Episode 5.12: “100”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

One hundred episodes of Glee. Wow. Say what you want about the quality of the show and whether or not it’s gotten worse or better, but for a television musical to last this long is amazing and wonderful. “100” is a celebration of that, as well as a love letter to the foundation this show was built on. Glee has been doing reprises more and more as it ages, and now we have a two-part episode that is almost entirely dedicated to them. Part one works, and then some. “100” is short on plot, but the story is really just an excuse for the musical numbers (as in many of the best episodes of Glee), and the musical numbers here carry a ton of weight, both from a narrative and an emotional standpoint. It helps that all our old friends are back (including the much-missed Dianna Agron), but that’s not the only reason that “100” feels like vintage season one Glee at its best: this is an episode that is all heart and no brain, but the heart is so strong that it’s more than enough.

Speaking of vintage Glee, the producers’ choices about what to reprise and what to reference say a lot about when Glee‘s golden age was. Returning guest characters are April Rhodes and Holly Holliday, both last seen in season two, and the songs reprised are all from either season one or season two. It’s almost as if they’re admitting that it’s been all downhill ince then, as they look back with nostalgia to when this show was capable of producing entertaining programming most of the time.

There are a melange of subplots here, mainly serving as excuses to get into musical numbers. Everyone is back in town to honor the glee club as it shuts down forever, despite, as Brittany points out, some of them having two full time jobs and being enrolled full time in school (Rachel). April and Holly are also back (they know each other through “a Facebook page for people who were guests of glee club”), and they’re determined to save the club. Quinn has come into town with her asshole boyfriend Biff, whom Puck does not like. Brittany is suffering from burnout after having nothing to do but math at MIT and not dancing anymore, which Santana is concerned about. Mercedes and Rachel finally decide to carry on their rivalry last seen in season three and decide who is (was) the best singer in the glee club by having a diva-off, because apparently high school never ends (no they didn’t do that song, but I wish they had).

Biff is the perfect example of a Glee villain in the classic style: he doesn’t have any redeeming qualities and is only there because Quinn is lying to him and to herself. He thinks it’s interesting to see how poor people live, he spends the entirety of Brittany, Santana, and Quinn’s performance of “Toxic” (in cheerleading outfits) texting, which also brings up uncomfortable questions about his sexuality, and he calls Quinn a slut when she finally comes clean about her troubled past, telling him about her baby and the nosedive spiral her life took that she clawed her way back out of. He offers no understanding, no remorse, not even a cogent argument. He barely has a personality. He’s there for Puck to punch in the face and toss in the dumpster, so that Quinn can realize that she was fooling herself with Biff and that she should really be with Puck. And damned if it isn’t effective. I didn’t feel anything about Puck and Quinn’s relationship when it suddenly appeared in season three’s “Goodbye,” but that was largely because it came out of nowhere and I didn’t understand Quinn’s assertion that Puck was a good person at heart. But Puck has grown a lot since then, we’ve had a season and a half or so to mull over the idea of Quinn and Puck as soulmates, and Puck’s concern for Quinn’s denial of her past seems very real.

In a rare show of subtlety, the episode never comes right out and overtly draws a connection between Finn’s death and Quinn’s desire to rewrite her past, but it’s there. It’s underscored in Puck’s performance of “Keep Holding On,” a song that was originally sung largely for Quinn, right after Finn assured her that everything was going to be okay when it came out that Quinn was pregnant. Quinn claims that she doesn’t want to remember the past (“Until you sang that song, I had actually forgotten about it … I’d rather look forward”), and it’s not hard to infer that not wanting to face dealing with Finn’s death is in play for her. It even connects with Quinn’s non-appearance in “The Quarterback.” Her acceptance of Puck, and by extension her past, constitutes an acceptance of Finn’s death, especially considering how important Finn was to Puck. Quinn and Puck’s one direct discussion of Finn is also quite good, as Puck wonders if Finn ever forgave them, and Quinn assures him that he did a long time ago.

The plotline worked very well. Damn, I’ve missed Quinn.

Mercedes and Rachel’s renewed rivalry felt pointless for a large portion of the episode, but then came Santana’s scathing rant at Rachel, and Mercedes deciding to mend fences and comfort Rachel. Santana was in the right at some point in this rivalry, but since then she’s morphed back into the bully she was in high school, and Mercedes knows how much that can hurt. That the “diva-off” ends in a tie was predictable, but it really isn’t the point. Mercedes and Rachel’s rivalry is in the past, Santana and Rachel’s struggle with each other is in the future. Some people can move forward, and some cannot.

Brittany’s struggle with being a math genius was pretty silly, but, again, the plot wasn’t the point as much as the characters were. Santana gets Brittany to dance again, and Brittany admits that she still feels something for Santana. Their kiss was legitimately surprising (though I’m sure it shouldn’t have been), and it puts Santana in a pretty awkward situation. She says that she spent a lot of time getting over Brittany, and we know that it’s true — one remembers Santana’s sad relationship rants as Mrs. Claus in “Previously Unaired Christmas.” She also has a girlfriend now, and asking her to choose between Dani and the love of her life is inherently unfair. I honestly don’t know what she’ll do, but I hope that she remembers why she broke up with Brittany in the first place way back in “The Break-Up.”

Meanwhile, Will and April try to save the club by pointing out that April funded the auditorium, and as such the club should still be able to meet there. However, Sue finds out that the funds that April left for the auditorium have all been used up (thanks to Will’s extravagant musical numbers), and that April is under indictment with her assets frozen. Oops. Holly shows up and sings a song, but other than that she becomes fast friends with April, and the two decide that they are going to save the glee club (after they finish their wine). This will apparently be resolved in part two.

Will’s scene with the kids in the auditorium in front of the pictures of Finn and Lillian Adler was legitimately emotional, and I could feel the power behind what Will was saying. This was something on the level of what we got in season one’s “Journey to Regionals,” and which I said was missing from “City of Angels.” One only has to remember season one to recall how much this club means to Will, and we’re reminded every episode of how much it means to the kids.

But enough of that. The plotlines and characters worked pretty well, but what really made this episode fantastic was the music. Glee has never screwed up a reprise before, and they certainly don’t start now.

Raise Your Glass,” a Warblers rather than New Directions number as Blaine points out, had a ton of energy and was a lot of fun. With the atmosphere of an impending end and everyone dancing in the choir room, coupled with the natural nostalgia of the episode, it reminded me more of season one’s “My Life Would Suck Without You” than the actual original from season two’s “Original Song.” This was a great number, if an unusual choice to reprise. The Unholy Trinity’s “Toxic,” reprising the only non-imaginary Spears number from season two’s “Britney/Brittany,” was very good, and a nice way of getting Brittany, Quinn, and Santana back together again, but there wasn’t anything all that special about it. I thought it was hurt by the cutaways to the imaginary version where they were in more elaborate costumes. It was about the three of them reuniting, and it should have been kept simple. Mercedes, Kurt, and Rachel’s “Defying Gravity” (original here) was remarkably emotional, considering that I didn’t really feel the importance of Rachel and Mercedes’s rivalry at this point. This is a perfect example of this episode’s ability to pull deep musical numbers out of shallow plots: there is so much going on between Rachel and Mercedes here (though I’m not sure how Kurt snuck in). Santana’s “Valerie,” reprising her own number from season two’s “Special Education,” was a great choice, as the original was one of the best showcases for Brittany’s dancing skills. It was also fantastic seeing Mike, Brittany, and Jake all on stage at the same time. It’s almost amazing-dancer overload. The highlight of a strong bunch, however, is by far Puck’s “Keep Holding on,” reprising the original, sung when Quinn was in a very low place. My reaction was the same as Quinn’s: this number brought tears to my eyes. Very masterfully chosen, and very well performed. Holly’s “Happy,” the only non-reprise of the episode, was quite good, but it didn’t have the weight of the other numbers in the episode.

Other thoughts:

Alluding to some of the super bizarre weirdness of season one, Tina mentions that April taught her how to “shoplift meat in [her] vagina.”

In a similar allusion, Santana refers to Will’s questionable rapping skills.

I guess April’s auditorium funds fully explain the club’s budget over the years?

The biggest laugh of the episode for me was when Holly thanked April for buttering the floor for her after she made her sliding entrance.

Other members of the “guests of glee club” Facebook group: Blaine’s brother, Rachel’s mom, and “that Mexican guy.”

I wonder what Brittany would think if she found out that Quinn and Santana hooked up in “I Do.”

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Episode 5.11: “City of Angels”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Welcome to “The Quarterback Part II.” Er, I mean “City of Angels.”

This was probably the second-best episode of the season, even if that’s not a very high bar. At the same time, it feels like the culmination of several storylines that we haven’t actually been following, especially considering that we’re looking at the end of a school year that began all the way back in season four, 33 episodes ago. Will asks Sam to step up as the leader of the glee club, even though that’s not something we’ve seen him evolving towards (and didn’t “Puppet Master” establish Blaine as the leader anyway?). We see Marley antagonizing over her career as a songwriter, even though we never knew before that she was pursuing it outside of school (and she’s a sophomore in high school for God’s sake, this feels awfully rushed). We see Mercedes suddenly super successful in Hollywood, even though she hasn’t checked in since last season’s “Wonder-ful.” We see a continuation of mourning for Finn, even though we’ve seen very little of it since “The Quarterback,” 8 episodes ago (and it’s weird for Rachel to not be involved). We see the final confrontation with a rival glee club we’ve never interacted with before. And, finally, we see the glee club unceremoniously disbanded, despite not really knowing it was in true danger. This really isn’t the Sue we used to know, the one who personally made sure that the club got another chance at the end of season one.

Which, again, is not to say this this episode wasn’t good. Long-time readers of this blog (I know you’re out there) will recall that I am a sucker for competition episodes, so extra points for that. But there is something lackluster about it. It exudes an aura of going through the motions. As with the other episodes since the hiatus, it’s like we’re just trying to get to the end of this high school bullshit so that we can move on. When Sue tells Will that she’s cutting the glee club, Will resignedly asks if he should even fight, and it’s obvious that even the characters recognize the producer-mandated plot twists for what they are and are just going along with it. Will seems to know that he’s in a part of the series that is just no longer relevant.

It was nice to see Burt and Carole again, though I’m not sure exactly what they contributed to the episode. Again, outside of “The Quarterback,” we haven’t been a witness to their mourning, so it’s hard to connect their actions here to any kind of character development. And what did they really do? They encouraged the club to compete for Finn, they almost walked out of the competition because it was too emotionally draining, and then they came back at the last minute to cheer them on. I guess they’re going to be okay? I wish we could have seen more stuff with Kurt and Burt, like the lead up to the final number in “Love Love Love.” First of all, those scenes are always great. Second, it would have given us some insight into how the Hummels are coping with Finn’s death as time passes, and would have given context to their actions here.

The nationals competition in general felt oddly low-key, especially compared to season three’s very high-energy “Nationals.” Of course, it’s the second time we’ve been here, and it’s the first time in the show’s history that it was impossible for the club to do better than they had done before. The first nationals win was a culmination of events that started with “Pilot.” “City of Angels” simply doesn’t have that gravitas. In many ways, having them win second place instead of first was the easy choice. Having them win first place again would not only have been boring, but it wouldn’t have left any room for a lesson. Here, they learn that having full hearts, amazing skills, a history of success, and a righteous cause doesn’t necessarily mean that winning is certain.

It doesn’t help that many of the characters in the club are newbies who haven’t been developed that well and who we don’t care about all that much. The characters we care about already got their nationals championship. The newbies didn’t even get more than a few lines in the past two episodes, so even the writers don’t seem to remember why they should give a shit.

I’m not sure what they meant to do with the subplot relating to Marley’s songwriting. Mercedes encourages her to not give up, and that’s about it. It reads almost like they’re trying to set up Marley moving to LA, except that Marley is a sophomore in high school and the show is clearly moving its focus to New York City. Maybe this is meant to be a way of saying goodbye to Marley, in which case it rings pretty hollow. I can’t get too emotional about the possible future career of a girl in tenth grade. It almost would have been better to try to resolve her love triangle. What if Ryder, Jake, and Marley actually all three sat down and talked about their problems like adults? That would have felt like growth and resolution on a scale that would have made sense for the characters.

Throat Explosion and their leader Jean-Baptiste made for generally dull villains, despite the superficial flashes of humanity from Jean-Baptiste. They came out of nowhere and acted like assholes for no good reason. I was pretty amused at the casting, though, since Skylar Astin, who plays Jean-Baptiste, also played Jesse (a good guy) in the Glee-influenced (no matter what they say) musical film Pitch Perfect. It could be interesting to see more of Jean-Baptiste, but I doubt it happens.

Sam didn’t get to do a lot as “leader” of the club, and this was a subplot that really needed some more weight behind it. Sam makes a lot of sense as someone to pick up Finn’s mantle, but it needed a few prior episodes to establish it. As it is, not only did this come out of nowhere, but it did nothing.

From an in-universe logic standpoint, Sue’s cutting of the glee club makes little sense. What high school would cut a program after two years in the top two in the nation? High Schools kill for programs that compete at the national level. It makes Sue look like an idiot, though she’s looked like one plenty of times before in her role as principal this season. As I alluded to above, it just feels like the characters are doing what the producers need them to do. Why are the producers even doing this? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a good way to convince the audience that we can forget about the newbies (if they’re not singing, why ever move the focus back to Ohio?). Maybe it’s a way of moving Will to New York City, so he can participate in a few more storylines before Matthew Morrison leaves the series at the end of the season. Maybe it’s a way of cutting the umbilical cord, of signaling that the series is moving on.

I don’t know.

I will say that the lack of emotion surrounding the cutting of the glee club is bizarre. Remember “Journey to Regionals,” when everyone thought the club was going to be cut and everyone got together to say what the experience in the club had meant to them and sing “To Sir, With Love?” One could argue about the effectiveness of that bit (I happen to have loved it), but at the very least it showed that the characters cared. In “City of Angels,” they just seem tired and resigned.

If it sounds like I’m ragging on the episode, I’m really not. It is a competent competition episode, even if it doesn’t ascend to the lofty heights that we used to expect from this kind of episode, and the music was well above average.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about the music. “I Love LA” was a nice way of establishing some energy and enthusiasm for nationals, something that has been very lacking the past season and a half. “Vacation,” the requisite number from the also-rans of the competition, was good, but could have easily been cut. “Mr. Roboto/Counting Stars” was fantastic, and established the high bar that the New Directions had to live up to. Skylar Astin is an amazing performer, another reason I’d like to see him back. The highlight of the episode however, by a hair, is “More Than a Feeling,” a wonderful number that sold the emotion of performing in the first show choir national championship since Finn’s death, and one that he helped train them for. “America” followed through with high energy, and was also very good and a lot of fun. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was quite good, but I think they oversold this one a little, especially with Carole’s line about Finn’s favorite songs at the beginning of the number. Still, it was fitting as a final tribute, and the flashbacks to Finn, if cloying, were not misplaced.

Other thoughts:

I liked the recap gag about the glee club needing to find “three band members stat” since they didn’t have enough people to compete, and Sam managed to recruit “three hot cheerios” to round them out. So much for Joe and Sugar, I guess.

The glee kids seem to be two to a room at the hotel in LA. On school trips back in my day, they packed us in four to a room. Just sayin’.

A line late in the episode establishes that there were sixteen teams at nationals. It’s nice they established that, since last time it seemed like there were only three.

Kurt coming out to deliver the line “It’s over” felt like a way of both passing the torch on to the NYC half of the show, and of continuing to try to convince the audience that glee club is totally cut for real this time.

Episode 5.10: “Trio”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

What do I even say about this mess? Combined with last week’s “Frenemies,” and with nationals suddenly only a week away, Glee since the hiatus feels like it’s trying to just waste time until it can dispense with the Ohio half of the show gracefully. “Trio” gives us the last hurrah of inseparable threesome (?) Tina, Blaine, and Sam; Will and Emma trying to have a baby (a plot point that carries little weight when you remember that Jayma Mays and Matthew Morrison are leaving the series at the end of the season); and Rachel and Santana attempting to fast forward their relationship with Elliot, since the show forgot to develop it. This is an episode comprised of relationships and plotlines pulled completely out of the writer’s ass: nothing follows from anything else. Add to that a side of shit no one cares about, and you have what has become the essence of season five: something that wanders, wastes time, and fails to make a point. Glee has become a series that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do.

To be fair to the Sam/Blaine/Tina plotline, the three of them do have connections. Sam and Blaine became friends in season four (most obviously in “Dynamic Duets“) and Blaine and Tina also had a kind of awkward friendship, which introduced the world to the term “vapor rape.” As for Sam and Tina, Sam agreed to be Tina’s prom date earlier in season five, only to be unceremoniously dumped when Tina thought she could improve her chances of being elected prom queen. So to say that their friendship comes out of nowhere isn’t entirely accurate. However, it is mostly accurate. So, we established that they were friends(ish), but they’ve never come across as the inseparable BFFs forever that “Trio” portrays them as. They just made that up for this episode. It’s particularly egregious as this apes the emotions that the graduates of season three had to deal with, but, with no friendships with anywhere near the strength of Puck/Finn, Rachel/Kurt, or even Santana/Quinn, it just rings hollow. Add to it the distractions of Sam and Tina making out (for no reason, apparently, as they seem to have no desire to follow up on it), Blaine losing his shit over it for no good reason, and Becky crashing their party (which, when you remember that she once brought a gun to school, becomes much more frightening than awkward), and you get a plotline that just isn’t entertaining and doesn’t accomplish anything.

They’ll miss each other. Big deal. You’ve got to give me something more than that, since that’s not exactly an interesting or deep observation about people graduating from high school.

Glee also really needs to reconsider how it’s using Becky. As I alluded to earlier, she is becoming an almost sinister character. Her crashing of the Blaine, Tina, and Sam’s lock-in has a hostage-situation feel to it, not helped by Becky’s prior history as a gun-toter and (let’s face it) a sexual predator.

Santana and Rachel’s feud seems stuck in stasis. Elliot has had very little to do with characters other than Kurt prior to this episode, and now suddenly Rachel is living with him and Santana is calling him a traitor for letting her (though even Elliot lampshades this by pointing out that he “barely knows” Santana). Kurt would have been a much better fit for the role of a friend caught in the middle: placing Elliot there was a strange choice, especially as it doesn’t really seem to establish much if anything about his character. He allows himself to be used as a doormat by Rachel and Santana with apparent goodwill until the very end, when he finally blows up at them. Kurt’s decision to break up the band was a better story decision than anything involving Elliot (especially as it included a character who felt like he ought to be there). Rachel and Santana’s brief scene watching Dani, Elliot, and Kurt singing in harmony and having fun together was one of the two best scenes in the episode, alongside Santana and Rachel’s confrontation when Rachel came back to the apartment for her scented candle. The reason these scenes worked so well is that they featured Rachel and Santana, which was something remarkably rare in a plotline supposedly about Rachel and Santana.

We learn here that Santana has moved past simply being ambitious and catty to actually wanting to destroy Rachel to take her part, and justifies her stance by claiming that Rachel would do the same in her position. Well, maybe she would. Post-Broadway Rachel is a Rachel who has regressed terribly, and is not the person I remember from seasons three and four. Now Santana is regressing right along with her, ditching the personal growth she achieved thanks to Brittany and the glee club in order to become the calculating manipulator we remember from seasons one and two. I don’t think that this is unrealistic in the least, I think they’ve sold it well, and it’s a very tragic turn for both characters.

I just wish they’d focus on it more.

Speaking of stuff they’re focussing on that I don’t care about, Will and Emma are trying to conceive, as we find out when Becky catches them fucking in the faculty bathroom (here’s a tip: if you’re ever having sex in a public or semi-public restroom, lock the door). There was nothing of any value in this subplot. Will and Emma haven’t been interesting since season four’s “I Do,” and babies on TV shows have never been interesting. Part of me thinks that this is meant to be used as a way of saying goodbye to Will and Emma, a way of suggesting that they’re living happily ever after. If so, I’ll suspend judgment on that and wait to see what they do with it. Here, though, it didn’t work.

The music was, once again, okay. “Jumpin’ Jumpin’” might have carried more weight if I had given a shit about the trio of Blaine, Sam, and Tina. But it wasn’t bad. “Barracuda,” aside from giving me Guitar Hero III flashbacks, was okay, but again suffered from a lack of context, since the Rachel/Elliot friendship wasn’t really previously established. “Don’t You Forget About Me” was a number that I had a hard time believing that Glee had never done in the previous four seasons. I just wished they had used it in a better context. Still, it was good. “Danny’s Song” tried to sell the emotion of Will and Emma’s married relationship, but it just didn’t work, since nothing had been done to previously establish it. Songs can’t do the work of narrative. “Gloria,” which on its merits purely as a musical number (and I don’t have a lot more to go on here) was the highlight of the episode, was quite good, but, once again, suffered from a lack of background among Santana, Rachel, and Elliot. Still, it was good to see Santana and Rachel competing at this level, anyway. By that metric, Elliot just got in the way. “The Happening” was good, and at least the second best number of the episode. It was better more for Rachel and Santana’s reactions than for the number itself, mainly because of who were the main characters of the story. “Hold On” was a decent way to end things… and at least they finally included Artie. I actually liked the switches among the various singers here.

Other thoughts:

Really, what the hell was up with all the hate for Artie? “You don’t fit in this episode, begone!”

Boobs. That’s apparently what’s important about Tina.

Santana implies that Rachel was fat during her sophomore year. Um… what?

Why did the cheerios have a female cheerleader uniform that fit Sam, for God’s sake?

Will says that they’re all ready for nationals, but do they even have their songs picked out?

Remember when there were newbies? Me neither.