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.”

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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 4.22: “All or Nothing”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Where do I even start with this? Season four as a whole could be described as unfocussed at best and unremarkable at worst, at least until the season finale came along to drag down the average. “All or Nothing” is shockingly bad. It feels more like a parody of on episode of Glee than a real one, or perhaps like a 14-year-old’s fan script that accidentally ended up getting produced somehow. Just try to remember everything you loved about every other competition episode, and then for the love of God don’t watch “All or Nothing,” because it hits every note falsely, carefully following the general road map of what such an episode should look like while ruining every single moment.

In short, I didn’t like it.

What the episode bizarrely seems to want to be about is Brittany losing her fucking mind. She comes back to WMHS from being recruited by MIT and is acting like a total bitch, demanding “all the solos,” breaking up with Sam via text (while standing right in front of him), quitting the cheerios by throwing her uniform in a trashcan in front of Roz and burning it, and in general acting nothing like Brittany has ever acted before in her entire life. She’s even over the top when compared to her actions in “Britney 2.0.” This episode spends a lot of time on the “mystery” of Brittany’s bad attitude, as we watch Sam, Will and Sue (together), and finally Santana (at Sam’s request) try to get to the bottom of this. Brittany finally admits that she was accepted to MIT “early admissions” and that she has to leave “right away,” which is why she had that “meltdown.”

First of all, the audience knew about her acceptance to MIT from the beginning of this episode because It was in the first fucking scene. Second of all, everyone in the club knew that Brittany was being recruited by MIT because Will mentioned it, even using the term “early admission” if I recall correctly. Third of all, Brittany should have graduated last year. And, fourth of all, a bunch of other people are fucking graduating! So Brittany leaves a few months early; is it really worth hijacking a season finale and competition episode with all this faux drama, complete with a long goodbye speech that wanders so far from the main point that it plummets off a cliff?

I get the feeling that this is mostly about Heather Morris, who was pretty obviously pregnant and rumored to be retiring from acting to concentrate on raising her child. I can understand wanting to say goodbye to an actress who has been there since the beginning (and the tone of the show owes a lot to Brittany and the way that Morris charactered her), but you don’t have to ruin the episode to do it. A quiet scene with Sam, a phone call to Santana, and Brittany gets a nice send-off that could have also showcased Morris’s dramatic acting and skill at comic relief, rather than just let her go insane.

And let’s talk about the MIT scene for a moment, because it’s emblematic of a lot of what’s wrong with Brittany’s character, here and in some previous episodes. It hinges on the idea that Brittany is “secretly” smart, which is something I’m not sure if I’m supposed to believe or not. For some of TV’s goofball characters it’s believable, such as Welcome Back, Kotter‘s Arnold Horshack. With Brittany… it’s just not. They’re accepting her to MIT because of one test and some numbers she scrawled on a piece of paper, which they bend over backwards to interpret in some way that sounds somewhat stuffy and intelligent? That’s… stupid. And it’s hard to see Brittany doing anything at MIT other than washing out, as even the admissions people know that she has a 0.2 GPA. I don’t care how smart you are, you have to get good grades in any college, especially if you’re on scholarship, and it’s impossible to imagine that Brittany could do that. Brittany has never accepted that she is not intelligent, making her appear delusional in addition to unintelligent and most likely suffering from some form of mental illness.

But that’s enough about that bullshit, let’s talk about some other bullshit. Blaine has decided to propose to Kurt, because apparently Brittany’s stupidity is catching, so he goes to the mall to shop for an engagement ring. The jeweler, Jan, is an older lesbian woman who bizarrely decides to encourage Blaine in his proposal plans, despite not knowing him personally at all. Apparently, straight couples getting married right out of high school is just dumb, but if a gay couple wants to do it, that’s A-okay. It’s possible I’m being unfair here, but I feel like I was watching the episode’s expressed viewpoint, like we we’re taking a detour so that Ryan Murphy can deliver the message that ALL GAY PEOPLE SHOULD MARRY EACH OTHER RIGHT NOW. Blaine and Kurt’s supposed nuptials are just not being given the same respect and seriousness that Rachel and Finn’s wedding plans were for nearly the entirety of season three.

Kurt and Blaine have dinner at Breadstix with Jan and her long-time partner Liz, where they are witness to Jan finally deciding to pop the question for some reason (despite, as they mention, gay marriage not being recognized in Ohio). Liz and Jan are like a fucking commercial for gay marriage, and they pretty much hijack the plot for no discernible reason. I don’t mean to sound insensitive, because I support gay marriage, but I don’t think that this scene or these characters were included in the episode for any reason other than because Ryan Murphy is excited about the strides that gay marriage advocates are making. That’s no reason to include something in an episode, and it pretty obviously intrudes on the story. Jan even mentions the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on the subject of gay marriage, which may in fact be made over the summer, lending a new light to Blaine’s plans at the beginning of season five.

Anyway, Blaine doesn’t go through with the proposal this season. Tune in next time! Hey Blaine, maybe you should ask him if he maybe wants to go to a movie sometime before you ask him to be your fucking husband? Consider it a goal for the summer.

Ryder’s lying Internet girlfriend finally shows herself in this episode, since Ryder loses his shit in the choir room and throws a fit so scary that I’m pretty sure that Will should have called security rather than just sit there with his thumb up his butt. The catfish is… drumroll… Marley! Marley? That doesn’t make any sense. She has a boyfriend, she has no reason to fuck with Ryder, and I’m pretty sure that she’s been scientifically proven to be the nicest person on the planet. Oh wait, Marley was just covering up for Wade, as we find out a few scenes later (though we actually find out during Marley’s confession itself because of the way the scene was shot with Wade always in the foreground looking guilty). So the same episode that celebrates the strides that gay Americans are making paints the only transgender character on the show as a creepy stalker.

But that’s not the reason I don’t like this. I don’t like it because it takes Wade, a character remarkable for her courage in the face of everything during seasons three and four, and robs her of both her dignity and her courage all in one fell swoop, and does so by making her fall from grace over a man. Because hey, she’s a woman on TV, so her entire life has to revolve around a guy, right? I was hoping for Wade to get an episode all her own this season, and that didn’t happen. At least they allowed her, for most of the season, to be herself, show courage in the face of adversity, and form a strong friendship with Marley. But what they did to her here is absolutely unforgivable.

No matter who the “catfish” was it was going to be awful, since no one comes out of something like that looking like anything but a creep. But at least Kitty and Tina are already creeps. Wade was a strong , independent, brave, self-assured woman, and they turned her into a creepy lying stalker. THANKS.

Also, it felt like this was supposed to be about Ryder on some level, but he didn’t really do anything. His announcement that he’s quitting glee club after regionals seemed like it was supposed to be the end of a storyline for him, but I don’t know what storyline.

Lastly, Emma and Will get married at the end of this episode. I have nothing to say about that except that I wish they had done the slightest bit to rehabilitate Will’s character. Even Emma in this scene says that she “can’t handle the pressure” of a big wedding, and makes no mention of the fact that Will didn’t do anything to help her or take the pressure off, despite her fucking asking him to. From what I know about Will and Emma right now, I see Will being the Terri of their relationship.

And now let’s talk about the glee club winning regionals. Let’s not even get into the fact that it doesn’t feel like they should have won based on performances, because that’s very subjective and really not important in terms of the story. What is important is that this season has seen the kids lose sectionals, get back into the competition circuit on a stupid technicality that didn’t even make sense, and then win regionals despite being incredibly fragmented by Ryder’s catfish drama and Brittany’s manic episode. Compare this to the season one regionals loss. In that case, the kids simply had not paid enough dues to earn it, despite working like crazy and having a superior performance. The story was not ready to let them win. I’d argue that the same is true here. There are several newbies in the club, and this is the wrong way for them to experience their first big win. They need to earn it.

An even bigger problem was that, structurally, it scarcely felt like the competition even belonged it the episode. It felt like an afterthought. Compare this to the best competition episodes, like “Sectionals,” “Journey to Regionals,” “Original Song,” “Hold on to Sixteen,” “On My Way” and “Nationals.” Those episodes had a buildup, their storylines and structures respected the importance of the competition, even if the competition itself amounted to little more than a series of music videos. That doesn’t happen in “All or Nothing.” Instead, a series of music videos just suddenly happens in the middle of the episode.

So what did work in “All or Nothing?” Exactly one thing: Rachel’s audition. She came in, sang an amazing song, and then was treated to “Thank you, next please.” Even as she wipes tears out of her eyes from how much she put into that audition, the judges are just doing their jobs. That’s reality right there. Of course, they didn’t reveal whether or not she got the part. I honestly think it’s a tossup. As with the glee club, it feels like she needs to pay more dues before she achieves this kind of success. On the other hand, the cancellation of Smash means that there’s no competition for dramas set on Broadway, and it would give Rachel some new opportunities for character growth. It didn’t seem like the judges were too impressed, however, and Rachel is greener than grass in spring, so I doubt she gets the part. Her failure would honestly give better opportunities for character growth, if more challenging to write.

After several episodes that I liked quite a bit, this was not a good way at all to end the season, and not an auspicious way to go towards season five and beyond.

The music in this episode was decent, but far below par for a competition episode. Rachel’s “To Love You More” was very good, even if it didn’t match the emotion of “Don’t Stop Believin'” from “Sweet Dreams.” It was certainly very “Rachel.” “Clarity” and “Wings” by the rival glee club Hoosier Daddies (fronted by Jessica Sanchez of American Idol fame) were both great, and I’d probably call “Wings” the highlight of the episode. The New Directions’ “Hall of Fame” was okay and “I Love It” was very good, probably the runner-up for highlight of the episode. Original song “All or Nothing” was disappointing: generic and rather lifeless. Stick to covers.

Other thoughts:

What was the point of one of the clubs being “excommunicated by the new pope?” Just to bring in the new Warblers?

I was amused by their lampshade-hanging of Sugar and Joe’s absence.

Sam, on his relationship with Blaine: “I mean, he wants to do me, but we’re just friends.”

Brittany, on Will and Sue’s rivalry: “They were enemies, and then friends, and then enemies, and then friends, and then enemies, and then everybody stopped caring.”

We finally have an answer as to who works the camera for “Fondue for Two”: it’s Lord Tubbington. I shoulda known.

This episode at least wasn’t a complete loss since it had a gratuitous scene of Santana in her underwear.

See you in a week or so with my season four overview!

Episode 4.18: “Shooting Star”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Is it possible for two outstanding acts to save an entire episode? Is it possible for one very offensive and wrong-headed writing decision to tank it? And what can you say about something that contains the absolute bottom of the barrel, the absolute cream of the crop, and a lot of meandering and mediocre bullshit? I’ve never been more glad that I don’t assign ratings to episodes I review, because for “Shooting Star” it would be absolutely impossible. I don’t think I could boil my opinion of this episode down to anything shorter than a few paragraphs. And lucky you, you’re going to get something quite a bit longer than that.

The first two acts are among the goofiest that Glee has ever done, while at the same time taking a break here and there for something serious. Brittany announces that she has discovered an asteroid/comet/meteor that is hurtling towards Earth and will kill them all, and she really feels like she needs to make amends with Lord Tubbington before that happens. Then we spend a lot of time watching Brittany try to connect with her cat while her friends, including Sam and Will, just seem to encourage her. Brittany generally comes across as “funny” dumb, but in this episode she started to veer into “scary” dumb territory. It really felt like she needed to be on some kind of medication. Anyway, she eventually discovers that the comet was actually just a dead ladybug on the lens of her telescope, and also that her telescope was actually just a Pringles can, and in shame she disbands the Astronomy Club that she somehow was president of. So much for that utterly pointless plotline. Next!

Ryder finds out (shock horror!) that his online girlfriend Katie hasn’t been entirely truthful to him when he finds the girl whose photograph she sent him, Marissa. While he seems to have had a shot at scoring with Marissa after his oddly smooth approach at her, he becomes more concerned with finding out who’s been tricking him. Katie claims that aside from the name and photo she’s been entirely truthful, but Ryder understandably thinks that someone is fucking with him. In a difficult-to-watch scene, he accuses Marley and Jake of doing it, just because they know him well enough to pull it off. It’s sad to see Ryder so upset that he’s lashing out at two of his few friends. He eventually agrees to meet Katie after school and sort everything out.

Also, Shannon makes a pass at Will, who has to break it to her that he’s back with Emma. We then see the return of weepy insecure Shannon as she proves she can’t take rejection.

All of this wandering unfocussed shit leads into the two standout acts of the episode, as Will, the kids, and Shannon meet in the choir room and suddenly hear two gunshots ring out from somewhere in the distance, but not quite distant enough for comfort. After a moment of horrible indecision, Will orders everyone to spread out and hide, and he turns off the lights and locks the doors. What follows is claustrophobic and terrifying. The show refuses to let us out of the choir room for a long time and does not let us know what’s happening, so the audience feels as lost and hopeless as the kids.

We watch as Sam, who knows that Brittany is somewhere out there, waits, gets impatient, makes an attempt to leave to find her but it talked out of it by Will, and finally tries to force his way out of the choir room and has to be physically restrained by Will and Shannon. Artie starts allowing people to leave video messages on his cell phone, because “if we don’t get out of here, then people need to see this.” Kitty is finally able to have a real emotion (this is what it takes, huh?) and makes a confession to Marley in her terror of dying without making some kind of amends. Ryder calls Katie for the first time, because “she’s someone, and I still care about her,” only to hear someone’s phone in the choir room ring in response (they can’t tell whose it is). The only sound in the room, throughout all this, is a ticking metronome in the middle of the room that got knocked down in the confusion.

When we’re finally shown brief glimpses of the outside world, we see a stampede of kids leaving the school. We see Brittany hiding in the bathroom, standing on the toilet seat and crying. We see Tina, safely outside, begging Figgins to let her back in so she can be with her friends.

Finally, the SWAT team comes through and gives the all clear. And at the end of these two acts, we know nothing about what happened or why, just like the kids.

Glee has never been afraid to go to a dark place, and with the major exception of last season’s “Choke,” they’ve been fairly successful at it. The two acts of the kids waiting in the dark choir room, scared, confused, lost, and helpless, made for some of the best writing, acting, and directing the series has ever done. The refusal to let the audience know anything about what was happening and the refusal to cut the tension at all until the very end were brilliant decisions that allowed this part of the episode to really stand out.

And, fortunately, these acts stand on their own. Fortunate, because the rest of the episode does not live up to them.

Several days later, with metal detectors now at every entrance to WMHS and a school-wide locker search ongoing for the still missing shooter and gun (no witnesses and not so much as a bullet hole was found, but everyone heard the shots), Sue finally confesses that it was her gun. She tells Figgins that she kept it in her office for security, and that she accidentally dropped it while cleaning it, causing it to go off. With no other choice, Figgins fires her. Sue is very blasé about the whole thing, and we finally find out why via flashback: the gun was actually Becky’s. Scared of graduating, Becky lost her shit and brought the gun into Sue’s office, although I’m still not sure what she planned on doing with it (she claims it’s to “be prepared”). Becky drops the gun by mistake when Sue tries to take it, and it goes off. Sue takes the blame to protect Becky, and her last request to Will is to “keep an eye on Becky.”

Sue’s behavior here is presented as noble, but it’s actually pretty reprehensible. Becky just proved herself to be a danger to herself and others, and Sue learned that Becky, a child with Down Syndrome, lives in a household with parents who do not know how to adequately secure their firearms (Becky swiped the gun from her dad). How long until Becky has another episode and shoots someone? How long until she accidentally shoots herself? She clearly has problems even beyond Down Syndrome, and by covering up what Becky did, Sue is preventing her from getting any help. She could easily be condemning Becky, who she loves, to die of her own psychosis because no one is going to know about this horrible warning sign. That is absolutely and utterly disgusting, and instead of seeing Sue leaving as a hero, I see her leaving as an idiot who endangers children because she doesn’t want to face that Becky has a major problem, and perhaps should not be in public school. It’s selfish, it’s wrong, and it’s unforgivable. It’s definitely not heroic.

Oh yeah, also the kids had some reactions to the scare too. Tina admits that the glee club is her family and has a pretty good crying scene with Blaine, and Ryder waits to meet Katie but she doesn’t show up.

Also, Will helps Shannon post a profile on an online dating site, and the first response was from Ken Tanaka, which was pretty funny.

And Sam bought Brittany another cat.

My feelings were all over the map during this episode. I was bored, I was riveted, I was terrified, I was confused, I was angry, I was offended, I was disappointed. What did I think about it? See above. I’m not even going to try to put any kind of summation of my opinion down here.

This was a very musically sparse episode, at three songs the sparsest we’ve had in a long time. While “More than Words” was decent on its own, the very fact that it was being sung to and about a cat that Brittany was trying to make amends with before a comet that she discovered destroyed the world… kinda robbed it of any dignity. “Your Song” was actually a lot of fun, and it could have been a lot more awkward if Marissa hadn’t decided that Ryder managed to fall on the “charming” side of the charming/creepy dichotomy. “Say” was the highlight of the episode, as it gave a quiet moment of contemplation as we came down off those awful all-around events, and allowed Ryder to find where he belongs right now. The further shots of messages from other glee kids on Artie’s cell phone as the song ends were cloying, but they came from a real place and it made for a nice coda to the episode.

Other thoughts:

Word I learned from Glee today: “textlationship.”

I’m impressed at Marley’s industriousness if she actually built a fake bottom for her desk drawer just to hide some songs she wrote.

Why the hell did they leave the bathroom (and all at once) after Will found Brittany and two other students hiding in there before the all clear?

At least Blaine can quit the Cheerios now? That plotline sure went nowhere.

Episode 4.13: “Diva”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

After the wackiness of last week, it was good to get a little more down to earth, or at least what passes for “down to earth” on Glee. This was a decent episode, but its good setup was undermined by some subpar resolutions. At least Tina finally kinda got a story all her own, even if it did revolve around her feelings for a gay guy (and Rachel thought that she had a failed relationship with Blaine). It’s going to be a Quinn-level event when Tina finally comes crashing down.

Last week, someone on a message board I frequent said that “Naked” reminded them of season one. And, in terms of tone, it did. I even had the same “this is bad, but I’m enjoying it” reaction that I had for much of that season. But musically and thematically, “Diva” is actually even more reminiscent of season one. It helps the connection that it’s an episode that is, for Glee, unusually rooted in continuity. Kurt and Rachel are at each others throats again, and their competitive duet of “Bring Him Home” brings to mind “Defying Gravity,” which was mentioned. Kurt even cops to throwing it. Blaine mentions his brief fling with Rachel. Santana is moping over a lost significant other, and her duet with Sam of “Make No Mistake (She’s Mine)” brings to mind Mercedes and Santana’s “The Boy is Mine,” which in season one was about Puck. Finn is moping over his breakup with Rachel, which happened about every other episode the first two seasons. And, course, we get to witness a bitter competition among the club members (sorta).

Anyway, Finn is still leading the glee club and, since this is an episode that is not “Swan Song,” he seems to be doing a pretty bad job at it. Through Emma, he steals one of Will’s old ideas and tries to get the kids fired up for regionals by having them compete in a “diva-off.” There seems to be a lot of interest in it, with Blaine, Wade, Brittany, Marley, and Tina all expressing interest in proving that they can be a diva. Unfortunately for Wade, Brittany, and Marley, there apparently wasn’t time in this episode for their competition numbers, and this ends up being all about Tina and Blaine (Heather Morris, while a talented enough singer, doesn’t have a powerful enough voice to seriously compete anyway). They help each other out, as Tina tries to help Blaine clear his head cold (apparently Chinese chicken noodle soup is magic) and Blaine tries to help Tina gain some confidence and pick a song to compete with.

There are some good things about this plotline. Blaine is finally moving away from the “depressed whiny bitch who misses Kurt” persona that has ruled him for most of this season, and Tina is finally showing up at the forefront of a story (and she really is the subject here more than Blaine is). However, it’s disappointing that Tina’s story should once again revolve around a man, as it did in “Asian F,” her previous nearest miss with main character status. However, I can buy it because Jenna Ushkowitz really sells it. She’s completely lovesick over Blaine, and it’s driving her nuts because she knows it’s futile. At the same time she pursues it because she can’t stop herself. When Tina starts crying and kinda latches onto Blaine while he’s asleep, it’s kind of a creepy scene, but it also speaks volumes about what Tina is feeling, and Ushkowitz plays it masterfully.

So I’m comfortable with Tina’s role for the most part, but what’s really disappointing is Blaine. He can’t be so naïve as to not realize that Tina is in love with him. I mean, he literally can’t, because she pretty much told him as much in “Sadie Hawkins.” So Blaine ends up looking like a huge jerk for leading her on and taking advantage of her feelings for him. Both Blaine and Tina seem to have missed the point of this when Blaine apologizes for not being grateful for all Tina’s help (which Tina seems to accept) and then asks her to be his date to Will’s wedding. As far as I can tell, Blaine showed plenty of appreciation for what Tina did for him. Tina had good reason to be mad, but that wasn’t it: she should be mad because Blaine is playing with her feelings. And now that they’re going on a “date,” Blaine gets to string her along even further.

I don’t think that this is supposed to be the audience perception of their relationship, but that’s definitely what it looks like to me.

Meanwhile, Kurt decides to call Rachel out on being bitchy and self-absorbed by challenging her at NYADA’s “Midnight Madness,” a Fight Club style underground sing-off, a concept that sounds much funnier than it turns out to be. I like this because in the past couple of episodes it has become obvious that Rachel and Kurt are drifting apart, and Rachel has always had an ego that will balloon out to massive proportions at the slightest provocation. Of course, this is a lesson that Rachel has had to learn over and over again, so there always needs to be some kind of a new spin on it. This time, when Rachel is defeated by Kurt, she becomes depressed not because she got beaten, but because the perspective gives her a chance to see exactly how bitchy she had been. Kurt forgives her and all is well, now that she’s been knocked down a few notches.

While this plotline works better than Blaine and Tina’s, to a certain extent one has to ask what the point is. I guess it was nice finally seeing some cracks in Rachel and Kurt’s relationship, considering that they’ve been best BFFs forever ever since season two. I was expecting part of it to be about Kurt being a little jealous of the attention that Rachel is giving Brody, though.

Bringing up the rear in the C plot is Santana, who has come back to town because she’s upset that Brittany is dating Sam. Why she’s so upset that it’s Sam in particular is never really made clear. Because he’s a guy? Because he’s kinda dumb? Because Santana used to date him? Because he could unhinge his jaw and swallow her whole? I don’t know. I did like their confrontation over her, even if Sam and Brittany’s relationship hasn’t really earned the gravity that Santana and Brittany’s has. Santana’s scene with Brittany, on the other hand, was the best scene in the episode. Even if the writing didn’t earn it, Naya Rivera and Heather Morris onscreen together are always magic. While Sue offered Santana a job as an assistant cheer coach, Brittany convinces Santana that she should move to New York, which is more her style.

While I like the idea of Santana moving to New York purely because I’d like to see her on the show more, the series has not really offered us a good explanation as to why she should go. I asked this question at the end of last season in my review of Goodbye: what is she hoping to do there? We know why Kurt and Rachel went to New York, but Santana has never really expressed interest in Broadway (or in anything else other than being a lesbian and a bitch, really), so what is she doing there? What are her goals? She is as lost as Finn in many ways, she just doesn’t seem as bothered by it.

I did like her entrance into Kurt and Rachel’s apartment. “What are you doing here?” “Moving in.”

Also happening in this episode: Emma has a panic attack about planning for her wedding, and Finn decides to snap her out of it by kissing her. Speaking of callbacks to season one, I’m getting a mental image of Will decking Finn. I’m not sure where they’re going with this, but it can’t be anywhere good. In the meantime, Emma better get her meds adjusted.

Overall, I’d call this a good episode. It wasn’t without its flaws, but thematically, for the most part, it was pretty well put together. A lot of it was about changing relationships: Blaine and Tina, Rachel and Kurt, Santana and Brittany, Emma and Finn. Santana and Brittany’s relationship evolved, Rachel and Kurt’s faltered and then got stronger, and the other two are disasters waiting to happen.

Musically, this episode was strong thematically if not artistically. “Diva” was easily the worst, pulling us way out of reality with a song that just isn’t that good. Blaine’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” was good, but unfortunately, Darren Criss is no Freddy Mercury. I think its telling that Glee‘s previous Queen songs were mostly ensembles, since it’s very hard for a single person to impress with a song originated by Mercury, who had a ludicrously good voice. The main exception is season one’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” sung primarily by Jonathan Groff. But Criss doesn’t even have Groff’s voice and, as talented as he is, “Don’t Stop Me Now” comes across as a pale imitation because his voice just isn’t powerful enough to carry it. Similarly, “Bring Him Home” invites unfair comparisons to season one’s “Defying Gravity,” which was far superior. The highlight was Santana and Sam’s oddly sad and brooding “Make No Mistake (She’s Mine),” which worked thanks more to Naya Rivera than Chord Overstreet, but I think that they both sold their feelings for Brittany. Santana was regretting that their relationship had to end, while Sam was quietly telling Santana that she is with him now, and that’s the way it’s going to stay. Close behind are Tina’s “Hung Up” (which seemed a little mean-spirited) and Santana’s “Nutbush City Limits,” which was just a ton of fun. Santana’s “Girl on Fire” seemed like it was trying to channel Rachel’s “Roots Before Branches” from season three’s “Goodbye,” which Rachel earned but Santana did not.

Other thoughts:

I liked how Emma just kept talking while the glee kids started arguing with each other leading into the musical number, which resulted in the funniest punchline of the episode: “And that is how I made the manager cry at the Cheesecake Factory.”

The scene with Blaine and Tina in Blaine’s bedroom was already creepy enough before Blaine fell asleep and Tina started unbuttoning his shirt and mounted him. Luckily she just wanted to put some vapor rub on his chest for his cold, but it was pretty uncomfortable, and it was meant to be.

Finn describes himself as a “manboy,” which pretty much describes the box they’ve put him into for any fourth season episode not named “Swan Song.”

Santana seemed very different from the mature, adult woman who broke up with Brittany in “The Break-Up.” I guess striking out with that girl in Louisville really did a number on her.

Kurt’s victory over Rachel was “the closest in Midnight Madness History?” What, does their history only stretch back to last Tuesday or something?

Tina earned her victory here, but I hope they give her something to do in the future that isn’t mainly mooning over a guy. I know, I’m impossible to please.

Sue’s explanation for how the graduates keep showing up back in Lima: teleporters.

Episode 4.10: “Glee, Actually”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

To say that Glee has a spotty record with Christmas episodes would be generous. Season two’s “A Very Glee Christmas” and season three’s “Extraordinary Merry Christmas” both fell pretty flat. So when I say that “Glee, Actually” is the series’s best Christmas episode, that’s damning with faint praise. Still, it’s not bad, as it doesn’t aim for much except to show us how a few select characters spend their Christmas.

I am glad to see Glee still experimenting in its fourth season, since even when it fails it tends to be interesting. And this is not a failure, even if it isn’t an unqualified success. While both the title and Sue refer directly to the film Love Actually, my recollection of that movie (though it’s been a long time) is that its stories cut back and forth and are at least slightly intertwined. “Glee, Actually” instead presents a series of unrelated stories, and refuses to cut among them during the course of the episode. Each of the first five acts is devoted to a single story that focusses on one or two characters, and the sixth act is used to kinda tie everything together and wind down. Though each story shares the time period of mid-to-late December, there’s a pretty fair variation among them, both thematically and tonally.

Of course, Glee has done multi-story disjointed episodes before, as in season two’s “Duets” and nearly all of season three (most successfully in “Saturday Night Glee-ver” and “Dance with Somebody“), but it’s never been done quite this way before, with so many stories so disconnected. In many ways, this episode almost comes across as a deconstruction of season three, with the various unrelated storylines that characterized the season separated from the melange of subplots, put back together, and shown in a row. Imagine “Heart,” for example, torn apart and put back together this way. It would lend an entirely different view of the proceedings. Each “subplot” gets its own segment, nothing steps to the forefront and it doesn’t feel like anything has to. I don’t think that structuring season three this way would have particularly worked, but it would have been more honest.

Our first story features the requisite It’s a Wonderful Life parody, as Artie gets to see what life would have been like if he’d never gotten paralyzed, guided by Rory as an angel. Much of this feels like rehash from season one’s “Dream On,” both because of its revisiting of Artie’s issues with being in a wheelchair (which we haven’t seen in a long time) and its using a dream sequence to show off Kevin McHale’s usually neglected dancing skills (when Glee first started filming, the choreographer was quite annoyed to learn that his best dancer was the guy playing a paraplegic). I also unashamedly hate It’s a Wonderful Life (though that’s a rant for another day) and I always wonder why these scenarios always involve things being way worse than they are in the prime universe. The implication is that we are apparently living in the best possible universe, and even the slightest change to anything would bring about total devastation, The Butterfly Effect style. Sure, things would be different if Artie had never gotten paralyzed, but it’s dishonest and a bit offensive to suggest that he had to get paralyzed so that life wouldn’t suck for his friends. I don’t think that’s the intended lesson, but it’s the one that comes across.

The second story is probably the strongest, showing Kurt and his father hanging around New York City. Mike O’Malley and Chris Colfer have always had a lot of chemistry together, and they really make you believe in the reunion of father and newly-moved-out son. I don’t know what the purpose of Burt telling Kurt that he has cancer was — it comes out of nowhere and smacks of artificially adding emotion to the story, especially annoying because it didn’t really need it. Kurt’s reunion with Blaine was suitably awkward, and resolved nothing while at least allowing the two of them to communicate civilly again. It was also great to see Blaine confident and sure of himself again, as opposed to the whiny sad sack he’s been since “The Break-Up.” Blaine’s suggestion that he may apply for NYADA suggests fodder for season five.

The third story sees Puck and Jake hanging out together, which is good since they were pretty much glossed over in “Thanksgiving.” Jacob Artist and Mark Salling may not be the best acting duo ever, but they are believable as brothers. That makes Jake’s quick turnaround from lost rebel to nice guy a bit more believable, since it took Puck a good three seasons to make the same transition, making him unusually suited to help Jake avoid the pitfalls. It’s pretty weird how much time Jake and Puck spend hopping back and forth between Lima and Los Angeles (a 32-hour drive according to Google Maps), and their entire adventure in LA is pretty silly, but the payoff when Jake and Puck’s mothers meet each other makes the whole segment worth it. They find common ground because their sons feel like brothers and they all have a lot of deserved hatred for the absent Mr. Puckerman. This segment contrasts the newly-forming traditions of the Puckerman brothers with the old Hummel family traditions that Burt continuously refers to in the prior segment.

It seems that Sam has been grievously beaten with the Stupid Stick, since he’s back down at Brittany’s IQ level for our fourth segment. Sam and Brittany are the only kids in school who believe that the “Mayan apocalypse” is ending the world on December 21, and they decide to make the most of their time together by getting married. Shannon performs their wedding ceremony on the 18th, but when the 22nd rolls around and the world still exists, they’re a bit taken aback… and they also think they’re really married. Relevant question: what did they do for the four days they were waiting for the world to end? Because “fucking without protection” is the only theory I can come up with. Shannon reveals in the final segment that she was only pretending to be an ordained minister so that they could get some enjoyment out of their “final” days without really doing anything stupid, but I think that it sometimes might not be a good idea to think the world is ending, because that’s exactly when you’d be likeliest to do something stupid? Shannon also decides to give them a little more by telling them that the end of the world has been pushed back to 2014. I can’t wait to see the followup on that, if Glee by some miracle is still on the air in 2014. At least Shannon’s excessive sentimentality here hearkens back to her role in “A Very Glee Christmas,” and is in character in general. Still, it’s pretty irresponsible.

Lastly, Sue gets to play Grinch again, although she doesn’t try to steal Christmas this time. Instead, after drawing Marley’s mom’s name out of the hat for faculty secret Santa, she decides to give the Roses the Christmas they deserve. She comes to this idea when she overhears Mrs. Rose telling Marley about how they’re spending all their Christmas money on Marley’s therapy for her eating disorder (though telling her this seems like something that could just give her another complex). This segment unavoidably feels reminiscent of “A Very Glee Christmas,” what with Sue’s heart growing three sizes, but Marley and her mother always make for a good scene, and I’m glad to see some followup on Marley’s issues.

The final segment brings everything together, as Marley and the glee kids thank Sue for what she did for the Roses, Sam and Brittany figure out where to go from here, Kurt and Blaine set the table for Christmas dinner, and Puck decides to move back to Lima to be close to his brother. Also, Artie is there.

This was a clearly flawed episode, but I appreciate the experimentation. We had quite a few scenes that worked, and as a whole it was a nice experience, but a lot of things failed to deliver as well. Sam and Brittany’s segment was especially disappointing, largely because it continued the stupidification of Sam that has characterized his fourth season ever since “Makeover.” It was also particularly aimless.

The music wasn’t spectacular, but I would like to say I’m glad they went with a lot of Christmas standards this year rather than contemporary music. “Feliz Navidad” and “Jingle Bell Rock” were uninspired, but everything else was pretty good. “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah,” despite being the most awkwardly set up number of the bunch, was both a nice way to see Puck and Jake interacting and to remind people that, you know, some of the people on this show are Jewish, which “Extraordinary Merry Christmas” kinda forgot. The highlight of the episode was the final “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which, while it included montage elements, really felt like it brought all the disparate plotlines together.

Other thoughts:

I hate to harp on this, but Sam and Brittany started dating one episode ago. Give us a little more lead time before a marriage proposal happens. Even Nashville‘s Juliette waited three episodes before proposing to Sean.

Artie’s dream sequence was fun for the dark references to season one. Will is a drunk because he can’t stand living with Terri, and Emma is trapped in a relationship with Ken Tanaka.

I also liked that Artie’s musical number did nothing to convince the alternate universe kids of the power of music. “That was so gay!”

As of this episode, Puck has been back to Lima a total of four times (assuming he went back to LA after Thanksgiving), once crossing three time zones for the sole purpose of giving a lecture to Jake.

Marley and her mom hug with joy after finding that someone had broken into their house and left them gifts and much-needed money, but Marley suddenly realizes “We should probably still call the police.”

“I wanted to thank you for what you did for Marley and me.” “I had nothing to do with the making of that movie.”

Shannon says that the Mayans were “wiped out” by the Spanish and smallpox. There are actually around seven million Mayans alive today, and a dozen or so Mayan languages are still spoken. They also don’t think the world is going to end in 2012.

Episode 4.06: “Glease”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

If this episode had consisted of only the sixth act, I’d have said it was pretty good. Unfortunately, there were five unfocussed, silly, plotless acts before it. At its heart, “Glease” wants to be a sequel to “The Break-Up,” examining the post-breakup lives of Rachel, Finn, Blaine, Kurt, Santana, and Brittany, and what it does with that is decent. However, a lot of it gets buried in bullshit having to do with Kitty and her bizarre revenge plan, Marley and her body image, and Finn’s taking charge of the school production of Grease.

Finn stepping up as a leader has come through in Glee over and over again throughout the series. In fact, it was one of the main reasons that Will recruited him: he needed a male lead for the club. As an accepted leader of the club, though, I think the defining moment early on was season one’s “Sectionals,” when he put aside his problems with Quinn and Puck (even after finding out that Quinn was carrying Puck’s baby) and showed up at the competition with the music they needed just in time to bring everyone together. He also did this at Will’s request because Will couldn’t be there. So, in many ways, Finn’s now-official leadership role feels like rehash rather than the step forward that it’s supposed to feel like. He’s also scarcely shining bright as a leader, at least as far as the viewer can tell. His entire role in this episode appeared to consist of getting the guys to practice in his stepdad’s body shop, and then tell them to do it again “with, like, twice the energy!” I thought that that scene was meant to establish that Finn still had no idea what he was doing, but the musical was apparently a huge success, and Will is perfectly content to give all the credit to Finn (because really, fuck Artie).

Finn is also worse than Will at mending fences with Sue, though to be fair he did call her possibly Down syndrome afflicted baby “retarded,” which is genuinely fucking offensive and mean. I was actually kinda on Sue’s side when she refused to accept his half-assed apology (though I’m much less prone to revenge than Sue). I’m quite disappointed to see Sue back in full-bore villain mode since, as I’ve said before, I like her much better as a benign antagonist.

All in all, the musical was pretty pointless. If some of Finn’s supposed leadership skills had been put on display, it might have had some worth. At the end of the episode, Finn tells Rachel that she was his inspiration when he was trying to lead the musical. However, we never actually saw anything like that, so we just have to take his word for it.

Most of the interesting things related to the musical happened on the sideline and didn’t have a lot of plot time devoted to them. First, Wade’s parents come down to Figgins’s office to pull Wade out of the play. They’re actually remarkably accepting for parents of a transgender child. They say they were “proud” of Wade’s performance as Unique in Chicago, but that Chicago is a “liberal” city and they fear for Wade’s safety if she continues to dress and perform as a woman in public. This explanation is intercut with a scene of Wade, while dressed as a woman, being shoved into a locker. Which did not have much of an emotional impact. We’ve seen much worse things happen on this show to people who do dress consistently with their anatomical sex. Anyone remember when Puck was locked in a Porta-Potty for 24 hours? That aside, Wade’s parents were interesting characters and really seemed to have the best interests of their child at heart. I hope to see more of them (though I said the same thing about Karofsky’s dad once).

And rounding out the crew of glee kids coming back to WMHS for the musical is Santana, who at least has the excuse of only being a few hours drive away, unlike Mercedes, Mike, Kurt, and Rachel. (Absent are Puck, who made a cameo earlier this season, and Quinn, who has yet to make an appearance.) Santana comes in at Finn’s request to fill in as Rizzo when Wade is pulled out, which leads to a short scene of Tina being angry at being passed over (she’s playing Jan). Anyway, Santana has a very cute scene with Brittany in which they discuss how much they miss each other, which essentially boils down to how much they miss the way things were and never will be again. That hints at the theme of the episode, which is pretty much that you can’t go home again.

As strong as act six was, a lot of the stuff leading up to it felt like rehash, as Rachel/Finn and Kurt/Blaine deal with the fact that their relationships are over for good. I’ve had enough of Kurt and Rachel’s personal angst, but I liked the scene in which Rachel and Finn have a heart-to-heart talk with each other that meanders from wistful to happy to sad to mean to cold. It’s a very well-written scene that feels very real, including their final promise to break off all contact with each other. The end of any relationship is hard, but especially at that age it feels like the end of the world, and neither party really knows how to deal with it.

I was really expecting Kurt and Blaine to have some kind of serious heart-to-heart talk as well, but Kurt still insists that it’s all over and shuts down the lines of communication. This is non-negotiable for him. We pretty much got that sense from “The Break-Up” and “The Role Your Were Born to Play,” so I don’t think they added much here, though it was a bit shocking to get no hint of friendliness between the two characters at all, even after some time to cool off.

That brings us to Kitty and Marley’s subplot. Still out for revenge because Marley kinda caused Jake to break up with her, Kitty convinces Marley that she’s gaining weight by taking a couple of inches out of the waist of Marley’s costume every day. Why Tina, who is in charge of costuming, doesn’t notice her costumes shrinking, or why Marley doesn’t just weigh herself and thereby notice she’s not gaining weight, or wonder why all her other clothes still fit properly… none of that is explained. However, Marley does become convinced that she is doomed by genetics to become obese like her mother.

It’s around this point that things get really ugly and dark. Kitty not only decides to convince Marley that she’s gaining weight, but tries to get Marley to try losing weight via bulimic purging, to the point that the emotionally wrecked Marley actually tries it. After her last failed attempt to fit into her costume, Ryder finds her sobbing into a toilet bowl with her fingers down her throat. Jesus Christ! Kitty has successfully proven herself eviller than Sue and season-one Quinn combined, as well as genuinely mentally disturbed. Marley sorta helped cause Jake to break up with Kitty (though it was mostly Kitty’s fault) and Kitty tried to force Marley into a life of bulimia and distorted self image. This is only slightly less of an overreaction than Cartman’s in “Scott Tenorman Must Die.”

Body image problems were previously explored with Finn in “The Rocky Horror Glee Show,” but sheesh. This one was really hard to watch.

While Marley’s final scene with Ryder was nice, we still know basically nothing about Ryder. Why is he even here? Write that scene for Sam or Jake or even Joe and it would have worked better.

Revealed at the end of the episode: Cassie convinced Rachel to go home for the musical so that Cassie could move in on Brody, which she successfully does. And here I thought that Cassie and Rachel were kinda becoming friends, especially after their cathartic confrontation at the end of “Britney 2.0.” Nope, that would just be too interesting.

The music in this episode was pretty bleh. “You’re the One That I Want” was the highlight by a mile, and it actually was kinda cool seeing the other characters put themselves in the places of Ryder and Marley, remembering times and relationships in their lives that they will never get back. Especially pointless, on the other hand, was Kitty’s “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.” It was an entertaining number, and I actually do like Becca Tobin’s voice quite a bit, but it came out of nowhere and had no place in the scene. The boys’ “Greased Lightnin” at least had a purpose in being a rehearsal number, but it felt strangely lifeless, and I had to wonder where the hell the music was coming from.

This episode was a big bag of wasted potential. Not exactly horrible, but I’m not liking where the season is heading.

Other thoughts:

“Glease” is the new record-holder for stupidest episode title of the series. Sorry “Prom-asaurus.”

They established that Finn is volunteering at the school, which I guess I actually can buy, as long as the glee club really is an outside activity and not a class.

Why the hell did the girls decide to be so friendly with Kitty? Has she not sufficiently proven that she’s a total psychopathic bitch? Hopefully she has now.

Melissa Benoist isn’t nearly as good a crier as Lea Michele, but who is?

If nothing else, at least this episode reminds us that, as unreasonably old as the Glee actors may look, at least they look more like they’re in high school than the actors in Grease.