(Spoiler lurk below.)
This episode was written by Chis Colfer, who inspired the creation of the character of Kurt and has declared himself to be Lea Michele’s biggest fan. Maybe that’s why “Old Dogs New Tricks” feels like a bad fanfic. I’d be the last to deny Colfer’s skills at acting: he’s arguably Glee‘s greatest asset in that regard. But as a writer, I’m afraid he’s a flop. The plot is by the numbers, the guest characters are cardboard, and Kurt, already often accused of being a Mary Sue for Ryan Murphy, seems like a Mary Sue for Colfer himself. Kurt manages to come across not only as the hero in his own story, but as the hero of Rachel’s story and the hero of several tertiary characters’ stories. Sam and Mercedes manage to escape his gravity well, but their story, while easily the best of the lot, is not all that strong either.
We start with Rachel trying to find some way of repairing her reputation, as the rumor that she is considering leaving Broadway for Hollywood has somehow gotten out. What she comes up with is sponsoring a dog rescue, a plan that she gets help with from Santana, who decides for some reason to act as Rachel’s publicist. Despite the fact that the genesis of this plotline is Rachel’s possible TV career, it feels oddly disconnected from the story arc that began in the prior episode. We don’t hear anything about her pilot at all after the first scene, and nothing in that plotline advances. In the second-to-last episode of the season, we’re suddenly just largely fucking around instead of advancing the story. I get the feeling this would have been better placed before “Back-Up Plan.” That way, the last two episodes of the season could drive the story all the way to the end.
Anyway, there are some funny shenanigans involving Rachel walking six dogs for a photo op and getting dragged a few blocks, and then Rachel refuses to allow a kid to adopt a three-legged dog because she needs it to pose with in order to give her reputation the biggest possible boost, and finally she learns not to be so self centered and to be more Kurt-centered, as she supports Kurt by going to his show. It’s a pretty by-the-numbers Rachel story, and doesn’t offer anything that we haven’t seen a dozen times before.
Arguably more interesting is Santana’s story, as she seems to find her niche working as Rachel’s publicist, something she really seems to enjoy. I say “arguably” because, while the story is good, Santana herself feels… off. She comes across as mechanical and lifeless, like she’s just reciting lines, doing her best to pretend to be Santana but not quite succeeding. I don’t feel any subtext in Rachel and Santana’s relationship, despite their long and interesting past. I don’t get any sense of satisfaction from Santana for getting a lead on a career after so much wandering. She seems to exist just to serve Rachel, her reward being the one bizarre moment when Rachel gives publicity to her publicist while giving an interview to a TV reporter.
Again, these are elements of a bad fanfic.
Kurt, meanwhile, decides to throw himself a pity party since nobody likes him and everybody hates him and he guesses he’ll go eat worms. Actually never mind the worms. He just gets himself an old lady for a friend just like Blaine did. Maggie, from a “home for retired performers,” wanders into the diner one day, and Kurt ends up telling her everything about his life, then later drops into her retirement home to watch them rehearse their production of Peter Pan. When their Peter loses the part due to missing her cue and also dying, Kurt volunteers to fill in for some reason, and also expects his friends to be excited for him for some reason. This whole plotline, top to bottom, feels engineered to make Kurt seem both pitiful and honorable. Pitiful because none of his friends care about what he’s doing, honorable because he’s helping old people. Kurt sure is a saint, you guys. And on top of all that, he even reunites Maggie with her daughter Clara, by showing up at Clara’s office and telling her about how much Maggie misses her, and about how Kurt lost his own mother when he was eight, and shouldn’t Clara be glad that she even has a mother? Clara tells the typical story about how Maggie used to forget her birthdays and neglect her, but she still shows up at the play just in time for maximum dramatic effect. Speaking of which, all Kurt’s friends show up for the play too. And after the play, Rachel invites all the old people to perform at her dog rescue event.
There’s so much feel-good in this story, it makes me ill.
Meanwhile, Sam adopts a dog and proceeds to allow it to run wild all over the house and chew up Mercedes’s shoes and hair. He adopts the dog, which he names McConaughey, because Mercedes mocked the idea of getting a pet because she has her hands full taking care of Sam. He wants to prove that he can take care of a dog, as part of his attempt to prove himself husband material to Mercedes. It doesn’t go so well at first, obviously, but he finally buckles down and trains the dog via the magic of a musical montage. Mercedes then tells Sam that she’s impressed, but that keeping a dog wouldn’t be fair to the dog, as she is about to go on tour and Sam works odd hours. I liked Sam’s explanation of how he wants to prove that he can be responsible and he doesn’t want to be seen as a joke. It almost comes across as Sam rebelling against his status as the resident idiot, a role not thrust upon him until season four. He even references season three, when he took care of his family after his dad lost his job (hey, whatever happened to his family anyway?). Sam and Mercedes’s conversation also felt like a real, adult conversation, and it definitely helped sell their relationship as a real one with ups and downs.
If nothing else, the tail end of this season has done more with “Samcedes” than the entire rest of the series has.
To sum up: Mercedes and Sam’s plotline was decent, but everything else was cloying, clichéd, predictable, and melodramatic, with characters that rang false and, to be blunt, writing that is amateurish in the extreme. Sorry, Chris.
Musically, things were decent. “I Melt With You” suffered from a really artificial setup, and I think it undermined the harsh realities of running a dog shelter a bit (for instance, not all the animals are liable to be nearly that friendly), but it was okay. “Memory” I’m going to call the highlight of the episode mainly because I actually really missed Kurt’s high-falsetto “girly” singing voice, and this was a good use of it. In context, it was pretty ridiculous though. “Werewolves of London” was quite good, but I’m really not sure what it had to do with training a dog. Except that werewolves are like wolves, and wolves are like dogs, I guess. It’s as if they picked the song by playing word association. “Lucky Star” was awful: painfully faux-cool and “modern,” so hip it felt like I was in the 90’s again. It actually would have been about 50% better without the shades, a cliché so painful I can only imagine the entire crew needed ibuprofen during shooting just to get through it. “Take Me Home Tonight” was nice, and actually a good choice for a dog adoption event.
What the fuck happened to Santana’s hair?
“Pillsbury” was an odd choice of a nickname for Kurt, considering it’s already the last name of another major character.
Good thing that the rest of Kurt’s band left town so that he was free to throw his pity party.
What did that doggie obstacle course have to do with keeping McConaughey from chewing on shoes and pooping on the rug?
What was with the nurse at the retirement home just telling Kurt all Maggie’s business?
How did a freshman at a film school get the school to lend him a bus?
Despite Rachel learning a lesson from the kid and mom’s reaction when she doesn’t let them adopt the three-legged dog, she still poses with the same dog at her event.
Rachel and Santana probably should have researched marketability before they chose the name “Broadway Bitches” for their rescue.