Glee season four overview; or, dissociative identit-glee disorder

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Season three was very ambitious in terms of story and number of characters, and, while season four was no less ambitious, it was so in a different way. The stories thinned to a reasonable level and the number of characters kinda evened out, to the point that they lampshaded Sugar and Joe’s half-season absence in the finale. From a narrative point of view, this season felt more like season one or two. Season four’s ambition was twofold. First, it actually allowed characters to graduate and replaced them at WMHS with new characters. Almost uniquely, this was not done as some kind of bid for ratings (while admittedly down, ratings were fine), nor was it done because actors wanted to leave (from most accounts, the actors loved the show and wanted to stay). No, it was done purely for story reasons, since people can’t be in high school forever. Second, this season tried to split the focus of the show between two unrelated locations and groups of characters: Rachel and company in New York, and the high school crew in Lima. In addition, we began with the promise of Mercedes and Puck in LA, Mike in Chicago, Santana in Louisville, Finn in the Army, Quinn in New Haven, and Burt in Washington. That promised so many possibilities that it scarcely seemed like one season could contain it, and it would have been so easy to just have all the characters enroll in Lima Junior College or something so they could keep popping in. To do something that crazy, to spread the characters that everyone loved all over the nation and try to spin a series off without an actual spinoff, you’d think that they actually had some kind of plan.

Of course, Glee has never been great at planning, so one had to worry.

As usual, this overview will use the format “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The “Good” section will discuss things that I think the season did well, the “Bad” section will discuss things that I think the season did badly, and the “Ugly” section will discuss things that made me go “What the fuck?”
Click to continue reading.

Episode 4.22: “All or Nothing”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Where do I even start with this? Season four as a whole could be described as unfocussed at best and unremarkable at worst, at least until the season finale came along to drag down the average. “All or Nothing” is shockingly bad. It feels more like a parody of on episode of Glee than a real one, or perhaps like a 14-year-old’s fan script that accidentally ended up getting produced somehow. Just try to remember everything you loved about every other competition episode, and then for the love of God don’t watch “All or Nothing,” because it hits every note falsely, carefully following the general road map of what such an episode should look like while ruining every single moment.

In short, I didn’t like it.

What the episode bizarrely seems to want to be about is Brittany losing her fucking mind. She comes back to WMHS from being recruited by MIT and is acting like a total bitch, demanding “all the solos,” breaking up with Sam via text (while standing right in front of him), quitting the cheerios by throwing her uniform in a trashcan in front of Roz and burning it, and in general acting nothing like Brittany has ever acted before in her entire life. She’s even over the top when compared to her actions in “Britney 2.0.” This episode spends a lot of time on the “mystery” of Brittany’s bad attitude, as we watch Sam, Will and Sue (together), and finally Santana (at Sam’s request) try to get to the bottom of this. Brittany finally admits that she was accepted to MIT “early admissions” and that she has to leave “right away,” which is why she had that “meltdown.”

First of all, the audience knew about her acceptance to MIT from the beginning of this episode because It was in the first fucking scene. Second of all, everyone in the club knew that Brittany was being recruited by MIT because Will mentioned it, even using the term “early admission” if I recall correctly. Third of all, Brittany should have graduated last year. And, fourth of all, a bunch of other people are fucking graduating! So Brittany leaves a few months early; is it really worth hijacking a season finale and competition episode with all this faux drama, complete with a long goodbye speech that wanders so far from the main point that it plummets off a cliff?

I get the feeling that this is mostly about Heather Morris, who was pretty obviously pregnant and rumored to be retiring from acting to concentrate on raising her child. I can understand wanting to say goodbye to an actress who has been there since the beginning (and the tone of the show owes a lot to Brittany and the way that Morris charactered her), but you don’t have to ruin the episode to do it. A quiet scene with Sam, a phone call to Santana, and Brittany gets a nice send-off that could have also showcased Morris’s dramatic acting and skill at comic relief, rather than just let her go insane.

And let’s talk about the MIT scene for a moment, because it’s emblematic of a lot of what’s wrong with Brittany’s character, here and in some previous episodes. It hinges on the idea that Brittany is “secretly” smart, which is something I’m not sure if I’m supposed to believe or not. For some of TV’s goofball characters it’s believable, such as Welcome Back, Kotter‘s Arnold Horshack. With Brittany… it’s just not. They’re accepting her to MIT because of one test and some numbers she scrawled on a piece of paper, which they bend over backwards to interpret in some way that sounds somewhat stuffy and intelligent? That’s… stupid. And it’s hard to see Brittany doing anything at MIT other than washing out, as even the admissions people know that she has a 0.2 GPA. I don’t care how smart you are, you have to get good grades in any college, especially if you’re on scholarship, and it’s impossible to imagine that Brittany could do that. Brittany has never accepted that she is not intelligent, making her appear delusional in addition to unintelligent and most likely suffering from some form of mental illness.

But that’s enough about that bullshit, let’s talk about some other bullshit. Blaine has decided to propose to Kurt, because apparently Brittany’s stupidity is catching, so he goes to the mall to shop for an engagement ring. The jeweler, Jan, is an older lesbian woman who bizarrely decides to encourage Blaine in his proposal plans, despite not knowing him personally at all. Apparently, straight couples getting married right out of high school is just dumb, but if a gay couple wants to do it, that’s A-okay. It’s possible I’m being unfair here, but I feel like I was watching the episode’s expressed viewpoint, like we we’re taking a detour so that Ryan Murphy can deliver the message that ALL GAY PEOPLE SHOULD MARRY EACH OTHER RIGHT NOW. Blaine and Kurt’s supposed nuptials are just not being given the same respect and seriousness that Rachel and Finn’s wedding plans were for nearly the entirety of season three.

Kurt and Blaine have dinner at Breadstix with Jan and her long-time partner Liz, where they are witness to Jan finally deciding to pop the question for some reason (despite, as they mention, gay marriage not being recognized in Ohio). Liz and Jan are like a fucking commercial for gay marriage, and they pretty much hijack the plot for no discernible reason. I don’t mean to sound insensitive, because I support gay marriage, but I don’t think that this scene or these characters were included in the episode for any reason other than because Ryan Murphy is excited about the strides that gay marriage advocates are making. That’s no reason to include something in an episode, and it pretty obviously intrudes on the story. Jan even mentions the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on the subject of gay marriage, which may in fact be made over the summer, lending a new light to Blaine’s plans at the beginning of season five.

Anyway, Blaine doesn’t go through with the proposal this season. Tune in next time! Hey Blaine, maybe you should ask him if he maybe wants to go to a movie sometime before you ask him to be your fucking husband? Consider it a goal for the summer.

Ryder’s lying Internet girlfriend finally shows herself in this episode, since Ryder loses his shit in the choir room and throws a fit so scary that I’m pretty sure that Will should have called security rather than just sit there with his thumb up his butt. The catfish is… drumroll… Marley! Marley? That doesn’t make any sense. She has a boyfriend, she has no reason to fuck with Ryder, and I’m pretty sure that she’s been scientifically proven to be the nicest person on the planet. Oh wait, Marley was just covering up for Wade, as we find out a few scenes later (though we actually find out during Marley’s confession itself because of the way the scene was shot with Wade always in the foreground looking guilty). So the same episode that celebrates the strides that gay Americans are making paints the only transgender character on the show as a creepy stalker.

But that’s not the reason I don’t like this. I don’t like it because it takes Wade, a character remarkable for her courage in the face of everything during seasons three and four, and robs her of both her dignity and her courage all in one fell swoop, and does so by making her fall from grace over a man. Because hey, she’s a woman on TV, so her entire life has to revolve around a guy, right? I was hoping for Wade to get an episode all her own this season, and that didn’t happen. At least they allowed her, for most of the season, to be herself, show courage in the face of adversity, and form a strong friendship with Marley. But what they did to her here is absolutely unforgivable.

No matter who the “catfish” was it was going to be awful, since no one comes out of something like that looking like anything but a creep. But at least Kitty and Tina are already creeps. Wade was a strong , independent, brave, self-assured woman, and they turned her into a creepy lying stalker. THANKS.

Also, it felt like this was supposed to be about Ryder on some level, but he didn’t really do anything. His announcement that he’s quitting glee club after regionals seemed like it was supposed to be the end of a storyline for him, but I don’t know what storyline.

Lastly, Emma and Will get married at the end of this episode. I have nothing to say about that except that I wish they had done the slightest bit to rehabilitate Will’s character. Even Emma in this scene says that she “can’t handle the pressure” of a big wedding, and makes no mention of the fact that Will didn’t do anything to help her or take the pressure off, despite her fucking asking him to. From what I know about Will and Emma right now, I see Will being the Terri of their relationship.

And now let’s talk about the glee club winning regionals. Let’s not even get into the fact that it doesn’t feel like they should have won based on performances, because that’s very subjective and really not important in terms of the story. What is important is that this season has seen the kids lose sectionals, get back into the competition circuit on a stupid technicality that didn’t even make sense, and then win regionals despite being incredibly fragmented by Ryder’s catfish drama and Brittany’s manic episode. Compare this to the season one regionals loss. In that case, the kids simply had not paid enough dues to earn it, despite working like crazy and having a superior performance. The story was not ready to let them win. I’d argue that the same is true here. There are several newbies in the club, and this is the wrong way for them to experience their first big win. They need to earn it.

An even bigger problem was that, structurally, it scarcely felt like the competition even belonged it the episode. It felt like an afterthought. Compare this to the best competition episodes, like “Sectionals,” “Journey to Regionals,” “Original Song,” “Hold on to Sixteen,” “On My Way” and “Nationals.” Those episodes had a buildup, their storylines and structures respected the importance of the competition, even if the competition itself amounted to little more than a series of music videos. That doesn’t happen in “All or Nothing.” Instead, a series of music videos just suddenly happens in the middle of the episode.

So what did work in “All or Nothing?” Exactly one thing: Rachel’s audition. She came in, sang an amazing song, and then was treated to “Thank you, next please.” Even as she wipes tears out of her eyes from how much she put into that audition, the judges are just doing their jobs. That’s reality right there. Of course, they didn’t reveal whether or not she got the part. I honestly think it’s a tossup. As with the glee club, it feels like she needs to pay more dues before she achieves this kind of success. On the other hand, the cancellation of Smash means that there’s no competition for dramas set on Broadway, and it would give Rachel some new opportunities for character growth. It didn’t seem like the judges were too impressed, however, and Rachel is greener than grass in spring, so I doubt she gets the part. Her failure would honestly give better opportunities for character growth, if more challenging to write.

After several episodes that I liked quite a bit, this was not a good way at all to end the season, and not an auspicious way to go towards season five and beyond.

The music in this episode was decent, but far below par for a competition episode. Rachel’s “To Love You More” was very good, even if it didn’t match the emotion of “Don’t Stop Believin'” from “Sweet Dreams.” It was certainly very “Rachel.” “Clarity” and “Wings” by the rival glee club Hoosier Daddies (fronted by Jessica Sanchez of American Idol fame) were both great, and I’d probably call “Wings” the highlight of the episode. The New Directions’ “Hall of Fame” was okay and “I Love It” was very good, probably the runner-up for highlight of the episode. Original song “All or Nothing” was disappointing: generic and rather lifeless. Stick to covers.

Other thoughts:

What was the point of one of the clubs being “excommunicated by the new pope?” Just to bring in the new Warblers?

I was amused by their lampshade-hanging of Sugar and Joe’s absence.

Sam, on his relationship with Blaine: “I mean, he wants to do me, but we’re just friends.”

Brittany, on Will and Sue’s rivalry: “They were enemies, and then friends, and then enemies, and then friends, and then enemies, and then everybody stopped caring.”

We finally have an answer as to who works the camera for “Fondue for Two”: it’s Lord Tubbington. I shoulda known.

This episode at least wasn’t a complete loss since it had a gratuitous scene of Santana in her underwear.

See you in a week or so with my season four overview!

Episode 4.21: “Wonder-ful”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

I love Stevie Wonder, so I certainly have no complaints about making him the subject of a tribute episode. His music has a unique sound that makes it feel alive, and his songs so often evoke the sheer joy of living. And that’s what this episode is about. No matter what bad things have happened in the past, may happen in the future, or hell, may be happening right now: life is full of wonderful things, and there are so many opportunities to be happy. In many ways, the theme of this episode encapsulates the theme of Glee itself, as it asks the characters to open themselves up to joy.

I liked this episode a lot, though I’d be the first to admit that I might not be the best person to judge it, since I’m a sucker for this kind of thing. It had it’s issues, but it was quite good.

The first scene, with Rachel calling Will to make him the first person she told about her callback, was fantastic. Will and Rachel sometimes had trouble seeing eye to eye, but he definitely helped her to get where she is today. And it was nice seeing Will not being a huge dick for once this season. I loved his shouted response “Did you get Fanny Brice?” It was a completely natural, spontaneous reaction. It drew the attention of the entire teachers’ lounge, but not only did Will not care, he didn’t even notice. It would have been easy to make a throwaway gag about Will being embarrassed about drawing attention to himself, but they let the pure happiness of the situation stand without ruining it. Rachel thanking Will for helping her, despite their differences, also foreshadowed her final scene with Cassie.

Anyway, Rachel is really worried about her callback for Funny Girl, especially since she’s afraid that Cassie might try to sabotage her. Two of NYADA’s resident bullies (at least, what passes for bullies at a musical theater school) also think so, as they plant this idea in Rachel’s head and then tell Cassie about Rachel’s upcoming audition, in an attempt to “win her favor.” While Cassie makes a show of tormenting Rachel, in the end she essentially gives her a free pass on her dance midterm (so that she won’t have that to worry about on top of the audition) and throws her a surprise party to congratulate her on her big audition.

Having Cassie turn out to have a heart of gold after all could easily come across as clichéd and cloying, but it’s actually been obvious for a while. Way back in “The New Rachel,” there’s a brief scene of Cassie congratulating a former student for getting a part in a Broadway play. Part of the point of that scene was Cassie’s sadness at seeing a student succeed where she failed, but a more important part was her sincere desire to see her students succeed. Why would she want Rachel to crash and burn? That’s what neither the bullies nor Rachel understood. Personal issues aside, Cassie is a teacher. This is what she does. When a student succeeds, she succeeds. Her teaching methods may lean a little much towards the “Gordon Ramsay” school, but she tries to do her job well and build Broadway stars.

And, of course, we’ve seen this theme explored before in “Britney 2.0,” but it was done a lot better here. In the end, both Rachel and Cassie can share the joy of Rachel’s success, and they can finally say that they’ve reached a real understanding.

Speaking of being kind by being a total bitch, Kitty has a similar story in this episode. She finds out (since everyone tells Kitty their secrets) that Artie has been accepted to Brooklyn Film School but that he’s not going, ostensibly because his mom is “freaking out” and doesn’t know what she would do without him. Kitty doesn’t buy this and stages a public congratulations of Artie’s accomplishment in the choir room to try to cajole him into changing his mind. When that doesn’t work, she takes the much more drastic step of going to visit his mom, where she finds out that she didn’t even know that Artie had been accepted to film school. Artie confesses to his mother that he’s scared to go to New York, and he was just using her as an excuse. She convinces him that he will be able to adapt, just as he did after becoming paralyzed, and that she wants nothing more than for him to have a lot of success.

What I like about Kitty in this storyline is that she does a nice thing for Artie purely out of the goodness of her heart (explaining that she likes to mix it up a little sometimes), but she does it by being unapologetically mean. Artie asks her to keep a secret, so she announces it in front of everyone. Artie tells her that his mom doesn’t want him to go, so she goes behind his back and tells his mom about what he said. No one else, not even any incarnation of Quinn, would have handled this situation in quite that way. It was a nice way to give Kitty a little characterization without, you know, putting a gun in the school or getting her molested. I also liked that Kitty and Artie’s relationship here was entirely platonic. One could argue that there were hints of romance in the final number (I wouldn’t necessarily agree), but for the most part Kitty was just being nice to Artie out of a feeling of friendship. Contrast this with her interaction with Ryder in “Lights Out,” in which there were pretty clear sparks of romance from Kitty’s side.

Unfortunately, Katy Sagal, while good, was pretty much wasted in the small role as Artie’s mother. How long has it been since Glee had a guest star who they didn’t totally waste? Gwyneth Paltrow in season two? Maybe Jeff Goldblum and Brian Stokes Mitchell in season three? Katy Sagal joins the ranks of wasted guest star talent, alongside Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, and Whoopi Goldberg. At least give her a song; I know from Futurama that she can sing.

While all this is happening, Kurt, Mike, and Mercedes have wandered back into town. Kurt is there to be with his family to hear the results of his dad’s cancer treatments, while Mike and Mercedes are there to help the glee club prepare for competition (…again). Mike didn’t have much to do, but at least Mercedes kinda had a storyline this time. She has recorded an album in LA, but is having a disagreement with her producer over the album cover. He wants her to do another photoshoot for it and “show some more skin.” Either that, or he’s going to get someone else to be on the cover. Faced with the harsh reality of the music business (female artists are expected to be hot and dress like a slut), she eventually refuses to have anything to do with it, nixing her album deal entirely and electing to sell it herself independently.

I appreciate seeing Mercedes in a storyline (and I’d forgotten how much I missed her), but they didn’t do enough with it. It wasn’t really fair to ask the audience to come into the middle of Mercedes’s story (we’d heard nothing about this before) and ask her to share the episode with three other stories. Maybe Glee should have just had two or three spinoffs after all.

Kurt has been getting really superstitious and OCD in the days leading up to the results of his dad’s course of treatment, which is something that the episode presents as a joke for the most part. They didn’t really do anything with it. It did bring to mind his use of acupuncture when his dad was in a coma, though. He’s not the most rational person under stress. Anyway, Burt is pronounced cancer-free, in an absolutely unambiguous happy ending. It would have been a better moment if we’d touched base with Burt once or twice while all this was happening. Kinda like with Mercedes, it felt like we were stepping into the middle of Burt’s story. Burt’s absolutely genuine emotional reaction to the news almost made it worth it, though. Happiness just flows out like champagne on New Year’s Eve.

Also, it was really weird to hear Kurt’s voiceover talk about how he was going back to Lima to be with his dad, and then, first thing back in Ohio, to see him walk back into WMHS with Mike and Mercedes, and proceed to creep around his old high school for several scenes before Burt ever shows up.

Side note: where the hell was Finn when he stepdad was getting the results of his cancer treatment? He’s a first semester student at a party college; I’m fairly certain he could have gotten away for an hour.

Also happening in this episode: Blaine asks Burt for permission to ask Kurt to marry him, despite the fact that they aren’t exactly, you know, dating. Burt has a chat with Blaine in which he proves to be the master of the father-son conversation, but makes the odd choice to imply that he knows or suspects that Kurt loves Blaine. Blaine decides to slow down a bit, and just asks Kurt to stick around for regionals. Despite the fact that it’s apparently midterm season at NYADA, he agrees.

One of the things that Burt rhetorically says while trying to dissuade Blaine from asking Kurt to marry him was “Remember Finn and Rachel?” I do remember them, actually, and I remember that I’ve pretty much had enough of their relationship drama. I feel similarly about Kurt and Blaine. Can’t people just be broken up?

Despite the speedbumps, this was a lovely episode filled with optimism and happiness. Rachel mends fences with Cassie and is going on to her callback with a lot of confidence and support. Kurt has a healthy dad again and a renewed relationship with Blaine, if not a romance (yet). Artie surprisingly finds a new friend in Kitty and is joining the roster of characters going off to live their dream in New York. And Mercedes decides to stay true to her character while still pushing forward, determined to prove her talent to the world.

The music this episode was Stevie Wonder, so of course it was great. I’m incredibly biased here, but I’m going to call “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” the highlight. First, I love that song anyway. Second, Kurt once again evokes a moment from Taxi with this song, as this song was prominently featured at the end of “Jim’s Inheritance,” when it was on a cassette tape that was among some belongings that Jim’s recently departed father left him. Kurt uses it to tell his happily still-living father how he feels about him, while Jim’s dead father used it to let Jim know that he always loved him (note: I’d link to that scene on YouTube but the song is muted out for copyright issues, so just watch Taxi already). I don’t know if it was an intentional connection, but I love it anyway. “For Once In My Life” was a lovely way to end, even if the lyrics didn’t entirely seem to match. “Signed Sealed Delivered” was a lot of fun, and it was weird that Mercedes kinda just crapped all over it. Becca Tobin has a nice voice for that kind of music, surprisingly. I also like seeing Kitty performing with Jake and Ryder without there being a lot of high school drama about it. “Higher Ground” and “Superstitious” were both great, and it’s fantastic hearing Mercedes belting it out again. “I Wish” was good, but I expected a little more from Mike and Jake sharing the dance floor. Jake was more impressive on his own back in “My Prerogative.” “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” was good, and a decent way of clearing the air between Rachel and Cassie (considering that most of the previous songs that took place in that room have been pretty mean-spirited).

Other thoughts:

Will and Emma apparently patched up all their problems entirely offscreen. I’d complain, but I’m not sure I really wanted to see more of Will and Emma anyway.

Mercedes’s claim that the glee club lost sectionals because of “fear” rings pretty hollow. Didn’t they lose because Marley fainted and they abandoned the stage? And because they performed “Gangnam Style” for some reason?

Burt sure has a lot of time on his hands for a Congressman who also owns an auto body shop.

See you next week for the season finale, when all our questions will be answered! Or possibly not!