(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.
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.”