Glee season 5 overview; or, a tale of two series

(Spoilers lurk below.)

One of the few consistencies in Glee has been its changeability. For those of you keeping score at home, talking about that has been a running theme in this blog, because one of my consistencies is belaboring an obvious point. Anyway, season 5 manages to both avert and go with that changeability. On the one hand, it makes one of the bravest and best choices in the run of the series when it decides to jettison the Ohio half and move entirely to NYC. On the other hand, it didn’t get that show on the road until the halfway point, and prior to that we had to endure the laborious continuation of what they started in season 4, utilizing a style and tone that virtually matched the prior season beat for beat. That’s literally never happened before in Glee, every season has felt distinct from the others until season 5 came along.

And that’s the way they drew it up, which is what is so strange. Season 4 ended with a regionals win for the McKinley kids and an ambiguous Broadway audition for Rachel. A cliffhanger and the middle part of an ongoing story. That seems designed to lead into a new season much like the old one.

However (and yes it’s time to talk about this again), Glee was dealt a bad hand shortly before season 5 even started filming when Cory Monteith tragically died. Glee obviously had big plans for Monteith in season 5, as he was supposed to be Will’s TA, working under his mentor and continuing to help the newbies. I’ve seen it suggested that season 4’s conflict between Wade and Ryder was dropped because Finn had been meant to mediate it in season 5, and I can believe that. If season 4 was about Finn flailing around and failing to find himself multiple times, season 5 was meant to show him finally finding success: the culmination of a character arc that started in season 3.

Monteith’s death, in addition to robbing the world of a heck of a nice guy, also robbed Glee of what I’m sure was intended to be the glue that held season 5 together.

Unfortunately, I can only review what I was given, so let’s dive in. As always, this overview will use a format I call “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The “Good” section will talk about things that the show did well this season. The “Bad” section will talk about things the show did badly. The “Ugly” section will talk about things that just made me go “What the fuck?”

The Good

Let’s start with how the show directly dealt with Monteith’s and Finn’s death. Their treatment of the deceased actor and character, both in “The Quarterback” and in other episodes, was respectful, poignant, and it allowed the show to connect with the audience. This would have been one of the easiest things to fuck up, especially considering how close in time Monteith’s death was to the beginning of the season, and how close everyone in the show was with Monteith, especially Lea Michele, about whom I can’t say enough good things.

Finally pulling the trigger on NYC was a great move, even if I’m unsure of the scorched earth approach in disbanding the WMHS glee club. I guess it takes away the temptation to backslide and go back. Letting go of the newbies had to be difficult too, but it was the best thing to do. They had their moments, but there simply wasn’t enough room in the show while the focus was split, and nothing to do with them afterwards. The show now has something to grab ahold of moving forward, giving me hope (scant though it may be) for season 6.

While one could easily argue that Rachel achieved success too fast, it’s hard to argue with the way they handled what they decided to do. Her opening night was a pleasure marred only by Sue (see below), and her quick dissatisfaction with the life of a star and her almost ruining everything by trying to deceive her producer and seek something else spoke volumes about her youth and inexperience, and Carmen Tibideaux’s parting words to her, though not referenced directly, have a lot of relevance to Rachel’s mistakes.

Uh… what else. I like that they finally allowed themselves to blatantly portray Will as an idiot, while at the same time not undoing his status as a good choir teacher and role model. That’s actually not easy.

Is that really it for the good stuff? … Moving on.

The Bad

Season 3 may have lacked focus, but at least it had (misplaced) confidence. Season 5 had neither focus nor confidence, timidly stepping from storyline to storyline and character to character, always looking for something strong enough to replace what they lost in Cory Monteith, and yet apparently even more afraid that they would find it. I will warn that I’m going to say some things regarding the show’s treatment of this that could be considered insensitive. I feel like I have to judge Glee as art outside of what happens off the set, and outside of the personal feelings of the people who made it. That’s not to say that those things will not figure into my analysis, just that I can’t accept them as excuses for subpar work. This isn’t scruples or journalistic ethics or anything: this is just the only way I know to analyze something. By being rational and unemotional.

Rachel’s struggles to move beyond are touching but scarce outside of “The Quarterback.” Aside from the tattoo and a brief chat with Mercedes about moving on, they didn’t really touch on it. I originally thought when Rachel was being such a jerk to Santana over the understudy thing that they were going for that as a treatment of Rachel’s loss of Finn, a sign that she was losing it without her anchor. But they never went there. Rachel chatting that out with Santana would have added a sense of closure to Rachel’s mourning of Finn and helped mend Rachel and Santana’s relationship by giving us a good reason that Rachel lost her shit. As it was, this plotline resolved only slightly more artfully that Rachel and Mercedes’s feud in season 3. Which is to say, it wasn’t really resolved at all.

Speaking of Santana, her continuing search for what she wanted to Do With Her Life mirrored Finn’s arc in season 4, and I wish they had drawn that parallel a little more sharply. Hell, draw a line between Santana’s loss of Finn and her going off the deep end with Rachel. Give us that parallel between her and Rachel. Santana more or less admits in “The Quarterback” that she saw Finn as a role model, even if not a close friend. Maybe if he had been there making good for himself after struggling so much, Santana would have had something to latch onto, something to give her hope.

I’m already imaging such a great end-of-feud conversation between Rachel and Santana that never ever happened, one in which they both admit that losing Finn was hard on both of them in very different ways. I’m treading pretty close here to criticizing the show for not being what I wanted it to be, but my main point here is that Rachel and Santana’s story arc felt like it was missing something, and I think this was it.

The whole first half of the season leading up to nationals was a mess. The way the competition season straddled TV seasons reminds me of the way movie studios are splitting movies in two/three so that they will have more blockbusters (eg Kill Bill, Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, The Hobbit). Essentially drawing season 4 out from one season to a season and a half may have given us more use of the leadup to nationals, more use of characters who would otherwise have graduated and left, etc, but it also caused the larger story arcs to drag considerably, and the climaxes to fall flatter than they should have because we had been waiting so long for them. Breaking Bad dragged one year out into four season, but that show was dense enough to merit it. Glee is a lot of things, but dense it ain’t. Ending the school year in season 4 would have improved both that season and this one.

Their treatment of Kurt and Blaine’s relationship was far too facile. They got back together too easily, and Kurt forgave Blaine too easily for everything instead of directly addressing his insanity. I like that they can portray a couple as remaining together despite major problems, but they failed to make it realistic.

The Ugly

I just don’t understand Sue anymore. I didn’t like her character in previous seasons, and I didn’t understand her use in the show, but at least I understood her. Her atrocious treatment of Wade doesn’t jibe with her prior anti-bullying stance. Her firing of Will after a second-place nationals win made no sense. Her entire stint as principal has been defined by a lack of direction, as if she wanted nothing more out of the office than prestige and power… which, even if it did match her characterization, is boring. Finally, her entire NYC plotline at the end of the season was insulting. I’m tired of putting Sue under this heading every season. Get rid of her (sorry, Jane).

The series’s bizarre didactic tendencies were back with a vengeance with “Bash” and “Tested.” They need to shut that mess down on the quickfast; it does not fit the show.

I just don’t get this whole TV series thing. Uh, I don’t mean the Glee TV series, though I often don’t get that either, as you may have noticed. I mean the TV series being created in-universe centered on Rachel… which actually may end up being Glee after all. I’m… confused. But we’ll have to see how that plays out in season 6.

Speaking of which, I’m totally going to try to catch up with the current season. I haven’t seen any of it yet. I intend to do that, and then go back to do the season 5 top ten musical numbers. We’ll see if I can follow through on that. See you soonish.