Episode 5.06: “Movin’ Out”

(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.

Other thoughts:

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.


Episode 5.05: “The End of Twerk”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

This episode matches the plotless rambling of season three with the ultra-dramatic tonal shifts of season one with the odd moralizing and relationship drama of season two. Add a dash of season four’s New York (sans Santana for some reason), and I guess you’ve got… this. That’s not to say that “The End of Twerk” is a bad episode, it’s just very Glee, and probably more Glee than is good for it. This is an episode that just doesn’t give a care about the mainstream and goes nuts. Unfortunately, it would have been a lot better if someone had reined it in. Of all the things it borrowed from the various seasons of this show, it did not touch season two’s control, and that’s a shame.

There are several unrelated subplots co-mingling here, and nothing really ties it all together. Will (because he’s an idiot) has decided that twerking is the key to a nationals victory, and the glee kids all start working on their twerking skills under the protests of Principal Sue. Wade struggles with what bathroom to use, as an anatomical male who identifies and dresses as a female, and who faces bullying no matter where she goes. Marley finds out that Jake cheated on her with Bree… because Bree just flat out tells her. Rachel and Kurt decide to get tattoos, and the artist screws Kurt’s up.

If that sounds like the synopsis of a season three episode, that’s because it felt like one. Their focus was all… crocus.

Will’s fight for twerking was bizarre, and the whole thing was very reminiscent of season two’s “The Rocky Horror Glee Show,” in which Will fought to put on a play that was clearly inappropriate for a high school setting. At least that was the narrative: there was room for argument in “Rocky Horror.” Twerking, on the other hand, is just extremely sexually suggestive dancing, and Will looks like an idiot standing up for it like he’s some righteous crusader. The episode even sets Will up to look like an idiot with the performance of “Blurred Lines” (about which more below) and Will’s confusion about the song’s meaning both immediately before and immediately after the number. Given all that, were we supposed to be rooting for him? His cause is stupid, his arguments are stupid, and he is stupid. I’m on Sue’s side on this issue. High school kids should not be dancing like that at the behest of their teacher. We never really got any good argument’s from Will’s side, and the “first amendment” claims ring hollow. Will’s presentation about the history of dancing was slick, but ultimately hollow. None of the kids stepped forward with any real arguments either. The whole thing just made Will look dumb.

The other crisis Principal Sue had to deal with in this episode was Wade’s bathroom conundrum. Sue continues to pointedly refer to Wade as “he,” and Sue’s initial solution to the problem is to set up a unisex bathroom… in the form of a porta-potty painted with question marks bolted to the floor of the choir room. What happened to the Principal Sue of season two who fucking resigned before she tolerated bullying? I know that she doesn’t see transgender kids the same way she sees gay kids (it’s a cruel double standard that is believable), but she just seemed so much more professional and idealistic during her prior service in the office. Now she’s just Coach Sue abusing her power, and she is carrying out the very bullying that she would never have stood for in season two. Never mind how she feels about transgender people: she’s creating a dangerous learning environment and just begging for a lawsuit. I can’t see the school board tolerating this.

These plots come together in the end when Sue agrees to give Wade a key to the faculty bathroom if Will will give up twerking in the glee club. And thus did he trade something stupid and indefensible for something nice and heartwarming. It’s like the ending of “The Rocky Horror Glee Show,” except dumb and without any kind of lesson. The tonal shifts between Wade’s ultra-serious problems and Will’s ludicrous twerk fight were also pretty hard to navigate, though of course far from impossible for a Glee veteran.

Will’s chat with Wade before he let her into the faculty bathroom for the first time was nice, but it was hard to see what he was getting at except for “hang in there, kid.” He didn’t actually offer any concrete advice, though I know that that is hard in Wade’s case. I can’t imagine anything more difficult that being teenage and openly transgender. The bullying Wade faces in this episode, though ultimately mostly non-violent, was worse than anything else we’ve seen her go through in two seasons and some change. It feels like a crisis like this should have taken place long ago.

Of course, I’m still waiting for my Wade-centric episode. This was not it.

They tried to sell Kurt and Rachel’s adventures in tattooing as some kind of reaction to Finn’s death, but I didn’t buy it. Kurt says that he’s been in a trance since Finn died, which is all well and good except for the fact that he started a band just in the last episode. That is not the action of a man in a trance. As a response by Rachel it could have been a little more believable, except that Rachel was barely in this episode. The segment became all about Kurt as soon as he saw that his “It gets better” tattoo actually read “It’s get better” (his own mistake, it turns out, as he gave the tattoo artist a piece of paper for reference that contained a typo). The tattoo artist (who was a lot of fun and an interesting character in his brief appearance) corrects the mistake by changing it to read “It’s got Bette Midler” (which Kurt loves for some reason) and throwing in a free tongue piercing.

Rachel denies that she got a tattoo, saying she backed out at the last minute. But, in the final moments of the segment, she looks at her tattoo in the mirror and we see that it simply reads “Finn.” All together now: awwwwwwwwwwwww. Again, however, it didn’t really feel like a reaction to Finn’s death because of how little Rachel had to do in this episode. We felt her sorrow in “The Quarterback,” but we’re getting little sense of how it’s continuing to affect her.

Meanwhile, Marley finds out her shitty boyfriend is a shitty boyfriend and she sings a song about it. Actual conversation and character development on this matter will apparently have to wait for a future episode.

This was not a great episode and it had zero focus, but I have to admit it was reasonably entertaining. I’ve probably just been watching Glee too long.

Before I say anything about any of the other musical numbers, I have to talk about “Blurred Lines,” which was easily the highlight of the episode. It’s so over-the-top ridiculously inappropriate for the setting that it comes all the way back around and is awesome. The best part is that we don’t even have to enjoy it ironically, because it’s clear that they meant it that way, thanks both to the way it was shot and the way Will clearly has no idea what the song is about: “You do realize that ‘Blurred Lines’ is a song about date rape, don’t you?” “Haha, no it’s not.” I just wish the entire episode had maintained this tone and thrown drama to the wind. It could have been really funny. Anyway… Rachel and Paolo’s “You are Woman, I am Man” was very good, but there wasn’t much point to it. It might help if we knew a little about Paolo. Hell, I only know his name because I looked it up on Wikipedia. Wade’s “If I Were a Boy” was very good and was sold very well. It was also a long time coming. It took over two seasons for Wade to be given a heart: she was used as a sideline comic relief character for far too long when her problems are very real and she should be struggling a lot. “On Our Way” was a nice upbeat number to end on, but not fantastic. Marley’s “Wrecking Ball” was okay, but seemed like a pretty poor song choice after what she just found out. It just didn’t feel right.

Other thoughts:

When did Ryder get on Wade’s side? And wasn’t he going to quit the glee club? Does anybody else remember the season four finale? Anyone?

I liked how Tina was in favor of the porta-potty. That was honestly pretty funny. “What? It’s convenient.”

I liked how incredulous the school board was that Will is the reigning teacher of the year. It added to the feeling that the episode was making Will look stupid on purpose.

What the hell was up with the bathrooms turning into a rave club scene under Wade’s voiceover? That seemed like something that belonged in the pure comedy version of this episode… but it went as quickly as it came.

Was it just me, or did short-hair Rachel bear a striking resemblance to Mary Tyler Moore?

Episode 5.04: “A Katy or a Gaga”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

The Quarterback” contained a lot of references to Glee‘s first season, something treated almost as sacred by the legions of Glee fans. Back then, it was the little show that could, despite being so bizarre that even the producers were sure it would be canceled after thirteen episodes (seriously, try to watch “Sectionals” and tell me that wasn’t meant as a series finale). It was dark and edgy and it was sometimes downright cruel. The references to that season in “The Quarterback” were well-chosen and they were appropriate, both because Finn’s tribute episode revived the darkness that permeated season one and because a lot of the defining moments in Finn’s life happened back there. However, when you get right down to it, a lot of season one just seems misguided and lost next to the later successes of season two and even the better episodes of seasons three and four, when the show finally found its voice. This means that going back to season one for source material is problematic, because it can create a disconnect. Sometimes it works, as with Shelby’s reappearance in season three and the aforementioned “Quarterback.” And sometimes… well, that brings us to this week’s episode: “Theatricality 2: Electric Boogaloo” … er, I mean “A Katy or a Gaga.”

“Theatricality,” for those who may have forgotten, was an episode in the back nine of season one that served as a Lady Gaga tribute. It featured outright adulation of Lady Gaga, outlandish costumes bizarrely worn in public, identity crises, and performances so overproduced that even Kurt was probably thinking “tone it down!” Sounds familiar? “Theatricality” remains perhaps my least favorite episode of the series, so to see an episode blatantly lifting plot and style elements from it here in season five is not at all amusing. One could argue that the similarities between the two episodes are superficial: I’d argue that that’s part of the problem. Both episodes are largely superficial, despite thinking that they have something important to say and saying it with a bludgeon.

The titular dichotomy between Katy Perry and Lady Gaga arises from the club’s terror at having to face the latest double-entendre-named force to be reckoned with on the show choir circuit: Throat Explosion. This is one of the groups the club will have to face at nationals (and what’s with the list of three clubs at nationals? Both prior nationals episodes implied more like dozens of competitors), and, unlike the workmanlike robots of Vocal Adenaline, they are creative, theatrical, and viewed as outsiders — something that the New Directions prefer to view as their niche. They are compared to well-known music goddess and possible savior of mankind Lady Gaga, with the “opposite” of Lady Gaga being established as Katy Perry. Will asks which students view themselves as being “Gagas,” and takes for granted that the ones who don’t raise their hands are therefore “Katies.” Ryder’s legitimate question about whether or not there is a third option is ignored. Will then assigns the Katies to do a Gaga number and the Gagas to do a Katy number, in order to… I don’t know.

As I look over this whole plot, I struggle not just get invested in it, but to find the point of it. I’m reminded of the moment in “Theatricality” when, near the end of the episode, the kids ask Will what the lesson was, and he says that he doesn’t know (though in reality, “Theatricality” actually does have a pretty clear message). I get a similar vibe here, with Will pulling a lesson out of his ass without really knowing why he’s doing it. Is the message to be yourself? Is it to expand your interests? Is it to challenge your limitations? Is it that weird inappropriate costumes really seem to piss Sue off? Let’s review the actual results of this whole fiasco:

  1. Sam tries to appeal to Penny’s “edgy” taste in music by inviting her to his Gaga number, and she doesn’t like it. They both realize that they are actually Katies and start making out. The lesson seems to be to be yourself.

  2. Marley refuses to go along with her part in the Gaga number because she isn’t comfortable with it. Instead of wearing the “seashell bikini” that Sam assigned her, she dresses up like Katy Perry with a pink wig. Will, intent on retaining his title as biggest dick on TV, suspends her for a week, on the spot and in front of everyone, for daring to not put her body on display as a part of a stupid competition despite knowing about her struggle with bulimia and ongoing body image problems. In the meantime, Jake cheats on Marley with Bree because Marley isn’t willing to let him touch her boobs. The lesson seems to be to challenge your limitations, because being yourself just gets you shat on by life — or at least by your shitty boyfriend and asshole teacher.

  3. Sue suspends the entire club for a week for wearing those costumes to school, because the area of cracking down on dress code violations was clearly where Figgins failed as an administrator. The kids respond defiantly by performing “Roar,” a slap at Sue and statement of strength that comes across as a pale imitation of season two’s “Loser Like Me,” by far their best original song. I don’t even know what the lesson here is, except that Sue is back to being firmly established as the villain. Whoop-de-doo.

This was a lost, confused plot for the most part, a tired take on the interclub competition bit that has been done better so many times before and a blatant self-cannibalism of their style in “Theatricality,” with as muddled a message as the series has ever had. The best bits were the arguments among the Gagas about their Katy number, which were honestly pretty funny. “I tried breaking into the zoo to get us live tigers. Plot twist: Lima doesn’t have a zoo! Why’d we think it does?”

Meanwhile, in the B plot, Kurt has decided to start a band, and the first thing he apparently needs is as many singers as possible (you’re not a band if you don’t play instruments, Kurt). He gets Santana and Dani on board (and Dani actually does play guitar, as previously established), and Rachel is convinced to join later after she suggests the band name Pamela Lansbury, which Kurt immediately latches onto (despite the objective best choice being Santana’s first suggestion: the Apocalypsticks). He holds open auditions for the rest of the group, but the only person to show up is Elliott “Starchild” Gilbert (Adam Lambert), whose amazing costume and somehow overproduced performance feel threatening to Kurt, who takes a while to decide to accept him into the group. I had trouble identifying with Kurt’s feelings of failure, though I did understand his fourth-wall-tapping concern about being the funny gay sidekick instead of a main character in his own life. It was also hard to fathom why Elliot was so keen on getting into Kurt’s loser four-singer one-guitarist/singer band considering his obvious talents, but it’s true that New York is a tough town.

This subplot was entertaining mainly for Adam Lambert’s performance, though he got limited screen time. I’m sure we’ll see more of Elliot in the future, though. He certainly has much more promise than Adam (the character) did as a new addition to Kurt’s circle of friends and a possible love interest.

All things considered, this was not a great way to end the hiatus.

Musically, this episode was surprisingly lean, as well as surprisingly dull. You can say what you want about “Theatricality,” but it had “Bad Romance,” and the performances in “A Katy or a Gaga” were not up to that level. The highlight was most likely Elliot’s “Marry the Night,” which was fun and had enough energy to power Pittsburgh for a week. It was also at least as entertaining for Santana’s mesmerized reaction as it was for the performance. “Applause” was also fun in the same way that season one’s “Run Joey Run” was: it was just so self-consciously terrible and pretentious. And watching Will’s reaction was also really amusing. All the shit he’s seen, and he’s never been more disgusted by anything than Marley’s costume. “Wide Awake” was okay, but seeing Tina singing a mellow song while sitting on a stool brought to mind season one’s “True Colors,” which was superior in every way, especially thematically. “Roar” was good, but, like much of the episode, felt like rehash of stuff they’ve done before.

Other thoughts:

I know I mentioned this twice already, but I can’t get over what a giant douchebag Will was to Marley in this episode. He should be suspended for that shit.

I agree with Sue and Becky about how annoying the whole “Katy/Gaga” thing was. That’s just what high school kids need, more labels.

Jake and Marley seem to have become the old married couple of the group. Their relationship here, with Jake seemingly feeling bored and trapped, reminds me of Finn and Rachel in season one’s “Hell-O,” right before Finn broke up with her. And then Jake has sex with Bree, much like Finn had sex with Santana in season one’s “The Power of Madonna.” And neither of those things were all that original back then either. Somebody send the Glee writers some ideas quick, or I’m just going to start slightly-rewriting my old reviews for publication too.

Penny and Sam don’t really have any chemistry together, and it was just horrible writing when Penny just flat-out started explaining who she is right before she and Sam started locking lips.

Sue makes a crack about the glee club doing a lot of Journey songs… a reuse of a gag they made in season two’s “The Substitute,” where it was much funnier.

Penny’s assessment of the Gaga performance: “I really liked the part where the girl got suspended.”

I apologize for not posting that thing I said I’d post during the hiatus. I got distracted. I’ll get to it eventually, though maybe not until the offseason at this rate.