Episode 5.14: “New New York”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Last time, I complimented Glee on a funny Friends parody. This week, they’ve apparently taken it a step further and just… become Friends. And the result, as it’s drawn out to an hour and played completely straight, is not nearly as funny or entertaining. As Glee makes its transition to being based entirely in New York, it will be trying to find its new identity and break away from its clear influences. However, it simply hasn’t succeeded at that yet. Everything feels new and different, but not fresh.

It seems like a long time since Rachel and Kurt were out in the big city on their own, and it sure is crowded now. We’ve skipped forward in time a bit, and Sam, Blaine, and Artie are fully integrated into the New York experience, and though Santana is AWOL with Brittany, Mercedes suddenly moves to New York for no good reason. Sam and Blaine play Joey and Chandler (no points for guessing which is which), while Rachel Berry makes like Rachel Green and Artie… well, I guess he’s most like Monica in his attempts to ground Rachel.

Offscreen, Funny Girl has apparently become a reasonably big success, to the point that her producer provides Rachel with a chauffeur and limo (er, town car) on call 24 hours a day. Artie, who has been taking the subway everywhere and is bitter about having been robbed there, angrily accuses Rachel of not being a “real New Yorker” because she’s enjoying her success by going around in a limo (“town car!”) instead of taking public transit. Eventually Rachel gives in, telling her producer she doesn’t want the town car anymore, and joining Artie on his subway commutes as his protection, since he’s scared of muggers.

Artie’s snobbery over what constitutes a “real” New Yorker seems weird at first blush, especially considering this is the guy who, only a short time ago (in universe) was making up stories about how much his mom needed him to try to avoid going to NYC. However, now that he’s jumped in with both feet, it’s actually realistic that he would go a little overboard in embracing his new home. What’s annoying is that he is never called on it. While Rachel did find remarkably quick success in NYC, she spent more time paying dues than Artie did. She lived in that loft and commuted using public transit for months, while working (two jobs at times) and going to school. She has, to some degree, earned her success, and Artie is asking her to let it go because it’s not “authentic,” apparently, to be successful in NYC. Artie, who can’t have been in the city more than a couple of months and who seems to have no job outside of school, is awfully high and mighty and acts like a huge jerk, but is portrayed as being right.

Meanwhile, Sam is struggling with his modeling career, ironically (considering the message of “Movin Out“) because he refuses to change or adapt, just expecting success to fall into his lap while he’s busy being himself playing video games all day. This plotline is intertwined with Kurt and Blaine’s annoyance that Sam is still living with them in the loft, being useless, and Blaine’s attempts to get Sam to move on and out. Sam finally gives in to his agent’s advice and gets a haircut, after which he finally scores a gig. Sam initially moves out at this point and into a dormitory provided by his employer for models. He’s perfectly happy with this until he finds out that his hot blond roommate is on all kinds of drugs, at which point he does the right thing by abandoning her to her fate and moving out again.

Related to this, Kurt feels like Blaine is smothering him, as they’re living together for the first time and have a lot of classes together at NYADA. At least, he suddenly feels that way the very instant that Blaine asks him if he feels that way: they didn’t really lead into that very well at all. It’s realistic, it just feels sudden and underdeveloped, much like a lot of this episode, which attempted unsuccessfully to make up for a significant time skip with a song and expository dialogue.

Blaine has fallen far from the cool, collected kid he was in season two, as he acts like a lunatic here, bursting into Elliot’s apartment to accuse him of going after Kurt. I did like that scene, however, and Elliot’s careful disarming of Blaine was the best character moment he’s had yet.

Anyway, Blaine and Kurt decide that it would be best for their relationship for Blaine to move out, and Blaine and Sam end up rooming with Mercedes in a fancy apartment supplied by her studio.

Speaking of which, Mercedes is in town now, joining Rachel in the club of people who paid dues for a few months and then became successful beyond their wildest dreams. She’s working on songs for her album, and made up a bullshit reason for her studio to send her to NYC to live. This also apparently gives us a chance to pick up on Sam and Mercedes’s relationship, which keeps beginning and ending for very vague reasons. Whoop-de-doo. I suppose that any Friends knockoff needs a good “will they or won’t they” relationship. It’s just that this relationship has existed since the end of season two, and I’ve never cared if they do or don’t. Also, they already did.

You know, they never did explain why Sam and Mercedes were originally keeping their relationship a secret. Sometimes I think that Glee has more unanswered questions than Lost.

This wasn’t a good episode, but it wasn’t without promise. For the first time in a long time, Glee has focus on a single setting and a relatively small cast of characters. “New New York” established a lot of things, and we can only hope they follow through with some fresher writing.

The music was good, but not great. The highlight, by a hair, was opening number “Downtown.” It was great seeing all the NYC characters doing a number together, it established a lot about the new setting and what everyone is doing, and it was a good song choice. It didn’t quite do enough narrative work to justify the time skip, but it was a valiant effort. “You Make Me Feel so Young,” while a good number on its own merits, was an odd choice both because it seemed like a strange genre for Kurt and Blaine, and because it failed to foreshadow Kurt and Blaine’s later plot-dominating problems — it just made their relationship appear idyllic. “Best Day of my Life” was quite good (and I love the location NYC shooting), but it seemed way too easy a way to get Sam moving the right direction. As far as big musical numbers set in Times Square, I prefer Smash‘s “Cheers (Drink to That).” “Rockstar” was fun, but pointless. “Don’t Sleep in the Subway” was… weird. But man, the denizens of the NYC subway system are the friendliest, happiest people ever. “People” was good, but I’m not quite sure that the deadly solemness of the number fit the end of the episode. Also, “People” always reminds me of a bit from The Bob Newhart Show when Bob inadvertently starts reciting the lyrics while trying to give advice to a patient.

Other thoughts:

Having Lea Michele hang her head out the car window like a dog during “Downtown” was a pretty awkward way of getting that shot.

Mime jokes! … This does not make an argument for the freshness of the show’s writing.

I like how Mercedes pretty much just explains how she wrote herself into the spinoff.

I entirely reviewed an episode entitled “New New York” without making a single Futurama reference. That’s willpower.

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Episode 5.13: “New Directions”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

This is it, the final farewell to the high school half of the show. And a truly good riddance it is, right? Despite the fact that they have done some good things with it in latter days, it’s mostly been a monkey on their back since season four began, struggling as it did with half-baked carbon-copy characters that no one cared about and the far more interesting goings-on with our better-loved friends in New York. We’re well-rid of it, really. And yet… it’s still sad to see it go. Glee was built on this. The thing that fascinated me most about this show, way back in “Pilot” and beyond, was that it allowed for ambiguity in the social status of high school students. Going against the grain, it suggested that maybe you could be captain of the football team and a member of a show choir, that the head cheerleader could be friends with a nobody who just showed her a little kindness, while still fighting to maintain her social status, that, overall, people were complex enough to serve more than one master. And now high school, that handy analogy for life as a whole, is exiting the show. We’re saying goodbye to where we began, and moving into the unknown future. It’s a graduation, in a way: something that the writers do not miss.

Things are changing all over the show. At long last, our fourth/fifth season seniors are graduating. Santana breaks away from her old life, quitting the musical, making up with Rachel, and deciding to run away with Brittany (because Dani was far too underdeveloped a character to make a good girlfriend anyway). And Will faces the end of his career at WMHS, as Sue tells him that he was a “terrible history teacher and a worse Spanish teacher.” On the one had, this is odd because we hadn’t seen any prior evidence that Will was being fired from his regular job, but on the other hand, he probably really did suck at it, so fuck him.

My Podcast co-host, J. (who does not watch Glee but enjoys reading these reviews for some reason), retweeted a comment about this show, which I saw before watching it, that said something along the lines of “A tribute to Will Schuester, history’s greatest monster.” I thought that that was pretty funny, and I started a series of tweets celebrating #SchueFacts, things our hero had done that don’t seem particularly heroic, like suspending a bulimic girl for refusing to wear revealing clothing and belittling his mentally-ill girlfriend’s attempts to get better. As I’ve mentioned on several other occasions, Will is kind of a dick. But I honestly don’t think that that fact demeans the power of the tribute the kids put on for him, or the magical performance of “Don’t Stop Believing” that saw Will finally get a chance to join in. The fact is that Will is a deeply flawed man, but that he has also managed to accomplish amazing things. That Will has built a national powerhouse show choir out of nothing, inspired so many of his students, and did it all fairly and honestly (mostly) despite being, in many ways, a self-centered douchebag, is actually testament to the ability to overcome one’s handicaps. He may not be the saint that he’s sometimes portrayed as, but neither is he literally “history’s greatest monster.” He’s simply a flawed man who has managed to accomplish a lot despite his shortcomings.

In the end, Sue tells Will that she got him an interview to be the coach of Vocal Adrenaline, the New Directions’ former arch-nemesis that has apparently fallen on hard times ever since Shelby left them. As Sue points out, it would give him the chance to head a real program with support and a budget, and one could see him thrive there. He may have been a bad Spanish and history teacher, but when it comes to music, he often does amazing things.

It was good to see Rachel being the one to extend the olive branch to Santana as, despite Santana’s recent foray back into evilness, Rachel was originally the one in the wrong in their feud. Her offer of 10 shows to Santana was a remarkable peace offering, and a good sign that Rachel has finally remembered how to share the spotlight, something that she has been learning over and over again since way back in the third episode of season one (“Acafellas”). That Santana refuses it, and, in fact, quits the show entirely and runs away with Brittany is… weird. Santana’s arc since she dropped out of college in season four has been one of trying to find herself, and, since she went back to serious dancing in “Lights Out,” she has seemed pretty satisfied with the goal of becoming a star on Broadway. It would be one thing if she had finally discovered her passion, but she seems as directionless as ever. Again, I won’t say I didn’t like it… Brittany and Santana are probably Glee‘s most entertaining couple, and they have a lot of competition. But the storyline didn’t seem that well thought out.

Tina’s plotline, in which she agonizes over whether or not to go to New York without a plan up until the decision is made for her when she finds out she got into Brown, was pretty much a waste except for the spot-on Friends parody. Didn’t I make that joke already? I do wish they’d gotten the rights to the actual theme song. That would have sold it so much better. But it was still pretty funny.

But anyway, Tina has finally been written off the show. I’d miss her, except she never did anything.

Holly and April’s ridiculous plan to save the glee club by integrating with some unrelated club was just dumb, and not all that funny either. They could have at least made it look like they were trying to make some kind of real connection with these other clubs. What exactly did the song “Party all the Time” have to do with animal husbandry? It also sure exited reality quickly, what with the imaginary dance club. Anyway, their plans fail miserably, and Will has to tell Holly that he’s ready to let the glee club die. Lesson learned: give up.

Enough with the plot, since it wasn’t really the point. Let’s talk about the music. As with every other episode to feature the number, first there’s Don’t Stop Believin’,” and then there’s everything else. This is the third time that Glee has reprised this iconic number, and the second time in two seasons, but would you believe that this is the first time that Will has actually participated? That added a new wrinkle to the emotionality, as Will took part in the number that originally pulled him into the glee club. As he says goodbye to the club and goodbye to one important phase of his career, there’s still a lot of hope. This is still essentially an optimistic show. The way this number was directed and choreographed was brilliant. Starting with Rachel, the star and the one who began in “Pilot,” moving on to Kurt, honoring but not mimicking Finn’s performance, allowing the rest of the original five to come in, turning then to the rest of the crew from season one, then the season two crew and newbies walking in… and then Will takes it. The performance is full of visual references to the original number, other performances of it, and even a few other numbers. It’s an amazing tribute to the end of an era, and by far the highlight of the episode. I don’t think, by a longshot, that this is the last we’ve seen of this number. I continue to believe that it will be present at the end of the series, just as it was here at the end of the series’s childhood.

I am Changing” was a decent number, and a nice reminder that Mercedes and Kurt were, like, best friends way back in season one, but I don’t think that it had the emotion that Rachel seemed to imbue it with. Party all the Time” was disappointing: generic and devoid of context. “Loser Like Me,” the only other reprise in the episode, was so good it almost made me feel an emotion for Tina. And hey, since it’s an original song, Glee finally can’t be accused of stealing the slower, sadder arrangement… right? “Be Okay” was nice, and a decent way to mend fences between Santana and Rachel. “Just Give Me a Reason” was 100% worth it if only because it allowed Quinn to sing the lyric “I let you see the parts of me that weren’t all that pretty,” because damn… she’s been through hell, and it’s nice to see that she’s okay now. Seeing as how she has a propensity to backslide, hopefully Puck can keep an eye on her.

This was a good episode, and I look forward to seeing what they can accomplish with this part of the show excised.

Other thoughts:

So much for the newbies, I guess.

Blaine got into NYADA. We never saw his audition, nor saw him agonizing or even talking about waiting for a response to his application. Drama, that’s how it works.

I just want to reiterate how fantastic that Friends parody was. Check it out here starting about 3:20.

According to Brittany, lilies are the “lesbian of flowers.”

Quinn and Puck establish in this episode that they never actually officially dated before. Well, that answers the biggest question I had regarding the Glee relationship master list that I attempted to maintain once… You can try to find that if you want. I’m not linking to it, since I stopped updating it in season two.

What is the portmanteau couple name for Quinn and Puck anyway? Quuck?

The nicest thing said about Will during the tribute, by Sue: “No matter how talentless, misshapen, ugly, miserable, or sexually ambiguous you are, he will still love you unconditionally.”

Close second: “Sand dollar.”

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.”

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.

Episode 5.09: “Frenemies”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Well Glee is finally back and, just as the prophets fortold, so am I. You’d think that after a two-month hiatus Glee would be able to come back with something truly Earth-shattering, but you’d be wrong. “Frenemies” is okay, but nothing to write home about. Like “Feud,” this episode manufactures conflict between a few pairs of characters and expects us to buy it as plot. Unlike “Feud,” there is one conflict with good history behind it that stands at the forefront and drives the show. Unfortunately, the remaining conflicts, like the ones in “Feud,” no one really cares about.

The driving force in this episode, of course, was the conflict between Santana and Rachel. As the opening scene unartfully reminds us, Santana and Rachel have been friends for a while, despite having been mortal enemies in the past. Santana even admits to having been Rachel’s main antagonist among the “unholy trinity” of Santana, Brittany, and Quinn, that she only pretended that Quinn was in charge. I’m not sure I believe that, given the size of Santana’s ego, but the fact that she says it does say something about the depth of hatred that used to exist between them.

The current state of their friendship, however, is not stable. As Santana claims later in the episode, Rachel is glad to have Santana there as someone to lord her success over, and when Santana threatens to have success as well, it upends things. At the same time, Santana really is jealous of Rachel’s success. While Rachel has dreamed of Broadway since she was capable of having dreams, Santana has always violently desired success as well: recall Kurt’s description of Santana’s unbridled hatred of Rachel when she thought she cost them a nationals win in “New York.” Santana has also always thought she was just as good as Rachel, being relegated to the back just because of Rachel’s whining and complaining (something Mercedes called her on in season three, though that plot thread was never resolved). So when Rachel and Santana have a falling out, it doesn’t come out of nowhere. Far from it: it is built on four seasons of history. Sometimes burying the hatchet isn’t as easy as singing a song together.

Rachel and Santana’s breaking moment comes when Santana auditions to be Rachel’s understudy in Funny Girl, without telling Rachel about it, by singing “Don’t Rain on my Parade” (about which more below). The fight that they have afterwords speaks volumes about the things that they have both been holding in, Rachel even making it racial at one point by claiming that Puerto Rican Santana is not right to play Jewish Fanny Brice (Juan Epstein would probably be offended). Kurt refuses to take sides, but it’s pretty obvious that Rachel is in the wrong here. The Rachel we see in “Frenemies” is a self-absorbed shrew who would rather tear down everyone around her than share the spotlight, something we see in her attitude towards having an understudy even before Santana tries out for it. This is the Rachel I remember from season two’s “Audition,” in which it already felt out of character. Here, though… and I’m not sure I’m not reading too much into the intentions of the writers, because this is very subtle, and “subtle” is not something that the Glee writers tend to do well… but this kinda feels like a real reaction to Finn’s death. I found myself thinking, while Kurt was unsuccessfully attempting to mediate between Santana and Rachel, that I wished Finn were there. Rachel would listen to him. To a large degree, without him Rachel has lost her anchor, the thing kept her grounded. Without him, she’s free to go crazy, and she is doing so. She’s turning her back on her friends and embracing the idea that stardom is what life is all about. She has regressed to the Rachel of season one, without anyone to save her from the spiral.

Anyway, that was the good part of this episode. The rest ranged from pointless to dumb.

On the pointless end of the spectrum, we have Kurt’s concern that Elliot may be planning to take over the band, leading to him spending a lot of time with Elliot just so he can keep an eye on him. We already did this in “A Katy or a Gaga,” and, though it makes sense that Kurt might still not have a ton of self-esteem, the idea that he’s still concerned that Elliot is targeting him feels like a rehash of a previous plot point — especially since Elliot hasn’t shown the slightest hint of any kind of ruthless ambition or animosity. It’s just Kurt being insecure. There was a certain enjoyment in seeing Kurt and Elliot hanging out together, but I wish it had been separated from the plot thread of Kurt’s insecurity. After several scenes of Kurt trying to suss out the traitor in Elliot, Elliot finally says that he has no designs on Kurt’s status as the leader of the band, and they become friends… again.

Meanwhile, in the dumb part of the episode, Tina and Artie have a subplot. I kinda liked Artie and Tina’s initial scene together, because it gave Tina a chance to be something other than whiny and bitchy for the first time since season three… then we had the meeting with Sue, and Tina went right back to being whiny and bitchy. To be fair, there is some history between Artie and Tina, but that history exists, for the most part, in season one for its entirety. Tina and Artie have had virtually nothing to do with each other onscreen since then, so trying to sell this “Tuesday lunch” thing between them just does not work. The ensuing fight for valedictorian (that’s not how valedictorian works, by the way) did not show Tina in a good light, as she acted like a total jackass, including pushing Artie out of his chair, in her quest to get what she wanted. When Tina’s valedictorian campaign speech turned out to be in favor of Artie, it was believable because of course Tina might be feeling some guilt for what she did to him… but what was up with Artie deciding to campaign for Tina in his speech? What did Tina do to deserve that? She’s been nothing but a huge bitch for a season and some change now, and in this episode she pushed Artie out of his chair. It feels like there was a scene missing where they made up.

All in all, Glee is back with more of a “meh” than a “bang.” Still, this is a relative high point for season five.

Regarding the music, the first thing we have to talk about is Santana’s “Don’t Rain on my Parade.” Glee has used reprises a few time in the past couple of seasons, and it’s always been pretty effective. This is no exception, as Santana apes Rachel’s classic performance of the same number from season one’s “Sectionals,” not to mock Rachel but to make the point that Santana is on her level, not just an underling meant to strive and fail so that Rachel can look down on her from a position of stardom. The unfortunate thing about this number, however, is that, in inviting comparisons with Rachel’s earlier performance, the fact that Lea Michele is a much better singer than Naya Rivera is put in stark relief. I kinda feel rotten saying that, because Rivera is great, but Michele is simply in a class by herself. Rivera has talent, Michele has power. Rivera entertains, Michele astounds. To be fair, I think that part of what we’re meant to take away from this is that Santana is not as good a singer as Rachel either, and the point stands that Santana is Rachel’s equal, not her poor stepsister who never gets invited to the ball, but the mental comparison robs the moment of some of its power. This is the musical highlight of the episode, but more for the excellent choice in song and choreography than for the performance, which pales in comparison to the original.

The rest of the music was, for the most part, good. “Whenever I Call You Friend” was nice, but without any previously established strong relationship between Artie and Tina, it didn’t carry the weight that it wanted to. Still, it was a solid number. Santana and Rachel’s “Brave” was a decent way of bidding farewell to their friendliness with each other, as Santana allows herself to play second banana to Rachel for the last time. Artie and Tina’s “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)” was quite good, but again it suffered from Tina and Artie’s poorly developed relationship. Kurt and Elliot’s “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” was good, but a bizarre choice for the situation. What did that have to do with guitar shopping? Rachel and Santana’s “Every Breath You Take” was another good song but bizarre choice. I get the idea that they want to keep an eye on each other, but as a duet it sounds like a song about two obsessed lovers, not mortal enemies. Some clever editing might have helped. Still, it was a good performance and the choreography was great. “Breakaway” was a good way to end: it hit all the right notes for Rachel’s departure from their apartment. I liked the contrast between the hopeful nature of the song and Rachel’s hardline stance against making up with Santana.

Other thoughts:

Artie refers to it being “a couple more Tuesdays” until graduation. Hang tight people, we’re almost home free.

Speaking of which, the newbies had nothing to do in this episode. Preparing to cut them loose?

Sue continues to lean on the fourth wall, referring to glee club members who “come and go with no explanation.” Anyone seen Sugar or Joe lately?

Why didn’t Sue appoint an odd number of judges to stave off the possibility of a tie?

This director sure likes having people talk at the camera. It got pretty weird after a while.

Review: Archie Meets Glee

(Spoilers lurk below.)

So… this exists:

Believe me, I’m just as surprised as you are.

Yes, an Archie/Glee crossover comic. On the one hand, it kinda makes sense. The bizarre situations and broad characterization of Glee would seem to lend themselves well to the comic book format, and Archie and Glee are both centered on various high school shenanigans and relationship drama. On the other hand, Glee is so focussed on music that one wonders how the feeling of the show could possibly be captured in a medium that is entirely visual. But looming disaster never stopped Glee from doing anything before, so let’s see how they did.

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