Episode 5.18: “Back-Up Plan”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Last time, I pondered what the show was going to do with Rachel now that she has achieved her dream. Well, they didn’t take long to answer. In “Back-Up Plan,” Rachel has become disillusioned with working in the same show night after night, despite having only been with it for a month or so. She has everything she ever wanted, but now she has to live happily ever after… and she’s not satisfied. Oscar Wilde once wrote, “In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” Here, Rachel experiences exactly what is meant by that. Meanwhile, Blaine forges a friendship with a woman who is a Broadway powerhouse and wants to make Blaine a star (but who doesn’t give a rip about Kurt), and Mercedes gets some help from Santana finding a single for her album, and tries to get Santana to record with her for the actual release, against the advice of her producer and even Santana.

There are a couple of themes running through this episode. One is that of goals and what one is willing to do to achieve them, as well as what happens after they are achieved. Rachel barely barely gets what she wants before she already wants something else. Blaine and Kurt have an agreement that wherever the other one goes and whatever the other one gets, they will share in it… but what if that’s not possible? Can one of them let go of their dream just because they can’t take the other one with them? Mercedes has to face getting help to achieve her goal, after which helping the person who helped her becomes part of her goal.

Another theme running throughout is that of friendship and relationships and what they mean to us and our goals, and what we mean to them and theirs. Rachel makes a very stupid decision, and her career and reputation are only narrowly saved when Santana, of all people, steps up to help her without expecting anything in return. Santana was trying to destroy Rachel only a few months ago, but it seems she has changed (again). Blaine faces the question of what to do when he’s offered a chance to, essentially, leave his fiancé behind in exchange for the stardom that they both want. He doesn’t say no, but he can’t bring himself to tell Kurt about it either. And Mercedes rekindles what friendship she has with Santana to aid her singing career, and shows that she means what she says by taking Santana with her into the recording booth, possibly to the detriment of her own career… because that’s what friends do. This even teaches Santana something, which brings us back around to Santana and Rachel.

In case you couldn’t guess, I liked this episode quite a bit. This is the first unqualified success of the new Glee.

I mentioned when Rachel quit NYADA that Carmen Tibideaux’s warning about Rachel’s roughness and inexperience loomed large. Despite it not being overtly mentioned here, we are definitely seeing its effects. Rachel is bored with being a star after only a month, and wants to parlay her stale 15 minutes of fame into a TV or movie career. Her agent tells her that she “has a face for radio,” that the best she can hope for is to play Fanny Brice to 10 or 15 years. She’s kinda resigned to this until the dean from Community… er, I mean Lee Paulblatt from the Fox network, shows up and offers her an audition for a new show called Song of Solomon in LA. It’s a testament to Rachel’s inexperience and naïveté that she asks absolutely no questions about the show or the part she would be auditioning for: she just accepts and calls in sick to Sidney, her producer, in order to fly to LA and audition. Said audition is an absolute disaster: she starts with a song, but is then told that the show is not a musical, and then she stumbles through a reading using a script she’d never seen before and which she clearly doesn’t understand or like. She immediately regrets the whole thing and calls Sidney to reaffirm her commitment to the show… only to be told that her understudy has hurt herself and Rachel needs to get to the theater ASAP, flu or no. Too bad she’s still in LA.

Santana pulls her fat out of the fire by showing up and acting as the understudy’s understudy. The truth comes out about what Rachel did, of course, but at least the show goes on. Rachel’s scene with Sidney chewing her out was a great companion piece to her earlier confrontation with Carmen. Here, she’s screwed up in exactly the way that Carmen would have predicted. Sidney calls her an “ambitious, irresponsible child,” and it’s not far from the truth. He comes within a hair’s breadth of firing her. He gives her another chance, but promises that if she ever does anything remotely similar to that again, he will fire her and torpedo her reputation, making sure she never works onstage again.

And Rachel immediately proves to have learned nothing when she receives a call from Paulblatt, right outside Sidney’s office, and accepts an offer for a TV show to be developed around her… with no details even extant yet. One can almost see Carmen sadly shaking her head in the background.

Meanwhile, Kurt gets a gig performing at a NYADA event for well-known socialite and donor June Dolloway. He insists on having Blaine perform with him, because they’ve promised to always share in each other’s success. The performance goes well, and June takes an immediate liking to Blaine. They pal around and become friends, and June finally tells Blaine that she wants to develop a project for him and make him a star. Despite Blaine’s recommendation, she has no interest in bringing Kurt onboard. When he says that he can’t do the show in that case, June tells him that she doesn’t even think that Blaine should be engaged to Kurt. One’s first love is just practice, she says. She doesn’t deny that their love is real, just that it’s forever. Blaine and Kurt are basically kids, and there are plenty more chances to fall in love.

Blaine’s reaction is interesting. He agrees to do the project, but he can’t bring himself to tell Kurt about it. When Kurt finally wheedles it out of him, Blaine lies and says that there is a part in it guaranteed for Kurt.

This will apparently be resolved in another episode, but Blaine has really cooked his own goose. Kurt is going to end up angry not because Blaine is doing a show without him (I’m pretty sure he could have accepted that), but because Blaine didn’t trust him enough to tell him the truth. Blaine’s trust issues have popped up several times before, most notably in regards to Elliot. He has also lied to Kurt before, when he failed to tell Kurt that he couldn’t attend his show in “Puppet Master.” Both of these could have some relationship to when Blaine cheated on Kurt (“The Break-Up“): the unfaithful are always the most jealous, and he would naturally fear Kurt’s ability to trust him about betraying him like that.

One almost gets the idea that their engagement was a mistake.

And finally, Mercedes is having trouble finding a single for her album. She manages to get inspiration from Santana, and, to thank her, tries to convince her producer to turn the single into a duet with her and Santana. The producer comes across as a very reasonable guy, telling her exactly why it’s a bad idea. Mercedes is still trying to find real fame, and her single needs to be all about her. Bringing Santana onboard can’t possibly help her. If she really wants to do a duet, he’s willing to find a big star to sing with her so that she might be able to ride some coattails. He offers to let Santana sing backup, but not co-headline. He even convinces Santana that Mercedes is making a mistake by trying to add Santana to the album.

Despite all that, Mercedes shows up at Santana’s job with a contract for her to sign. She doesn’t care if will help her or even hurt her: she thinks of Santana as a friend and she owes her for the help, so she’s not going to leave her behind if she can help it. She does what Blaine can’t, as she has just enough clout to go against her producer’s advice. And she inspires Santana to help Rachel.

Santana’s scene with Rachel was very welcome, as we needed the additional closure on Santana and Rachel’s earlier feud. And it was good to see Santana admitting that she needs to work on her relationship skills.

This was a solid episode, and it gives me some hope for the future of NYC-era Glee.

Musically, we were also on solid ground. “Wake Me Up” was a brilliant illustration of Rachel’s feelings of being trapped. The use of repeated images, especially the stagehand taking and dropping off the wig, really sold the idea of living the same thing over and over again. More than anything else in the episode, this made me understand why Rachel would act like such an idiot. This was easily the highlight of the episode. “Doo Wop (That Thing)” was quite good, and, as Mercedes points out, Mercedes and Santana together are always magic. “Story of My Life” was very good. In retrospect, it’s actually possible to see why June might have seen something in Blaine, but not Kurt, though they both did fine. Blaine was more natural, while Kurt might have been trying a little too hard. “Piece of My Heart” was a lot of fun. Shirley MacLaine’s singing didn’t exactly blow me away, but her enthusiasm more than made up for it, and she did a solid enough job. “The Rose” was good on its own merits, but considering that it meant nothing in the context of the episode, it’s hard to argue that it needed to be included. In some ways, it was a parody of an overly-dramatic Rachel Berry showstopper.

Other thoughts:

It seems kinda gauche to make it rain with donated cash at a charity event.

I at first thought that the show was going to drag out Rachel’s Three’s Company shenanigans a lot longer, but she kept up the deception about as long as was realistic.

I’m not sure what they’re going to do with the show that Paulblatt is going to develop for Rachel, but if they do some kind of meta Seinfeld-type thing where they create Glee, I quit.

With that I’m caught up with my reviews… except that an episode aired tonight. I’m gonna try to get back on track here soon.

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