(Spoilers lurk below.)
True to its title, this episode is about moving forward, leaving behind the safety of the familiar for the often-frightening specter of the unknown. Blaine is going to audition for NYADA. Sam is going to forget about college and pursue a career as a model (I don’t know why they kept using the term “male model” — what other kind would he be?). Becky is going to leave the bosom of Sue and go to a college that has programs aimed at Down syndrome sufferers. Finally, Marley tries to navigate her way out of her wrecked relationship with Jake. None of these things are easy, and all of the characters need some convincing to move beyond what they know they need to leave behind.
All that sounds pretty good, so why does this episode feel so unsatisfying? The fact is that despite the strong theme and characterization, the actual execution is pretty shallow and obvious. Every plotline ends in exactly the way you’d expect: the way that was telegraphed from the very beginning, sometimes going back to prior episodes. Blaine has a single moment of indecision about auditioning for NYADA, and a few sentences from Kurt snap him out of it. Sam gets dressed down by a bichettey modeling agency executive and told he needs to drop ten pounds, but, with the help of his friends, decides to go his own way, because he’s good enough, he’s smart enough, and doggone it, people like him (see “Naked” for the first time they did this). Becky is afraid of going out into the world, but is convinced to take the risk by Artie, who previously struggled with his own fears on that subject in “Wonder-ful,” which is mentioned only obliquely. Marley goes on one date with Ryder, but decides that she needs some time for herself, while Jake goes back to his season four self and picks right back up on womanizing. It all just seems too easy. Not one of these stories played out in any kind of unexpected way, nor did they even feign anything unexpected. Point A, meet point B. That’s the story.
The one time that a storyline threatens to make a bold choice is in Blaine’s storyline when he says that he’s not sure he wants to go to NYADA. That would be interesting, because it would be easy to believe that Blaine was only playing out the role that was expected of him. Sure he’s a great singer and dancer, but maybe he wants something else out of his life (similar to a crisis that Scarlett is facing in this week’s Nashville). This would have worked on another level because it would have meant that Kurt didn’t know Blaine as well as he thought he did — nor should he: they’ve only known each other a few years and high school kids are notoriously changeable. However, this interesting route is intercepted when Kurt proves to know Blaine better than Blaine knows himself after all. Blaine does want to go to NYADA, and he goes on to “crush his audition” … offscreen, for some reason.
Sam’s plotline features the return of season four’s Stupid Sam, a character I had not missed in the least. He’s not completely moronic here, on the plus side. He’s mainly just socially awkward and unable to filter his thoughts through his “trouty” mouth. Modeling as a career idea doesn’t come completely out of nowhere for Sam, though the ideas that he may want a career in the arts (as suggested in the beginning of the episode) or that he doesn’t want to go to college do come out of nowhere. We’ve never really seen any hint that Sam hates school, as he says here, nor have we ever seen any evidence that he doesn’t want to go to college. We’ve actually rarely dealt with Sam at all as a serious subject, beyond season three at least. He got turned into a joke in season four, and has largely remained in that role. The speech from Ms. Bichette was weird, as it seemed intent on driving him away (are runway models really unpaid?), and the body image thing came out of nowhere and did nothing, especially since not only have we done body image on this show already on at least three separate occasions, but one of them was already with Sam. Sam’s ambitions in the big city do add him to the possible future New York crowd, along with Artie and Blaine. His long-shot career goals along with his pretty-boy image and current intelligence level make me think that he will become the Joey of the group. Blaine is Ross, Kurt is Chandler, Rachel is Rachel, Santana is Monica, and of course Brittany comes back as Phoebe. Artie can be, I don’t know, the ugly naked guy.
No, I haven’t put way too much thought into this.
Becky’s storyline, meanwhile… Becky is a weird character. She’s rude, she’s nasty, she’s immature, she’s inappropriate and offensive… and yet we’re still meant to like her, because she has Down syndrome. Not only that, but apparently the other characters are meant to like her for the same reason. Artie pushes forward with his plan to help Becky go to college throughout this episode, despite Becky doing nothing to endear her to him unless one considers unwanted sexual advances to be endearing. Maybe she’ll learn social skills in college. Anyway, Becky’s reluctance to leave the school was something that almost literally came out of nowhere. The recap guy mentions it at the beginning, but that is only to try to trick the audience into thinking that this is an ongoing plot thread when it isn’t. It reminds me of the way the show treated Mercedes and Santana in “Saturday Night Glee-ver.” So this episode pulled a problem for Becky straight of of its ass and then solved it, in the most obvious way with no surprises. Woo. Artie’s relationship with Becky, considering their history and his prior issues with going to college, could have been interesting, but it was continually torpedoed by Becky’s supposedly humorous rudeness and sexual harassment. It doesn’t leave much room for pathos. And, of course, in the end Becky decides to go to college. Stick a fork in this plotline; it’s done.
Sue’s response was boring and predictable, and existed mainly to allow us to see Sue’s icy demeanor defrost for about the fiftieth time in this series. It got old years ago.
And then there’s poor Marley, who dated a shark and was surprised when she got bitten. I guess now she wishes she’d paid more attention to “Womanizer” back in season four. There are a couple of things I like about this. One is that that no one sees Jake as redeemable except for Jake, and Jake does a lot to prove that his brief flirtation with monogamy with Marley was a fluke. Jake is a deeply flawed person who can’t deal with his legitimate problems with his relationship except by cheating, and who can’t think of any way of making up for what he did except for superficial apologies and roses. Marley’s response, however, while realistic, isn’t particularly interesting. This segment would have been better served by focussing on Ryder and his relationship with Jake, which has always been the best part of this particular love triangle. Unfortunately, we only get a couple of brief glimpses of how Ryder and Jake are affected by the other’s actions towards Marley. In the end, Marley declines to continue dating either of them, leaving them in perhaps the most awkward outcome possible. Hopefully this is picked up going forward.
All in all, a disappointingly predictable and by-the-numbers episode. Somewhat entertaining, but dull and shallow.
The shallowness, unfortunately, spilled into the musical choices. Don’t get me wrong, Billy Joel is pretty great, but we didn’t see a lot of brilliant choices as far as song use went. “Movin’ Out” was a nice upbeat way of getting Blaine and Sam to New York, but it had little of substance to say. “Piano Man” was nice, but a very obvious choice for a Billy Joel tribute, and I found myself wondering if anyone actually remembered that Glee already used this song. Will and Bryan Ryan? Season one? Anyone? What, am I talking to myself? “My Life” was okay, and, coming from Jake, at least it had a reason for being shallow. Then there was “Honesty,” used by Artie to encourage Becky to be honest. It was a big use of a song for a small moment with no depth to it. This could have been (and was) much better done in dialogue than in song. “An Innocent Man” came across as a slightly mean-spirited way for Ryder to suggest to Marley that he’s a better person than Jake, and that’s all it was. Again, no depth. “Just the Way you Are,” probably the highlight of the episode on the merits of the performance, likewise had no depth: they like Sam the way he is, so he should refuse to lose weight to accommodate a modeling agency. “You May be Right” was a fun way to end the episode, but there wasn’t any strong theme or feeling there, at least not one that hadn’t been done a thousand times before.
The arts aren’t a legitimate career choice, but “fecal sculpture” is? Wait, I think I saw that episode of Dirty Jobs…
After season three, it was kinda nice seeing a pair of seniors with a specific future plan (complete with safety schools in Blaine’s case) without a lot of drama.
Becky: the new Brittany. Discuss.
I’m still annoyed that Blaine’s NYADA audition was offscreen. Come on, people. Man up and give something beyond fantastic to Darren Criss. He can handle it.
I find myself hoping that the rumors of the show moving its focus entirely to New York are true. The Lima bits are beginning to feel especially tired, and a renewed focus might breathe some more life into the show.