember his speech about how he thought Emma might be too hopelessly crazy to raise a family in “Yes/No,” not to mention his attempts to drag Emma to Washington in “The Break-Up?” I think that starting from scratch is probably the best thing for them, although Will was capable of being a douche in season one as well (see “Hell-O” in which he makes out with Shelby exactly one episode after kissing Emma for the first time).

Also happening in this episode: Marley confesses to Jake that she kissed Ryder, and Finn confesses to Will that he kissed Emma. Marley’s confession I can kinda understand, because she is still legitimately confused about who she wants to be with. It would have worked a lot better if Ryder had done a single thing in this episode, but Marley is trying to figure something out. Finn’s confession, though, is just baffling. By his own admission, and from everything I can tell, he doesn’t have any romantic feelings toward Emma. The kiss was a brief moment of stupidity, which Finn is prone to have (he’s been having one now for about 19 years), and it meant nothing. Emma clearly was perfectly willing to forget it (and for all we could tell, she did forget it), so why did Finn unburden himself of it at the most awkward possible time?

Kitty also made a backhanded apology to Marley for making fun of her, for no reason that I could see, and Marley decided to tell Kitty that Ryder had kissed her, once again for no discernible reason. Kitty implied that she wouldn’t keep the secret, but Jake knows too by the end of the episode, so I don’t really know what the point of that was.

Kurt and Adam’s relationship moves forward, as Adam accepts that Kurt can’t get over an old boyfriend right away. They accept that they don’t have the history together that Kurt and Blaine have, so they decide to build their relationship from the beginning. Cute, but not much to it. Adam is still in desperate need of character development, because I still think of him as the guy who stole from Jonathan Coulton. For some reason, I imagine that, in-universe, Adam didn’t contact Coulton to get permission to use his arrangement of “Baby Got Back” in public performances.

I guess I really don’t have much to say about this episode. It was fun, but largely pointless. Thematically, I guess it was about new beginnings, but it’s scarcely a strong theme.

Anyway, fuck all this plot bullshit, because this episode was clearly meant to showcase the musical numbers. This episode had an astounding eight of them, which didn’t really get in the way because nothing much else was happening. Unfortunately, the songs weren’t all that fantastic. “You’re All the World to Me” was fun, mostly for the black-and-white cinematography and practical effects that allowed Emma and Will to dance on the walls and ceiling. That must have taken a ridiculous amount of rehearsal. “Shout” was very cool, if a bit too imaginary for my tastes. It was also apparently Glee‘s 500th song: I wasn’t counting, so I’ll take their word for it. “Come What May” was surprisingly boring, as it was obviously 100% imaginary and between two characters who are no longer together. “Old Time Rock and Roll/Danger Zone” was just weird, though it was interesting to listen to those songs try their hardest to go together. “Diamond’s Are a Girl’s Best Friend/Material Girl” was easily the highlight of the episode, with great costumes, choreography, and a very strong arrangement. Wade and Marely make great singing partners. “In Your Eyes” was sappy and awkward, “Unchained Melody” was sappy and clichéd, and “Footloose” was fun but pointless.

Other thoughts:

It actually was nice to have Will back. Though I wonder why Finn is still hanging around. Go home, Finn! You’re 19, get out of high school!

So, is it better or worse if Brody is a drug dealer rather than a prostitute?

What the hell is Santana doing in New York? Working, going to school, just hanging around and making fun of people (which I’d have no problem with)?

Despite its association with Ghost, “Unchained Melody” actually originated with the 1955 film Unchained (hence the name).

Speaking of Ghost, I can’t believe that Glee did the pottery scene. Everyone’s done the pottery scene. One could argue that it makes sense that Jake would come up with something so dumb, but… I still had to watch it.

Shipping and Storytelling

Let’s talk about shipping. I’m a member of two fandoms that have very active shipping communities: one is Glee, of course, and the other is Homestuck (and I’m not going to talk about Homestuck here, but it definitely belongs on anyone’s shipping resumé because god damn). “Shipping,” from what I can tell, is the act of theorizing and promoting romantic relationships between certain characters (“shipping” comes from “relationshipping”), whether or not such relationships are canonical or even really make sense in-universe. In Glee terms, Finn/Rachel (or “Finchel”) is a ship that is supported by canon, while Puck/Artie (or “Partie”) is a ship that is not (and I came up with that just now as an example of something completely off-the-wall, but a quick Google search confirms that Partie shippers do exist).

The most obvious symptom of shipping is the portmanteaus, as demonstrated above: what my friends and I used to call “celebrity couple names” in the style of “Brangelina.” Some sound stupid, like “Furt.” Some sound awesome, like “Quinntana” or “Puckleberry.” Yet, all are pretty silly, and I tend to avoid using them in favor of “name/name” (which has an entirely different connotation, but I have to refer to couples as something). I’ll go ahead and use the portmanteaus in this post, though, since it is about shipping after all.

I’ve never been what you’d call a shipper (possibly excepting Homestuck‘s Rosemary), and I never even really understood shipping as a fandom activity. I mean, either two characters will get together or they won’t, and I’m not going to get all bent out of shape if things don’t turn our the way I predict or hope. It’s especially weird to me when it’s some really out-there pairing, like Partie or Faberry (Fabray/Berry) or Schuevester. I would even have considered Quinntana to be one of the out-there pairings prior to “I Do.” Why even theorize about pairings that are almost guaranteed to never happen? And even if they do, like with Quinntana, it doesn’t mean you’re awesome at reading between the lines, it just means you got lucky.

And that’s one of my issues with shipping. The story can go anywhere, and characters can change at any time for any number of unforeseeable reasons. When you get seriously into shipping a certain pairing, you start to lose sight of any actual realism involved thereunto. The key to good literary criticism is that interpretations have to be backed up with textual evidence. While shippers will pretend to do this (and may even actually do it in the odd case where their ship is canonical), their main interest is not in interpretation: it’s in wish fulfillment. If their OTP can get together, who cares if it would be the least logical, most nonsensical thing that could possibly happen?

I’ll admit to thinking about fiction this way sometimes. I think everyone does. It’s inevitable, with good fiction, that you have some degree of investment in the characters and care what happens to them. Naturally, you want to see your favorite characters happy, and many people see happiness in terms of finding one true love. And many TV shows are heavily centered on relationships anyway, Glee most certainly included. So fans start pairing off characters in their minds, seeking happiness for their fictional friends.

In addition, people tend to identify with characters, putting themselves in their place and thinking about what they would want. I think that’s why so many people were upset at the end of The Wonder Years, when it was revealed that Kevin and Winnie did not get married. Who doesn’t remember that one person from their youth that they dreamed of being with forever, but left behind? In the ultimate fate of Kevin and Winnie, we got truth when what many people wanted was fantasy. I left my high school love behind, one may say, but why did Kevin? It’s fiction! Make up a satisfying ending!

Of course, thinking like that is contrary to the true nature of fiction. Good fiction is not meant to allow the viewer to live out fantasies: that’s what daydreaming is for. Good fiction is not intrinsically interested in what’s best for the characters: after all, they don’t really exist. Good fiction is meant to tell a story and develop characters in a fictional universe that abides by internal rules. Authors have to be loyal to the world they created, not the viewers/readers or even to themselves. They have to go where the story wants to go. Betraying that for the sake of wish fulfillment or anything else is a bad thing. Was I sad when Brittany and Santana broke up? Yes. However, the situation made sense, it was true to the characters, and the writing respected everything that had come before. It was a logical event within a fictional universe. Getting legitimately upset about something like that would be like getting upset at the laws of physics.

Then again, people do have regrets about things in real life that they couldn’t help. People are funny creatures.

Anyway, the next time you’re upset about your OTP breaking up or not getting together, be glad that you’re watching or reading something that respects storytelling more than wish fulfillment. Unless it’s shitty fiction anyway, in which case fuck it.