(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.
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.