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.

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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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Episode 5.03: “The Quarterback”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Glee has never felt the need to adhere strictly to the rules of television writing. On several occasions, they’re produced episodes that were little more than long music videos. They’ve done episodes that contained large amounts of experimentation, dropping a parody video into the middle or telling a series of unrelated stories. This week, they’ve eschewed story in order to present a 45-minute memorial to both Cory Monteith and Finn Hudson… and boy, did it work. This was a sweet, meaningful, well-crafted tribute that did almost everything right, in its own Glee kinda way.

“The Quarterback” moves effortlessly throughout its running time from character to character and back again, exploring their reactions to the death of Finn and how they’re moving forward. The manner of Finn’s death is never addressed: Kurt’s voiceover nips this in the bud early by saying that it doesn’t matter how he died, but only how he lived. And that’s what this episode is about: a celebration of Finn’s life and a mourning of the holes he left behind in the hearts of everyone he interacted with. They come close to whitewashing Finn a few times, but in the end they’re not afraid to present him as the flawed person he was, not as a saint. Mercedes even alludes to Finn’s demons when she obliquely mentions the season one baby drama among Finn, Quinn, and Puck. And then there’s the quote on Finn’s newly christened plaque in the choir room, handpicked by Rachel: “The show must go… all over the place… or something.” It’s an inspired choice of words to remember Finn by. He was not very smart or very charismatic, but he had heart and plenty of feeling for everyone around him.

Kurt’s grief is presented as a kind of subdued numbness. He doesn’t have a lot of facial expressions or reactions throughout the episode, but it’s obvious that he’s deeply in pain. At one point in the initial voiceover, he says “This isn’t real. I’m not going home for this. He’s going to be there.” That denial lasts only a second, but it’s a powerful flash of how Finn’s death has affected Kurt. The entire voiceover is delivered in a flat monotone, the words of a man who just doesn’t know how to express what he’s feeling or, as Kurt puts it, who doesn’t even know what he’s feeling. “What can you say about a 19-year-old who dies?”

Later, Kurt helps his father Burt and stepmother (Finn’s mother) Carole sort through Finn’s things. This includes a reference to the “faggy” lamp from season one’s “Theatricality.” Finn threw a fit in that episode and said some things he didn’t mean. I like that they bring it up because, again, it allows us to see the entire Finn, not a saint. He was someone who made mistakes, but who could learn from them. Carole opines that Finn kept the lamp to “prove a point to Burt.” Burt himself has a great monologue about how he thinks he should have hugged Finn more, in a great performance of barely-under-the-surface utter grief by Mike O’Malley. Carole holds it together for a while, but then it all hits her all over again, and she starts sobbing. “You have to keep on being a parent, even though you don’t have a child anymore.”

Puck’s grief is characterized, very appropriately, by anger and rebellion. Puck doesn’t feel that he’s “sad” so much as he’s just so pissed off that his friend has left him alone. He steals the memorial tree planted by Kurt, and he tries to talk Kurt into giving him Finn’s letterman jacket. Puck is so consumed by his own feelings that he just doesn’t know what to do. He finally connects with Shannon, who gets him to tell her that he doesn’t want to cry because he doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to stop. He finally does break down, and Shannon is there for him. This is the scene in the episode that comes the closest to being over the top, but it’s fairly easy to forgive. Puck is a larger-than-life character, and his reactions make sense. Shannon and Puck replant the memorial tree together, near the end of the episode. This is a much nicer scene than the first one, a more subtle approach to what they’re going through. “It was a garbage tree, though. It wasn’t big enough.” “They grow, you know.”

Santana’s grief is also angry, in a more explosive way. She gets into a screaming match with Sue over Sue ordering than Finn’s memorial at his locker be taken down. This leads, later, to a nice scene between the two in which they just talk about Finn. There’s no big makeup between the two of them: they maintain physical and emotional distance throughout the scene. But Sue is able to express that she is grieving for Finn as well, and that she regrets the way she treated him, and, in her own way, she’s dealing with that. By being a bitch, of course. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t really feel something. “There’s no lesson here, there’s no happy ending, there’s just nothing.”

Santana’s own memorial to Finn is a performance of “If I Die Young,” introduced by her with a typically Santana series of loving insults towards Finn. Santana can’t manage to finish the song, and runs crying from the room when people try to comfort her. She later tells Kurt that she’s mad at herself because she meant to actually say nice things about Finn, but couldn’t do it, even though she wrote down what she wanted to say. She can’t even read them to Kurt privately, initially, saying “It’s too embarrassing. They’re, like, really nice.” Kurt follows up with “Do you really think one day, on your deathbed, you’re gonna think ‘Good, no one knew I was kind.'” This gets her to open up a bit, and this is a very touching scene, suggesting that Santana not only learned from Finn, but continues to do so. “He was a much better person than I am.”

An inspired choice by the episode is to leave Rachel out of the proceedings entirely until the fourth act. Her grief is clearly the most powerful, the most meaningful, and by leaving it until near the end it is able to have a tremendous impact, and it doesn’t get in the way of everyone else. Rachel is lost and confused; she no longer has that anchor in her life that has been there for years. We’ve seen in prior seasons that, when having feelings like this, Rachel and Finn had a tendency to drift towards each other, regardless of the state of their relationship or anything else that may have been going on: they were always instinctively just there for each other. But now, Rachel feels like she has nowhere to turn. It’s clear that there is a lot of Lea Michele in this performance, and a lot of her feelings for Cory Monteith are entangled in Rachel’s feelings for Finn. I can’t even imagine how hard this was for her to perform, and I can’t compliment her enough on it. “I talk to him a lot. I can still see his face and I can hear his voice so clearly.”

The episode ends with Will, who has been holding it together for the sake of the kids, walking into his house, sitting down on his couch, taking out Finn’s letter jacket, and just sobbing into it. Emma, who had promised to be with him when he finally fully expressed his grief, comes in and just sits beside him and holds him.

This was a very heavy episode, but thankfully it did have its moments of comic relief, most of which worked. Kurt explaining the memorial tree: “All I did was drive down to Home Depot and buy a tree for 20 dollars.” The quick visual reference to the “Single Ladies” dance from season one’s “Preggers.” Figgins saying “New Santana Lopez is right, Old Santana Lopez!” in reference to Bree. Santana’s reference to taking a “grief siesta.” Puck stealing the tree with his motorcycle. Tina going to Emma for counseling because she’s tired of wearing black (okay, this one didn’t work as well).

The biggest thing missing from the episode is Quinn. She was a big part of Finn’s life for two years, and Mercedes even made reference to their baby drama when she sang “I’ll Stand by You.” The only explanation was Kurt saying that the people going back to Lima consisted of “everyone who can.” I hope they’re able to do something with her later. In not… I guess we can all imagine what Quinn is going through.

Overall, an absolutely fantastic episode and a fitting memorial for both the actor and the character. Glee by nature goes for powerful emotions and big effects, but they didn’t even have to manufacture anything this time. The emotion was all there, intrinsically, from the beginning. This episode just… lets it out. It allows the characters, the actors, and the audience to grieve, together.

The music was wonderful, every single piece. “Seasons of Love” kicked off the episode, asking us to measure his life in love, something that was not lacking for either actor or character. It was staged simply and beautifully, with the newbies starting out alone, and then Finn’s old friends coming in. Mercedes’s “I’ll Stand by You” was the only reprise of a song that Finn sang, and it was a good choice, in more ways than one. Standing on its own, it’s an expression of support for other grieving people. As a reference to Finn having sung it, it calls to mind how devoted he was to his baby (when he thought it was his), how he himself always stood by his friends no matter what, and shit he went through with the ensuing drama: in season one’s “Ballad,” Finn’s mother caught him looking at the sonogram just as this song ended. Artie and Sam’s “Fire and Rain” was a nice expression of loss: “I always thought that I’d see you again.” Santana’s “If I Die Young” was great, and I love that song. I’ve always thought that the image of the “sharp knife of a short life” is powerful, and it works well in this context. Puck’s “No Surrender” was the perfect choice for him, very fitting and full of emotion, if unusual on the surface. “No retreat, no surrender” suggests how Puck thinks they need to move forward, refusing to give in to defeat from sorrow. Rachel’s “Make You Feel my Love” was a lovely way for her to say goodbye, and one of Rachel’s/Lea’s most heartfelt performances ever.

I can’t pick a single musical highlight. They’re all wonderful tributes. I’d feel like I was judging obituaries. Maybe by the end of the season I’ll be able to put them in some kind of order, but not right now.

Other thoughts:

Rachel is wearing a necklace with a pendant that reads “Finn.” Lea Michele has been seen wearing a nearly identical pendant that reads “Cory.” That is a really nice bit of detail.

Glee is officially off the air until November 7, but I have something planned during the hiatus that I promise will be fun and lighthearted. After this, I think we all need it. Stay tuned.

Thoughts on the death of Cory Monteith, part 2: where does Glee go from here?

Many people are still mourning the death of Cory Monteith: his family, his friends, his fans, his former co-workers and employers. It’s these final two for whom things are going to get so much worse before they get better, because they have to figure out how to continue Glee without Monteith, and how to write him out of the show. Ryan Murphy reportedly allowed Lea Michele, Monteith’s girlfriend, to decide the future of Glee, telling her that if she wanted off the show or even if she wanted it to end, he would stand by her decision. Michele gamely decided that they should push forward and get back to work. Glee‘s fifth season premiere is being delayed by a week, but they are going ahead with filming. Their plan is for the first two episodes, which have been long-planned, to be Beatles tributes, slightly re-written to remove Finn. The third episode, leading into the hiatus for baseball programming, will deal with Finn’s death.

Other shows have dealt with the death of an actor, and it’s been handled many different ways. Glee‘s plan echoes what 8 Simple Rules (John Ritter), News Radio (Phil Hartman), Dallas (Larry Hagman), and The West Wing (John Spencer) did, by taking an episode to deal with the death of the character before moving on. Barney Miller took an interesting route when Jack Soo died, airing a retrospective episode that allowed the actors to be out of character and talk about both the actor and the character who had been lost. Not all shows choose to make a big deal of it. After Freddy Prinze’s suicide, Chico and the Man wrote Chico out by saying he was vacationing in Mexico, otherwise continuing as normal. When Nicholas Colasanto died, Cheers had Coach die as well, but the characters mourned mostly offscreen. Only a line or two was dedicated to the subject of Coach’s passing, though it was done in such a way that it was clear that the characters were hurting.

Glee‘s approach, of course, will be to make Finn’s death something larger than life (because Glee), but real-life concerns are going to play a big role here. Murphy has said that he doesn’t want the actors to have to “recreate” what they went through when they got the news that Monteith had died. That might not only be a lot to ask the actors to go through, but would create something very heavy by Glee‘s standards. Glee has tackled death before (“Funeral“) and even attempted suicide (“On My Way“), but never so directly and never with a man cast member. Even the very heavy school-shooting episode (“Shooting Star“) ending up not going with the heaviness, but rather undermining it. They can’t do that with Finn’s death, and I’m positive that they won’t. Murphy wants Finn’s tribute episode to be “upbeat” in some way, but, with the death of one of their own and very real feelings involved, I think that they will manage to avoid farce while still allowing there to be a foundation of happiness. The characters can look back on how much Finn gave them, how much he positively affected each one of their lives, and what a wonderful legacy he left behind. The theme can be how lucky they were that he lived, not how horrible it is that he died.

How will Finn die? Having him OD may be a bit too close to home, and it would be easy to just have him get killed by a drunk driver or something. It also could easily violate Murphy’s wish to avoid having the actors recreate reactions, as Rachel could easily blame herself for not recognizing Finn’s addiction, as Michele no doubt feels some modicum of (undeserved) guilt for not understanding the extent to which Monteith was still addicted. On the other hand, as I’ve said, Monteith never shied away from putting himself into Finn, and if someone like Cory Monteith could succumb to addiction, it makes it all that much easier to believe that Finn could. Finn also found out in season three that his father, far from dying in the Gulf War, was actually dishonorably discharged from the Army and died of drug addiction.

Murphy would like for there to be some kind of teaching point in Finn’s tribute, something to learn, something positive for the audience to take away from this whole tragic affair. Having Finn’s story parallel Monteith’s would allow for a lesson about the power of addiction. It’s all too easy for us, as a society, to dismiss addicts as weak or irresponsible or simply as incurable criminals. I’ve been guilty of that myself, on more occasions than I’d care to think about. Cory Monteith’s death from drugs was a major shock to me because I didn’t think that he was anything like the kind of person to whom that would happen. I knew he had struggled with addiction in his youth, but I thought he was past it. Even when he bowed out of season four early to enter rehab, I just assumed it wasn’t that serious: I figured it was painkillers or something relatively benign, certainly not heroin.

We can fall into the trap of thinking of drugs as the scourge of the poor and the lower classes, not relevant to us. But human suffering is relevant to all of us, and addiction is an awful, terrible thing. Cory Montieth was not poor, or depressed, or unemployed, or friendless, or homeless, or mentally unstable. He was a happy, successful, wealthy, popular, well-liked, apparently well-adjusted person with an unspeakable affliction. He wanted to get better. From all accounts, he tried as hard as he could to get better, for over ten years. And in the end, it still got him. No matter how much he wanted to escape, no matter how much he tried, in the end, it got him. He signed his own death certificate when he started taking drugs at thirteen years of age. Echoing many similar sentiments, Demi Lovato said “He didn’t choose to die. It was the disease.” Is addiction literally a disease? Of course not. But it’s much deadlier and more insidious than many “real” diseases, and in many ways it makes sense to think of it as one.

If Glee can capture something like that, get one iota of that message across, make even one person understand that addiction is not a choice and that it kills people who deserve much better… Part of me wants to see them try, even knowing their track record with such things, because it’s so close to home, it’s so important, and I think that Monteith might want to reach out and try to help people one last time.

At the same time, I understand if it would just be too hard for them to face.

Episode 4.19: “Sweet Dreams”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

After a run of four episodes that ranged from bad to unremarkable to undefinable, and with the specter of two more seasons looming before us, it’s good to be reminded of why I watch this show. “Sweet Dreams” wasn’t exactly perfect, but it was good, easily standing out not only in a weak fourth season, but on its own merits. Taking a cue from season three, this episode fondly recalls some of Glee‘s earlier work, as Shelby reappears in Rachel’s life, the club takes a shot at performing a member’s original songs, Puck and Finn revisit their slacker days, and, of course, Rachel reprises the series’s most iconic number.

“Sweet Dreams” is thematically strong, a rarity for Glee even in the best of times, but especially this season. It is not just about chasing one’s dreams, but about the fact that, to really do it and achieve it, you have to stay true to your own character and your past. It wasn’t her love of Barbra Streisand that got Rachel on that stage: it was the support and love of her friends, the genes of her mother, and the journey she made along with the glee club. Finn and Puck may fall into the trap of slacking and partying all the time (which is easy to do in college — my third roommate immediately joined a frat and dropped out after one semester), but that’s not who they really are. Puck has dreams of success, built on his struggles to graduate high school and be different from his father, and Finn’s dreams of becoming a teacher are based on the good things he managed to accomplish in “Swan Song” and “Dynamic Duets” while connecting with the kids. And Will dreams of continued success with his club, but dictatorial rule is neither his style nor the key to victory.

The episode starts with voiceover, a stylistic signpost that points back to season one. Rachel talks about her upcoming audition for “Funny Girl,” and Marley talks about her desire to see her songs performed by the club. In this, we see Rachel moving on from her childhood, even as Marley struggles to break out of her shell. Rachel wrote songs in season two, but she had numerous failures before she managed to crank out “Get it Right,” a very good song, but apparently the only real good song she had in her. Despite that, Rachel was full of confidence and pushed her songs on the club relentlessly. By contrast, Marley is a natural songwriter, but timid about expressing it. Her songs may not (yet) be amazing, but they show talent, and they express real feelings. This is one of those (sadly rare) times when the parallels between Marley and Rachel feel like real fodder for story and theme, and not just lazy characterization.

Rachel, convinced by Shelby and Finn that she needs to do something personal and different for her audition, makes a decision that is nearly as gutsy for her as it was for the producers of this episode: she reprises “Don’t Stop Believin’.” I didn’t know this was coming, and you should have seen my face when that music started coming out of the piano. It’s dangerous to reprise a song, especially such an iconic one, and one they already reprised once before (it appeared both on its own in “Pilot” and as part of a Journey medley in “Journey to Regionals,” both from season one), but it’s been nearly three full seasons since we heard that song on this show, and bringing it back has a real impact. Using it for Rachel’s audition was perfect, as the song itself alludes to where Rachel came from and how she got there.

Compare this to Shannon’s throwaway story about how her estranged sister helped her get through her divorce. We’ve never met Shannon’s sister, and we didn’t see anyone in particular help her through the divorce. The writer just made that up for this episode. But we’ve seen nearly the entirety of Rachel’s growth as a person and performer, and “Don’t Stop Believin’,” in many ways, was the beginning. Bringing it full circle emphasizes that journey, and brings it to the mind of the viewer. That number, in “Pilot,” also never could have happened without everyone in the club working together, just as Rachel never could have gotten to that stage on Broadway without their support. One could argue that Rachel’s reprise was overproduced because of the imaginary season one club members singing along with her, but I think that it worked perfectly.

The one misstep was having Rachel explain all that to the audition judges. The song spoke for itself.

Meanwhile, Will, who is still in a bad mood because of Emma and Finn, lays down the law and refuses to listen to any of the kids’ suggestions about a regionals setlist, including Marley who desperately wants to see some of her songs performed. She finally sings one alone with Blaine, Sam, and Wade, and the song, “You Have More Friends Than You Know,” serves as kind of a parallel to Rachel’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Rachel’s number is the end of one journey and the beginning of another. Marley’s is all beginning. She’s asking for the support she needs to keep traveling this path, while at the same time showing that she has the talent to make it. Her song is not great, being simple and shallow, but it shows promise, and it very effectively expresses feelings the way that a teenager would express them.

Anyway, Will overhears Marley and her friends singing the song, finally realizes that he’s a jerk, and decides to give her songs a fair shot in the club.

Meanwhile, Finn made a good effort to be a serious student at the University of Lima, where he is now enrolled, but UL turns out to be the biggest party school in the country, and he can’t resist giving in and just partying all the time, especially when he finds out that Puck is hanging around the college too. Puck isn’t enrolled, he’s just hanging around. Will reaches out to Finn and apologizes for the way he treated him (several episodes late) and asks him to come back to help him run the glee club. Will senses that he’s losing his connection with the kids, and thinks that Finn can help him. While I questioned Finn’s purpose at WMHS, especially after Will came back, it is true that Finn has a better rapport with the kids than Will does these days. That’s more because Will’s been a total douche lately than because of any natural charisma from Finn, though.

Anyway, Finn has none of it and tells Will to fuck off. However, Puck finally comes to his senses and tells Finn that they both need to buckle down and work on their dreams. Puck has a screenplay to write and Finn needs to go to class and work hard if he wants to become a teacher. It actually makes sense that it would be Puck who comes to this realization first, because he struggled with similar failures near the end of his high school career, and is better able to recognize the danger in what’s happening. Anyway, Finn gets his advisor to agree to give him college credit for working at WMHS with Will, and he agrees to come back.

Other things happening in this episode include Sam bizarrely pretending to have a British (Australian?) twin brother (like that episode of Three’s Company when Jack pretends to have a Texan twin) and Roz taking over as coach of the cheerios (ugh).

A few issues aside, this was a strong episode. I have hopes that this season can finish on a high note, and we can go into season five and beyond with some hope that this show will find its way again.

When it comes to the musical numbers in this episode, I think that it’s obvious that there’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and then there’s everything else. Rachel’s audition was the highlight by a country mile. However, there wasn’t a bad number in the bunch. As mentioned, Marley’s “You Have More Friends Than You Know” was also good. Her other number, “Outcast,” felt a bit like a revisiting of the themes of “Loser Like Me,” an original song from season two, which, given the context of the episode, was a good thing. Shelby and Rachel’s “Next to Me” was a great way to reintroduce the characters to each other. Finn and Puck’s “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” was a blast, especially since the song was originally written as a mean-spirited parody, but has been consistently misinterpreted as literal by people like those college kids for years.

Other thoughts:

Why did Blaine bother fighting to keep his position on the cheerios, considering that he was forced into it, that Roz didn’t want him there, and that Roz is at least twice as crazy as Sue?

Seeing Finn and Puck as college roommates was a lot of fun. They should have their own spinoff. They could call it Undeclared. Wait…

Tina: “It made me realize… I have no idea if I’m on the cheerios or not.”

I liked Will’s quiet moment of contemplation in the hall after he yelled at the kids. Before he even heard Marley’s song, it showed that he was struggling with this side of himself, and it lent some much-needed humanity to a character who has really been a dick lately.

As difficult as I think it will be to use Finn effectively in storylines at WMHS, at least his presence has legitimacy now. However, I don’t really think he can insist on being treated as an equal. Isn’t he basically a TA?

I’m glad Rachel got a callback but… how do they top that audition?

Episode 4.16: “Feud”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

I watched Nashville right before I watched this. That was an error. It was like eating a steak prepared by a master chef right before eating poorly cooked Kraft macaroni.

In case the metaphor was too subtle: this episode was a mess. Last week, with “Girls (and Boys) On Film” we saw how a plotless episode can be merely unremarkable. “Feud” proves that, to be truly awful, an episode has to have a badly handled plot. When Glee takes a theme and runs with it, as with “I Do” just a few weeks ago, it can be amazing. When it takes a “theme” and beats you over the head with the blunt end of it, we get things like “Feud.”

The theme of “feuding” is a tough one from the very beginning. What is a “feud?” Essentially, it is conflict… which forms the basis of every piece of fiction since the beginning of human language. So you’ve got to bring something new to the table, and this episode just does not try at all. Will is mad at Finn for kissing his fiancée. Jake is mad at Ryder for kissing his girlfriend. Blaine is mad at Sue for forcing him to rejoin the Cheerios. Santana is mad at Brody for hiding his side gig from Rachel. Wade is mad at Ryder for refusing to accept that she’s a woman.

And… what else? Nothing. That’s it. “Feud” expects us to buy conflict, in and of itself, as the glue holding the episode together. There simply isn’t anything deeper going on here. That’s not a dealbreaker, though. It could still work. As thin as it is, write it well, base it in characters, and we could have a quality episode on our hands.

They didn’t do that.

Will acts like a huge douche throughout this episode. It didn’t help that they tried to make the whole thing into a gag at the beginning, with Will treating Finn like Smithers, complaining about the way he brings back coffee from Starbucks and how the dry-cleaned vests that Finn picked up for him aren’t clean enough. It makes light of the entire situation, and makes Will look petty and small-minded. I don’t care if Finn is nineteen: he’s still a dumb kid who made a mistake, and Will (a fucking teacher) should be able to see that. I could understand an immediate visceral reaction to the apparent betrayal of trust, but with the implied passage of at least a few days, if not a week or more, it looks ridiculous. More importantly: where is Emma in this episode? Jake forgave Ryder largely because Marley told him that the kiss meant nothing. Emma should be telling Will the same thing. And if she doesn’t know that Will knows about it, how oblivious could she possibly be? Will is completely losing his shit over the whole thing. It’s disrespectful of the character of Emma to completely leave her out of this. Given what we know about Will, however, it’s actually believable that he wouldn’t give a shit what she has to say.

When Marley came to Finn and essentially told him “Fuck Will, who cares what he thinks?”, I just about cheered. Will is a boor and Finn needs to get the hell away from that high school, and that message should really have come to the forefront a lot more. It should have been the theme, if you will.

Blaine’s feud with Sue was idiotic, and not just because Sue’s conflicts with the glee club are virtually the foundation of this series, making one wonder why Blaine needs to declare a “feud” on someone who did her best to defund the club just last season. It’s also not idiotic just because Sue’s Nicki Minaj routine made her look like an escaped mental patient. It’s also not idiotic just because Blaine went straight to “duet contest” rather than complaining to Figgins or even the cops about Sue’s actions. No, there’s a much better reason than all of that why this entire plotline is a big sack of stupid: if Blaine’s plan all along was to rejoin the Cheerios as a spy, why didn’t he do that from the very beginning? Sue could have said, “I want you back on the Cheerios, Young Burt Reynolds,” and Blaine could have said, “Okay,” and we could have skipped to the conclusion in just a few minutes and avoided embarrassing all involved. Alas, it was not to be.

Santana’s feud with Brody was the most interesting story of the episode for a couple of reasons. First, it lent some much-needed humanity to Brody, who is finally revealed straight-out to be working as a high-class prostitute. However, he’s only doing it because he needs the tuition money and he doesn’t feel good about it at all. The second interesting thing about this subplot is that it features Santana white knighting for Rachel, not only by taking an undue interest in Rachel’s questionable love life and repeatedly trying to convince her that Brody is bad for her, but by actually showing up at NYADA and threatening Brody via song (with the background dancing aid of Brody’s own students, who no doubt all received F’s as soon as Santana left). Santana finally discovers Brody’s secret and tags in fellow white knight Finn, who beats the crap out of Brody and refers to Rachel as “my future wife,” which is one of the creepier things that Finn has ever done. The way this whole story is structured… Brody comes off as the good guy. That’s hard to pull off when your character is a lying secret prostitute, but they managed it. Now I just wonder if it was intentional. If Rachel later has some revelation and decides that Santana was right to act the way she did, I will be very disappointed. Regardless of how Rachel and Brody turn out, Santana was way out of line for most of this episode, to say nothing of Finn.

The biggest problem with Santana and Brody’s plotline is that they never shared a single scene in the entire series until Santana showed up at NYADA, making it a little hard to buy the rivalry.

Ryder’s feud with Wade kinda came out of left field, but it was nice to see some actual conflict between named characters on the subject of Wade being transgender. In many ways, it’s been far too easy for her, and Ryder’s refusal to see Wade as a woman is perfectly natural for a kid his age. He doesn’t even come across as cruel, just kinda ignorant in a “I never really thought about it” kind of way, which makes his quick rehabilitation at least a little believable.

It was good seeing Ryder and Jake come to an understanding with each other without resorting back to the conflicts that characterized their relationship prior to their breakthrough in “Dynamic Duets.” I like to see things move forwards, not backwards.

Also happening in this episode: Ryder has an Internet girlfriend. Despite how smart, pretty and, above all, existent she seems, I’m still calling hoax. I’m pretty sure that only one person could be behind this: well-known Hawaiian prankster Ronaiah Tuiasosopo! TUIASOSOPOOOOOOOOO!

Anyway…

This episode was just plain messy. It’s almost like they didn’t even try.

The musical numbers varied between dull as dirt and pretty good. “Cold Hearted” and “How to be a Heartbreaker” were objectively the best numbers in the episode, and were both excellent. Despite the inorganic nature of the latter, I’m going to call it the highlight if only because it’s the only piece in the episode to hint at some deeper theme. Sorry, Santana (also, “Cold Hearted” would’ve made a lot more sense being sung to Rachel). “Bye Bye Bye/I Want it That Way” was surprisingly quite good, even if it was really weird and uncomfortable seeing Will down in the trenches with the kids (and I don’t think the intercuts of Finn and Will physically fighting worked at all). “I Still Believe/Super Bass was just weird and awkward. Jane Lynch hasn’t had a real good number since season two’s “Ohio,” and no good solo number since season one’s “Vogue.” The lady can sing; give her more to do. “Closer” was good, but, but unremarkable, as was “The Bitch is Back/Dress You Up.” Also: Ryder plays the drums too? That doesn’t help differentiate him from Finn.

Other thoughts:

So… Rachel’s not pregnant. Woo!

Will tells Finn “You broke the code of a brother.” I don’t have anything to add to that. I think it stands on its own as a monument to bad dialogue and poor characterization.

Santana tells Rachel, “My breasts ache with rage.” I don’t even know what to say about that one. It’s neither bad nor good dialogue: it fell off the scale.

Even if Kitty’s sudden heel/face turn is disorienting and unbelievable, it was actually nice seeing all the newbies together in one scene, bonding over their future in the glee club.

Marley’s show of support for Finn would have meant a lot more if regionals were still off the table. As it is, Finn accomplished very little in his time with the club.

Could Santana have a crush on Rachel? I doubt it, but her actions here make me wonder, and you never know with this show.

Episode 4.15: “Girls (and Boys) On Film”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

This may be one of the top ten most plotless episodes that Glee has ever done. Don’t get me wrong, it was a hell of a lot of fun, at least for the first few acts, but what really happened in this episode? Finn helped Will locate Emma and the two of them reconnected. There, that’s your plot synopsis. Pretty much everything else in the episode is a song, setup for a song, setup for later episodes, or background details.

The funnest bit of the episode was the B “plot” featuring Santana, Kurt, and Adam going stir-crazy while snowed in in the loft apartment in New York. Naya Rivera just stole every scene she was in, and I can almost forgive the questionable plot machinations that brought Santana to New York. She manages to make things awkward between Kurt and Adam by pointing out that Kurt still has a thing for Blaine, and when she finds a wad of hundred-dollar bills and a pager in the apartment she tells Rachel that she’s pretty sure that Brody is a drug dealer. It was like a recipe for instant fun: add Santana to any closed environment and just watch. Oh yeah, Santana also finds out that Rachel might be pregnant, since rooting around every drawer, shelf, nook, and cranny in an apartment is, she explains, “a thing I do.” They should have stayed snowed in a lot longer — watching the characters clash was just a blast.

The thing that tried to masquerade as a plot in the Ohio portion of the show was the movie music mash-up contest, which was not only pointless from the very beginning, but ended with Will declaring that everyone is a winner. The songs were fun, but I’ve seen Bazooka Joe comics with thicker plots.

It was a bit weird how persistent Finn was about getting Will to reconnect with Emma. Their breakup was a very delicate situation and Finn was far from being in possession of all the facts. He could easily have made things a lot worse. Will also didn’t exactly seem inconsolable. He was sad, sure, but he didn’t have a problem giving Emma some space to decide how she wanted to handle things. Finn’s method could have led to another retreat, which would have been disastrous. But hey, it worked out. I like that Emma addressed, at least obliquely, that Will has changed. Even before he went to Washington, he was acting self-absorbed and insensitive. Anyone remember his speech about how he thought Emma might be too hopelessly crazy to raise a family in “Yes/No,” not to mention his attempts to drag Emma to Washington in “The Break-Up?” I think that starting from scratch is probably the best thing for them, although Will was capable of being a douche in season one as well (see “Hell-O” in which he makes out with Shelby exactly one episode after kissing Emma for the first time).

Also happening in this episode: Marley confesses to Jake that she kissed Ryder, and Finn confesses to Will that he kissed Emma. Marley’s confession I can kinda understand, because she is still legitimately confused about who she wants to be with. It would have worked a lot better if Ryder had done a single thing in this episode, but Marley is trying to figure something out. Finn’s confession, though, is just baffling. By his own admission, and from everything I can tell, he doesn’t have any romantic feelings toward Emma. The kiss was a brief moment of stupidity, which Finn is prone to have (he’s been having one now for about 19 years), and it meant nothing. Emma clearly was perfectly willing to forget it (and for all we could tell, she did forget it), so why did Finn unburden himself of it at the most awkward possible time?

Kitty also made a backhanded apology to Marley for making fun of her, for no reason that I could see, and Marley decided to tell Kitty that Ryder had kissed her, once again for no discernible reason. Kitty implied that she wouldn’t keep the secret, but Jake knows too by the end of the episode, so I don’t really know what the point of that was.

Kurt and Adam’s relationship moves forward, as Adam accepts that Kurt can’t get over an old boyfriend right away. They accept that they don’t have the history together that Kurt and Blaine have, so they decide to build their relationship from the beginning. Cute, but not much to it. Adam is still in desperate need of character development, because I still think of him as the guy who stole from Jonathan Coulton. For some reason, I imagine that, in-universe, Adam didn’t contact Coulton to get permission to use his arrangement of “Baby Got Back” in public performances.

I guess I really don’t have much to say about this episode. It was fun, but largely pointless. Thematically, I guess it was about new beginnings, but it’s scarcely a strong theme.

Anyway, fuck all this plot bullshit, because this episode was clearly meant to showcase the musical numbers. This episode had an astounding eight of them, which didn’t really get in the way because nothing much else was happening. Unfortunately, the songs weren’t all that fantastic. “You’re All the World to Me” was fun, mostly for the black-and-white cinematography and practical effects that allowed Emma and Will to dance on the walls and ceiling. That must have taken a ridiculous amount of rehearsal. “Shout” was very cool, if a bit too imaginary for my tastes. It was also apparently Glee‘s 500th song: I wasn’t counting, so I’ll take their word for it. “Come What May” was surprisingly boring, as it was obviously 100% imaginary and between two characters who are no longer together. “Old Time Rock and Roll/Danger Zone” was just weird, though it was interesting to listen to those songs try their hardest to go together. “Diamond’s Are a Girl’s Best Friend/Material Girl” was easily the highlight of the episode, with great costumes, choreography, and a very strong arrangement. Wade and Marely make great singing partners. “In Your Eyes” was sappy and awkward, “Unchained Melody” was sappy and clichéd, and “Footloose” was fun but pointless.

Other thoughts:

It actually was nice to have Will back. Though I wonder why Finn is still hanging around. Go home, Finn! You’re 19, get out of high school!

So, is it better or worse if Brody is a drug dealer rather than a prostitute?

What the hell is Santana doing in New York? Working, going to school, just hanging around and making fun of people (which I’d have no problem with)?

Despite its association with Ghost, “Unchained Melody” actually originated with the 1955 film Unchained (hence the name).

Speaking of Ghost, I can’t believe that Glee did the pottery scene. Everyone’s done the pottery scene. One could argue that it makes sense that Jake would come up with something so dumb, but… I still had to watch it.