(Spoilers lurk below.)
This episode features a blackout whose length is only matched by how symbolic it is. The blackout is actually fairly unique in Glee terms in that, while it provides an obvious hamfisted theme and an easy excuse for Will to make up an assignment for the kids, it does it with style and the theme goes deeper than it usually does in these kinds of episodes. If it seems like a stretch that a blackout at a school would last so long (internal clues suggest it went on at least 24 hours) with classes going on like normal, well, it is. But it provides a lovely chance to look at these settings and characters in a different way. With the lighting darker and everyone’s mood different due to losing access to their beloved technology, everything just looks and feels new. Even the New York half of the episode plays along, taking us to the Vogue building, which we haven’t been to in a long time, and a theater which we’ve never seen before, leading into an extended and very unusual performance of “At the Ballet.”
In a way, it’s almost like the blackout was written into the script to force the Glee writers to get back to basics a little bit. Overproduction has been a recurring problem on the show (though not to the same extent as on Smash), and by muting the visuals and cutting down on the instruments, they have to work a little harder on the numbers. Of course, even in an “unplugged” episode they find a chance to deviate, with the imaginary and wacky “Little Girls” and the painfully artsy “At the Ballet.” At the same time, the other numbers moved away from that, and we saw a lot of characters letting their guards down and connecting with each other, both through music and through normal, everyday dialogue.
Like most of season three, this episode doesn’t feature a main plot so much as it features a variety of subplots. Unlike most of season three, they are all united by a common theme and it works. Everyone is trying to figure out who they are and what they want. Ryder continues to be drawn toward his lying Internet girl(?)friend despite getting closer to and getting hit on by the definitely-existent Kitty. Sue has found a new life as a personal trainer at a gym and thinks that it’s what she was always meant to do, even as Becky tries to convince her to try to come back to the cheerios. And Santana is confronted by Kurt and Rachel for wasting her life and talent despite having come to New York Fucking City to chase her dreams.
Ryder’s issues were short on plot, but long on emotion. One of the reasons he is clinging to Katie, his Internet girlfriend, is that he’s been able to open up to her more than anyone else he’s ever known. Jake rightly points out that maybe he should be opening up to people he actually knows, and Ryder decides to take him up on that. He tells the glee club that he was molested as a child by his babysitter, something that he’d only ever told Katie in his entire life. Everyone is shocked and sympathetic right up until Ryder reveals that it was a 17 year old female babysitter, and Sam and Artie suddenly decide to let their hormones do the talking for them. It sounded horrible when they thought it was a man, but they can’t understand why he would be upset at being felt up by a girl. It’s an unfortunate attitude, but one that is believable coming from kids. Ryder can’t even convince them that he really is upset and traumatized by it. He just “admits” that it was awesome and drops the subject.
I think that sexual assault is one of those disasters that it’s difficult for non-victims to connect with victims about. I can at least understand what it might be like to lose one’s house to arson, or be the victim of a murder attempt, or be robbed, even if none of those things have ever happened to me. But how would it have affected me if I had been molested as a child, by a woman or a man? What difference would the level of violence have made? What if it had had the illusion of consent? I can’t answer any of those questions, so I can’t possibly say how Ryder felt or feels about it, and I’d just have to trust what he says. Sam and Artie, who have never been molested, make the mistake of projecting their current hormone-addled feelings onto the situation, and assume that any guy must feel the same way.
Ryder does reach one person, however. It turns out that Kitty was molested when she was younger as well, and she opens up to Ryder about it as a show of sympathy. She was made the object of derision when she told her parents what had happened and everyone in her school found out and assumed that she was a liar. She connects with Ryder not just because they were both molested, and not just because they both had trouble admitting it, but also because they both didn’t get anything like the response they needed from their friends when they did admit it. It apparently takes really heavy things like school shootings and child abuse to get Kitty to show some emotion, but Becca Tobin really nailed the performance here.
This segment ends when Kitty invites Ryder to join her for lunch, but he refuses because he’s waiting for Katie to come back online. Kitty is really hurt at being rejected for someone who is mostly in Ryder’s mind (“Why would you take an online fantasy over an actual fantasy?”), and points out the harsh truth that Katie is whoever Ryder wants her to be. It’s easy to play people over the Internet. She then sadly leaves him to his computer. I think that this scene actually humanizes Kitty more effectively than either the school shooting scene or the earlier admission-of-being-molested scene. Here, she’s just a normal girl who is really sad that a guy she likes is passing her over. It’s also a lot easier to relate to her in this situation, because we’ve all been there. Again, Becca Tobin proves that she has some acting chops, and I hope that Kitty gets more chances to be a real person in the future.
Santana’s subplot, unfortunately, isn’t nearly as strong. However, it was filled with nearly as much emotion, even if a lot of it was artificial. Kurt and Rachel find out (via Tina, somehow) that Santana has been working as a cage dancer, something that we sadly don’t get any visual evidence of. … But anyway, her friends think that she’s wasting her talent being sleazy and that she should do something, anything, to try to better herself. Santana is the first to admit that she has no idea what she wants out of her life, and she thinks that this is a fine excuse to just hang around and do easy stuff until something better comes along. This very non-proactive approach is challenged when Kurt (who is apparently still working at Vogue.com) gets them backstage at a benefit gala for the New York Ballet and Santana suddenly admits that she used to take ballet. She liked it, she likes “serious” dancing, and by the end of the episode she decides to join a dance class sponsored by NYADA (for non-students) to try to rediscover that “artist” in her.
At the heart of this subplot is “At the Ballet,” which, at over five and half minutes, is a serious contender for longest single performance in the history of Glee. It even goes on for two minutes longer than the intrinsically epic “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” It’s undeniably artistic and emotional, but it starts to lose the plot after a couple of minutes, when it stops being about Santana and takes a long, unnecessary, self-indulgent detour with Sarah Jessica Parker. Plus, it’s ludicrously overproduced, especially for being is an episode that is supposed to be about focussing on the basics. This storyline would have worked a lot better if it had spent some more time developing Santana and her struggles. Santana almost comes across as a tertiary character in her own story, as we spend a lot of time with Kurt, Rachel, and Isabelle. Most of her issues in this episode are not shown, and instead of watching Santana struggle and change, we just have to listen to her tell us about it (That makes me feel angry!).
Sue’s subplot goes nowhere and does nothing. The main character here should have been Becky, who is genuinely struggling with the fact that Sue, her idol, got fired for protecting her. But, we end up spending a whole lot of time with Sue, including a pointless scene at her new job as a personal trainer, and a very weird, pointless, but fun performance of “Little Girls.” We’re led to believe that Becky fessed up to Figgins at the end of the episode, but any consequences are not revealed.
So this was a reasonably enjoyable episode. If it’s not an instant classic, at least it’s classic Glee. It had a lot of emotion, a lot of ambition, and some questionable decisions. That’s Glee for you.
This was a strong episode, musically. Even the needlessly self-indulgent “Little Girls” and and the overlong “At the Ballet” were fun. With “At the Ballet” it was especially easy to forgive it its many sins simply because it was so well done. Even if I feel like it needed to do more to justify its length, and despite all its other flaws, I’d still call it the highlight of the episode. It’s that good. Sam’s “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’” was a nice intro to the simplicity of the music of the glee kids’ part of the episode, as they refused to add in even any imaginary instruments. It was carried by Sam’s guitar playing and the vocals of the club. Ryder’s “Everybody Hurts” was reasonably emotional and a good way to lead into his opening up to his friends. Blake Jenner sold the feeling behind it well. “We Will Rock You” was fun but pointless, which made me wonder why they devoted a minor plot point to Artie being inspired by Sam to set the whole thing up. “The Longest Time” was fantastic, even if it didn’t reach the heights of Glee‘s best a capella number, “How Will I Know” from season three.
I’m glad that the recap narrator agrees with me that it’s fucking crazy that Sue covered up for Becky.
When Santana admitted that she didn’t know what she wanted out of life, it was a great moment, well-acted, and the one part of her story in this episode that felt like it belonged to her.
Their attempt to lampshade Blaine’s aborted “sabotage the cheerios from within” subplot by having him mention it was pretty lame.
What was with the flashbacks to people getting slushied during “Everybody Hurts?” That’s not exactly near the level of pain that Ryder was trying to express.
Isabelle reminded me of Holly Holliday in that her attempt to help Santana could have ended up being hopelessly wrong (every little girl wanted to be a ballerina!), but she managed to stumble into success.
So… you reckon they used any autotune on those “unplugged” numbers?