Episode 5.20: “The Untitled Rachel Berry Project”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

This is how the fifth season ends, not with a bang but a blugh.

Blaine’s lie to Kurt, which should have been a major turning point in their relationship because of how symptomatic it is of how messed up Blaine is, is casually brushed aside, with Kurt almost assuming blame for it. Sam and Mercedes’s relationship, established and strengthened over the course of just the past few episodes, is unceremoniously and with little emotion brought to an end. And the development of Rachel’s TV show is treated as a joke that I don’t feel like I’m supposed to get.

First up we have Rachel’s TV show. The network has sent writer Mary Halloran to hang out with her in order to get to know her and develop the script. Mary is eccentric to the point of being bizarre, doing things such as interviewing people while lying under their desk, putting a doughnut in her bra during another interview, and picking the chocolate glaze off another doughnut despite being offered a plain one because she “prefers the misery of doing it this way.” I guess all this is supposed to be funny, but it’s mainly awkward and weird. Meanwhile, her contributions to the concept for Rachel’s show include upgrading her two gay dads to “two gay NASA dads,” and changing her friend’s names to such anonymous monikers as Slaine, Jam, Cert, and Blartie. When she finishes the actual script and gives it to Rachel and company to read over, it’s a bizarre mixture of teenage text acronyms and hashtags (“Hashtag hashtag hashtag hashtag hashtag…”), nihilistic musings, sex/art gallery foundings, and speeches about what characters are like. When Rachel confronts Mary about her script sucking, Mary insists, “People want antiheroes. They want chubby girls who can’t keep men and men who kill people,” which doesn’t make much sense as justification since her script has none of that. Eventually Rachel convinces her of her ideas with the power of song, and Mary agrees to try writing s script that might make someone happy.

This is what I mean about a joke that I don’t think I’m meant to understand. I mean, I guess I get that TV has gotten darker and edgier in recent years, but what the hell was the original script supposed to be parodying, and what was up with Mary Halloran? I somehow get the idea that this is all very funny to people who were around when Glee was being pitched, which I think is an example of the kind of inside joke we can look forward to for the entirety of this plot arc. I understand the idea that Glee is a show that is different from anything else on television, and that part of that is its enduring optimism, but I’m not sure what other point this bit is trying to make. I’m afraid it makes Glee sound a lot more revolutionary than it is. Plus, they seem to have forgotten how dark Glee was in season one.

Also, as I may have mentioned before, if season six ends up being all about the meta-creation of Glee within Glee, I quit. For real.

Probably not really.

Anyway, Rachel and the gang are pleased with Mary’s new happy script, she sends it to the network, and by the end of the episode Rachel has gotten the call that the network has ordered a pilot. So much for Fanny Brice, I guess. I can’t wait to see the scene where she tells Sidney about this.

Meanwhile, Blaine decides to cut off this multi-episode arc about him lying to Kurt about June wanting him in her showcase by suddenly blurting out the truth. Kurt is understandably hurt, and walks out. Then later, he comes back and not only forgives Blaine, but tells him that he’s not even angry. Then they go have sex. The biggest problem with this resolution is that it does not address the deeper problems with Blaine and Kurt’s relationship. Blaine cheated on Kurt in season four, he became wildly jealous of Elliot in season five to the point that he confronted Elliot in his own home in “New New York“, he lied to Kurt about the cheating in “The Break-Up” and about being able to go to Kurt’s band’s opening night in “Puppet Master,” he became unbearably clingy to the point that they both have to back off in “New New York,” and he displayed crippling insecurity and an eating disorder brought on by his issues with his and Kurt’s relationship in “Tested.” And now there’s this. Blaine again lies to Kurt, and shows that he is having major issues maintaining a healthy relationship, and it’s again just shrugged off. Given the multi-episode nature of this story, it felt like this should have been some kind of tipping point. Instead, it was just a big anticlimax.

Anyway, Blaine invites Kurt onstage during the showcase anyway, against June’s wishes, and they are such a big hit that June has to admit that Blaine was right to do it and forgive him. Once again, Glee gets to have its cake and eat it too.

Then there’s Sam and Mercedes. Mercedes is about to go on tour and Sam is starting a gig working with a very attractive female photographer. Mercedes is not worried that Sam will crack and cheat on her, but, oddly enough, Sam is. He eventually has a moment of weakness and kisses the photographer when she comes onto him, after which he immediately leaves and goes to confess to Mercedes. She forgives him, which is more believable in this case than in Kurt and Blaine’s case because Sam confessed immediately, because he wasn’t the instigator of the kiss, and because he left the situation as soon as he could. This leads into Sam and Mercedes mutually breaking up, as they are about to be apart for a long time and Mercedes doesn’t think it’s fair to keep asking Sam to wait.

Suddenly, all that time they spent selling “Samcedes” the past few episodes seems kinda pointless. They just can’t not break up, apparently. It’s like they have on-and-off-again breakups instead of a relationship.

In the end, Sam successfully completes his photoshoot somehow, and ends up nearly naked on the side of a bus, at long last achieving his lifelong dream. With that, he decides to go back home to Ohio, because NYC apparently just isn’t his style. How long has he been there, a year at most? Probably not longer than a few months. Seems like he’s writing himself out of the show.

Speaking of which, Santana is conspicuously absent from this episode. It’s explained that she is in Iowa shooting a commercial, which is weird because that’s not the direction it looked like she was going back in “Old Dogs New Tricks.” There are a lot of rumors going around about why Naya Rivera was excluded from the finale, and I don’t know what’s true and what isn’t. I’ll refrain from commenting on that (as I usually do regarding offscreen drama), but Santana’s absence is pretty awkward, especially since Brittany is back. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Santana and Brittany in the same room at the same time. Maybe they’re actually the same person.

All in all, this was not a terrible season finale, but it was underwhelming. And, as usual, I have no idea what the fuck is going to happen next season.

Musically, things were not bad, though there may have been a song or two too many. Original song “Shakin’ My Head” had a nice beat but ludicrous lyrics. It was fun, though, and I can believe it coming from Mercedes. And it was nice seeing Brittany dancing again. Heather Morris apparently told all that baby weight to go fuck itself. Blaine’s “All of Me” was good, and a decent lead-in to his confession to Kurt. “Girls on Film” worked as a way of showing the temptations of Sam’s new career. “Glitter in the Air” was good, but it was a little much to ask us to believe that it melted Mary’s black cynical heart. “No Time at All” was quite good. I could stand to see more of Shirley MacLaine next season, if only for performances like this. “American Boy” was so good that it almost made me believe June’s sudden turnaround on the subject of Kurt. “Pompeii,” loath as I am to admit it (because I don’t like the way this episode ended in general) was the highlight. It sold the characters’ feelings about how things keep changing, yet how things are still, well… pretty okay.

Other thoughts:

Brittany has apparently been stuck in the airport “Like Tom Hanks in that movie.” “Cast Away?” “Big?” “The Money Pit?” “Okay, it was Cast Away.

I hate the stereotype that all “serious” writers use a typewriter, and not just because I’m typing this on a brand-new MacBook Air.

Rachel and the gang make a pact to meet back in NYC in six months, no matter what happens. I hope that that vow lasts longer than the one she made to remain in the City for two years with Kurt and Santana.

Uh… did Sam go back to high school?

Hopefully I’ll be back shortly with my season overview.

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Episode 5.19: “Old Dog New Tricks”

(Spoiler lurk below.)

This episode was written by Chis Colfer, who inspired the creation of the character of Kurt and has declared himself to be Lea Michele’s biggest fan. Maybe that’s why “Old Dogs New Tricks” feels like a bad fanfic. I’d be the last to deny Colfer’s skills at acting: he’s arguably Glee‘s greatest asset in that regard. But as a writer, I’m afraid he’s a flop. The plot is by the numbers, the guest characters are cardboard, and Kurt, already often accused of being a Mary Sue for Ryan Murphy, seems like a Mary Sue for Colfer himself. Kurt manages to come across not only as the hero in his own story, but as the hero of Rachel’s story and the hero of several tertiary characters’ stories. Sam and Mercedes manage to escape his gravity well, but their story, while easily the best of the lot, is not all that strong either.

We start with Rachel trying to find some way of repairing her reputation, as the rumor that she is considering leaving Broadway for Hollywood has somehow gotten out. What she comes up with is sponsoring a dog rescue, a plan that she gets help with from Santana, who decides for some reason to act as Rachel’s publicist. Despite the fact that the genesis of this plotline is Rachel’s possible TV career, it feels oddly disconnected from the story arc that began in the prior episode. We don’t hear anything about her pilot at all after the first scene, and nothing in that plotline advances. In the second-to-last episode of the season, we’re suddenly just largely fucking around instead of advancing the story. I get the feeling this would have been better placed beforeBack-Up Plan.” That way, the last two episodes of the season could drive the story all the way to the end.

Anyway, there are some funny shenanigans involving Rachel walking six dogs for a photo op and getting dragged a few blocks, and then Rachel refuses to allow a kid to adopt a three-legged dog because she needs it to pose with in order to give her reputation the biggest possible boost, and finally she learns not to be so self centered and to be more Kurt-centered, as she supports Kurt by going to his show. It’s a pretty by-the-numbers Rachel story, and doesn’t offer anything that we haven’t seen a dozen times before.

Arguably more interesting is Santana’s story, as she seems to find her niche working as Rachel’s publicist, something she really seems to enjoy. I say “arguably” because, while the story is good, Santana herself feels… off. She comes across as mechanical and lifeless, like she’s just reciting lines, doing her best to pretend to be Santana but not quite succeeding. I don’t feel any subtext in Rachel and Santana’s relationship, despite their long and interesting past. I don’t get any sense of satisfaction from Santana for getting a lead on a career after so much wandering. She seems to exist just to serve Rachel, her reward being the one bizarre moment when Rachel gives publicity to her publicist while giving an interview to a TV reporter.

Again, these are elements of a bad fanfic.

Kurt, meanwhile, decides to throw himself a pity party since nobody likes him and everybody hates him and he guesses he’ll go eat worms. Actually never mind the worms. He just gets himself an old lady for a friend just like Blaine did. Maggie, from a “home for retired performers,” wanders into the diner one day, and Kurt ends up telling her everything about his life, then later drops into her retirement home to watch them rehearse their production of Peter Pan. When their Peter loses the part due to missing her cue and also dying, Kurt volunteers to fill in for some reason, and also expects his friends to be excited for him for some reason. This whole plotline, top to bottom, feels engineered to make Kurt seem both pitiful and honorable. Pitiful because none of his friends care about what he’s doing, honorable because he’s helping old people. Kurt sure is a saint, you guys. And on top of all that, he even reunites Maggie with her daughter Clara, by showing up at Clara’s office and telling her about how much Maggie misses her, and about how Kurt lost his own mother when he was eight, and shouldn’t Clara be glad that she even has a mother? Clara tells the typical story about how Maggie used to forget her birthdays and neglect her, but she still shows up at the play just in time for maximum dramatic effect. Speaking of which, all Kurt’s friends show up for the play too. And after the play, Rachel invites all the old people to perform at her dog rescue event.

There’s so much feel-good in this story, it makes me ill.

Meanwhile, Sam adopts a dog and proceeds to allow it to run wild all over the house and chew up Mercedes’s shoes and hair. He adopts the dog, which he names McConaughey, because Mercedes mocked the idea of getting a pet because she has her hands full taking care of Sam. He wants to prove that he can take care of a dog, as part of his attempt to prove himself husband material to Mercedes. It doesn’t go so well at first, obviously, but he finally buckles down and trains the dog via the magic of a musical montage. Mercedes then tells Sam that she’s impressed, but that keeping a dog wouldn’t be fair to the dog, as she is about to go on tour and Sam works odd hours. I liked Sam’s explanation of how he wants to prove that he can be responsible and he doesn’t want to be seen as a joke. It almost comes across as Sam rebelling against his status as the resident idiot, a role not thrust upon him until season four. He even references season three, when he took care of his family after his dad lost his job (hey, whatever happened to his family anyway?). Sam and Mercedes’s conversation also felt like a real, adult conversation, and it definitely helped sell their relationship as a real one with ups and downs.

If nothing else, the tail end of this season has done more with “Samcedes” than the entire rest of the series has.

To sum up: Mercedes and Sam’s plotline was decent, but everything else was cloying, clichéd, predictable, and melodramatic, with characters that rang false and, to be blunt, writing that is amateurish in the extreme. Sorry, Chris.

Musically, things were decent. “I Melt With You” suffered from a really artificial setup, and I think it undermined the harsh realities of running a dog shelter a bit (for instance, not all the animals are liable to be nearly that friendly), but it was okay. “Memory” I’m going to call the highlight of the episode mainly because I actually really missed Kurt’s high-falsetto “girly” singing voice, and this was a good use of it. In context, it was pretty ridiculous though. “Werewolves of London” was quite good, but I’m really not sure what it had to do with training a dog. Except that werewolves are like wolves, and wolves are like dogs, I guess. It’s as if they picked the song by playing word association. “Lucky Star” was awful: painfully faux-cool and “modern,” so hip it felt like I was in the 90’s again. It actually would have been about 50% better without the shades, a cliché so painful I can only imagine the entire crew needed ibuprofen during shooting just to get through it. “Take Me Home Tonight” was nice, and actually a good choice for a dog adoption event.

Other thoughts:

What the fuck happened to Santana’s hair?

“Pillsbury” was an odd choice of a nickname for Kurt, considering it’s already the last name of another major character.

Good thing that the rest of Kurt’s band left town so that he was free to throw his pity party.

What did that doggie obstacle course have to do with keeping McConaughey from chewing on shoes and pooping on the rug?

What was with the nurse at the retirement home just telling Kurt all Maggie’s business?

How did a freshman at a film school get the school to lend him a bus?

Despite Rachel learning a lesson from the kid and mom’s reaction when she doesn’t let them adopt the three-legged dog, she still poses with the same dog at her event.

Rachel and Santana probably should have researched marketability before they chose the name “Broadway Bitches” for their rescue.

Episode 5.16: “Tested”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Glee continues to try to establish its new setting and focus by using what it knows best: copious amounts of voiceover. Hey, it saves actually establishing what’s going on if we just have characters tell us about it, right? In “Tested,” we learn that Artie has become a total player who has two girlfriends and has his eye on a third, that Blaine has gained a crippling amount of insecurity that is both causing him to eat all the time and hurting his relationship with Kurt, and that Mercedes and Sam’s relationship has hit a speedbump because she is a virgin and Sam is a 19-year-old dude. This continues the tradition started by “Bash” of having two plotlines that feel oddly melodramatic/didactic, and one that actually feels somewhat natural and character-based.

Moving to New York City does weird things to a show.

First up, we have Blaine’s inferiority complex and food mania. He just loves New York for the food, the culture, the food, the sights, the food, and the food. He’s enjoying various ethnic foods, ice cream, cronuts, and… cheese puffs… and putting on quite a few pounds in the process. Neither Blaine nor the audience take too long to figure out that his voracious eating is a symptom of another problem. His relationship with Kurt has changed (beyond, you know, them breaking up and then getting engaged and then moving in together and then moving out again). Kurt is comfortable in New York City, almost serene. He’s happy, social, and well-adjusted. That wasn’t the Kurt that Blaine first started dating in season two. Blaine misses the feeling of protecting and guiding Kurt, and has the idea that the new, more normal, Kurt doesn’t need him anymore. This fear not only leads to Blaine’s overeating, but to his being unable to bring himself to be intimate with Kurt, and to the audience getting a little too much TMI information about what’s going on (or not) in their bedrooms.

When Blaine and Kurt finally have a frank discussion about this, Kurt assures him that everything is okay. Their relationship has changed, but they still love each other. Also they both go on a healthy diet.

Blaine has changed a lot since season two, something that I’ve kvetched about once or twice. He’s become whiny, insecure, unconfident, kinda stupid, and all around fairly unpleasant. However, Kurt has also changed a lot. It’s not something that just happened in NYC either, as the episode seems to suggest. It’s been happening throughout the series, but the biggest changes actually happened in season two… way back when Kurt and Blaine first started dating. I’d never really thought to connect Blaine’s changes with Kurt’s before, but it kinda makes sense. Blaine has gone from Kurt’s mentor and role model to, well, his partner. And Blaine has never really managed to adjust to it.

I can’t say I think that this is something they’ve actually been developing over the course of three and a half seasons, but it seems reasonable here. At least it’s some kind of explanation for Blaine’s creeping insanity.

The downfall of this plotline is that it’s just too melodramatic and contrived. Blaine’s voracious eating, inability to face intimacy, and passive-aggressive methods of dealing with his issues (including trying to turn stage combat into real combat) all combine to make this whole thing resemble a Gay Lifetime Movie of the Week. As with “Bash,” the problem is more with the execution than the writing. There’s something here. It’s just dressed up in a way that makes it look overwrought. With the focus more on their relationship than on Blaine’s psychological problems, this would have worked better.

Meanwhile, speaking of characters changing, Artie has become a “film school player,” having unceremoniously broken up with Kitty offscreen. He has two girlfriends who he is consciously just using for sex, but he has his eye on Julie, who he actually likes as a person. It comes to light during a conversation with Sam and Blaine that Artie hasn’t been using condoms because, well, Artie is stupid. Having apparently only recently realized the danger of STD’s (so much for WMHS’s sex ed program), he decides to get himself tested, and finds out that he has chlamydia. It’s at this point that Julie finally comes around and agrees to go out with him.

Artie’s horror at the social stigma of having an STD is believable, but the problem with this plotline, again, is in the execution. Artie’s imaginary STD costume, along with his perception that everyone can tell he’s tainted and is talking about him, make this story seem like the same kind of bad PSA or sex ed video that they bizarrely parodied at the beginning of the episode.

The plotline does take a hard left at the end, when Artie comes clean with his girlfriends regarding his chlamydia. Julie doesn’t care so much that he has an STD as she does that he sleeps around with mindless women, and she tells him she isn’t interested in going out with him anymore.

The other problem I have with this story is that Julie has pretty much no characteristics, but exists only as a symbol of purity to compare with Artie’s shameful fall from grace. In fact, the other two women exist only to be Artie’s poor choices. If Artie is Goldilocks, his girlfriends are the porridge.

The other third of the show accomplishes the impossible: it almost gets me to care about Mercedes and Sam’s relationship. Being a virgin in a relationship is different after high school, even if it’s just a little after high school, and Mercedes’s and Sam’s concerns are believable and feel heartfelt. That Mercedes is a virgin is news but not all that surprising, I guess. As for Sam… he dated Santana, so yeah. Sam’s bumbling about how to approach Mercedes, including presenting her with a clean STD test, feel like exactly the kinds of things that Classic Sam would do as opposed to New Stupid Sam, so that was nice. His reaction after Mercedes tells him that she doesn’t want to have sex until marriage proved that he learned a thing or two from Will the asshole boyfriend. His response to having a relationship with a woman without having sex is “What’s the difference between that and being real good friends?”, which is pretty damn heartless. But, it was his lower brain doing the thinking there. In the end, Sam decides that being with Mercedes is worth abstaining from sex, because that’s not actually the point of a relationship, and they stay together.

This works far better than anything else they’ve done with Sam and Mercedes. It doesn’t assume a past that hasn’t been established, it doesn’t make things overdramatic, and it doesn’t shove everything into the background. It deals with a real problem in a realistic way, and faces it head-on. If they’d done that more often (or ever) with Sam and Mercedes, maybe I would have cared about them a couple of years ago.

Mercedes’s scene with Rachel is also quite good. I like that they manage to talk about Finn without actually having to say his name, and that the issue of Rachel moving on has been broached. She’s clearly not ready yet, but I hope that Lea Michele is dealing with her loss half as well as Rachel is.

Overall, this was an improvement over “Bash,” but we’re still going in the wrong direction. There are some bizarre tonal problems, even for Glee, that make me wonder what they’re thinking.

Musically, there wasn’t much to write home about, but it was decent. “Addicted to Love” was a good performance, and Artie’s harem made me think that maybe I should have gone to film school in NYC… and been paralyzed. Maybe just the first one. In a weak and thin field, this is probably the highlight. “I Want to Know what Love Is” was weird, considering that it was sung as part of a church service and yet seemed to be all about Mercedes and Sam. Shouldn’t she be singing about Jesus or something? I could see this as a spiritual song, but that’s not how they sold it. Good performance, weird context. “Love is a Battlefield” continued Blaine’s descent into madness. The performance and context were good, but what I really loved was the choreography. “Let’s Wait Awhile” was good, but a bit obvious of a choice. It was hurt by the inclusion of Artie, who still thinks that waiting a while means “seven to ten days.” He doesn’t get smacked down until after the song.

Other thoughts:

I can’t even begin to emphasize how ludicrous the amount of voiceover in this episode was. There was probably more voiceover than music.

As incredibly weird as that PSA parody at the beginning of the episode was, my second thought about it was, “Wait, can paraplegics serve in the Navy?”

Speaking of weird choices, what was with Artie’s girlfriends introducing themselves to the audience by talking directly to the camera?

Artie is the new Jake. Discuss.

I can’t imagine that Artie’s “plastic bag in the wind” film isn’t a reference to American Beauty, but they didn’t really do anything with it. They didn’t even emphasize Artie ruining it with voiceover.

Frozen hot chocolate?

Apparently men don’t get anorexic, they get manorexic.

I could be mistaken, but I don’t think that they use sport fencing gear in stage combat classes.

Episode 5.15: “Bash”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

“Bash” has a strong “Very Special Episode” vibe to it, something that, remarkably, Glee has heretofore mostly managed to avoid, saving the odd exception like “Choke.” We begin with a song, vigil, and street memorial for Russ, a neighbor of Rachel and Kurt who has suffered a homophobic assault and ended up hospitalized. Those of your playing along at home may be wondering: who the fuck is Russ? I don’t know. We’ve never seen him before this episode. In fact, we don’t actually see him in this episode either outside of his dorky-looking photograph. It brings to mind the quintessentially bad exemplar of the Very Special Episode genre, the Family Ties episode “‘A’ My Name is Alex,” in which Alex mourns the death of his best friend in the world, who had never before been seen. “Bash” doesn’t quite reach that level of misguided pretentiousness, but it comes close. It gives us a near-death scare for a never-before-seen character, a near-death scare for a main character, and a, um, racism scare from a main character.

The one “normal” storyline here is Rachel’s struggles with her conflicting NYADA and Broadway schedules, something that probably should have been addressed long ago. I wasn’t even sure she was still at NYADA. She only barely manages to get permission from Sidney, her producer, to get time off from the show to perform her “mid-winter critque,” only to blow it when she performs a duet with Blaine instead of the required solo. Carmen Tibideaux threatens to flunk both of them, but finally agrees to allow them to reschedule and try again. That’s fine for Blaine, but Rachel doesn’t think she can get the time off from Funny Girl again. She confronts Carmen about this, in a scene that finally comes close to justifying the show’s casting of Whoopi Goldberg. Rachel says that she is already living out her dream and she doesn’t need NYADA anymore, Carmen says that Rachel is too cocky and reluctant to take direction, and needs the structure that NYADA can provide if she is to be successful throughout her career. Rachel and Carmen both make great arguments and sell their points well, but in the end Rachel decides to withdraw from NYADA… and that decision sticks to the end of the episode.

I like this because it’s another big step for Rachel and because it’s still framed as a questionable decision. I had been asking myself for a while why Rachel would still be enrolled at NYADA while starring in a Broadway show, but Carmen’s arguments suggest that Rachel is going to face issues in her Broadway career that a NYADA education could smooth out. It will be interesting to see how she navigates her career without the smoothing effect that NYADA could have had… and how long she does so.

Meanwhile, Kurt sees some assholes beating up a gay guy in an alley and he runs in to defend him. The prior victim hightails it while Kurt gets beaten into unconsciousness. This leads into the other standout scene of the episode when Burt visits his son in the hospital. Mike O’Malley and Chris Colfer elevate any scene that they share, and this one was very good. Burt asks all the obvious questions. Why didn’t Kurt just call the cops? Why did he run in and try to help at all? Does he care that the prior victim just ran away and was never heard from again? Kurt answers that he did was he had to do. “You would have done the same,” Kurt says. “I played football!” Burt responds. “So did I.” “As a kicker!”

Burt’s anger is justified: Kurt acted like an idiot. And yet, despite the fact that Kurt is not really an idiot, it’s all totally in character. Kurt is ruled much more by his heart than his head — he is, after all, the man who accepted a marriage proposal from someone still in high school. He has also fought against homophobic bullying for the entirety of the series, going so far as to switch schools to get away from a bully in season two. His immediate visceral reaction to the assault in the alley was exactly the kind of thing I would expect from him.

What hurts this plotline is not the character bits, which are spot-on, but the setup and execution of the story. The attack on Russ, who the audience has never heard of before (let alone seen), with the ultra-dramatic phone calls to Kurt’s friends to let them know about his hospitalization, the coma and faux death scare, and the bedside song from Blaine all mean that melodrama runs a little too thick throughout. It’s just too slick, too obviously designed to pull at the heartstrings. It would have been more powerful if it had just been told as a story, without being designed to manipulate.

Meanwhile, Sam and Mercedes get back together, despite the fact that they still don’t have a lot of chemistry together. Their “cute” date while walking along the river was more awkward than anything else, to say nothing of the bizarreness of them French kissing in front of their friends in a vain attempt to convince them (and the audience) that “Samcedes” is a thing. There’s just nothing there, and it’s all the more obvious in bits like this where they try to build on the idea that there has been something there for a long time.

But let’s move on to the elephant in the room. Despite the fact that Sam makes a complete ass of himself in front of Mercedes’s friends/backup singers when he joins them for dinner, they only have one objection to him as a boyfriend for Mercedes: he’s white. Their argument is that, as a black female artist, dating a white man would be bad for her image and could turn potential fans off. There may be some truth to this, and I kinda believe that Mercedes’s backup singers would place a chance of success above a relationship or even human decency (Hollywood is a tough town). However, when Mercedes buys it and blows off Sam in favor of her career, it’s much less easy to buy. Nothing about her character, from season one’s “Home” all the way to season four’s “Wonder-ful,” has suggested that she would compromise her principles in this way, much less betray a friend to the degree of telling him that he’s the wrong race to date her. Everything about this plotline screams artificiality. Mercedes acts the way she does just for the sake of the lesson. This is a perfect example of exactly what’s wrong with the “Very Special Episode” sensibilities of the 80s. The focus isn’t on characters or even story: it’s on moralizing.

They try to save Mercedes’s character by having her reluctance to date a white man stem from concerns about her career rather than a genuine feeling that a black woman dating a white man is wrong, but she doesn’t really come out looking like anything but a racist in either scenario.

This wasn’t a bad episode by any means, but it was a definite misstep.

Musically, there wasn’t much to complain about, but nothing was really spectacular. “No One is Alone” was very good on its own merits, but in context it’s hard to get behind such a display of emotion for a character of the week who ended up in the hospital before the episode started. Mercedes’s “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman“… Well, it’s a nice number, and it’s always good to hear Mercedes belt it out, but it again suffers from context. Sam and Mercedes never earned this much ado as a couple before, much less within two episodes of becoming a thing again in season five. Rachel and Blaine’s “Broadway Baby” was excellent, and didn’t try to be anything more than a great number. In fact, that was kinda part of Carmen’s point in berating them, since they were showing off rather than trying to improve themselves. The surprise highlight of the episode was Blaine’s remarkably earnest, simple, and heartfelt “Not While I’m Around” (Fox’s video cuts off the intro for some reason, which is a big shame). Darren Criss’s a capella performance sells every emotion that Blaine is going through, and almost manages to elevate the episode above its manipulative soul. Mercedes’s “Colorblind” was a good performance, but a shallow song. She might as well have sung “I’m not really racist” over and over again. Kurt’s “I’m Still Here” was quite good, and an excellent statement of strength from a character who’s earned it since day one, not just in this half-baked episode.

Other thoughts:

What was up with that lady who scolded Sam for throwing things in the river?

I have to ask again: everything wrong with Sam, and the only problem Mercedes’s friends have with him is that he’s white?

Sam on the diverse members of the glee club: “gay, straight, black, white, Tina…”

Note to Burt: neither “Die Hard” nor “Braveheart” is a person.

I hereby dedicate this review to Russ. Whoever the fuck he is.

Episode 5.14: “New New York”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other thoughts:

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

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

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

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

Episode 5.11: “City of Angels”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

Welcome to “The Quarterback Part II.” Er, I mean “City of Angels.”

This was probably the second-best episode of the season, even if that’s not a very high bar. At the same time, it feels like the culmination of several storylines that we haven’t actually been following, especially considering that we’re looking at the end of a school year that began all the way back in season four, 33 episodes ago. Will asks Sam to step up as the leader of the glee club, even though that’s not something we’ve seen him evolving towards (and didn’t “Puppet Master” establish Blaine as the leader anyway?). We see Marley antagonizing over her career as a songwriter, even though we never knew before that she was pursuing it outside of school (and she’s a sophomore in high school for God’s sake, this feels awfully rushed). We see Mercedes suddenly super successful in Hollywood, even though she hasn’t checked in since last season’s “Wonder-ful.” We see a continuation of mourning for Finn, even though we’ve seen very little of it since “The Quarterback,” 8 episodes ago (and it’s weird for Rachel to not be involved). We see the final confrontation with a rival glee club we’ve never interacted with before. And, finally, we see the glee club unceremoniously disbanded, despite not really knowing it was in true danger. This really isn’t the Sue we used to know, the one who personally made sure that the club got another chance at the end of season one.

Which, again, is not to say this this episode wasn’t good. Long-time readers of this blog (I know you’re out there) will recall that I am a sucker for competition episodes, so extra points for that. But there is something lackluster about it. It exudes an aura of going through the motions. As with the other episodes since the hiatus, it’s like we’re just trying to get to the end of this high school bullshit so that we can move on. When Sue tells Will that she’s cutting the glee club, Will resignedly asks if he should even fight, and it’s obvious that even the characters recognize the producer-mandated plot twists for what they are and are just going along with it. Will seems to know that he’s in a part of the series that is just no longer relevant.

It was nice to see Burt and Carole again, though I’m not sure exactly what they contributed to the episode. Again, outside of “The Quarterback,” we haven’t been a witness to their mourning, so it’s hard to connect their actions here to any kind of character development. And what did they really do? They encouraged the club to compete for Finn, they almost walked out of the competition because it was too emotionally draining, and then they came back at the last minute to cheer them on. I guess they’re going to be okay? I wish we could have seen more stuff with Kurt and Burt, like the lead up to the final number in “Love Love Love.” First of all, those scenes are always great. Second, it would have given us some insight into how the Hummels are coping with Finn’s death as time passes, and would have given context to their actions here.

The nationals competition in general felt oddly low-key, especially compared to season three’s very high-energy “Nationals.” Of course, it’s the second time we’ve been here, and it’s the first time in the show’s history that it was impossible for the club to do better than they had done before. The first nationals win was a culmination of events that started with “Pilot.” “City of Angels” simply doesn’t have that gravitas. In many ways, having them win second place instead of first was the easy choice. Having them win first place again would not only have been boring, but it wouldn’t have left any room for a lesson. Here, they learn that having full hearts, amazing skills, a history of success, and a righteous cause doesn’t necessarily mean that winning is certain.

It doesn’t help that many of the characters in the club are newbies who haven’t been developed that well and who we don’t care about all that much. The characters we care about already got their nationals championship. The newbies didn’t even get more than a few lines in the past two episodes, so even the writers don’t seem to remember why they should give a shit.

I’m not sure what they meant to do with the subplot relating to Marley’s songwriting. Mercedes encourages her to not give up, and that’s about it. It reads almost like they’re trying to set up Marley moving to LA, except that Marley is a sophomore in high school and the show is clearly moving its focus to New York City. Maybe this is meant to be a way of saying goodbye to Marley, in which case it rings pretty hollow. I can’t get too emotional about the possible future career of a girl in tenth grade. It almost would have been better to try to resolve her love triangle. What if Ryder, Jake, and Marley actually all three sat down and talked about their problems like adults? That would have felt like growth and resolution on a scale that would have made sense for the characters.

Throat Explosion and their leader Jean-Baptiste made for generally dull villains, despite the superficial flashes of humanity from Jean-Baptiste. They came out of nowhere and acted like assholes for no good reason. I was pretty amused at the casting, though, since Skylar Astin, who plays Jean-Baptiste, also played Jesse (a good guy) in the Glee-influenced (no matter what they say) musical film Pitch Perfect. It could be interesting to see more of Jean-Baptiste, but I doubt it happens.

Sam didn’t get to do a lot as “leader” of the club, and this was a subplot that really needed some more weight behind it. Sam makes a lot of sense as someone to pick up Finn’s mantle, but it needed a few prior episodes to establish it. As it is, not only did this come out of nowhere, but it did nothing.

From an in-universe logic standpoint, Sue’s cutting of the glee club makes little sense. What high school would cut a program after two years in the top two in the nation? High Schools kill for programs that compete at the national level. It makes Sue look like an idiot, though she’s looked like one plenty of times before in her role as principal this season. As I alluded to above, it just feels like the characters are doing what the producers need them to do. Why are the producers even doing this? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a good way to convince the audience that we can forget about the newbies (if they’re not singing, why ever move the focus back to Ohio?). Maybe it’s a way of moving Will to New York City, so he can participate in a few more storylines before Matthew Morrison leaves the series at the end of the season. Maybe it’s a way of cutting the umbilical cord, of signaling that the series is moving on.

I don’t know.

I will say that the lack of emotion surrounding the cutting of the glee club is bizarre. Remember “Journey to Regionals,” when everyone thought the club was going to be cut and everyone got together to say what the experience in the club had meant to them and sing “To Sir, With Love?” One could argue about the effectiveness of that bit (I happen to have loved it), but at the very least it showed that the characters cared. In “City of Angels,” they just seem tired and resigned.

If it sounds like I’m ragging on the episode, I’m really not. It is a competent competition episode, even if it doesn’t ascend to the lofty heights that we used to expect from this kind of episode, and the music was well above average.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about the music. “I Love LA” was a nice way of establishing some energy and enthusiasm for nationals, something that has been very lacking the past season and a half. “Vacation,” the requisite number from the also-rans of the competition, was good, but could have easily been cut. “Mr. Roboto/Counting Stars” was fantastic, and established the high bar that the New Directions had to live up to. Skylar Astin is an amazing performer, another reason I’d like to see him back. The highlight of the episode however, by a hair, is “More Than a Feeling,” a wonderful number that sold the emotion of performing in the first show choir national championship since Finn’s death, and one that he helped train them for. “America” followed through with high energy, and was also very good and a lot of fun. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was quite good, but I think they oversold this one a little, especially with Carole’s line about Finn’s favorite songs at the beginning of the number. Still, it was fitting as a final tribute, and the flashbacks to Finn, if cloying, were not misplaced.

Other thoughts:

I liked the recap gag about the glee club needing to find “three band members stat” since they didn’t have enough people to compete, and Sam managed to recruit “three hot cheerios” to round them out. So much for Joe and Sugar, I guess.

The glee kids seem to be two to a room at the hotel in LA. On school trips back in my day, they packed us in four to a room. Just sayin’.

A line late in the episode establishes that there were sixteen teams at nationals. It’s nice they established that, since last time it seemed like there were only three.

Kurt coming out to deliver the line “It’s over” felt like a way of both passing the torch on to the NYC half of the show, and of continuing to try to convince the audience that glee club is totally cut for real this time.

Episode 5.10: “Trio”

(Spoilers lurk below.)

What do I even say about this mess? Combined with last week’s “Frenemies,” and with nationals suddenly only a week away, Glee since the hiatus feels like it’s trying to just waste time until it can dispense with the Ohio half of the show gracefully. “Trio” gives us the last hurrah of inseparable threesome (?) Tina, Blaine, and Sam; Will and Emma trying to have a baby (a plot point that carries little weight when you remember that Jayma Mays and Matthew Morrison are leaving the series at the end of the season); and Rachel and Santana attempting to fast forward their relationship with Elliot, since the show forgot to develop it. This is an episode comprised of relationships and plotlines pulled completely out of the writer’s ass: nothing follows from anything else. Add to that a side of shit no one cares about, and you have what has become the essence of season five: something that wanders, wastes time, and fails to make a point. Glee has become a series that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do.

To be fair to the Sam/Blaine/Tina plotline, the three of them do have connections. Sam and Blaine became friends in season four (most obviously in “Dynamic Duets“) and Blaine and Tina also had a kind of awkward friendship, which introduced the world to the term “vapor rape.” As for Sam and Tina, Sam agreed to be Tina’s prom date earlier in season five, only to be unceremoniously dumped when Tina thought she could improve her chances of being elected prom queen. So to say that their friendship comes out of nowhere isn’t entirely accurate. However, it is mostly accurate. So, we established that they were friends(ish), but they’ve never come across as the inseparable BFFs forever that “Trio” portrays them as. They just made that up for this episode. It’s particularly egregious as this apes the emotions that the graduates of season three had to deal with, but, with no friendships with anywhere near the strength of Puck/Finn, Rachel/Kurt, or even Santana/Quinn, it just rings hollow. Add to it the distractions of Sam and Tina making out (for no reason, apparently, as they seem to have no desire to follow up on it), Blaine losing his shit over it for no good reason, and Becky crashing their party (which, when you remember that she once brought a gun to school, becomes much more frightening than awkward), and you get a plotline that just isn’t entertaining and doesn’t accomplish anything.

They’ll miss each other. Big deal. You’ve got to give me something more than that, since that’s not exactly an interesting or deep observation about people graduating from high school.

Glee also really needs to reconsider how it’s using Becky. As I alluded to earlier, she is becoming an almost sinister character. Her crashing of the Blaine, Tina, and Sam’s lock-in has a hostage-situation feel to it, not helped by Becky’s prior history as a gun-toter and (let’s face it) a sexual predator.

Santana and Rachel’s feud seems stuck in stasis. Elliot has had very little to do with characters other than Kurt prior to this episode, and now suddenly Rachel is living with him and Santana is calling him a traitor for letting her (though even Elliot lampshades this by pointing out that he “barely knows” Santana). Kurt would have been a much better fit for the role of a friend caught in the middle: placing Elliot there was a strange choice, especially as it doesn’t really seem to establish much if anything about his character. He allows himself to be used as a doormat by Rachel and Santana with apparent goodwill until the very end, when he finally blows up at them. Kurt’s decision to break up the band was a better story decision than anything involving Elliot (especially as it included a character who felt like he ought to be there). Rachel and Santana’s brief scene watching Dani, Elliot, and Kurt singing in harmony and having fun together was one of the two best scenes in the episode, alongside Santana and Rachel’s confrontation when Rachel came back to the apartment for her scented candle. The reason these scenes worked so well is that they featured Rachel and Santana, which was something remarkably rare in a plotline supposedly about Rachel and Santana.

We learn here that Santana has moved past simply being ambitious and catty to actually wanting to destroy Rachel to take her part, and justifies her stance by claiming that Rachel would do the same in her position. Well, maybe she would. Post-Broadway Rachel is a Rachel who has regressed terribly, and is not the person I remember from seasons three and four. Now Santana is regressing right along with her, ditching the personal growth she achieved thanks to Brittany and the glee club in order to become the calculating manipulator we remember from seasons one and two. I don’t think that this is unrealistic in the least, I think they’ve sold it well, and it’s a very tragic turn for both characters.

I just wish they’d focus on it more.

Speaking of stuff they’re focussing on that I don’t care about, Will and Emma are trying to conceive, as we find out when Becky catches them fucking in the faculty bathroom (here’s a tip: if you’re ever having sex in a public or semi-public restroom, lock the door). There was nothing of any value in this subplot. Will and Emma haven’t been interesting since season four’s “I Do,” and babies on TV shows have never been interesting. Part of me thinks that this is meant to be used as a way of saying goodbye to Will and Emma, a way of suggesting that they’re living happily ever after. If so, I’ll suspend judgment on that and wait to see what they do with it. Here, though, it didn’t work.

The music was, once again, okay. “Jumpin’ Jumpin’” might have carried more weight if I had given a shit about the trio of Blaine, Sam, and Tina. But it wasn’t bad. “Barracuda,” aside from giving me Guitar Hero III flashbacks, was okay, but again suffered from a lack of context, since the Rachel/Elliot friendship wasn’t really previously established. “Don’t You Forget About Me” was a number that I had a hard time believing that Glee had never done in the previous four seasons. I just wished they had used it in a better context. Still, it was good. “Danny’s Song” tried to sell the emotion of Will and Emma’s married relationship, but it just didn’t work, since nothing had been done to previously establish it. Songs can’t do the work of narrative. “Gloria,” which on its merits purely as a musical number (and I don’t have a lot more to go on here) was the highlight of the episode, was quite good, but, once again, suffered from a lack of background among Santana, Rachel, and Elliot. Still, it was good to see Santana and Rachel competing at this level, anyway. By that metric, Elliot just got in the way. “The Happening” was good, and at least the second best number of the episode. It was better more for Rachel and Santana’s reactions than for the number itself, mainly because of who were the main characters of the story. “Hold On” was a decent way to end things… and at least they finally included Artie. I actually liked the switches among the various singers here.

Other thoughts:

Really, what the hell was up with all the hate for Artie? “You don’t fit in this episode, begone!”

Boobs. That’s apparently what’s important about Tina.

Santana implies that Rachel was fat during her sophomore year. Um… what?

Why did the cheerios have a female cheerleader uniform that fit Sam, for God’s sake?

Will says that they’re all ready for nationals, but do they even have their songs picked out?

Remember when there were newbies? Me neither.